Biblical Last Words: Dismas Hopes

Biblical Last Words: Dismas Hopes

Biblical Last Words: Dismas Hopes.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42).

When Jesus was raised on the cross, He found Himself hanging between two criminals on their crosses, one thief on the right and the other on His left. Jesus the Innocent One, executed between two guilty ones. This fulfilled the messianic prophecy of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:12. He was numbered with sinners. He let himself be regarded as a criminal. He was counted as one of the rebellious. These two rebels surrounding Jesus on the cross might have been similar in their criminal behavior, but it appears their hearts were as different as night and day.

The unrepentant thief, traditionally named Gestas, remained cynical and bitter to the end. He ridiculed Jesus. He hurled abuse at Him, sneering such remarks as, What kind of Messiah are you? If you really are the Anointed One, prove it! Save yourself from this fate! And while you’re at it, be our savior and save us too!

Jesus did not respond to the abuse. He never opened his mouth to the criminal who was scoffing at Him. He was like a lamb led to slaughter, silent before His foe.

The repentant thief, named Dismas according to church tradition, treated Jesus much differently. He even advocated for Jesus by rebuking the other thief. Have you no shame? Have you no fear of God even before you die? You and I deserve this punishment. We were criminals, so we shouldn’t be surprised that this is our fate. But this man does not deserve this. He is totally innocent. What has He done wrong? Nothing. Nothing at all.

The repentant thief saw the sign above Jesus’ head on the cross that declared “This is the King of the Jews.” At that moment Dismas hoped that Jesus truly was the King, even if He was a dying King at the moment. A mustard seed of faith entered his heart as he pleaded with Jesus, Please remember me when you come into your kingdom!

And that was all the opening Jesus needed to act. Even a hairline crack in the heart, a simple request to be remembered, was enough for Jesus to offer His saving grace. Technically, it wasn’t even a confession, or an outright repenting of his sinfulness. But when it comes to grace, Jesus doesn’t get very technical. Even in his tortured state, Jesus saw right into the criminal’s heart, and didn’t expect the perfect confession. Remember me, and that’s all it took. Jesus responded to Dismas with, I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise. Paradise. Heaven. The restored Garden of Eden. The place of rest for the departed in Christ. In His mercy, Jesus promised a new life to the redeemed criminal, a life with Jesus Himself.

Gestas and Dismas both have their say while Jesus bridges the distance between them – the bitter man and the hopeful one, the lost one and the found.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Man in the Middle).

Jesus will bend over backwards to accept faith and hope whenever it happens, whether in the pleadings of a dying criminal being executed, or in a young innocent girl singing in kindergarten class. The angels will rejoice over one fallen creature who repents, no matter when or where that repentance takes place. On Good Friday, the angels were rejoicing over the simple request of that hopeful thief.