Christian Short Stories
THREE CROSSES - TWO SINNERS
By John E. Miller
John is a retired engineer serving Christ in prison ministry. This is his first writing.
His name was Dimas. The Romans hung him on a cross for his crimes. Scripture does not tell us anything personal about this man known traditionally as “Dysmas” or “Dimas,” a Greek term meaning “sunset” or “death,” except that he was a criminal. Although there are apocryphal writings about Dimas, we are left to imagine the depth of his human and spiritual experiences while hanging next to Christ Jesus on his cross—to see through his own dying eyes, our Lord Jesus Christ crucified. What must have gone through Dimas’ mind as he watched the man Jesus being nailed to a cruel cross? When he came to recognize Jesus as God? When he pleaded for mercy? When he saw his King’s merciful eyes meet his? When he heard Jesus’ words of promise? When he saw Christ Jesus die? And while waiting alone for death to take him? This work of fiction invites the readers to vividly imagine the setting at Golgotha and to explore in his or her mind; to raise other questions and explore the deeply personal experiences Dimas might have had in his 11th hour, there in the presence of our Lord. Perhaps the reader will find himself or herself asking questions more personal to a desired relationship with our Lord Jesus.
My cross; it was intensely painful, shameful, vindictive, a curse, lonely, and abandoned. I deserved it. So did the other criminal hanging to my left. We had been tried and found guilty of grave crimes. Tradition speaks of our robberies and murders of innocent passersby committed from our hiding places in the caves around Jerusalem. Our death by crucifixion was to be the customary punishment dealt out by the Romans. We were taken to Golgotha and hung on crosses. There, soldiers would let us hang for many hours; left to the birds and animals to feed on; a cursed example for the locals and the many traveling merchants crowding into the city; a spectacle of absolute Roman power and control.
I should have learned that my crimes had great consequences. My crimes haunted me as I hung near suffocation on the cross. The unrelenting, wrenching pain was unbearable. I waited for the eventual breaking of my legs that would quickly bring about my death by suffocation. Yet, I was afraid to die. Moments of near blindness from pain soon gave way to a heightened sense of the horrific scene unfolding before me. We were two crosses standing at Golgotha. But there came a third.
I heard the noisy crowd approaching the hill long before I saw him. Taunting shouts and loud curses were drowning out the anguished cries of women. The Roman soldiers, Jewish priests and a large, curious crowd pressed him onward from all sides. From a distance, I could only see his blood-soaked garments. He was burdened downward by the heavy cross beam and was being pushed on by prodding soldiers who mocked and cursed him. His head was bent down, hidden from me. Who was this man? How great was his crime, that he was being made such a spectacle? What had he done?
Now he lay near the foot of my own cross. NO! Were my eyes deceiving me? Did I actually see him crawl onto his back and spread his arms wide along the beam to be nailed to the cross? His trembling, bleeding body had been torn almost beyond recognition by the cruel whips of soldiers. His head was crowned with big piercing thorns. Clotted and fresh blood covered his face, except where road dirt was caked with human spit. His eyes were closed tight and his face grimaced with excruciating pain as long spikes were driven through his wrists. One soldier spoke in amazement to the other, “He didn’t cry out. They always do when we nail their wrists.” The crowd still mocked and taunted him. Was this man detested? He was not one of us. He had not been tried as we had. What was his crime? He was silent!
Soldier’s hands lifted him aloft by the cross beam. His bloody, torn body was held by another while the cross beam was set atop the upright beam. Then his feet were then cruelly nailed in place. His head jerked upward, his mouth open wide with searing pain.
I strained to turn my head so to see him lift himself up in order to catch his breath. Rough wood splinters ripped into his bleeding back muscles as he rose up and down against them. Somewhere below him I heard women crying. He was silent!
A sign written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek was nailed above his head, “This is Jesus, The King of the Jews.” (Mt 27:37, Jn 19:20) The soldiers divided and cast lots for his garments. His cross now stood between our two crosses. I now knew his name, Jesus.
Among the jeering crowd, I heard the shouts of chief priests and Jewish elders, “He saved others but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, “I am the Son of God.” I and the other criminal joined them, heaping insults on him. (Mt 27:42-44)
Something touched my heart, for I was overcome with shame for my prideful outburst against him. What was happening to me? Why did I suddenly care about this man Jesus? My tortured mind screamed beyond the searing pain for any clarity of thought. Did I know of this Jesus? Had I met him before? Had I seen him in the streets of Jerusalem? Had I heard something spoken of him by merchants or by the other criminals who often gathered around my hidden camp fires?
The other criminal again insulted him saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” My wracked mind grabbed his words—memories of campfire talks with hidden caves flooded in—this man hanging on the cross beside me is Jesus Christ! My people had said that his disciples and a great many followers called him the Messiah. We had laughed about it saying, “He is just a rebel.” Word was that he raised the dead and healed the sick and blind; that he forgave sins. Is that true? They say that he spoke of his coming Kingdom. Others told me that he had recently upset the Jewish leaders and merchants at the Temple. Some said he claimed to be going about doing the work of God His Father. How can that be? What did that mean? I knew nothing of this man’s cause. I had avoided him. He wasn’t my kind. Shame and guilt flooded my senses. My life was a waste. I felt the evil in my own heart. I was filth. Three crosses—only two sinners!
