How Stephen Baldwin’s Thief on the Cross Reached Millions

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra | April 7, 2017

John Aiello was worried about his father.

Seventy-three years old and suffering from renal cancer, John Aiello Sr. didn’t have much time left. And his son knew that even though Aiello Sr. said he believed in Jesus, his faith was missing something crucial.

“He’d say, ‘I’m trying to live a better life,’ but never anything about grace,” said Aiello, executive director of Unlocking the Bible, a media ministry affiliated with Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. “And there was incredible uncertainty about facing his own death. He’d ask me, ‘What do you think is going to happen when I die?’”

And then, one week before Easter 2011, Aiello Sr. accepted God’s grace through faith in Jesus’s death on the cross. The Bible story that finally brought it home is a short one—“it only takes up about three inches of text,” Aiello said—but it has a long tail. More than 2,000 years after the thief was crucified next to Jesus, Aiello heard the story again from his pastor, Colin Smith.

Aiello told it to his dad, and the idea of grace finally clicked. And like the thief, the short conversion story of John Aiello Sr. has a long tail.


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