October 24, 2023

The Man on the Middle Cross

A last-minute invitation can make all the difference

Julie Jenson

Not many people know my husband, Todd. He’s an introvert. He’s not the type to strive for the stage. And he performs his kindnesses quietly. But, through a tragic death, God put a spotlight of celestial glory on the heart of the man with whom I recently celebrated my forty-fourth anniversary.

The story began when Bob rented a room from us through Airbnb last fall. A retired military man, he’d sustained injuries that challenged his ability to walk. He seemed not to have many family or friends except his son (who occasionally came down from New York), but because of his friendly, personable manner, Bob quickly became like family to us. We ended up selling him a small RV and letting him stay in our yard. He had significant health problems and struggled with alcoholism, but through the ministry of some Christian friends and my dear husband, he stopped drinking and accepted Jesus.

Then, tragedy. His health issues worsened. Todd had given him (without telling anyone)1 $3,000 to help get medical care because of the scalping costs of the drug industry. We knew Bob struggled with health issues, so when he didn’t emerge from his trailer for a couple of days, and Todd went to check on him, he found he’d passed away.

Not much shakes Todd, but this did. In processing his grief, he watched a sermon in which the pastor tells a story imagining the thief on the cross arriving at heaven’s gate.2 The man claims he has no qualifications to be there, so the angels call the supervisor angel, who asks the man a battery of questions, such as “Are you clear on the doctrine of justification by faith?” No, the man says.“What about the doctrine of Scripture?” He draws a blank. Finally the angel asks, “On what basis are you here?”

The man says, “The Man on the middle cross said I could come.”

My husband has cried maybe five times in our married life—once was when his mother died; another time when he told a moving children’s story. His tear glands, like many male tear glands, get little exercise. But Todd ugly-cried during the story of the Man on the middle cross. He knew that his friend Bob, like the thief, had not had time to clean up his life. But Todd saw, next to his cold body, a Bible by his bedside. All any of us have is the Man on the middle cross. Let’s stop claiming we have more. All this virtue signaling and self-righteousness we love so much separates us from one another. Ultimately it occludes the cross from our eyes and the eyes of people like Bob, who, as we have just learned with breathless certainty, may be with us one moment and gone the next.

1 When I asked Todd about it, he said, “The Man on the middle cross told me to give it.”

2 To watch the sermon by Alistair Begg, pastor of the nondenominational Parkside Church in Cleveland, go here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDl8euKhd3U.