Between Two Thieves


He was an average teenage boy. Like many teenagers his brain was still developing with his body. Thoughts would flow from his mind and out of his mouth like a fire hose. Decisions he made with his heart and body were uncoordinated. It was like there was a short circuit somewhere. His father and his older brother were commercial fishermen. It was the life he knew. But into their lives came the Rabbi. With his father’s permission, he and his older brother had left the life of fishermen to become what the Teacher called fishers of men. John had a special relationship with Him. They all did of course. But he was the youngest and it was easy to see that Jesus kept him close like a protective father would. John couldn’t resist the comfort of the call or the steady reminder of the Rabbi, “Do not be afraid. I will always be with you.”

The Teacher’s devotion to him seemed as transcendent and supernatural as it was close and personal. He and his brother had been granted the nickname “Sons of Thunder” by their Teacher. It might have been because of the time they awkwardly asked Jesus if He wanted them to call down fire from heaven on a town of Samaritans. Jesus rebuked the notion of course, but it was just like their Teacher to lovingly remind them with a touch of humor. The thought of it felt like butterflies fluttering around under his ribs. His Hero had given him a nickname.

They’d said and done a lot of childish things, these two sons of thunder. But none of the things they’d cooked up had made the other ten disciples as angry as they were today. This request of theirs was more than just childish. It was arrogant. Besides, the other disciples were no doubt as disappointed in themselves for not asking, as they were indignant at the sons for asking. It’s what they all wanted deep inside. If they can’t be kings, the next best thing is to be on the right and the left of the King when He comes into His glory. Humans had been trying to sit in God’s place ever since the fall of man. But now, in this unique point in time God had descended into human form in this Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. He’d done more miracles, taught more wisdom, casted out more darkness, and healed more people than they’d ever be able to describe. He was the Messiah, the promised One, the One who would restore Israel. He would soon take His place and be lifted up in glory for all the world to see and the sons wanted to be at his right and his left when that happened.

“We want you to do whatever we ask,” John said to Jesus as James walked close behind with a grin on his face. Every morning was Christmas with Jesus, with new wonderful surprises to be unwrapped. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus answered. Their feet tried to keep up with their heartbeats. Their dreams of fame swelled like the tide. “We want to be at your right hand and at your left hand when you come into your glory!” The unfiltered words came out like a shot. They were not afraid to ask Him anything. He had told them not to be. He was constant and familiar. He had told them, “Do not be afraid. I will always be with you.” The thought never occurred that he might say no or grow angry at them. There hadn’t been much thought in the question at all. It was pure desire. “You have no idea what you’re asking.” Jesus answered calmly. Sure they did, they thought. They were walking beside Him right then. How much harder could it be? “You have no idea what you’re asking.” Their request was denied even when they argued they could handle it. Those two places had been reserved by the Father. But for who? Who could be more deserving of such honored posts than the sons of thunder? On a Friday. On the darkest day. Young John would discover the answer.

He never dreamed it would be like this. His Rabbi, his Brother, his Friend and his personal and supernatural Hero had been beaten and scourged. It was all happening so fast. The disciples had scattered. Jesus’ mother Mary gripped John’s cloak and twisted it in knots as she cried out in agony and watched the atrocity unfold. This was foreign to him, not like the days of wonderful surprises. They were murdering the Author of Life. John could barely keep his feet as they drove the nails into Jesus’ hands. With all the powerful things he’d seen his Hero do, this he never expected. He was supposed to conquer our enemies, not be conquered by them. He was supposed to fight and win, not lie down and die. This was not glory like John had imagined. This was sheer horror. The last nail went through His feet as the final triad of screams came from deep in His lungs. Each spike drove dark scars into John’s heart. He cried out in terror as his Hero took each bloody, gurgling breath of this hate-filled punishment alone. And so they lifted Him high on His cross for all the world to see. Behold. Christ the crucified.

There He was, between two thieves, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews in all His glory.

There was a criminal crucified on His right and one on His left. Those two places had been reserved by the Father. John became dizzy. He buckled to his knees. He heard the memory of the words of his Master reverberate back to him. “You have no idea what you’re asking.” He looked up into the eyes of his King as they filled with more tears, more blood, and more love. There in the middle of the chaos and the living hell of the place of skulls, all went silent for a moment. There between two thieves, Jesus saved the disciple he loved from more than just his own selfish desire for glory. There between two thieves, he saved us all from ourselves, from our sinful desire for glory and from own destruction. There’s nothing worthy of glory in any of us. But there on a cross lifted high was the glory of the Lord, in the fullness of His wrath and the fullness of His grace. The cross screamed out in the silence and the darkness, “This is how much I hate sin and this is how much I love you.” And in the wake of the scream, John heard the echo of the calm steady comfort, “Do not be afraid. I will always be with you.” For we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Bill Brimer is a singer/songwriter, producer and guitarist from Dallas, Texas. He is the co-founder, Associate Pastor and Creative Director at SoulThirst Church in The Colony, Texas.  He has recorded and released three original albums, Snakes & Doves (Grace Bomb Records 2011), Love Above All (Grace Bomb Records 2012) and Bill Brimer & The Skybirds (SoulThirst Sound 2016). All his music is funded by donations from generous listeners and available for free download.  His music has been described as a modern blend of vintage country, punk and gospel. He is the co-host and producer of the weekly podcast God Geeks. 

Twitter: @BillBrimer