Today is Good Friday, the day we acknowledge what Christ did for us. One of my favorite parts of the Crucifixion of Jesus is the thief who defends Him on the cross. If you really read the story of the death of Christ, he is the first man to receive salvation as we know it today. He was the first man to receive salvation through Christ’s blood because by the time the thief died, Jesus had already died for sin.
When I was sixteen, I wrote a short story dedicated to the thief who died next to Christ, because I take such great inspiration from him. He did nothing to earn his salvation, nor could he because he was dying. But God forgave him anyway. Since I wrote that story, I have played this thief, the one who accepts Christ, three times, and each time has been a blessing in my life.
As I wrote the story, I experienced something powerful, and when I was finished, I was crying. This story has meant a lot to me over the years, and I would like to share it with you. I wrote it when I was younger, and my writing style was different then. I spent some time polishing it without changing the essence of it. I ask that you please read this and keep in mind that this is fiction, but drawn from the Bible. I also ask that you keep your hearts open to what God truly did on the day Jesus died for us.
He Was a Thief
by Andrew Ronzino
He was hungry. His family was hungry. He was a young husband and father with an empty stomach, his wife and children were on the verge of starvation; he didn’t know what else to do.
He crept along the city streets, searching for some food to steal for his family. He hated to steal; he hated the thought that he was a thief. He didn’t want to do it, but now he had no choice. No one would hire him, he was refused work everywhere he looked, so he had no money to buy even a small hunk of bread. His choices were either steal some food, or watch his family die of starvation. That made the choice clear. The problem was that all of the food carts were being watched like hawk for people trying to do exactly what he intended to do.
As he walked along the stone streets of Jerusalem, his eyes fell upon the Temple—the Temple of God. He started to cry. Here he was, a grown man crying in the middle of the street. Embarrassment was no longer an issue for him, he passed that point long ago. He prayed as the tears fell down his cheeks. “God, the God of my fathers, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, hear me. There is no food around. I have looked high and low for even the lowliest of meals to give to my family. I can’t find a job, no one wants me to work for them. We are hungry, and my family is dying. Yet in Your Temple, Your Priests are living like kings. I can’t go on like this, God! I can’t go on.”
He started to walk towards the Temple, a place a sinful pauper like himself would never be allowed to enter. “God, oh, God! Please forgive me for what I’m about to do.” He wept as he snuck into the Temple. He walked over to the large veil that separated the Holy Place from the Inner Court, surprised that it wasn’t guarded.
He always heard that anyone who crossed the veil was instantly killed, but he also knew that there was food there. “Oh, God, forgive me, but I can’t let my family die!” He crawled under the veil. When he was on the other side, he felt weak, he felt God all around him. He looked around, everything was covered in pure gold, and he saw the the Ark of the Lord, in all its splendor. This room was beyond holy; God dwelt here. Then he saw the food—the sacrificial lamb was lying on the altar of God.
He stood there, waiting for death to come, but it never touched him, he was alive and well. He checked behind him to see if anyone was watching, then he picked up the dead lamb. “God forgive me,” he said one more time with tears in his eyes. He crawled back under the veil, and looked around. No one was there, so he quickly ran out the door and down the steps, through the courts.
Just as he thought that he got away with it, someone grabbed him by the rags that he wore on his body. He was violently spun around to see a Priest holding him tight. “You stole from the Lord’s Temple, how dare you!” He glanced at the dead lamb. “The lamb…You stole the sacrificial lamb! You will pay for this.”
The man tried to explain, but to no avail. He was given to a Roman centurion, and dragged off to prison.
* * *
The next day the man was sitting in the courts, he was waiting to hear his sentence from Pilate, the governor of the land. He sat there in misery, he deserved whatever his sentence was going to be; he stole from God.
The courts were busier than normal today, he didn’t know when he had ever seen so many angry looking people show up to watch criminals face justice. Who where they here for? Surly not him
After a while of just sitting there, the murmuring crowd of people around him suddenly became silent as a man covered in blood walked in surrounded by Roman guards. He wore a torn up robe, His beard looked like it had patches ripped out, and He had thorns on His head. The thorns looked like someone formed them into a crude crown. Yes! It was a crown of thorns on His head.
