AND THEN WHAT?
by David Sisler
We were high school sophomores talking about pretty much the same things young people talk about today. The things we discussed may not have been quite as loud or quite as fast, but the same basic things as today's teens. All at once, out of the proverbial clear blue sky, one of the guys said, "I am going to live fast, die young, and have a good looking corpse."
Without missing a beat, one of the girls in the group looked at him and said, "And then what?"
No one said anything for a long time. Then in the same silence, the group broke up and we all wandered away.
It is a good question. It is as relevant as tomorrow morning's headlines. "And then what?"
We do not know his name. We do know that he was living in an occupied country. His own nation had been conquered and subjected to all of the horror and humiliation experienced by satellite countries.
In his earlier days, he would have been an idealist. "I can oppose the government from within the framework of the law." He probably attended rallies and gave impassioned speeches. "We can work with the system to bring about change," he thought.
Then he found out that was only a well-meaning fantasy. The conquerors were too strong. Political action committees were broken up--so were the members of the committees. He had watched friends die because they opposed their oppressors. So he decided, "I will move outside the law." And he found he could.
At first there were just small violations. Finally, he totally ignored the law. He began by attacking soldiers and officials of the conquering power. Later he learned that money had no nationality, so he started stealing from everyone.
Palestine, you see, had come under the cruel heel of Imperial Rome. You had peace if you obeyed Rome. Since the system could not be changed from within, groups of zealots began to attack the system. Disobedience led to defiance, then robbery, finally murder. Ultimately, arrest and crucifixion.
And that's where he was, this unnamed revolutionary. The Bible calls him a thief. In modern terms, he would have been a terrorist. Caught, tried, and condemned, he was nailed to a cross. With him were two other dying men--one a partner in crime, the other a Jewish rabbi named Jesus.
The crowd, including the terrorist, mocked and cursed Jesus. At one point both terrorists said, "If you are the Christ, save yourself and us. If you do that we will believe you."
Then something happened inside of that man's heart. Maybe it was the way Jesus suffered without cursing. Maybe it was the way Jesus kept praying for the men who were killing Him. He would have had to have been the village idiot to have never heard of Jesus before that moment, so maybe it was memories of the things he had seen Jesus do before they both fell victim to Rome.
He turned to Jesus and said, "Jesus, when you come into your kingdom, remember me." Over and over he said it until Jesus said, "Today, you will be with me in Paradise."
My teen-aged friend said, "I am going to live fast, die young, and have a good looking corpse." And then what?
That terrorist made it, but there was another man who died within arm's reach of salvation, but he died without salvation. "No man can call Jesus Lord," the Bible says, "except by the Holy Spirit," meaning you can't schedule salvation. Only God can do that. There is nothing more tragic than to wait to the last moment before death to lay hold of life, particularly since you don't know that you can do it then.
And then what? It is a provocative idea to live the way you want, and then at the last moment claim forgiveness. Let me tell you something far more provocative. Claim that forgiveness right now and then live life in the abundance for which it's intended!
Published in the Augusta Chronicle 1/29/94
Copyright 1994 by David Sisler
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