Meditation 5: The Trial of Dismas and Gestas: An Easter Parable

(See Generally, Matthew 25:31-46 and Luke 23:32-43, 24:1-8, 36-49) [Explanatory Note: I chose the names Dismas and Gestas for the two defendants in this parable, because those are the names (or variations thereof) that Church tradition has most often used in reference to the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. The apparent source of this tradition is the apocryphal text entitled, The Gospel of Nicodemus.]


The guards hurried Dismas and Gestas into the cavernous courtroom. And, as they entered, the two criminal defendants were immediately struck by how brightly lit the room was. In fact, the courtroom lights shone so brightly, and from so many different angles, that there wasn’t a single shadow in the room. The entire chamber was saturated in a warm light that swallowed up every possible shadow an object might cast. It was a subtle but clear message to every defendant who entered the courtroom that the criminal acts he’d committed, under the cover of darkness, would now be unveiled. (1 Corinthians 4:5; 1 John 1:5).

As they shuffled their shackled feet to their designated seats, both defendants glanced about the room uneasily, uncomfortable with how vulnerable and exposed the light made them feel.

A few minutes later, the prosecuting attorney entered the chamber. He was dressed in a charcoal-black suit. It was such a stark contrast to the courtroom’s light that he almost looked like a human shadow. As he settled into his chair and organized his notes, he looked up and sneered at Dismas and Gestas. And at that moment, their discomfort unraveled into sheer terror. . . . They recognized him! He went by many names. But he was most well-known as The Accuser, because the word on the street was that he never rested from his work--he prosecuted people day and night. And despite the incredibly busy schedule he kept, he’d never lost a case. Any defendant who faced The Accuser already knew what the final verdict would be: GUILTY, AS CHARGED! (Revelation 12:10).

Dismas and Gestas looked knowingly at each other, as they both came to the same realization: They would not receive any legal representation. There wasn’t a defense attorney in the world who would expose himself to a certain professional loss, by opposing The Accuser in open court--especially where, as here, the defendants were such utterly depraved and distasteful characters, and the evidence against them was simply insurmountable.

As they turned away from each other, Dismas bowed his head, and began preparing himself to surrender to the fate he knew he deserved. He hadn’t yet been found guilty, but he already felt convicted. Terror was ceding control over his heart to an emotion he’d never felt before: Shame. And, for the first time, he actually began to feel sorry for the evil he’d done. Gestas’ reaction, however, was completely different. His own terror was hardening into a calcified, stubborn arrogance, and the primal instinct to survive at all costs seized control of his will. He would never admit his guilt.  Never!

“ALL RISE! The Honorable White-Robed Judge will now preside over this proceeding.” The bailiff’s thunderous voice shattered Dismas’ and Gestas’ silent meditations. As they rose to their feet, The White-Robed Judge entered the room. His dress and demeanor noticeably clashed with The Accuser’s. Instead of wearing a black robe, like most other judges, his robe was a pure and spotless white. And while The Accuser’s suit tried to absorb the surrounding light, The White-Robed Judge’s garments seemed to reflect it. Dismas had heard about the White-Robed Judge before. He was known by that name not only because of what he wore, but also because every judgment he’d ever rendered, and every sentence he’d ever pronounced, had been completely just. No one had ever appealed any of his rulings! (Mark 9:2-3; Isaiah 30:18; Revelation 16:7).

“Well,” Dismas thought, “at least I know we’ll have a fair trial.”

As he settled into the judgment seat, The Judge looked up and motioned for the defendants to sit down as well. He then turned to The Accuser and asked, “Is the prosecution prepared to present its case?”

“Yes, Your Honor,” The Accuser answered. “And, by the way, the facts of this case are as damning as they are incontrovertible. So, I’d like to get through it as quickly as possible. I have billions more cases on my docket, all of which require my immediate and undivided attention.” The Accuser’s serpentine voice betrayed an arrogance that Gestas and Dismas found both sinister and unsettling. And, apparently, The Judge wasn’t amused either!

“Counsel, I don’t care how many other people you’re hoping to prosecute. My only concern is that we give the two defendants in this room a fair trial, and that justice is served in this court. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Ok. Please proceed with your case, Counsel.”

