As his mother nursed him while holding him close in her arms, she had dreams – dreams of the man he might one day become. Those dreams comforted her. She closed her eyes and felt his warmth. She felt it not only on her skin but deeper, much deeper. Her labor was over, and this new life clinging to her breast offered such promise. It was indeed the stuff of dreams.
His father, too, had dreams. Here was the little boy they had longed for, a son to carry on the name. Every father wants his son to grow up strong and healthy, to make wise choices, and to make mom and dad proud. As this new father watched the tiny baby fall into a peaceful sleep, he, too, felt a sense of peace beyond anything he’d ever known before.
As the baby grew into a boy and then into a young man, the peace that his father had felt years before had been wiped away by hurt and disappointment. Although they had tried to teach him well, to take him to synagogue, to instill strong values in him, their efforts came to naught. The teen fell in with a bad crowd. Acts of mischief turned to petty crimes, and petty crimes turned more serious and violent. The hope and pride those parents had years before had evaporated leaving only pain and shame.
Sitting around a dying fire on an unusually chilly night, the young man sat alone, alone save the thoughts that drifted like wisps of smoke through his mind – his father’s smiling face, his mother’s tender touch. It seemed like another life. He remembered another presence, too. He sensed that presence when his father prayed. It was Yahweh, the Great I Am. Quietly, the young man wept for all that was lost, for the broken pieces of his life, for the agony he had caused his mother and father, and for his own dirty soul. He wondered why this God, the God whose presence he once felt so close, had not already destroyed him utterly. But here he sat in the cold, cheeks wet, heart broken, and, oh, so lost inside.
He has been called Dismas, Titus, Rakh, and Zoatham. None of those was likely his name. His name is lost to history, but he is not. We meet him briefly in the gospels of Mark and Luke. He is a thief, often called the “good thief” to distinguish him from the other in the story. We find him hanging on a cross, the Roman’s cruelest form of capital punishment. He, another thief, and Jesus were executed that day.
Mark simply says that Jesus was crucified between two robbers, one on his right and one on his left (Mark 15:27). Luke provides us a few more specifics:
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
I marvel at the simple expression of faith from the “good thief.” Although the details I have given earlier are from my own imagining, it seems obvious that he understood the depth of his own sin and somehow knew of the righteousness of the one crucified next to him. Had he heard talk on the streets about Him? Did he encounter Jesus at some point? We don’t know. What we do know is that he simply asks Jesus to remember Him when He came into His kingdom.
Remember me. Those words strike home.
He had likely broken his mother’s heart and left his father with deep disappointment. Perhaps they had not seen him for months. It could be that they only heard from friends and neighbors that their boy had been in jail yet again. Did they remember him? Yes. If they were godly parents, as I am assuming, they did remember him before God night and day. His name is not recorded in history, but it echoed through the halls of heaven.
“Remember me,” the nameless thief asked, his words expressing both regret and belief. The response of Jesus shows us both the simplicity of faith and the immensity of forgiveness.
This man whose life had gone off the rails at some point had never been forgotten. There was a God in heaven who knew Him better than he knew himself, a God who saw all his crimes and loved him still. Jesus would usher this man into the holy presence of His Father. And though his name is a mystery to us, the man would hear that it was on the lips of God.
Do you feel unknown, unnoticed, as if you and your life don’t matter to anyone? There is One who cares far more than you can know. He knows your name. He knows all that you have done. He loves you and calls you by name. By faith in His Son, you, too, can enter His presence.