Jesus broke his silence, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Why did he say that? He’s asking his Father to forgive those crucifying him. To forgive those in the crowd that stood laughing and mocking him. How? Why would he do that? And, why was he put here beside me? This was a place for many crosses to stand. Surely, he didn’t know me. Why now did I feel that I needed Him? Would Jesus speak to me if I spoke to him?
I chanced saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Was I praying? I have never prayed! Was I supposed to pray to this man? Jesus lifted his head to look at me and I saw His blood-caked eyes look deep inside me. I was emptied—nothing was hidden from him. I saw compassion in his face. He cared. I mattered to him! He wasn’t judging me. I felt a love I’ve never known. It poured over me and I cried deep inside as he spoke to me so softly, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise,” (Lk 23:43) His gentle words struck me—what was he promising? What was this paradise? Jesus dropped His head and left me with my thoughts. I believed him because I wanted desperately to believe Him. Where was this impulse to trust him coming from? I didn’t trust anyone. It wasn’t from fear. For, suddenly, I’m not afraid to die. I want to go with him! Do I thank Him? I was silent.
For several agonizing hours I was aware of Jesus’ pain-wracked movements on the cross beside me. For a time, my pain seemed to be gone, as I cried for his pain. I cried in shame for having avoided him in the past. Why had I missed out on knowing him until now? Nothing in my life seemed important except Jesus. My life would have been so different if I had followed him. His eyes had shown me such compassion; such unconditional love. I wanted to see into his eyes once again. Jesus!
A calming peace had come over me. A quiet voice inside me revealed that my change of heart was not of my doing. Was it from Jesus? His Father? Suddenly, I understood that the Father had placed me physically near to His Son Jesus Christ. He still left me a choice-and I chose Jesus. Three crosses—only two sinners.
Near the last hour, I saw several people standing at the foot of His cross. Jesus lifted his head slightly to speak to them. “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” What were they thinking now? I turned my thoughts back to Jesus.
In the ninth hour, I heard Jesus cry out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Standers-by said that he was calling out to Elijah. But somehow I now knew that Jesus, the Messiah, was calling out to God, His Father!
Jesus didn’t look at me again. His head drooped sorrowfully. I could barely see his eyes staring toward the ground, as if he were lost in deep thought. It seemed to me that he had great mental torment and an inexpressible agony that possessed his mind. Did it exceed his excruciating pain? What was he thinking? What memories and thoughts flooded his mind? Was he praying? He was dying. A soldier thrust a sponge of vinegar and water to Jesus’ lips. Someone else shouted that he was expecting Elijah to come to this man’s rescue. But in a loud voice, Jesus said. “It is finished.” It was as if he chose to die at that appointed time. What did he mean, “It is finished?” Jesus died. The sky darkened and the earth shook so badly that our crosses swayed….pain! People scattered in fear. Three crosses—only two sinners.
The other criminal and I suffered for a while longer. I struggled to glance at the now dead Jesus still on his cross. A great sense of loneliness engulfed me. I thought of my own father who I last saw when I was only ten years old; when I chose crime in the streets. I cried. But something inside me stirred new thoughts. Why me? Why here? Was paradise truly promised for me? Was I saved from the hell the Jewish teachers spoke about? Is that what Jesus meant by “paradise?” Was there really no eternal punishment for my past sins? I didn’t deserve to be saved. But this man Jesus did that for me! I silently spoke to Jesus as if he were still with me. I could only say “Jesus!” “Jesus!” He was personal to me, even now. Would my family know that I had met God on the cross? Why hadn’t I followed Jesus so that I could have told them about him? Would they ever know of him? Would anyone remember this Jesus?
Sometime later a sharp, mind-wracking pain aroused me from my mental blackness. The soldier’s hammer had finally broken my legs. My body sagged helplessly and I could not breathe enough to say “thank you, it won’t be long now.” Did he know that I’m going to be with my Jesus? Another soldier pierced Jesus’ side to be sure he was dead. I chose my last spoken word—“Jesus.”
Dimas didn’t know to call Jesus his Savior. He had never heard that term. Nor did he fully understand about the Messiah the Jews had expected for centuries. He had lived in a world devoid of early Scripture. The ancient prophesies were like distant fables to him. After all, the likes of him were not welcome in the Temple. He had avoided the Teacher. The words” Creator” and “Redeemer” had never crossed his mind. He knew nothing of the Holy Spirit that had changed his heart there on the cross. He was unaware that the Father had planned from the time of Creation that he would have to send His Son to die on that cross for our sins. He didn’t understand about God’s plan of reconciliation, or that Christ Jesus would rise from the dead to be his King. He knew nothing of His coming Kingdom. Dimas, who had lived without hope, simply and with a newfound faith he did not comprehend, made an 11th hour plea to Jesus for merciful grace. Yet, Scripture reveals that God had already bestowed incomprehensible grace on Dimas, there in his last hours on his cross at Calvary. God had called Dimas to know His Son Jesus in his very last hours.