“Your Honor, Defendants Dismas and Gestas are two of the worst criminals ever to walk the streets of our fair city. Working together, they’ve literally broken every single one of our legal code’s ten simple laws . . .”

“Much like you, as I understand it, have broken every provision in the Prosecutor’s Code of Professional Ethics, Counsel,” The Judge quipped.

The Accuser was not amused. He stared intently at The Judge. And, for a moment, his dark, lifeless eyes seemed frozen in a silent glare. “Your Honor,” he continued, “they’re each guilty of first-degree murder, three counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of perjury in a previous case before this very court . . .”

Dismas and Gestas listened quietly as The Accuser announced every single criminal act they’d ever committed. His fastidiousness and attention to detail were extraordinary. He hadn’t missed a single one of their crimes!

When The Accuser finally finished his recitation of the criminal charges against Dismas and Gestas, The Judge turned to them and asked: “Do you understand the charges against you?”
“Yes, Your Honor,” they replied.

“And how do you plead?” He asked.

Dismas answered first: “Your Honor, I plead guilty to every charge The Accuser has brought against me. I have no defense. I have no excuse. I throw myself upon the mercy of this court.”

Gestas looked at Dismas with disgust and whispered: “You’re a pathetic coward.” Then he turned to The Judge and said, “Your Honor, I plead not guilty.”

“Ok,” said The Judge, “Your pleas have been entered into the record. But Defendant Dismas, your plea notwithstanding, considering the gravity of the charges against you and that you have no legal representation, I think it’s important that I take the time to properly assess the nature, the adequacy, and the weight of the evidence against you, before I render final judgment in this case. So, Counsel, please present your case against the defendants.”

The Accuser eagerly jumped from his chair, and seemed to slither his way to a podium that had been set up in front of the judgment seat. And over the next forty days, he presented irrefutable evidence of the defendants’ guilt. There was video footage from surveillance cameras that had recorded the defendants committing a number of crimes; there was DNA evidence linking the defendants to various crime scenes; there was physical evidence demonstrating that the defendants had perjured themselves, when they’d served as witnesses for the prosecution in a previous case; there were various witnesses to the defendants’ criminal activities; and much, much more.

At times, The Judge would interrupt The Accuser to ask the kinds of questions that an attorney for the defendants would have asked had they had one. But The Accuser’s case was rock-solid, ironclad. There was simply no doubt as to the defendants’ guilt.

Finally, The Accuser transitioned into his closing argument, prompting sighs of relief from Gestas and Dismas: “Your Honor, based on the multitude of crimes that Defendants Gestas and Dismas have committed. I recommend they both receive the maximum sentence, which is required by law. . . . They’re guilty, Your Honor. . . . They’re guilty as s-s-s-s-s-in,” he hissed.

With those final words, The Accuser rested his case. And as he took his seat, he leaned back and smiled--apparently, very impressed with himself.

The Judge then turned to Gestas and Dismas. His pursed lips reflected a righteous indignation at the crimes they’d committed. But Dismas also saw something else, something he never expected: Sorrow. A sorrow more intense than any other sorrow he’d ever witnessed, or had experienced himself. Somehow, blood and water had pooled together in The Judge’s eyes, forming crimson cascades that flowed down his cheeks and began to stain his once spotless judicial robe. It was a curious thing: Even as The Judge’s stern face communicated His anger at Gestas’ and Dismas’ misdeeds, his crimson tears showed a genuine grief over the judgment and sentence he must now pronounce.

“Do the defendants have any last words before I render judgment in this case?” The Judge asked.

Gestas rose to his feet. “I have some final words, Your Honor.”

“Proceed,” said The Judge.

“Well, I’d just like to say that I know what your ruling will be. And, frankly, I don’t care. I don’t care about what I did, and I don’t care about what you think about what I did. And, by the way, Your Honor, about that white robe: . . . A little pretentious, don’t you think? And, hey, how about all the good things I’ve done in my life. They should count for something, shouldn’t they? I’m not all evil. I mean, there were even times I let Dismas have over half the loot we’d stolen together, because he needed it more than I did. That should count for something! I gave sacrificially,” he sneered.