The people started to mock the bloody man and spit on His face. He was so brutally beaten that He needed a Roman guard to hold Him up. Pilate was sitting on his chair when one of the guards spoke, “Herod told us to bring Him back to you.”
Pilate glared at the guards hard and long, then he turned to the Priests and said, “You brought Jesus to me and said that He was a troublemaker, but I have questioned Him here in front of you and I have not found Him guilty of anything that you say He has done. Herod didn’t find Him guilty either and sent Him back. This man doesn’t deserve to be put to death! I will simply have Him beaten with a whip and set free.”
Jesus? thought the man. I’ve heard of Him. He’s the one who said that He’s the Son of God. He’s the one who does miracles and heals people from their illnesses. The man was staring at Jesus, and at that moment, Jesus turned to look at him and smiled. The man hid his face, he knew that Jesus knew what he had done, somehow He knew. The man, a lowly thief, couldn’t bare to look into the face of God.
“Kill Jesus!” the crowed shouted.
“Nail Him to the cross!” came a man’s voice.
“What crime has He committed?” Pilate shouted as he stood up.
“Kill Him! Kill Him! Kill Him!” the people chanted.
Pilate put up his hand, and the crowed grew quiet. “It is the Passover time. As you know, it is tradition to set one prisoner free at the Passover. I will give you a choice, so tell me…who do you want? Barabbas? Or Jesus, the King of the Jews?”
“Give us Barabbas!” the crowd screamed.
The man lifted up his head. Barabbas? Oh no, not him. He’s a murderer and a rapist! You can’t let him go.
His thoughts were overruled by the proclamation of the people. “Give us Barabbas,” they shouted again. “Crucify Jesus!”
Pilate slammed his hand down on the arm of his chair. “What has He done wrong?!”
But the people yelled louder. “Crucify Jesus, free Barabbas!” Over and over again they yelled.
The man looked from Pilate, to Jesus, to the crowd. This wasn’t looking good for Jesus, who had done nothing but good for years.
Pilate gave in. “Okay! Okay! I will free Barabbas. I will hand Jesus over to you. You can do whatever you like with Him, but I wash my hands of this.”
The crowd cheered and dragged Jesus out of the room. The man watched Him leave, with tears in his eyes. He knew what was going to happen, they were going to whip Him, then crucify Him. “Jesus did nothing wrong,” he whispered to himself.
“Next case,” Pilate said, sitting down once again. One of the Guards pushed the man forward so he was standing before the governor.
The Priest that had caught the man also stepped up. “This man went into the Temple and into the Holy of Holies. While there, he stole the sacrificial lamb from the altar of God.”
Pilate looked at the man. “Is this true? Speak.”
The man knew he couldn’t lie, he was caught in the act. “Yes, sir. It is true,” he said. “My family is very hungry, I fear that they will soon die and I couldn’t find any food. The only place I found some was in the Temple.”
Pilate rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Don’t you have any money to buy food?”
“Then why not get a job?!” Pilate shouted.
The man winced. “I’ve tried many times to get a job, sir. Everyone I went to wouldn’t let me work for them.”
“You stole from God!” Pilate said with a laugh. “First I have a man that says that He’s the Son of God, then I get a man that steals from God. What a day.” He gazed into the man’s eyes. “You have committed a terrible crime, one that cannot be forgiven. You are sentenced to die on a cross.” Pilate then got up and walked out of the room.
The man collapsed. He thought his heart would stop, it would be better if it had. The cross? Not the cross! The man knew that the cross was the most painful and shameful way to die, it was reserved for the worst offenders.
Before he could do anything, he was dragged away. He started to cry again. He would never see his family again. Now they would die from starvation and rot in the streets. He would never again dance with his baby girl, or hold her in his arms. He was going to die this day, on a cross that would kill him slowly. The tears fell down his face as he walked with the guards.
