By Nancy Virden (c)2023 The Miracle Series
I Knew the Thief on the Cross
True story by Nancy Virden ©2022
We remember the “thief on the cross,” as he is commonly known, as a criminal, a rebel. No doubt he had hurt people’s feelings, finances, and flesh. He had lived selfishly, thinking of his wants above the needs of others. He would not have seemed to be a man worthy of heaven.
We first meet him at the end of his life, one of two men crucified with Jesus. People passing by the three crosses hurled insults at Jesus, and the dying men at his sides joined in the mockery. We do not know much more about the thief on the cross.
Except I knew him, knew him very well, in fact. One could say my dad was just like the thief on the cross.
Dad too, lived his adult life defying God’s ways, at one time living a double life as a church leader. I never heard him speak the name of Jesus. He was, as Saint Paul put it, a lover of himself, a lover of money, abusive, and unholy.
For many years I prayed, ”God, if dad ever faces death without Christ, would You please have one last conversation with him before he passes?” That is not a request without precedent. It is true that we do not know much about the thief on the cross, however, we know enough. During his last breaths, he had a conversation with God. It was the most important moment of his life.
On a Friday afternoon, I received a call. “Your father is dying,” they said. “He might live until Sunday.” Immediately, I set up camp near his bed in the nursing home.
Dad was unresponsive, nonetheless, the medical staff said he could hear. I told him the only thing he had to do for God to love him was to exist, and the only thing he ever had to do for me to love him was to be my dad.
Hour after hour passed. Sunday dragged in, weary and drained. I took a walk. Returning to the room a few minutes later, something felt odd. Trying to open the door was like pushing against a wall. Certain that something had become lodged behind it, I pushed harder. Slowly, It opened.
Inside, I recognized who was holding the door shut. Filling the room from corner to corner and ceiling to floor, God’s presence felt so thick it was almost heavy. Walking was a little like wading upstream. I sat, peacefully aware that the fullest presence was over dad who seemed to be asleep, and the rest emanated from that source. God was answering my prayers and having a last conversation with him.
This was the most important moment of dad’s life.
What did they talk about? Did Jesus intercede saying, “Father forgive him because he knows not what he is doing”?
The thief on the cross came to see no hope outside of Jesus. Relinquishing to God’s authority, he ceased mocking and told the other criminal to stop it too. In honest confession, he said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.”
Did dad confess too, “I am getting what my deeds deserve”?
Several minutes passed. Then as easily as I assume it had come, the presence of God lifted. The atmosphere of the room returned to normal, dad breathed heavily, and I was left with praise and a question.
“God,” I said, “You have my trust no matter what. But are you willing to let me know for sure? Did dad say yes to you?”
Picking up my Bible, the pages fell open to Micah 7:18-19.
Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
What a lovely description of God’s willingness to forgive the guilty! The line, “You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love” excited me. You see, God reached for the thief on the cross and my dad because of his delight in showing unfailing love. Once again, God proved his compassion.
Then I knew dad had repented in faith and said “Yes” to God’s Son and to his mercy.
The thief on the cross 2000 years ago did that when he finally said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, and no doubt my dad heard it too, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Today’s Helpful Word
And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth
If you are feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here.
If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S. or go to your nearest emergency room. In the EU call 112. (For other international emergency numbers, go here ). Hope and help are yours!
Always the Fight Ministries (ATFM) has been displaying compassion for those fighting mental illness, addiction, or abuse since 2012. Nancy is the founder and voice of ATFM and openly shares her emotional resurrection from despair. NOTE: Nancy is not a doctor or a mental health professional, and speaks only from personal experience and observations. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.
HOLY BIBLE, NEW LIVING TRANSLATION, COPYRIGHT © 1996, 2004, 2015 BY TYNDALE HOUSE FOUNDATION. USED BY PERMISSION OF TYNDALE HOUSE PUBLISHERS, INC., CAROL STREAM, ILLINOIS 60188, PER BIBLE GATEWAY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.BIBLEGATEWAY.COM/