The Paper Pulpit
I grew up in central Georgia in a small town named Chester. According to the 1940 Census, it had a metropolitan population of 341. It may be even smaller than that today. As you can see, those who live there don’t have trouble trying to avoid getting run over by city busses or street cars. In the mid-1940s, there was not a single paved street in town or a paved road leading out of town in any direction. In middle Georgia there were a lot of red clay dirt roads that presented quite a challenge to drivers when they were wet. Every time it rained, our streets were a total mess. We used to joke, “If you will stick to Chester in dry weather, it will certainly stick to you when the weather is wet.”
We had a small theater that showed movies on Saturday afternoons only. Most of the movies were westerns, and the lead characters were always portrayed as heroes. Their primary job was to catch bad guys and put them in jail. The heroes always wore white hats; the bad guys always wore black hats. The heroes had names like Tex Ritter, Bob Steele and Bob Boyd. Gene Autry movies were too classy to make it to our little town. They were usually in color, and were only shown in towns that were larger than ours. I could count on the fact that every Saturday the good guy, my hero, would come out on top and the bad guys would get what was coming to them.
All the stores in Chester were closed on Sunday, for this was the Lord’s Day. My father and mother, and my two brothers and I, attended Sunday school and worship every Sunday. Our parents didn’t send us to church; they took us to church. It was through the influence of the people in this small town family of faith that I learned that Jesus had time for small children, opened the eyes of the blind, healed those who were lame, fed those who were hungry and forgave those who were sinners. He wasn’t just a hero; He was my ultimate hero. But I couldn’t understand why so many people opposed Him. It didn’t seem logical that the people He loved would crucify Him.
Somehow the termination of the life of Jesus seemed tragically out of character for a young boy who had learned to respect and appreciate heroes. I secretly wanted Jesus to suddenly turn on His persecutors – those stupid, ungrateful, blind, religious and political leaders! They constantly hounded Him. They even criticized Him for healing a man on the Sabbath. He often went out of His way to avoid His enemies until He completed His mission. I would have taken great joy in God demolishing them all with a lightning bolt out of the blue – but that never happened. He who was determined to go to Jerusalem finally arrived in the Holy City. It was here that His miracle-working ministry of love was terminated on a Roman cross. As a young boy accustomed to my heroes always winning, it seemed that Jesus had lost.
Of course, as I continued to grow spiritually, I began to understand. I came to see that if I had been living in those days, and had I been influenced by the religious leaders of that day, I would have also been in that jeering crowd calling for His crucifixion. I had to admit that had I been one of His disciples, I would have been like the others who ran for the hills because they were frightened. Yes, as a song that I love expresses it, “I was there when they crucified my Lord.”
“Why, O God, did You let us kill Your Son?” It is a question that haunts many Christians. God’s answer might go something like this: “How else could I get through to you? How else could I convince you that I loved you? I am holy, so I could not ignore your sin. There was no other way to deal with your selfishness and rebelliousness. It broke my heart to see my Son die. In His suffering I suffered too. When He died, something in me died also. This is the only way that I could prove how much I loved you. I created mankind with the freedom to believe or to doubt, to obey or to disobey, to love or to hate, to build up or to tear down, to give life or to destroy it. You had to have this freedom in order to know the meaning of love. You chose to abuse my love, to ignore my will, and to walk a self-chosen path in life. And you do these things even now. If I had sent My Son to visibly live in your world today, you would probably crucify Him again.”
In my heart, I know that this is true. It is a sobering experience to realize how often I have failed my Lord, and how often I still do. I bow my head in shame and pray: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Amen”
The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.