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Saved at Last

by Rachel Varghese  
10/25/2015 / Salvation


"In the cross, in the cross be my glory ever; till my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river."

"On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame, and I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain."

Christians all over the world sing of that old rugged cross on Good Friday. The cross was considered as a symbol of curse and shame because the ones that hung on a cross were the notorious criminals of that community. Today, the symbol of the cross is on hospitals and ambulances signifying that they are in the mission of saving lives, on cemeteries advertising that the one who hung on the cross is the life giver who would resurrect them one day, and also on steeples of churches inviting sinners to the foot of the cross for salvation.

2000 years ago a thief hanging on the cross next to Jesus, looked at the Savior's face and his whole life flashed before his eyes in an instant. He saw himself as the little orphan that some kind shepherds had adopted. His thoughts went back to the night when he hugged a bleating lamb and spoke softly into its ears, "We both are brothers because we have nobody in this world except us. If only I knew how to use a sling like David or had his strength, I would have killed that nasty lion just and saved your mother." The lamb snuggled close to Shem as though he understood what the little boy was saying to him and both of them closed their weary eyelids.

"Oh who is that? Is that a real angel? And what is he saying?" blabbered little Shem as he moved closer to the shepherds. His eyes sparkled with amazement as the heavenly host sang, "Glory to God in the Highest". Then just as they appeared they vanished, and the fields were once again dark as the dying embers of the camp fire glowed dim and everything was so still.

"Let us go to Bethlehem and see the one, of whom the angel spoke of," said Seth the oldest shepherd.
They all got up in unison; but not a soul spoke of the sheep that they were leaving behind; for they trusted that the angels would watch over their flock as they went to see the Savior of the world.

"Can I take my Bleaty with me?" asked little Shem.

"Sure we can and let us hurry," said Obed as he held little Shem's hand and carried Bleaty for him.

What a sight met the little boy as he saw the baby in the manger!

"Obed, the baby is looking at me and look at Bleaty, he is right next to the manger," whispered Shem.

As the kind mother smiled at Shem, he crawled close to her and pointed to his little lamb and said, "That's Bleaty, he does not have a mother and I want to give him as a gift to the baby."

The kind lady smiled again, patted Shem on his head and said in a soft voice, "Thank you, little one. May the God of heaven bless you and may you be found in his kingdom."

Days rolled into months and years, and the shepherds moved from place to place as their custom was. Shem was a young lad now and he was getting bored staying with the old shepherds who only talked about the Messiah; and Shem always talked about how nice it would be if he could live in the city.

One day some men from a nearby city came to buy some sheep and with them was a young boy named Adbeel who was as old as Shem. Both the boys talked and laughed and had a good time. When it was time for them to go, Adbeel looked at Seth, the senior shepherd and said, "Can Shem come with me for a few days, my father says he can stay with us forever?"

"Shem would you like to go with them to Nazareth for some time?" asked Seth.

"I would love that, I've never lived in a city," said Shem with great anticipation.

As the shepherds packed his belongings, Obed took him aside and said, "Shem, Nazareth is not a good place. Remember all that we have taught you. Make sure you go to the Synagogue every Sabbath. Don't you ever forget that you were one of the first ones to see the Messiah. You were only four years old when you saw Him, and He came into the world to save us."

Shem shook his head affirmatively and, hugged all the ones who had cared for him from the time he was an infant. The shepherds' dog had found the abandoned baby under a bush; they rescued him; named him Shem and nourished him thus far.

Nazareth was a wonderful place, and there were a lot of boys who played rough games. Shem was fascinated with the city and all the new stuff that he saw there, and he soon became actively involved with all that they did. Years of walking behind the sheep in rough terrain had made him very strong, and soon Shem became the star of the kid-world of Nazareth.

One day Adbeel and Shem carried some chairs that were to be repaired, to the carpenter's shop. It was a hot day and they were very thirsty and asked the carpenter if they could have some water. He called for his son and the boy came with a jar of water, followed by a white goat.

Shem patted the friendly goat and told the boy that he had a little white lamb named Bleaty that he gave as a gift to a very special baby.

"Are you Shem?" asked the young boy to the surprised boys.

"Yes, I am and how do you know?' asked Shem.

