His cross held no purpose but pain. I’m talking about the thief on the cross. Not the Sunday school thief, but the hard-head, the sarcastic one, the one like me.
Jesus was on one cross. On the others, two thieves – and the three suffered in the prolonged, torturous agony of a Roman roadside attraction.
The cross of Jesus held the divine embodiment of love, one whose sinless life and sacrificial death provided atonement for the sins of the world.
During their crucifixion, one of the thieves, broken and afraid, recognized his own guilt and responsibility before God, and knew he could do nothing about it. Without any reasonable expectation, he asked for Jesus to remember him. His suffering on the cross brought this thief face to face with his savior. His faith gave his pain a purpose.
The other thief was afraid as well, but he was also angry and confused. He hung suffering and dying – the end of a life, if similar to most criminals, born in bad circumstances, bad decisions, pain and violence. In a final act of futile rebellion, the thief mocked and he questioned and he goaded a miracle worker to work a miracle for him and then he perished. His selfishness meant his pain had no purpose.
There’s a cliché, “We all have our cross to bear.” That’s the truth, but that cross isn’t any one thing in our lives. It is everything, every day. It is existence. Christ and the two thieves had been born under the shadows of their crosses and, in a way, every person is. As our crosses take shape, will we find meaning or futility there?
Leo Tolstoy asked, “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”
The answer is seen in the thieves. One was crucified with Christ. The other, the one on the third cross, was crucified beside Christ.