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Monday, March 16, 2015

"Heaven, How I Got Here" (Colin S. Smith)

TITLE: Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross
AUTHOR: Colin S. Smith
PUBLISHER: Scotland, UK: Christian Focus, 2015, (96 pages).

We have heard stories of people with a near death experience, leaving this earth, entering heaven, and then coming back to earth. There have also been testimonies of heavenly experiences by people from different cultures. In Christian circles, one particular story, "Heaven is for Real" was even turned into a movie. With the topic on heaven remaining mystifying and fascinating, what about stories of biblical characters entering heaven? In this very re-telling of the story of the thief who was saved on the cross next to Jesus, author Colin S. Smith imagines the story of the thief on the cross in order to shine a light on faith that comes completely by the grace of God, not personal works. With amazing insight, Smith, senior pastor of Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Chicago tells the story of the thief from a first person perspective.

Expounding on Luke 23:39-43, Smith is able to weave in a prologue of how the thief was initially captured and convicted. The culture then was one of rigid Pharisaic laws and harsh Roman authority. Ordinary people were often put in a situation where they had to fend for themselves and suffer from situations that are less than equitable. Smith is quite sympathetic to the thief in justifying the initial theft. Subsequently, as the thief becomes emboldened to steal more and more, the arrest and subsequent punishment became more understandable. Unfortunately, the way people were crucified then made modern readers question whether the punishment fits the crime. It could very well had been a double whammy of injustice. On the religious front, the thief could have been victims of hypocrisy. On the legal front, the thief could have been at the wrong place at the wrong time, and having been caught red-handed, had to suffer the notorious Roman punishment. If the thief had been caught for doing wrong, what about Jesus who had been convicted when he clearly did not do any wrong?

As the story progresses, we see a gradual transformation of the thief from bitterness to gladness. Initial faith becomes filled with hope. Lasting hope is facilitated by the love of Christ at the cross. As a witness to the punishment, death, and torture of Jesus nailed next to him, he becomes not only a confessor of sin, but an eye witness to the cruelty of man, and a beneficiary of the Word of Jesus.  He hears every word of Jesus. He listens in to the prayers of Jesus to God. He marvels at how a suffering person could even put the interest of others before self. Written with sensitivity to the Jewish culture, Smith in his "postscript" tells us that he is less keen in conveying any message. He is more interested in people experiencing Christ for themselves.

This is the first time I am reading something from the perspective of the thief who was saved at the cross. Although many of the details are fictional and added in in order to form a narrative of forgiveness and grace, there are many allusions to the different parts of Scripture, especially on Jesus' last moments. Like most historical works, there will always be some kind of dramatization. Movies for example will most of the time say: "Based on a true story" to avoid being accused of wrongful portrayal of the factual history. For this book, it is based on a true event in history. Not only has Smith managed to tell us a gripping story from a first person perspective, he has shown us once again the beauty of grace and the power of Christ. Even at the cross, He is able to defeat all enemies and principalities of this world.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Christian Focus and Cross-Focused Reviewers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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