The thief’s perspective
As one who hung beside Jesus on a cross that day at Calvary, I was a first-hand witness to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Whoever decided to inflict on Jesus the indignity of crucifying him between us two thieves? (Isaiah 53:12).
A man of sorrows
What a sorrowful sight Jesus was when I saw him (Isaiah 53:3). He had been vilely abused at the hands of the crucifixion party, and they continued to mock him. Bruised, stripped, bloodied, with a crown of thorns stuck into his head, he was hardly an attractive sight. Yet, even so, he possessed an alluring majesty, a captivating demeanour, which their ill-treatment of him had not eradicated.
Carrying his cross
This sorrowful man in his weakness carried his cross with a commanding presence, looking so regal in doing so. Was that why one felt embarrassed to look at him? (Isaiah 53:3). He did not have the look of a guilty, defeated, condemned man receiving his comeuppance, rather he exuded a calm dignity, with a complete absence of malice and hate. There was none of the angry self-pity which had overwhelmed my own heart. It was as if he were a willing victim who was carrying someone else’s burden (Isaiah 53:4).
Jesus struggled to carry his cross, as though the weight of the whole world was on his shoulders. Maybe that was why he was so utterly exhausted, even before the execution on the bloody gibbet. He was so weakened that the Romans forced some poor sop passing by to carry his cross for him (Matthew 27:34). Yet, in his fatigue, he did not lose his self-control and the Romans did not have to coerce him. He walked with a fixed determination toward Calvary. I believe he would have made his way there even without an execution squad. It was as if he knew he had to drink this cup!
There is a belief that the cross acts as an example to others. I tell you, Jesus did not suffer the pain, humiliation and abject misery of the cross just to be remembered as a fine example! The terrible degradation of the human spirit, the physical emaciation of the human body and the mental torment of crucifixion cannot be trivialised away as an exemplar of moral courage.
Jesus of Nazareth
I had, of course, heard of this man, Jesus of Nazareth. The outsider, who in the eyes of ordinary folks, towered above the ‘in-crowd’ of religious leaders. Their jealousy and animosity toward him were well known. They were afraid of his popularity for he was held in high esteem by the people. Many said he was God’s promised Messiah. I was sceptical. I’d heard that one before! If he was, what on earth was he doing in this predicament? What was a king doing on a cross? Where was his kingdom? Why were his followers not fighting for their king? (Matthew 26:52-54). Yet, face to face with him in his suffering, I began to wonder. Was he the Messiah? Could he really be a king of a kingdom? If so, his kingdom was not in this world.
The road to Golgotha
What a sight it was as this king made his way to Golgotha! The roadside crowd were gawping with morbid fascination as we staggered onward. The jeers and taunts rang out. Women were weeping, particularly moved at Jesus’ plight. I could hardly believe my ears when I heard him say to them, ‘Weep not for me but weep for yourselves…’ with a complete absence of sarcasm. He expressed a genuine concern for them, as he spoke of their future sufferings with a dignified authority (Luke 23:28-31).
The moment of crucifixion is lost in a blur of excruciating pain that grips the whole being, as the body screams out at the hideous physical invasion of the nerves and senses. How on earth could Jesus say as they nailed him to the cross, ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do?’ I thought he was mad! Why was he so resigned to his fate? He addressed God as ‘Father’! What sort of father would allow his son to suffer crucifixion? Who would ask forgiveness for his own murderers? What sort of man was this? Was his father the one who had made him a king and given him a kingdom?
A king on a cross
The sign on his cross said, ‘the king of the Jews’. I began to wonder, ‘What if he was a king?’ The crowd around the cross taunted him and mocked him. The passers-by jeered, ‘If you are the Son of God come down from the cross.’ The religious leaders mockingly called out, ‘If he is the king of Israel… come down and we will believe him,’ and ‘He said he was the Son of God!’ (Matthew 27:42-43). Who was this man hanging next to me? King? Son of God? One who called God his father?
Seeing the King on the cross
At my lowest point, gripped by pain, fear and despair; torn between my desperation to hold on to this world and the anguish at the vast unknown that lay before me, I too joined in the railing against Jesus. ‘If you are the Christ save yourself and us’ (Matthew 27:44). Yet I saw in his silent submission to his suffering (Isaiah 53:7) a powerful display of kingly majesty. I heard in the compassionate words spoken to his mother (John 19:25-27), a king’s authority. I was captured by the potent beauty of his majestic bearing as he hung next to me. You may think me mad, but I saw, in the suffering Jesus, the glory of a king in all his splendour!
I tell you, this king Jesus, did not have his life taken from him. He was in control and gave up his life, laying it down before all (John 10:17-18). I was convinced of his rightful claim to be a king of a kingdom. I was entirely unfit for his kingdom. I had nothing but my sinful life to bring to him. What possible service could I offer him dying on a cross? Unlike Jesus, I was not an innocent man, I was guilty and receiving my just deserts. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, I threw myself on his sovereign mercy and asked,
‘Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
The cynic will say that my words were the last desperate throw of the dice of one who had nothing to lose as his life was being slowly extinguished. No! I tell you as late as it was; as desperate as my circumstances were; as hopeless as my prospects seemed and as unworthy as I was, I called out to Jesus in faith. I believed he was a king. I accepted he had a kingdom. In Jesus’ abject weakness I saw the KING and trusted him to rescue me and bring me into his kingdom. I saw in Jesus who hung beside me on the cross the LORD who reigned in his kingdom. Oh, what words of loving authority my LORD and King Jesus spoke to me,
‘Today, you will be with me in paradise.’