Dimas, a hopeless sinner, had responded in simple faith to the unknown Spirit resting upon him, and had turned to meet his Savior on his cross. There, he had received the immeasurable love and forgiving grace of God. Dimas went to Paradise that very day, just as Jesus had promised. This was the work of the Father. It was by God’s incomprehensible grace, that simple faith in Jesus Christ had brought Dimas into everlasting glory in the eyes of the Father. Simple, trusting faith had changed his hardened heart. Dimas, in his 11th hour had met the God of 2nd Chances. Three crosses—One was eternally sinless and one was now forgiven.
God chose to include this account of the “Thief on the Cross” in the Gospels. It must be that He wants us to know and embrace His offer of salvation, even when we have spent our life running from Him. He is the God of 2nd chances for the desperate souls that will hear His call. He gave us this truth within the blessed, Spirit-breathed Gospel of Good News. We can trust the faithful words of the Father spoken through Jesus to Dimas,’ “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Perhaps God left out the full story of Dimas so that we who are delaying our step of faith, who linger in doubt, might question the mystery of salvation just enough to imagine ourselves to be like Dimas at Calvary, on the hill of Golgotha; undeserving of grace yet called to look into the compassionate eyes of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
One Iconic Cross—One Perfect Lamb—One Risen Savior, Jesus Christ!
Two thousand years later, God’s holy, unchanging and purposeful word assures us that we too may rest securely in the shadow of the Cross. We need not wait without hope for our 11th hour; to needlessly risk our eternity; to struggle alone with our sins that bind us to an unpromising world and eternity lost. The Risen Lord Jesus Christ wants us to know Him--right now; to accept Him in simple faith; to walk with Him in a blessed hope of eternity. We are blessed to have Holy Scripture that reveals the Father to us in the life of Jesus Christ. We get to look at that Iconic Cross of Jesus and to place our surrendered heart, mind and body in its blessed shadow. Jesus offers us the certainty of eternal peace with Him right now. Thank you Jesus! Thank you Father, for calling us to your Son.
The writer of this topic had once denied Jesus Christ out of arrogance and ignorance of Scripture. I had never read the Bible. Denying Jesus had conveniently allowed me to live my life any way I chose. So, I chose for many years to live away from Christ. Along the way, I had experienced a deep, dark soul; a void that later filled me with terrible doubts about my eternity. As a young boy, I had known of Jesus in a child’s story book sort-of-way. But I had turned away from Him as a man.
God still called me some years ago to truly know His Son, Jesus; to stand in His immeasurable grace of salvation and forgiveness. I have accepted Christ as my Savior and been baptized to affirm my belief in Him. And God has called me to prison ministry for Christ. I accept God's holy word with all the power and purpose He sends it. It has been my anchor through periods of lingering doubt about my sin of denying His Son. I have claimed Christ as my Savior and accepted forgiveness and salvation by the unchanging power of His holy word. Still, I have felt as if I needed to know Christ Jesus more intimately. I prayed many times for Jesus to reveal Himself to me personally in my heart and not just in my head. Having denied Him, I wanted to experience that personal and lasting relationship with my Savior.
Recently, after participating in a prison ministry weekend event inside a penitentiary, I was awakened about 2:00 AM thinking about Dimas, the thief on the cross. I was imagining Dimas’ experiences with Jesus there at Golgotha. I was seeing Jesus through the eyes of Dimas. As the thoughts and images of Jesus flooded me, I couldn’t sleep. I got out of bed to begin writing this topic. I think that Jesus has answered my prayers. He has allowed me to experience His divine presence and boundless love through the eyes of Dimas; to focus on His selfless work of redemption for me; and to finally and fully understand and embrace God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace-filled promise of eternity through Him.
I now know my Jesus personally as I’ve never known Him. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you Father. This remains a deeply profound experience for me. Yet, I wanted to share it with anyone who doubts his or her salvation. After all, salvation is the exclusive and divine work of God’s grace in the truly repentant soul, and one should tread carefully in dispute of that holy work. I also want to share this with anyone who is delaying the most important decision of their life. The Risen, Living Lord Jesus Christ, King of all Creation, Savior and the true God of 2nd chances is real, personal and welcoming to everyone who earnestly seeks Him. All glory is yours Almighty King.
Epilogue. In his fictional book “The Day I was Crucified, as Told by Jesus the Christ”, Gene Edward writes of heavenly angels who rejoice at the arrival of the thief on the cross. They exclaim, “You are the first of the redeemed. You are called a holy one.” It’s not hard to imagine that heavens angels did just that, in a resounding declaration of God’s immeasurable grace and love of His Creation and the blessed, redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
(© 2009 John E. Miller – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)
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