It was bright sunny day and hot, and the jail yard had just a wisp of shade on one end–just enough to bath your head in some refreshing shade. When the prisoners came in, I was looking up into the sky. Jesus was seated there–I knew this, but I just couldn’t see Him. Not that day, anyway. I was taken from my reverie by their entrance and notice two new men in the group, Eli and Brandon. Eli had just spent 15 years in prison. He got out for a couple of months, but here he was again, back in jail. In his time there he had learned the bible well, though he seems to be largely unable to make sense of the Old Testament, a problem not unknown amongst Christians.
The other man, covered in tattoos head to foot, was telling me about how his current stint was the fault of his old lady, whom I took to be his wife; it was all her fault. I settled them in with prayer, and I went directly to the preaching of the Word. I told them that the thief on cross didn’t ask for something natural. The thief on the cross had something revealed to him that was supernatural. Instead of asking like the other thief for physical deliverance from the cross, he asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His Kingdom. What Kingdom? How does the thief know that Jesus has a Kingdom? Well, remember that Jesus was tried in the open air before a crowd of onlookers. The other prisoners would have been present during the proceedings prior to their sentences being carried out. The thieves heard Jesus say, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (Jn 18:36). He heard Jesus speak to the women along the way to the hill called Golgotha, and he heard the railing of the chief priests and guards who stood at His feet, saying “If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.” Both thieves heard all of this. But one of the thieves, when it was revealed to him from heaven that Jesus was the Christ, believed that He would come into His Kingdom. When the thief said to Jesus “when you come into Your Kingdom,” he was saying that he understood that Christ would die that day, and that He would be raised again from the dead to inherit this Kingdom. When Christ said, “today you will be with Me in paradise,” He confirmed what the thief already knew–that today was the day that he would die–and He told Him something knew–that he would receive eternal life by the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God. The thief received this revelation in the same way that Peter received from God a knowledge of the Truth, that is, from above (Mt 16:17).
Then, Eli began to spar with me. He said, “I don’t believe the thief is with Jesus in heaven.” He knew the scriptures well, and he said, “no man hath ascended into heaven.” I pointed him to what verse he was quoting and we began to duel with the scriptures. What about Elijah? What about Enoch? I thought in my heart, “oh, no! I have this one opportunity to reach Brandon with the Gospel, and Eli is ruining my chances. My sermon is off course now, and I’m not going to be able to accomplish what God sent me here to do.” This interaction didn’t seem to me at the time to be the best witness of the power of Christ to Brandon. But, as I often am, I was wrong. At the end of it all, I asked Brandon, “have you received Christ?”
He said, “It’s what I need to do,” and he began to weep. We prayed together and he received Christ. All the other inmates were so moved by the genuineness of his emotional confession of Christ, that they moved in and comforted him, patting him on the back and speaking gently. The room, which just moments before had seemed filled with evil doers, seemed suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit. Just like the thief, from heaven the Holy Spirit fell on a man who seemed not to deserve it. All because of Jesus.