The Man on the Next Cross

"Who is this man next to me? I remember seeing him in the streets teaching the people as I was picking their purses. Blind old Joseph came to him and now he sees. That blind old man used to always know when I tried to take coins from his bowl. Look at him, they calmed he tried to lead a revolt against the Roman’s. Proclaiming himself to be King to sit on David’s throne. All he got out of it was a crown of thorns. They beat him and stripped him of his clothes and nailed him to the cross. My people were looking for someone to break the Roman rule, but instead of making him their leader they turned him over. What hypocrites!

This one through, he had such grace about him. He spoke of love. Every word that came out of his mouth had authority. Look at me, I have been a beggar and thief all my life. When I got caught they beat me. It was bold of me to try to rob that centurion. My friend on the other side of him and me where quite a team in the last couple of months. Deep down I know I deserve what I am getting. All the times I ran across this man next to me, he did nothing wrong. He doesn’t deserve to be hung on a cross.

Look at him. The blood is flowing from his wounds on his head, hands and where they whipped him. One of them even thrust a spear into his side. He grows weaker and is dying very fast. My friend mocks him. My friend is still as mean as ever. ‘Don‘t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ I shout at him. Even in all his agony his eyes speak of love. He is looking right at me. It is as if he can see inside of me.

How I wish I had stayed home instead of running away. I ran with the wrong crowd. One of my friends lost his hands when he got caught. I just kept going vowing I will never get caught. I almost died of a fever once, because I had to sleep outside. He seems to know all this. I am ashamed of my life. Those eyes speak of forgiveness and love. My friend still mocks him. He was never really my friend. Sometimes I only think he kept me around because of the money I was able to lift. Most of the time he spent drunk on wine that the money bought. How I wish things were different. It is now too late.

‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ I said to him.

Weakly he smiled and said back to me, ‘I tell you the truth today you will be with me in paradise.’

At that moment I felt free after all these years of living in the gutter. The truth, I was afraid all this time of being caught. Late at night I would have dreams of having my hands cut off. After a long time friend of mine got caught and hung on a cross just like me now, I began to dream of that, too. Being always on the run was no way to live. Moving from town to town only minutes from being caught. I do not know how this man did it but he freed me from all that.

It has grown very dark out; the sun has just vanished from the sky. In the distance I can here thunder coming closer and closer. Suddenly Jesus cries out, ‘ My God, my God why have you forsaken me.’ Some one rushes off to give him some wine to drink. Again he cries out, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ Then he died.

At that moment the ground began to shake. All the people, who came to watch this man, begin to run around dazed and confused. I am afraid because I think that God was going to reek revenge on his son murderers. Then all becomes quiet. A Roman looks at Jesus full of awe. His eyes are filled with sadness as he says ‘Surely this was a righteous man.’

My life is slipping from me now. This man next to me must have died somehow for all my sins. But not only did he die for my sins he died for all the sins of the whole world. This death I deserved, yet I now know that today because of Jesus I am free to die without all the guilt and shame I have been carrying around with me. I smile as I breathe my last."

Roman’s 5:6-8 says, "...at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

This story is a fictionalized account, but the points it makes are clear. Even while we were still sinners God sent his Son into this world to die for us. The thief on the cross came to realize this when Jesus in his infinite mercy choose to forgive him. The same is true for us. Jesus came to take all of our sins upon himself. He took our place so we might have life.

The fictional robber had messed up his life. First thing he left his father and mother and decided to go out on his own. We do this when we abandon the watchful care of our father in heaven and proclaim we will do it our way. The second thing he did was hang out with the wrong people. The world and we are different, but how often do we try to fit in with our fellow workers or neighbors.

In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus told the story of a younger son who decides that he needs to get out on his own. The son asks the father for his share of inheritance and goes off to a far off country to live. Once there he begins to spend his money on temporal pleasures till it is all gone. He leaves the security of father’s house for the insecurity of sinful and slothful life. Don’t you know the grass is always greener over there and not where you stand. What our mind perceives is what we tend to follow.