Dismas looked at Gestas in horror, expecting to hear the pounding of the Judge’s gavel and a contempt-of-court charge being added to Gestas’ laundry list of crimes. Instead, The Judge looked at Gestas with kindness. “Defendant Gestas,” he answered, “you are not on trial for the good things you claim to have done. You are on trial for the evil that you’ve committed. Your guilt isn’t affected by any of the good you may have done. It’s determined simply by the crimes in which you’ve engaged.”

Stunned by The Judge’s gracious and measured reaction, Gestas returned to his seat. “No sense in delaying the inevitable,” he muttered.

The Judge then addressed Dismas: “Defendant Dismas, do you have anything you’d like to 

His knees trembling, Dismas rose to his feet, but kept his head bowed: “Your Honor, I can only repeat what I said when this trial began. I am guilty of every count of every charge that’s been brought against me. And I am sorry for what I did! I beg the forgiveness of this court, and of the many people I’ve wronged. That’s all!”

“Thank you,” said The Judge. “I’m ready to render my verdict and pronounce my sentence. Would Counsel, and the defendants, please rise?”

The Accuser shot to his feet, certain he’d secured another victory, and itching to commence his next prosecution. Dismas and Gestas, on the other hand, slowly rose. Their bodies felt unbearably heavy, as they already began to feel the weight of their impending sentence.

“Defendants Dismas and Gestas: I find you both guilty of the crimes with which you’ve been charged.” The Judge’s voice was firm and sure, but Dismas thought he detected a hint of sadness in it. “Justice demands that I issue the maximum sentence for your crimes. I therefore sentence both of you to life in prison.”

Upon hearing the sentence, Dismas fell to his knees. And Gestas crumpled into his chair, momentarily drained of any lingering defiance. The Judge’s sentence was just. But they both knew what it meant--and it terrified them.  It meant they’d both be assigned to the federal penitentiary that the prison system had dubbed ‘The Gridiron Graveyard.’ It was the prison to which all criminals with life sentences were sent. And its name reflected the harsh reality that the only way out of the prison was in a body bag. Every prisoner who entered the Gridiron Graveyard eventually would be bused straight from the gridiron to the graveyard.

As Dismas and Gestas struggled to process their fate, The Accuser began packing his briefcase, and addressed them directly for the first time since the trial had begun. “Gotcha,” he snickered.

But The Judge interrupted his celebration. “Counsel,” he said, “this court has not yet adjourned.”

“Uh . . . Ok, Your Honor. I . . . I . . .” Dismas and Gestas were shocked. The Accuser had been caught off guard, and was uncharacteristically speechless. And he remained dumbfounded as The Judge began to make his way from the judgment seat to the courtroom floor.

The bailiff also was startled by this apparent breach of protocol, and tried to intervene. “Your Honor, what are you . . .?” But The Judge raised his hand, motioning for the bailiff to take his seat. Then, he walked over to the defendants.

“Defendant Gestas: You and I both know that you’re guilty, and that you deserve your sentence. I wish there were something I could do to help you. But your callous indifference to your crimes has sealed your fate. You loved the cover that darkness provided you to carry out the evil that was in your heart. So, you will now be joined to what you love. You will live out your days in the darkness of the so-called Gridiron Graveyard. And you will hear the weeping and gnashing of teeth that echo throughout the chilling darkness of despair that permeates that place. My heart grieves for you! . . . My heart grieves for you!” (Matthew 8:12).

Gestas was momentarily overcome by The Judge’s compassion and sincerity. But it was too late for him. “Guards,” said The Judge, “please escort this convict to his cell.”

As they answered The Judge’s order, Gestas began to scream and curse, clawing at the guards and spitting in their faces. He did everything he could to frustrate the imposition of his sentence. Even now, as he faced the consequences of his lawlessness, he still refused to honor the law--defying its authority with his screams, but attesting to its justice by his curses.

When Gestas had finally been escorted from the chamber, The Judge addressed Dismas. “Dismas,” he began.

“Uh. Your Honor! I don’t mean to interrupt,” said The Accuser. “But I think you mean Defendant Dismas.”

“No, Counsel. I mean Dismas. And you’re out of order!”

