“The lash on His back, the thorns on His head, the spit on His cheek, the bruises on His face, the nails in His hands, the spear in His side, the scorn of the rulers, the betrayal of His friend, the desertion by His disciples—these were all the result of sin, and all designed by God to destroy the power of sin.” John Piper
When I was in middle school I went to a youth rally in Orlando where I heard a pastor tell a story that haunted me for a long time. It went something like this:
Once upon a time there was a very kind man who lived in quaint log cabin in a remote area of the Great White North with his lovely wife and beloved son, who’d been born to them after over a decade of infertility. The man made an honest living operating a drawbridge that allowed twice daily commuter trains to pass safely over a large lake in the mountains where they lived.
The drawbridge operator’s little boy was both his namesake and the apple of his eye, so it delighted him when Junior accompanied him to work every Saturday. He often let him sit on his lap and push the button to lower the drawbridge and then wave cheerfully at the train passengers whizzing passed the control booth on their way to the big city. But one Saturday, Junior brought a bright red ball to entertain himself with and moments before the afternoon train rolled through, the ball rolled away from him down the hill and came to rest on the tracks below.
The train’s whistle drowned out the father’s bellowed warning not to chase after the ball, but he saw the train barrel around the bend at the exact moment he saw his boy take off toward the ball. He had a split second to choose whether to leave the control booth and rescue his child, thereby condemning hundreds of commuters to their death because he’d have to forgo lowering the drawbridge to do so, or he could sit tight in the booth and do his job, thereby saving hundreds of strangers yet crushing his only son in the process.
He instinctively chose the latter. And then sat in stunned horror while hundreds of oblivious men, women, and children he’d probably never even meet hurtled passed with hands raised in happy greeting.
When the youth pastor got to the end of the story he added soberly, “And that’s exactly what God did for every single one of us. He crushed Jesus, His only begotten Son, to rescue you.” Of course, there was a huge altar call response that night as tons of kids—including myself—tearfully raced to the front of the youth revival site burdened with fresh guilt over the fact that because of our reprehensible behavior, God panicked and hit some dreadful button in heaven that condemned dear Jesus to death on a cross. Most of my girlfriends and I wept bitterly all the way home in an old 15-passenger church van, while the boys stared mournfully out the window at flickering interstate billboards (because this was an era before hand-held high-tech devices, not long after all the dinosaurs died).
For years afterwards I wondered and worried about that drawbridge operator and his wife. I thought about how hard Christmas morning must be with their son’s limp stocking hanging over the fireplace. How bleak his birthday must now be for them. How that father must be in continual torment over whether he did the right thing. How that mother must’ve eventually walked away from the cabin, the lake, the menacing drawbridge, and their once-strong marriage because surely she was unable to cope with the constant reminders of her grief.
It wasn’t until decades later, during a seminary class on sound biblical teaching principles, that I found out the train story was a complete fabrication. It never actually happened. It’s the spiritual edition of an urban legend and was conjured up by some creative, albeit manipulative, soul as an illustrative “tool” to help people recognize the magnitude of their sin.
Calvary was not the panicked result of God choosing to kill Jesus so as to rescue mankind. It was not a last-minute decision. It was not some gut-wrenching version of Sophie’s Choice. There is no anguished operator in a divine drawbridge booth. Instead the Creator of the universe planned every detail of His Son’s betrayal, the trumped up charges, the bogus trial, Pilate’s political side step, and the laborious Via Doloroso. God chose the nails that would be driven into His boy’s wrists and feet. He grew the trees that would sprout the thorns that would be woven into a mock crown and cruelly jammed onto His precious only Child’s head.
Our Savior’s murder was not a knee-jerk reaction. It was a carefully and divinely orchestrated mission of mercy.
“Hilarious storyteller” and “theological scholar” are rarely used in the same sentence, but Lisa Harper is anything but stereotypical! She was Focus on the Family’s national women’s ministry director followed by six years as a women’s ministry director at a large Nashville church, is the author of 11 books, and has an academic resume that includes a Masters of Theological Studies with honors from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. Lisa describes her greatest accomplishment to date as becoming Missy’s mama.