Adam and Eve had everything they will ever need: food, shelter, and a wonderful relationship with a Heavenly Father who loved them very much. The Father had one rule; Do not eat the fruit of one tree. It was for their good because the fruit was on the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Knowledge we could not handle. Once they ate the fruit everything changed. The good they had was tainted with the knowledge of evil. Satan had put the idea in Eve’s head that she was missing something and so the same with this son. The son wanted to experience what he thought he was missing in father’s house.

The world pressures us to be things we ought not to be. Let us face it there are people in this world who like to change us to be what they think we should be. Sometimes, I think they do it because misery likes company. When I was young I belonged to a fraternal organization. There used to be a lot of drinking and some of them were probably alcoholics. I did not drink more then one or two drinks if that. Thank God, I did not head down that same road. One of the reasons, I did not is that I began to notice how miserable they were. They needed to drink to feel better about life. Being not a drinker as they were I was able to observe what happen to this group of people. Some of what I saw made me determined not to follow their example. Eventually, I stopped going to the fraternal organization. I am not happy with that time in my life. God was working in my life at that time to bring me closer to Him.

(Our children are in danger today because of the friends they hang out with. Some of them are not strong enough to resist the pressure their peers put on them. With my own children, I wondered why they did things that my wife and I taught them not to. It takes careful training and getting on our knees to pray for them. Then in the end we must put our trust in the Heavenly Father that our children will turn out all right.)

Yet how many have followed down the wrong path? How often do we hear about giving in to peer pressure? How many have become drug addict or alcoholics? How many go from one partner to another and wind up with some form of sexual transmitted disease? It goes on and on. Like Eve we choose to listen to voices that tell us we should be doing. Because like Eve we are attracted to what they say we follow like cattle to a slaughter.

This is most likely to happen when we choose to leave father’s house and go out on our own. Our Heavenly Father only desires to give us everything that would bring us eternal happiness and not temporal happiness. The world wants what is temporal because of it brings instant pleasure. But the pleasure does not last. The son ran out of money. When the money was gone so was the pleasure. Worse a famine came upon the land and he had nothing to keep himself going during the time. The son suffered and went to feed the pigs.

For those of us who have gone down the wrong path Jesus is there. In the end when life is about ready to depart from our body we face two options. The first option is eternal punishment and separation from God. The thief on the other side of Jesus showed no fear and even though he faced the same fate of Jesus still clung to his pride. It is pride that keeps many from experiencing the true grace that the Heavenly Father offers. Pride coupled with the fear of death has driven many to false beliefs. God never changes. Some believed he changed when Christ died on the cross. Long after that the apostle Paul says, "For the wages of sin is death..." God told Adam and Eve, "but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Again in Hebrews Paul writes these words, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment..."

God never change but we do. The son came to the realization that everything was better even for the hire hand in father’s house. Those who hired him to feed the pigs did not take care of him. He longed to fill his belly with what the pigs were eating. In his heart he knew where he would be better off. The son did not desire his position he had in father’s house. Just to be back in father’s house he would humble himself and hire him himself to his father. So the son left to return back home. While he was still a long way off his father came out to greet him. But before he could say what he wanted to say the father raise him up to the status of a son.

How much more will our Heavenly Father welcome us back. God loved us enough to give his one and only son to die on the cross of shame. Jesus loved us enough to willing submit to the cross of shame. He took our sin and sin nature unto himself, so we can find freedom. Like the thief next to Jesus we can find release. We do not have to carry around a load of guilt and shame. God knows what we have pent up inside. He wants us to give it to him; to lay it at the foot of his Son’s cross. Like the son God will welcome us back into Father’s house.

If you have been carrying around a load of shame and guilt, today you can find freedom. If there is some secret sin you have been agonizing over, today you can be free of it. Come to the Cross. Humbly place all the shame, all the guilt and the sin at the foot of the cross. Ask Jesus to come into your heart, to forgive and to save you from the guilt, shame, sin and the sin nature. Come back to Father’s House.

Pray with me: Dear Heavenly Father, I have been away from you presence. I have gone after the temporal pleasures of this world. They did not bring me happiness but only guilt and shame. I listened to those around me and found only despair. I come now back to you. I have sinned against you and I am sorry. Treat me as you would a hired hand because I do not deserve to be your child. I praise you because thru the sacrifice of your Son on the cross of shame you graciously take me back as your child. I do thank you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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