The Accuser snarled, but held his tongue.

“Dismas: Like Defendant Gestas, you too are guilty of every crime you’ve committed. And also like Defendant Gestas, you deserve the sentence I gave you. But I have heard your admission of guilt, and I have considered your plea for forgiveness. And I can see that you are genuinely repentant. I know the evil heart that inspired your criminal activity has been broken. You, Dismas, are the first defendant in my courtroom to have the humility and courage to acknowledge his guilt and repent of his misdeeds. So, I’m going to do something that’s never been done before. I’m going to live out your sentence myself. I’m going to take your life. And, in exchange, I offer you mine.”

“Wait a minute, Your Honor!” The Accuser was in a panic. “You can’t do that!”

“Counsel, I’m sure you’re aware that while our legal code demands punishment for a crime, it also provides that a sacrifice can be made to exonerate the guilty party. And that sacrifice is for The Judge who renders judgment to suffer himself the sentence he’s pronounced.” (Leviticus 4:35; Numbers 6:14; John 1:29; Romans 3:23-26, 5:9-18).

“I’m aware of that legal provision, Your Honor. But it’s never been applied by any judge . . . EVER! You should follow legal precedent, in this case. You’ve found Defendant Dismas guilty of the crimes with which he’s been charged, and the law therefore requires that he be punished. So, you’re breaking the law, Your Honor. By lifting his sentence, you’re declaring him “not guilty.” And that not only does violence to this criminal’s many victims, it also does violence to the law--the law you are sworn to uphold. You’re breaking the law, Your Honor. You’re breaking the law!”

“No, Counsel. I’m fulfilling the law! I’m applying the law in its fullness--something no judge has ever done. Your argument is duly noted, and duly rejected. Dismas no longer is guilty of his crimes. I AM! So, his sentence is now mine.” (Exodus 3:14; Matthew 5:17).

The Judge then turned to Dismas once again: “Dismas, do you accept my offer? I can only take your sentence, if you agree to it.”

Dismas was astounded. “Your Honor, I don’t deserve your sacrifice.”

“I know, Dismas. But that’s not the issue. The question I’m asking is this: Will you accept my sacrifice?”

“Y-Yes, Your Honor. I accept. I accept. A thousand times, I accept. I don’t know what else to say.”

The Judge smiled at him. “Then say nothing else,” he replied. Returning to his judgment seat, he pounded his gavel three times, declaring that the court was now adjourned. And with that final, authoritative act, The Judge turned his seat of judgment into an altar of sacrifice.

As he laid down his gavel, much to the amazement of everyone left in the courtroom, The Judge began to disrobe. He removed his white, judicial garment and walked over to Dismas. “Trade ya,” he said, with a twinkle in his eyes.

Dismas solemnly began to remove his prison clothes, while the guards removed his chains. And as the Judge put on those prison clothes, the guards placed on him the chains that had once bound Dismas. “Dismas,” he said. “When I offered to take your life, if you would take mine, it meant more than giving you your freedom. You now have my life, which means you now have my authority. You are now a Judge.” (1 Corinthians 6:2-3; Matthew 28:17-19; 2 Timothy 2:11-13).

Dismas looked down at the tear-stained garment he now wore, its crimson streaks reminding him of how unworthy he was to wear it: “Your Honor, I’m a wretched man,” he whispered. “There’s nothing good in me.” (Romans 7:18, 24).

“Your repentance has opened the way for the transformation of your heart. And you now have my life, Dismas, which means that my righteousness, my innocence, my reputation is now yours. And not only that, my inheritance (all that is mine) is also yours. Now, go!”

“But I have no place to go, Your Honor. I’ve always lived on the streets.”

The Judge smiled. “Dismas, in my Father’s house, there are many rooms. Go there! A place will be prepared for you.” (John 14:2).

“But, Your Honor, what if I go back to my old life? What if I exploit the freedom you’ve given me, and dishonor the judicial robe you’ve placed on me?”

“Don’t be afraid, Dismas! I’ll send you my very own Counselor. He’ll encourage you, and lead you. And he will keep you on the right path.” (John 15:26; John 16:7, 13-16; Psalms 23:3).

