When I was in High School, John was the best artist in our class. The things this guy could draw were amazing. John loved to draw fantasy stuff. You know, dragons, knights, space ships, aliens, that kind of stuff. Of course that kind of stuff appealed to the rest of us guys, but it was the detail of John’s drawings that was astounding. I mean D-E-T-A-I-L. Intricate, vivid detail. It was nearly incomprehensible to me that a human being could draw in that much detail. The guy had patience, and it always paid off in the final product.
Every year at my school we had a fine arts festival. If you won at that level then you went to state, and if you won there then you went to the national competition. One year John and I both found ourselves at the national competition. John was there for art and I was there as part of the choir. I pretty much always enjoyed these trips- I loved traveling in a bus even then. These trips meant time to think and time with friends.
I remember walking through the art display. There were some of the typical things you might expect to see at an art exhibit. Some may have been “high brow” while others were “homey.” None of them screamed “Take me home!” I mean, they may have been good, but none of them were really that appealing, and none of them were as good as John’s drawing. None of them had his level of skill. I remember thinking how sad it was that here was a guy probably more gifted and dedicated and passionate than anyone else represented in that room, but he was probably going to lose because his drawing wasn’t “sophisticated” enough.
Well, the time of the verdict came in. John had not won. But he knew who had. “I lost to a bowl of fruit!” He exclaimed. “You just wait. Next year I’ll give ’em the best dumb bowl of fruit they’ve ever seen in their lives!” Like I said, John was passionate. You have to admire that. I remember being a bit concerned that John not be selling out by drawing a bowl of fruit and that he not let this experience stifle his creativity.
I needn’t have worried.
The next year John began to draw in earnest. He would pull his drawing out and work on it when he had spare time in class, anytime he had a chance it seemed. He labored and labored. I remember that he said it took over a hundred hours to complete his work. It was another fantasy drawing. Up in the sky there were what seemed like dozens of space ships, all drawn in- you got it- vivid detail. I think there may have even been a moon or two. Then, on the ground, there was a war torn land. Ravaged by destruction. And in the center of this apocalyptic scene?
A bowl of fruit.
That’s right, a bowl of fruit. But not just any bowl of fruit, mind you. No Ma’m, no Sir. This bowl of fruit was clutched by alien hands, hands that were attached to arms that led to somewhere off the picture. You see, the drawing was done from the point of view of the alien holding this bowl of fruit. You were seeing through his eyes. And if you looked close enough at the metallic bowl, you could see the reflection of the alien’s face.
John entitled his entry, “Grapes of Wrath.” And the punch line? He won. First place out of the whole country. Sometimes the good guys do win.
I’ve told that story I don’t know how many times. There’s another story I love to tell. My favorite story actually. Let me introduce it this way. What if it were possible for John to enter the picture he had drawn? What if he could ride in the space ships he had allowed the inhabitants of his galaxy to build? What if he could explore the planet he had given shape? What if he could eat the fruit in that bowl, and shake the hand of the alien who held it? How incredible would that be?
I think that in some way, that’s what the incarnation must have been like. The incarnation. God becoming man. Deity veiled in human flesh. It started the second Mary conceived.
I imagine the boy Jesus opening his eyes in the morning, and those eyes are filled with excitement. His little body almost trembles with anticipation of the joy that will run through Him as He runs about His creation that day. It was He that created the sun that warms and tans his skin as He plays. Through Him the trees that give Him shade were created. And that gentle breeze? Him too.
Yet, as wonderful as it is, it is not the world as He created it to be. It’s not as wonderful. You see, He meant for everyone to wake up in a garden. A garden filled with peace, fulfilling work, and harmonious relationships. Instead, He wakes up to a different world. The dry stony ground is evidence He’s not in a garden. Thorns and thistles remind Him that though work may be fulfilling, it doesn’t have the same level of joy it once had. The Roman soldiers, that He’s sure to see, vividly drive home the absence of true peace.
What happened? How did things end up this way? Someone chose the fruit.
God desires that we love Him, and so He gave us a choice, because love must always be a choice. That’s why He told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In order to love God, there had to be a choice other than God. And man, to quote the knight from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “chose poorly.” God offered us the cup of life- Himself- and we chose the cup of death-our own selfish desires. That was the fall, then came the curse. That’s how we got thorns and thistles, the sweat of our brow, and labor pains.
But God knew all of this would happen, even before he created us. That’s what “foreknowledge” means. He knows all things ahead of time. Still He chose to make us. And even though He knew we would mess it up, He had a plan. He wasn’t going to let a bowl of fruit get in His way.
Jesus, God the Son, would come to earth in human flesh, born of a woman. A virgin woman. He would be the second Adam. No sin nature. Just as sin entered the world through one man, the first Adam, and death by sin, so righteousness would triumph through one man, the second Adam, and eternal life be made available by His righteousness. He would bear the punishment we deserved.
You see, the cross is a divine swap. At the cross, Jesus took our sin and the death it deserved so that we could receive His righteousness and the eternal life it deserved. God the Son bore the wrath of God the Father. Jesus wore the crown of thorns, the crown of our curse. It was the Father’s plan. The Spirit guided and empowered it, and the Son submitted and fulfilled it. The resurrection is proof that God was satisfied, and that Jesus is triumphant. Salvation is possible. Our relationship with God can be restored. The tomb is empty so that you and I may be filled.
And all we would have to do is believe.
Simply, truly, believe. “God, I believe that Jesus is Your Son, that He is God come in human flesh, and that He died and rose again for me. I am sorry for my sins. Please forgive me. Please save me. I am Yours.” That’s the prayer of faith, the prayer for salvation. God always hears that one. He’s never turned anyone away.
Make no mistake, your good works, my good works, would never be enough. To hang with God, you have to be as righteous as God, and none of us qualify for that. The only way we could have His righteousness is if He gave it to us. And that’s exactly what He did at the cross. Will you receive it? Will you believe? If you have, are you excited about that? Do you wake up, trembling with excitement that you will get to spend every waking second in His presence?
What blessed creatures are you and I. Our Creator loves us so much that He entered His creation to save it from destruction. He came to dwell with us that we might dwell with Him.