Before the lad could answer, came a soft voice behind him that said, "I have told your story to my son, Shem," smiled the kind faced lady that Shem
recognized immediately.

"Be good, so that you could be in the kingdom of God, son," she said.

A few years later Adbeel's family moved to Jericho and Shem decided that he was going to stay on his own now with another boy named Merari who was also living by himself. Adbeel's family could not compel Shem to go with them and he continued to live in Nazareth.

Merari lived by cheating others and Shem thought that was a cool way to get money. They stole from orchards, shops, and people, and kept moving from place to place. They hid in the mountains and waylaid people, beat them up and stole whatever they could lay their hands on. Shem was a strong young man and could easily beat any number of people and became a full-fledged thief.

One day they saw a caravan going to Egypt and they decided to hide and steal all that they could. As they were hiding in the bushes and were planning how to attack, another huge man came near and said their plan was not a good one but he had a better one and would include them with him if they would join him. He told them that his name was Barabbas. Shem and Merari gasped with fear and wonder when they heard that name for every one shuddered with fear at the mention of the dangerous thief's name. Barabbas sensed the awe and fear in the faces of the men and calmed them and they thought it was a great honor to be invited to join the company of Barabbas.

Their attack on the caravan was more than a success and Shem committed his first murder that day. The look on his victim's face and, the agony that he went through upset Shem so much that he threw up all over himself.

Merari and Barabbas laughed at him and said that he shouldn't be a baby anymore committing petty crimes like stealing, but grow up to be a strong man who can do anything.

Shem made a decision, that day that he would never allow anyone to laugh at him anymore and he would be the toughest guy that Barabbas had ever seen.

A few days later Barabbas, Merari and a few of their followers went to do a job that they said was too big for Shem and he was left alone in the caves that they used as their hiding place. As he was sitting there wondering what to do with his life, he heard a lot of people talking excitedly. He went out to see what they were doing and asked one of them what was happening and he said that they were going to listen to the teacher from Nazareth. "Nazareth,"

Shem's curiosity perked up and he followed the crowd and saw a whole multitude seated on the green grass and a young man standing in front and teaching things he had never heard of. Shem sat way at the back of the crowd but he heard clearly all that this young man said. This teacher spoke a lot about the kingdom of God and how we should prepare ourselves to get there. Shem remembered that the teacher's mother also told him that he should be found in the kingdom of God.

As the sun started to slowly sink behind the hills the teacher's helpers asked everybody to sit in groups because they were going to serve dinner. "Dinner!" Shem could not believe his ears. Dinner for this big crowd, he wondered. There were so many, who was going to supply for all of them? He then stood up to see what was going around the teacher. He saw a little boy hand over a cloth wrapped package to the teacher, who smiled at the little boy and said something to him and then took the package; He looked up into the sky and prayed. What he saw next blew his mind away.

The teacher was giving food to his helpers and they were serving the people. He too got some fish and bread and thoroughly enjoyed the meal. Shem wanted to go and talk to the teacher and ask him how he could get so much food from just a little package. He also wanted to ask him if he was carpenter Joseph's son, and if so tell him that he had seen him as a baby and in the carpenter's shop, he wanted to know if Bleaty was still around. But from the corner of his eye he saw Barabbas and Merari and few others standing at the back and discussing something looking at the teacher. Shem did not want them to know that he had been part of this crowd, so he slowly slid away.

Back at the caves Barabbas and Merari told Shem of the big job that they had done that day. They had gone into a Roman officer's house, killed all the guards and robbed the gold, silver and precious things that they could get and hid them under an oak tree near the caves.

"Shem if you had come with us you would have not only thrown up but would have passed out also," they laughed.

"Do you think you could help us to pick up the stuff and bring it over here or are you going to throw up again?" asked Merari sarcastically.

Shem's face was red with anger and shame. He wanted to say he did not want to have anything to do with them anymore. The Teacher's words were ringing in his ears, and he wanted to walk away from them but there was another voice talking to him saying," Go ahead and help them, they are your friends, they took care of you when you were in need and you have a roof over your head because of them. Don't be ungrateful. Go with them." Shem felt a strong urge not to join hands with thieves and murderers but he yielded to the voice of the evil one and walked out of the cave in the darkness with Barabbas, Merari and his friends.

