Rembrandt van Rijn was a Dutch artist who lived in the 17th century. One of his most famous paintings is the Raising of the Cross, which he completed for Prince Frederick Henry. The painting, now housed in a museum in Münich Germany, is a sobering portrayal of the cross being lifted up as Jesus hangs on it.
As the Roman soldiers are lifting up the cross, there is another figure helping. If you look closely, you will see a man at Jesus’ feet wearing a blue painter’s beret. He is obviously not a character from the first century. So who is it?
It is the artist himself!
Why did Rembrandt paint himself into this historically and spiritually significant scene? Was it personal aggrandizement? Artistic acclaim? Professional pride? No! It was a self-portrait. It was Rembrandt’s way of saying, “I am a sinner. I was there too. I helped crucify Christ.” Francis Schaeffer writes about the Dutch artist and says he was a “flawed man.” Yet, he was impacted by the gospel. And the work of the Reformers. It was his way of speaking to his personal wretchedness. Helplessness. Sinfulness.
As I consider the work of the great artist and think of his attitude, I am reminded of my own blemishes. Flaws. And defects. I, too, am guilty! My sin crucified Christ. My human weakness caused Him to suffer and die.
There is another Rembrandt painting where Jesus and the two thieves are hanging on the crosses. The Savior is writhing in agony. And around the cross are people whose faces and body language depict various attitudes toward the Savior. But the significant difference in this rendering is that Rembrandt paints himself standing in the shadows, behind the spectators.
As I consider the implications of that powerful visual message, I’m reminded that I’ve stood in the shadows as well. Blending in with the crowd. Failing to stand up for Jesus. Consorting with the enemies of my Lord.
Jesus went to Golgotha’s Hill because of my sins. My lust. My greed. My gluttony. My pride crucified Christ. My rejection caused Him to die. My envy sent Him to Calvary’s tree.
You see all things that contributed to Jesus’ vicarious suffering and death, I must admit in my life. Weakness. Betrayal. Cowardice. Carnality. Ignorance. Insolence.
Friday’s darkest hours are my darkness hours. But don’t forget. You were there too! None of us are innocent. In the words of the poet we may each sadly say….
‘Twas I that shed the sacred blood,
I nailed Him to the tree;
I crucified the Christ of God,
I joined the mockery!
That was Friday. But thank God for Sunday! Friday’s suffering is soothed by Sunday’s balm. Friday’s disgrace is forgiven by Sunday’s grace. Friday’s defeat is eased by Sunday’s victory. And the irony of all ironies is that through Friday’s shed blood of the sinless Savior, I can find cleansing on Sunday! I can be washed of my soul’s filth! I can be sanctified from my sins! By dying with Christ. And being raised to walk in newness of life! And so can you!
It’s Friday. But Sunday’s coming!
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman