Recently, we were picking out a family picture to put on the wall of our dining room. We finally had professional pictures done and were quite excited. My wife chose a wonderful picture, one in which shockingly we are all actually smiling and dressed in matching clothes. Such a win in the parenting world of four kids. I on the other hand was fighting for the picture where we all made our trademark funny faces. While I wholeheartedly agree that the picture my wife chose is the better of the two, it also just wasn’t really us. In truth we are a bunch of goofy crazies who don’t often match and rarely cooperate for family photos.
This made me think of the many homes I have been in over the years that have the same kind of perfect family picture hanging on their walls. That one picture that looks really great, but doesn’t accurately tell you the real story of the family in it. So often we hang up what we want people to see instead of reality. That leads me to my Easter question for you.
If God were to hang a true picture of Himself on the wall what do you think it would look like? Would it be the one where Jesus is carrying the lamb, or the one with Him sitting amongst the children or even the one I found in a recent Google search where He is tucking a little baby into bed? What would a true picture of God look like?
I believe that Easter week, and particularly Good Friday, gives us the answer.
The truest picture of who God is comes to us in the most difficult and brutal moments of the cross. Isn’t it just bizarre that God would choose to reveal to us the fullest picture of Himself in this image: a cross, the brutal and preferred Roman instrument of execution.
The same cross is the symbol of the Christian faith on top of local churches, on walls of our homes and around the necks of Christians all over the world. Understood rightly the cross is shocking! It is akin to putting an electric chair on the pinnacle of the church or people wearing mini guillotines around their necks. The cross is a shocking picture!
So why is the symbol of the Christian faith not a crib representing Jesus’ birth, or a lamp representing Jesus’ teaching or even a dove representing the coming of the Holy Spirit? Why, instead, is it of a man hanging upon a cross, a brutal instrument of torture and death?
I believe it is because it is the picture that best captures the extent to which God was willing to endure and sacrifice for each of us. If they say a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps then it takes at least a thousand words to paint a good picture, but the Bible does it in just 509 words in the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Will you take a moment and read it with me?
“And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
“It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.” (The Gospel of Luke 23:26-53)
As we read this the story we cannot help but be shocked; in fact we ought to be shocked if we understand the cross. And it would be shocking if it were not for the fact that it was planned with a glorious purpose, that Jesus would die for the each one of us. At the center of this story is the shocking willingness of God to die for those He loves.
Recently, I had a day off and was rummaging through some old movies and found myself watching James Cameron’s epic “Titanic”. As an aside I have to say that after 20 years the movie holds up incredibly well and has some very powerful and moving moments.
One comes near the climax of the film as the unsinkable Titanic strikes an iceberg, and we are shown the horrified reaction of the captain, the first officer and the crew on the deck. Then brilliantly James Cameron takes us on a tour de force throughout the ship in all it’s opulence and elegance where the people are drinking in it’s luxury, oblivious to what is happening.
The truth is that the ship is going down. The captain knows the outcome, but the people themselves are oblivious to the fact that they are on a long slow descent into the depths of darkness. You see friends, you will never understand the true picture of Jesus unless you understand that you are in a “Titanic” situation.
It will always look wrong to you. It will always seem off to you, and you will always gravitate to the picture you want to see rather than the true one God gives us of Himself. And that picture tells us something even more if we look closely at it. Did you notice it? Jesus isn’t alone.
The story in Luke tells us that there are two additional men there, one thief on the left and one thief on the right. One that denies and mocks the picture of Jesus that God offers and another that says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)
You know, if my wife asks me to remember our anniversary, what she is really saying is that she hopes I will act. She hopes that I will remember to embrace the day, say, “Happy Anniversary”, pick up some flowers and join her in celebrating together. She hopes I will act. In the same way the thief realizes that he is in a “Titanic” situation and in asking Jesus to remember him, he is really asking Jesus to act on his behalf.
And Jesus acts without condition, qualification or delay. He offers the man an invitation to an eternal future with Him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Why? Because in the picture that God offers us of Himself He shows His absolute willingness to suffer for and save us. In that picture He is telling us that He is the God of second chances, of last chances and no chances. That He is the God who sends life boats to sinking ships, because He Himself is the lifeboat.
What a picture! Not what you might expect to see, what you hoped to see, but it is what is true and what you need to see. So now the real question is, since you know, what will you do? I want to invite you to start by joining any one of our great local churches who will be gathering this Easter Sunday, April 16th to recount the greatest story ever told. The story that says, yes, we do have a Titanic problem, but we have an even greater God who is mighty to save.