Paradise in a Garbage Dump
Historians and archaeologists tell us that the little section of land called Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, was actually a landfill. Have you ever seen a landfill up close? Flies buzzing around. A bad smell in the air. Everywhere you look is pile after pile of rotting, stinking trash. And Golgotha was the worst sort of primitive, barbaric landfill possible.
When the Romans were crucifying criminals, often there’d be nobody around to claim the bodies. So soldiers would peel the bodies off the beams and toss the corpses into the garbage heap. Then wild dogs and other feral animals would eat the flesh off the bones. That’s the place where Jesus was crucified—the worst sort of garbage dump imaginable.
The fact that Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus in paradise is highly significant. You see, on that day, paradise came to a landfill. Paradise was connected to a garbage dump, and that connection was Jesus.
We may be living in a garbage dump today, but paradise can still find us. Our lives may be disgustingly messy and flies may buzz all around us, but Jesus is always near. That’s great news, because even if we’re in a really tough spot, we never need to count ourselves out. There’s always hope. God is the God of the great comeback.
How does a great comeback begin? It springs from simple faith from a heart that believes enough to pray a basic prayer: Jesus, please remember me. That prayer only requires a breath, just enough to change the direction of our eternity. God placed the criminal in proximity to Jesus because God wanted to let us know we don’t need to be high and mighty to get to heaven. We aren’t blessed by God because we’re better than anyone else. We get to heaven because of a simple prayer of faith.
In that prayer we acknowledge that we have nothing to offer God. We come to Jesus as helpless in our pain and despair as a thief stretched out on a cross. We look at Jesus on the cross beside us and say, “You’re God. You’re innocent of any crimes. You could get down off that cross if you wanted, but you’re there by choice for a purpose. Will you please remember me?”
Sometimes people put more words around that prayer—and that’s fine. You might understand more about spiritual matters than the thief did. But if you know far less, that’s okay too. If all you know is that Jesus was innocent, crucified for things he didn’t do but things that you had a part in doing, and if you believe that Jesus could have climbed off that cross if he wanted to but stayed there for a reason, and you just want Jesus to remember you, then your prayer is heard.
God will hear your simple prayer and bring paradise to the messiest situations and lives. Jesus is not afraid of darkness. He’s not put off by the stench of old rotten bones. He’s not afraid of a few flies. Jesus will bring paradise even to a garbage dump.
The story of the thief on the cross shows us that Jesus wasn’t drawn to those whose lives were “perfectly” together. What hope does this give you today?
In what ways did the thief who asked Jesus for mercy show he understood the gravity of his situation? In what ways have you also asked God to remember you?
What does this story tell you about the extent of God’s mercy? What does it tell you about being “too far gone” to experience a comeback?