He figured that they would place him in prison and bring him to the cross later that day, but he was wrong. They marched him right to to the place where he would begin his journey to death. When they stopped, he looked around. He was on the main road, and in the distance he could see the hill, a famous hill. A hill of death; “The Skull” they called it. There were six logs laying in the grass next to the road, and a small crowd of people there to watch. The man looked at what would become his cross and wept.
The guards stripped him down and threw his rags away. Then thy sat him down next to another man who had a gruff face.
“What did you do?” asked the gruff man.
The man hesitated, how does someone answer that question? “I stole from God,” was all he said.
The gruff man rolled his eyes. “Oh,” he said, then he smiled. “I killed two people.”
The man sat in silence, there was nothing to say. He watched the guards. They were taking the logs and putting them together to form the crosses, and as far as the man could tell, they were doing a good job of it. The Romans were experts at executing people, and crucifixion was their specialty.
There was a loud burst from the crowd that stood around. The man, as well as the murderer, turned to see what was going on. Jesus was coming. He looked weak from the flogging He had received. His back and face were covered with blood. As He passed by the people along the road, they spat in His face and called Him a blasphemer.
The guards then made the two men get up and get behind Jesus. The crosses were brought to them to carry. The man nearly crumbled over the weight of the cross he bore, but he had no choice, he needed to take it to the hill. So he started to move. Every step pained him, but not as much as Jesus who was barely recognizable because of his beatings, he was sure. They walked passed the crowds and Priests, children and adults; they were walking to their deaths. Suddenly Jesus fell, He was too weak to carry His cross.
The guards had the the thief and murderer stop behind Jesus. One of the guards walked into the crowd and pulled out a random man. “What’s your name?”
“S-Simon,” he said in a weak voice.
“You carry His cross, Simon.”
Simon had a worried look in his eye, but he couldn’t disobey a Roman guard, so he bent down and picked up Jesus’ cross.
On and on they walked until they came to the top of the hill…to the top of The Skull. This place was known throughout the land as the place where people were crucified.
The three men put their crosses on the ground and laid upon them as they were commanded by the Romans.
First, the guards went over to the murderer. As they nailed his hands and feet to the wood, he screamed out in pain; a scream was that of great suffering. Then they hoisted the cross up and dropped it into the hole that was dug in the ground. The man could see the pain and fear in the murderer’s eyes.
Then the guards went over to Jesus. When they nailed Him to the cross, despite his cries of excruciating pain, the countenance on His face was clearly saying, “I forgive you, guard.” They hoisted Jesus’ cross up in the same fashion as the murderer’s, and when they dropped it into the hole, His whole body convulsed with the mixed pain of the whipping, beating, and crucifixion. The man could see the blood gushing from Jesus’ hands and feet.
At that moment a strange vision flashed in the eyes of the man. It looked like Jesus’ blood turned from a deep crimson, to a pure white. It flowed until it covered the whole land and wash it clean.
This vision was interrupted by the feeling of a nail tip on his wrist. The man turned his head and looked at the nail. Then the hammer smashed the nail. As it did, pain shot through his whole body. He felt the nail go through his flesh and bone and into the wood behind it. He felt the blood rush from the wound. He screamed at the top of his lungs. Just as the shock wave of pain seemed to subside a bit, another flash of pain shot through his body. The other wrist was nailed to the cross. He screamed again, and again, as the nail was put into his feet. It felt like his whole body was about to explode into flame. The guards hoisted his cross up as they did twice before. He felt light headed, his body burned and convulsed as the cross dropped into the hole. The pain seemed to subside just a little as he hung there. His breathing became slow and deep, he was gasping, but receiving little air. It was torture.
He looked at the crowd and saw that all eyes were on Jesus. He turned his face toward Jesus, and saw that the guards had nailed a sign above Jesus’ head. It was written in three languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, though the man only understood Hebrew. It said, “Jesus of Nazareth: The King of the Jews”.
As he hung there, the man wondered why he was on this cross. Why had God let him survive standing in the Holy of Holies only to have him come to a tree and hang there like the scum of the earth? Because you are the scum of the earth, he told himself. He stole from God, he deserved nothing less this this awful death.
