When I was asked to contribute artwork for the Prayer Walk that was being planned for our Good Friday service at church, I was honored to have the opportunity, but also apprehensive. This walk was meant to allow people to step into and reflect on what Jesus experienced in the hours leading up to his death and resurrection. While I had a general idea of how I wanted to portray those events, I knew that the process of drawing them would force me to confront the harsh reality of what actually happened the day Jesus died, and I wasn’t sure if I could face it. I’ve always been highly sensitive, especially to people in pain, and because I feel emotions so intensely my tendency has been to distance myself, to just shut my eyes and try to block things out. But with this project I wouldn’t be able to do that. You can’t draw with your eyes closed, and if I was ever going to finish I would have to lower my defenses and allow myself to really see it all.
When I finally got the nerve to start I was confronted with image after horrific image of the brutality Jesus experienced in the last hours of his life. I saw the mob of people screaming for his death. I saw him beaten and whipped, the skin torn from his body, the nails driven into his hands and feet, the crown of thorns shoved on his head. I saw the grief and despair of those who loved him as they watched all of this happen. And worst of all I saw the agony on his face as he bore the crushing weight of our sin on the cross. It was devastating, and the whole time the thought that kept going through my mind was “Why?” Why did he do this? This was the penalty I deserved–it should have been me.
With each line I drew I was confronted with the true cost of sin. Our human nature leads us to try to justify ourselves. We’ll tell ourselves that our sin is not that bad, that there are others who are so much worse than we are. But there are no small sins in God’s eyes. All of it is rebellion against Him and makes us deserving of death. And yet, “…God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It’s a familiar verse, but stop and really think about it. What kind of love is this that God would send His Son to take our sins upon himself and die the death that should have been ours?
How Deep the Father’s Love
I always listen to music when I’m drawing, and sometimes certain songs become particularly significant to a project. One of those songs this time was “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us,” a hymn by Stuart Townend (click the link to listen). I’ve had the words on repeat in my head these past few weeks:
How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son, to make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turned His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory
Behold the man upon the cross, my sin upon his shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought my life; I know that it is finished
I will not boast in anything: no gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ; his death and resurrection
Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart: His wounds have paid my ransom
I’ve heard the song many times before, but as I listened to the words while face to face with all of these visual reminders of what they really mean, it brought me to my knees. The depth of God’s love staggers me because I know that I am so unworthy of such love. How many times I’ve rebelled against Him, and yet still He pursues my heart. He made this wretch His treasure. It’s beyond comprehension, and I still struggle to accept it at times.
There were points during this process when I didn’t think I’d be able to finish the drawings, when tears would make it impossible to see and my heart would be so filled with grief that I felt sick. I’ve been a Christian for awhile, so it’s not as though it was the first time I was confronted with what Jesus did. But I think we become so familiar with the story that we fail to feel the gravity of it on a daily basis. Working on this project forced me to face the cross, to really see and feel it in a way I had never allowed myself to. And it wrecked me to fully comprehend that Jesus felt the weight of my sin as he suffered and died in my place. I battled feelings of terrible guilt and shame as I was confronted with these things, but God met me in the midst of that and reminded me that the cross isn’t where the story ends.
Jesus suffered and died, but three days later he rose again, leaving behind an empty tomb that proclaims the undeniable truth that he accomplished everything he came to do. God in His grace chose to redeem us and call us into a relationship with Him. Our debt is paid, and because he was willing to pay the price, we can now rest in the knowledge that we are truly justified through him. When God looks at us, He no longer sees the sinner–He sees His Son.
Our salvation was secured through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but life on this fallen earth is still a work in progress. We don’t yet have a complete picture of how God’s plan will play out, and we won’t until we see Jesus face to face. Maybe not even then–I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to fully comprehend it. What I do know is that it will be so much more than we could ever imagine. But in the meantime, we can’t allow familiarity with the story to lessen the impact of what was accomplished at the cross. It should overwhelm us, wreck us even, to acknowledge the weight of our sin and Christ’s sacrifice. Because it’s only when we recognize how desperately we need grace that we can truly appreciate the fact that it’s ours.