One night I was channel-surfing and came across what I called “The Catholic Channel.” I mean no offense to those that are part of the Catholic Church, but the Catholic Channel was pretty scary stuff for a teenage girl that attended a Southern Baptist church. There were rituals and strange pictures and people standing on a hill chanting for hours. I didn’t get, and didn’t care to get it. (If you’re Catholic, please don’t stop reading. I promise you I’m not a hater.)
This particular night must have been an isn’t-there-anything-on-TV night because I actually paused my channel-surfing and spent a few minutes on the Catholic Channel. I watched image after image of Jesus on the cross, broken and bleeding.
At first I was offended. My internal dialogue went something like this, “Why do they have to focus on His death? He’s alive! His time on the cross is not the end of the story.” Having accepted Jesus as my Savior as a child, I couldn’t think of Him as dead because He had always been alive to me.
But I couldn’t look away. With each image, His pain and suffering confronted me and demanded a response. I remembered hearing that if I was the only person on earth, Jesus still would have died for me. And all I could think was, “What a waste.”‘
I loved Him so much, and I knew in my heart of hearts that I didn’t deserve His sacrifice. I was overwhelmed with remorse and decided that an apology was in order. He had to know I was serious about it, so I knelt in front of the couch on the tile floor, bowed my head in the appropriate position of piety, and asked Jesus to forgive me for needing such a sacrifice. For accepting the sacrifice and not being any different. For not being the prettiest, or smartest, or most talented, or nicest, or anything close to those things that would make people think that at least something good would come out of it and I would impact the world positively for Him.
I didn’t know that there was absolutely nothing that I, or anyone, could do to deserve His sacrifice. That His strength is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). That the lack of anything admirable in me would allow Him to receive every bit of glory for anything He did in my life. It would be years before I would understand those concepts.
But that night He began the process of setting me free from any unacknowledged thoughts of deserving or earning salvation and began teaching me the truth of mercy and grace.
After my apology, I thought I might as well be completely honest and begged, “Help me,” over and over again. I’ll risk sounding like a crazy person by telling you that he dropped His Presence on me so suddenly and forcefully that I actually looked around to see who else was in the room with me. And I specifically looked to my right to see who was next to me.
I didn’t see anyone, so no need to call the mental police on me.
At first I was terrified to feel the room so full with a presence and not seeing anyone. But I also knew that there was nothing to be scared of. I realized that it must be God comforting me. Even though I didn’t deserve it. Even though I wasn’t the prettiest, or smartest, or most talented, or nicest, or anything close to those things that I thought would make one deserving of the attentions of the Creator of the universe.
I’ve thought of that night so many times over the years. It was the beginning of my understanding, in my heart and not just in my head, that we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). That I could do nothing to deserve salvation because He saved me by His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). That He loves me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and will lift up my head (Psalm 3:3). That my soul could thirst for Him and cling to Him, moving my lips to glorify Him and my hands to lift in His name (Psalm 63).
I’ve also learned that I cannot separate the fact that “He has risen” from “He was crucified.” And that I would be doing good to agree with Paul and resolve to know nothing “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
How like God to interrupt mindless channel-surfing with meditation on the cross. To use something foreign to me in order to reveal the flaws in my theology.
I pray that He interrupts your routine this Good Friday, too.