Hours passed, and after some time, the sky turned inexplicably dark. That’s odd, it was too early to grow dark, the man thought.
After being in the the darkness for a while, Jesus screamed, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken Me?!” Jesus gazed at the crowd that was cheering His crucifixion and said, “Father, forgive these people. They don’t know what they’re doing.” Jesus turned His tired, beaten face to the man.
What man could hang on a cross and forgive his killers? The man looked deep into the eyes of Jesus, and saw God. He knew that Jesus was, indeed, the Son of God.
The the murderer yelled at Jesus and said, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save Yourself and save us!”
A anger built up in the heavy chest of the man, he scolded the murderer. “Don’t you fear God? Aren’t you getting the same punishment as this Man? We got what was coming to us, but He didn’t do anything wrong.” The man, now knowing that Jesus was the Christ, begged Him from the depths of his heart, “Remember me when you come into Glory!”
Jesus lovingly looked deep into the man’s soul, smiled, and replied, “I promise that today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
As if a fresh rain had descended on him, the man felt all of his guilt and shame disappear, falling away like dirt and grime. He felt his heart skip for joy, and he got caught up in another vision. This time, he saw Jesus’ pure white blood covering his own dirty, filthy, sinful body and soul, making it clean. He knew that the sin Pilate said could never be forgiven, was, indeed, forgiven. “Thank You, Lord.” The man said, it was all he could say. He didn’t fully understand what was happening to him, but he knew that what Jesus had said to him was nothing but the Truth.
The other man rolled his eyes, and groaned in agony of body and soul.
After a few more hours of agonizing torture, Jesus cried out again, “It is finished!” Then Jesus’ breathing became more and more heavy, He had to gasp out the words, “Father, I put Myself into Your Hands.” Then he took one last, deep breath and died.
Suddenly, there was an earthquake. It roared and shook the ground, causing tremendous pain to engulf the man’s entire body. He screamed in agony. All he wanted was to die. When the ground stilled, only a little relief came to him, but it was better than nothing.
The man saw a Priest come running over the hill and over to the High Priest. “The veil in the Temple has been split down the middle from top to bottom,” he said. The two Priests left together and headed for the Temple, the High Priest looking worried.
“Jesus has taken away the barrier between us and God,” the man whispered to himself.
Most people were cheering Jesus’ death, others moaned and wept. The man himself started to cry, he felt his own life starting to slip away. As he bowed his head preparing to die, the nail pinched a nerve in his wrist and snapped him back to consciousness. “I can’t even die! I can’t even die!” The man screamed in rage.
One of the guards walked over to the foot of Jesus’ cross, looked up at the lifeless body of Jesus and said, “This man truly was the Son of God.”
Another hour passed by as the pain multiplied over every inch of the man’s body. His blood drained from his nail wounds. He man just wanted to die, he wanted the torture to be over. Just then, one of the guards came over with a plank, and smashed in the murderer’s legs. He screamed, convulsed, and went limp. Silently, his life ceased.
The guard came over to the man and was preparing to smash in his legs as well. The man turned his eyes away, he didn’t want to watch this. So he looked into the city, passed the hill, and something caught his eye. In the distance, he saw that a little girl was lying in the road. He concentrated with every last amount of effort he had, and saw that it was his own little daughter. He could see from cross that she was dead. She had died from starvation. “No!” the man screamed. “Not my girl!”
“Don’t be afraid,” a voice seemed to ring in his heart, it was the voice of God. The man knew that it was God speaking to him. The Almighty, the God of his fathers was speaking to him—a thief! “Don’t be afraid, My son.”
The plank shattered the bones in his legs. His arms grew too heavy, and he felt his life slipping away. Here he was, a thief, dying on a cross, next to his Savior. He knew that he was clean and forgiven of the sins that he had committed against God and His holy Temple. He died with joy in his heart. He died knowing that Jesus died for him. He was free! And he was dancing with his daughter…in everlasting Paradise.