Dismas fell to his knees again. And he began to weep as he kissed The Judge’s shackled feet. When he finally looked up, The Judge said, “Go in peace, Dismas! You are now innocent of all charges.” The Judge’s face was somber. Dismas could tell that he’d already begun reflecting on the punishment he was about to endure.

As the guards led him out, The Judge turned to Dismas one last time. And with a twinkle in his eyes, and triumph in his voice, he shouted, “My life for yours, Dismas. Trade ya!” And with those final words, he was gone.

Meanwhile, The Accuser was seething with anger, as he finally accepted that he’d lost his first case, and realized that with the new precedent The Judge had set, it probably wouldn’t be the last case he’d lose. He would have to redouble his efforts in the future!

As he exited the courtroom, he turned and glared at Dismas. “Don’t think this is over, Defendant. I’ll be watching you. I don’t give up easily!” (1 Peter 5:8).

But Dismas ignored The Accuser. He’d heard enough from the prosecution over the last forty days. Instead, he reflected on some of The Judge’s final words to him: “Go in peace, Dismas! You are now innocent of all charges.”

With those chain-shattering words on his heart, and clothed in his new, white judicial robe, Dismas left the courtroom, filled with joy and a renewed hope. He’d never have to suffer the sting of the Gridiron Graveyard! (Revelation 3:4-5,18; 1 Corinthians 15:55; Isaiah 61:10).

Sprinting down the courthouse steps, Dismas immediately proceeded to meet The Judge’s Father at his home. As promised, a beautiful room was prepared for him there. And over a period of many years, he went through substantial rehabilitation, under the tutelage of The Judge’s Counselor. He became a completely different man--a man of honor, a man of integrity, a man of love, a man of grace. And he resisted the temptations he sometimes had to return to his former life. But he often wondered about The Judge, because people couldn’t communicate with the inmates of the Gridiron Graveyard--the prison took no mail, and didn’t accept any visitors.

One day, though, there was a knock on the front door to the house. And when Dismas opened the door, he was shocked to find The Judge standing before him, wearing another spotless, white robe. The White-Robed Judge had returned!

“Your Honor, how . . . how did you make it out of the Graveyard?”

“I escaped,” The Judge said, with that familiar twinkle in his eyes. “Seriously, Dismas. Don’t worry! . . . Tetelestai!

Te . . . Te . . . what?”

The Judge chuckled. “Tetelestai! It is finished, Dismas. It is finished. The price for your freedom has been paid in full.” (John 19:30; Romans 6:23; Colossians 2:13-14 (NASB); Isaiah 53:5).

Dismas was speechless. He just continued to stare at The Judge, convinced that his eyes were deceiving him.

“Do you mind if I come in, Dismas?” The Judge teased. Dismas smiled sheepishly, a little embarrassed by his awkward behavior. He finally greeted The Judge with a warm embrace, and then stepped aside so The Judge’s Father could welcome his Son home as well. But while The Judge and his Father embraced, Dismas couldn’t help but wonder what would become of him now.

Sensing his concern, The Judge placed his hand on Dismas’ shoulder, and squeezed it reassuringly. “By the way, Dismas” he said, “you’re not going anywhere. You and I . . . we’re co-heirs. You are a permanent part of this family.” (Romans 8:16-17).

“Indeed,” said The Judge’s Father. “You are no less my son today than you were the day you walked into my home, Dismas. And I will not revoke your sonship!” (John 6:37,39; John 10:27-28; 1 John 2:19).

Dismas’ eyes filled with tears. Just as he’d done so many years ago, he fell to his knees, clung to The Judge’s shackle-scarred feet, and wept. And, finally, with joy in his heart, and a twinkle in his eyes, he looked up at The Judge and whispered, “My life is yours!”


Loved Ones: Jesus is our White-Robed Judge. He chose to take on Himself our death sentences, so that we might live in the fullness of His life! He chose to give us His perfect life, in return for our broken one. And now it’s time for us to make our own choice: Will we accept His offer of eternal life, or will we reject it? Will we follow the path of Gestas to the Gridiron Graveyard, or will we follow the path of Dismas to freedom? Which of their two destinies will we share? The choice is ours!