This is an excerpt from a book by Pastor Colin Smith called, Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2015, 96 pp. $8.99.
‘Jesus,’ I said, ‘Remember me when you come
into your kingdom.’
It was an audacious request. A few moments
before, I had been in league with the crowd and
the second victim, pouring out curses on Jesus.
If He remembered this when He came into His
kingdom, I would be done for.
In truth, I suspected that I may be done for
already. My mind kept going back to my mother
teaching us the Ten Commandments: You
shall not steal. You shall not covet. You shall
have no other God before me. I could hear
her voice and picture her slightly bent finger
pointing at me:
‘Live the right way and all will end well. Live
the wrong way and you had better watch out.’
‘God is watching you. He sees everything and
He never forgets.’
‘You always reap what you sow.’
If she was right, there was no hope for me. I had
made my choices and was facing the consequence.
I had sown my seed and was moving inexorably
toward the harvest. There was no going back.
With all my heart I hoped that my mother was
Hope began for me in the strange words of
Jesus that at first had filled me with hate:
‘Father, forgive them, they do not know what
they are doing.’
Forgiveness! If Jesus could offer forgiveness to
His torturers, perhaps He would offer forgiveness
to me. At first this had sounded like the very weakness
I despised, but at that moment it seemed to
open a glorious and unexpected window of hope.
Forgiveness was scarce in the legalistic, moral
world my mother spoke of so often. To her, the
universe was an unbreakable system of cause and
effect, regulated by a rules-oriented God. ‘Do
good, and all will be well. Do bad, and you had
better watch out.’ There was no hope for a person
like me in that. If you honestly measure your life
by the commandments of God, I suspect you will
come to the same conclusion. Reaping what you
sow is not good news for any of us. Forgiveness is.
If Jesus remembered me when He came into
His kingdom, there might be some hope for me.
But what would be in it for Him? I couldn’t think
of anything. If He took an interest in me, it would
not be because of anything I had done or anything
I could offer. If He remembered me at all, it would
be an act of undeserved mercy and kindness. But
that was exactly what He offered to the soldiers
who crucified Him. He showed them mercy and
kindness. Would He do the same for me?
I asked Him to remember me.
Of course, in asking, I broke ranks with the
crowd. Their scorn for Jesus continued, and by
identifying with Him I brought their scorn on me.
But what did that matter? I had lived too
long at a distance from God. As a self-appointed
champion of justice, I had poured myself into
retaliation for the Roman extortions; an eye for
an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Now, as I reached
the end of my road, I saw how hopeless I would
be if God were to treat me with the same justice.
Forgiveness sounded sweet, and if that were
possible for me, I wanted to know more.
What I did was deceptively simple: I began
to fear God. I recognized my sinful condition.
I believed that Jesus was who He said He was
– the Christ, the Messiah – and I asked Him to
save me. That is something you can do too.
In doing this, I gave up all the hostility in my
heart and I abandoned my illusion of having a life
that would somehow be impressive to God.
I placed my life, as it was, with all that I had done,
into the hands of Jesus. My hands outstretched
to His hands outstretched. I believed in Him as
the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior and the
King and left the rest up to Him.
Clinging to life by a slender thread, I gasped
for breath and waited for Him to respond.