They walked quietly through the woods behind Barabbas. There was an eerie silence around them as they walked quietly to the oak tree, removed the pile of leaves and saw the glittering gold, silver, precious stones and other things and were about to put them in the sacks that they had brought with them when they heard a loud voice, "Halt where you are." Soon the whole place was lit with torches and they were surrounded by armed Roman soldiers. They were all arrested, beaten and thrown into prison, and known as followers of Barabbas.
Shem would have loved to be called as one of the followers of the "Teacher from Nazareth," but here he was thrown into prison with the worst of criminals.

Everyday some of them were taken out and crucified. Finally, it was Barabbas's turn and he even boasted to all the prison guards and fellow prisoners that he was not scared of the cross or death because he had lived his life the way he wanted to.

It was the Passover evening and the guards asked Barabbas that this was his last Passover and if he would like the Passover meal or something else because he was going to be crucified.

"Who cares about the Passover? Give me the best of all the meats and a lot of the best wine you have," laughed Barabbas.

The guard looked at Shem and asked, "What about you? Do you want the same as your master Barabbas?"

Shem hung his head in shame when he was termed as Barabbas' follower and said "I do not want anything."

"OK, you and your boss along with another thief from your company is the next group to meet at the cross,'' laughed the Roman guard as he locked the heavy iron door.

When Shem woke up after a disturbed slumber, he did not see Barabbas but did not bother to ask anyone. After some time, Shem was taken out of the prison, and he walked slowly with the Roman soldiers to his final destination as the crowds by the side of the road shouted, "Thief, thief, crucify him."

Shem was hoping none of his old shepherd friends were around or anyone from Adbeel's family was there. Then he hoped even if they were there, they would not recognize him as his appearance had changed a lot just as his character had. As he neared Golgotha he heard the screams and curses of the thief that was nailed to the cross and the angry shouts of the Roman soldiers.

When Shem came near the mount of crucifixion he saw with fear and wondered why the next person that was being crucified was not screaming and cursing but was bearing the pain and agony as a lamb at slaughter. 'Surely this cannot be Barabbas, for all that came out of his mouth was filth. What happened to him?' thought Shem as he waited for his turn next. When they raised the cross to put it in the hole that was dug for it to stand erect, Shem heard Him groan and wince with pain but not a word of anger came out of His mouth. When Shem looked up to look at His face he was shocked. "How can this be? Barabbas was supposed to be on that cross and definitely not this gentle teacher from Nazareth," he spoke out loud in disbelief. The centurion who was watching at this strange scene and heard what the thief, who was going to be the next one to be crucified, said, "Yes I believe the same as you do, but the Jews wanted Barabbas to be set free and Jesus to be crucified."

Fear and grief filled his heart and when he was laid on the cross to be nailed, he said to himself, "At least now I will try to be like the "Teacher" and tried not to scream, but the pain was so great that he did scream, but he did not curse like the other thief did. As they lifted up the cross and set it in the hole, he cried out in pain and wondered how "The teacher from Nazareth" bore all this pain silently. He then remembered what was written in the book of Isaiah, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth." As a shepherd boy he clearly understood what the prophet was talking, but now it made a lot of sense and he knew who the prophet was talking about.

Shem heard the thief on the other side of Jesus cursing and telling Him, "If you are Christ, save yourself and us." Shem, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, seeing you are in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss." As he finished saying this he heard a soft voice crying at the foot of the cross and saw that it was the mother of the Messiah, and he remembered her words. He turned his face and looked at the face of Jesus dripping with blood from the thorny crown that pricked his head. Shem felt as though his heart was ripped from his body and he cried out, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." The Savior looked at him with compassion and assured him, "Surely I say unto you today, you shall be with me in paradise." Shem's heart was filled with joy in spite of the enormous physical pain that he was going through.

Yes, the thief on the cross was saved at last, but how many of us would have a chance like that? Will we ever know when our last day on earth would be? Can we be saved at the last minute? Today is the day of salvation, now is the time to look at that old rugged cross and make sure that you would be saved at last into the Kingdom of God.

My name is Rachel Varghese. I have a Post Graduate degree in English and have taught English for a number of years. I write poems and short stories as a hobby. Few of my poems have been published. This is the first time I sending a story to be published.

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