"Today you will be with me in paradise."
Updated: Jan 7, 2022
I had seen his face before, I was sure of it.
As the soldiers laid me down upon the large wooden beam that I would be crucified upon, I could not take my eyes off the man on the beam next to me.
He was horribly disfigured, his face beaten and eyes swollen. His flesh looked like torn rags, shredded from an innumerable amount of lashings. I would not have believed that a man could bleed so much until I saw it for myself. I was almost surprised when his head moved and I heard him groan in pain, for I thought he was already dead.
Pain like I had never previously known coursed through my body as iron nails were hammered into my wrists, separating bone from muscle and tendon as they tore through my flesh. I screamed out in pain as the soldiers drove the other nails into my body, another in my wrist and the final into my feet. My throat was hoarse from screaming and my body was shaking terribly from the pain when I looked over again at the man to notice that he was already looking at me.
I could barely see his eyes past the swelling and the blood that poured from his crown of thorns down his face, but I knew he was looking right at me. He held his gaze upon me until they began to raise the wooden beams we were hanging on into position. The soldiers secured the beams into the ground, not to be removed and brought down until there was no breath left in our lungs.
The weight of my body pulled tension across the nails, further tearing my wrists apart as the nails held firm in the wooden beam that my arms were stretched across. My breathing laboured heavily; unable to catch a full breath as the hanging of my body prevented my lungs from fully expanding. Through the sound of my own moans and short gasps for breath I heard the crowd below.
They were screaming at the man beside me, appearing pleased at his suffering as they demanded his death, crying out for more blood. That was when I heard them say his name.
I had seen his face before, in the streets of Jerusalem. I had seen with my own eyes how he healed the blind and the lame. I heard even more stories of the same; those of raising the dead to life. I wondered how this could be the same man. The one that had brought life to the dead and healed the sick, now hanging upon a cross next to criminals like me.
Amidst the loud cries of the crowd I heard a whisper come from Jesus, so soft and quiet that it was almost lost in all the noise.
I did not know who he was speaking to, surely not the crowd for they wouldn't have heard him. I strained my ears to hear.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
He was talking to his father.
I had heard him speak of his father numerous times before this, in the days before his crucifixion. It was this father that he claimed to be sent from, this Father whom he can do nothing apart from and this tather that through him others can be with.
I watched astonished as he pleaded for the forgiveness of those who even now spit on his face and cry out ferociously for his death.
It was then that I heard the criminal hanging on the other cross speak up.
Reading aloud the sign above that said ‘The King of the Jews’, he insulted Jesus along with the crowd.
“Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” He cried out.
Despite the pain that shook my body violently and stole the breath from my failing lungs, I felt a fire in my chest, a rising in my spirit to defend such injustice.
I shouted hoarsely back at the other man, gaining more of my breath back with every word I yelled.
“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.”
As if the spoken words had set loose something within, I felt something deep in my soul shift. I felt my heart align with the words I had spoken. In my spirit I felt a gentle leading, a guiding into the true understanding of what was unfolding before me. My heart ached as it was revealed to me the significance of this day.
In a single moment I saw him Upon his throne in heaven, unbound by time or this universe, He sat at the right hand of the Father. Clothed with robes of glory and power, having the authority of the entire universe sit perfectly upon his shoulders, he watched us, his children.
He knew us from the very beginning, having a plan set for our lives even before the foundations of the earth were laid. Such a furious and passionate love for us could not be known fully to any man, but in a moment I caught a glimpse of how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus.
Watching on from heaven, his heart broke for us as we wade in the depths of our own sin and sickness.
In that perfect moment of mercy I saw him rise up from his throne and I heard all of heaven become still in complete silence.
With every step he took away from his throne I felt the heavens groan with the same defiance that I had cried out in only moments ago when I defended him. That the master of all things, the author of all of creation should step down from glory and humble himself was unthinkable.
The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace; Him who should be exalted and praised for all of eternity, stepped down from infinity into our moment on earth to save us.
I saw Him in robes of ultimate glory, wrapped in the majesty of every spinning galaxy and every burning star that spanned across the endless universe. I saw him shed those robes to set foot on the same ground that every other common man walked upon.
He was beaten, he was whipped, and tortured mercilessly by those children of his that he came to save. The king of Glory was ridiculed, he was insulted, humiliated and shamed by the very children he had spoken into existence and given life to with a breath of his own.
He was nailed to a cross made from a tree that on the third day of the creation he spoke into existence.
The King of Kings had a crown of thorns placed upon his head as he hung on that cross.
I watched Jesus hang on the cross in such immense pain, now fully realizing the moment in history that I was witnessing.
Again he turned his head and looked into my eyes.
Tears began to stream down my face.
In that moment I loved him with all of my heart, because he first loved me. I wanted to cry out to him, worship him, praise him for who he was though I did not have the words.
I didn't know how to pray, I wasn’t taught the words of any prayer.
I didn't know the customs, I didn't understand the traditions.
So I spoke the only words I knew to say.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
I didn't have to say the right words, it didn't matter to Him.
In his eyes I saw mercy, endless love and abounding grace. I saw the love of the Father in his eyes.
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23: 32 - 43 NIV ( Luke's account of the Crucifixion of Jesus, dramatized)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jozef Lalka is a former Infantryman with the Canadian Armed Forces and founder of War Doll.
Since releasing from the military, Jozef has devoted his life to the scriptural motivation of the warrior culture, and the mentorship of the next generation. Having earned a diploma in Media & Video production, Jozef works as a graphic designer, photographer and videographer while pursing a passion for current global conflicts and how they relate to historical events.