When I was a senior in college I took a course that changed everything for me. As an English Lit major, one of my requirements was to take a Senior Seminar, which culminated in a massive Thesis paper. Among the options was one that stood out to me: The Bible as Literature. As someone who was raised in a home that didn’t attend church regularly, I was intrigued and figured this was as good a chance as any to learn more about a story that has stood the test of time.
I’ll never forget the first day of that class. We gathered around the table, maybe 12 or 15 of us, and cracked open our brand new bibles purchased from the university bookstore. I’m sure we paid way too much for them, but I digress...
Our professor, Dr. Lacey, asked each of us to share our favorite bible story. As each student around the table shared their favorites with heartfelt sincerity and conviction, I grew increasingly more aware of just how much of a fish out of water I was there. I remember so well the butterflies and sweaty palms because the truth was, I really didn’t know many bible stories. Embarrassed and feeling like I had made a colossal mistake by signing up for this course, my mind raced to try to recount any little sliver of a story I might have heard about somewhere along the way...but nothing momentous came, except for one. single. story. The crucifixion.
I knew exactly how ridiculous that sounded. The crucifixion was my favorite bible story? Lord help me now...I remember wishing I could be anywhere other than that room at that very moment; but that’s all that came to mind, so I went with it.
I spent the greater part of my senior year of college researching every angle of the crucifixion of Jesus. Beyond just the story contained within the pages of scripture, I dove deeply into depictions of it through art, music and poetry. I learned about the painful reality of what death by the means of crucifixion actually entailed, and how it was a common form of punishment for criminals during Jesus’ time. Did you know that the Romans used death by crucifixion because it was designed to cause maximum pain for the victim? Their feet and wrists were bound and nailed to a large wooden cross, which would hold them upright while they suffered a slow, painful death over a period of several days. I learned about the fact that one of Jesus’ best friends — one of his 12 beloved disciples — betrayed him, securing his place on the cross. I learned that Jesus knew ahead of time that that would be his fate, and that he willingly accepted it, even though he was blameless and lived a life marked entirely by love, kindness, humility and grace. I learned about the small handful of people who stood by His side during his final moments here on earth...a far cry from the masses you might expect given how many people love and revere him today.
That Senior Seminar class set me on a trajectory that has completely changed my life. Instead of studying the Bible for just one year, it’s become a lifelong focus. I’m no theologian, in fact, each and every time I read a new passage or unpack a parable I learn something new about Gods love for us, what Jesus came here to teach us, and how we are to carry ourselves here on earth.
Maybe you’re like I was, and you’ve never read the Bible. Or maybe it’s just been a while since you opened yours. If that’s you, can I encourage you to give it a try? Right now is the perfect time. Start with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. I promise you, it’s the greatest story ever written.
One more thing...I recently stumbled on that old thesis paper I wrote. It’s a far cry from a masterpiece, but I have to say, I did learn one more lesson as I thumbed through its pages. After studying the text over the past 20 years, I’ve finally come to understand that, while most people might not point to the crucifixion as their “favorite story” from the Bible, there’s a reason why we call the day that Jesus died “Good Friday”. It’s the climax of the story, and an important part of the greatest story ever told. On that wooden cross, Jesus was willingly executed, like so many other criminals during his time. To many people that may look like a failure, but it’s what happened next that surprised even his closest friends and followers. Three days later, when faithful women went to the tomb where Jesus was laid to rest, they found it empty, in spite of being protected by armed guards, and blocked by a giant stone. Good Friday shows the depth of Gods grace, humility, and His love for us. It’s a day that’s often marked by great sadness...but Easter is when it all comes together. Easter shows us the triumph of that same love. It teaches us that with Him nothing is impossible.
So I guess in the end, what I‘be come to realize after all these years is that this is part of my favorite bible story. In fact, in full, it’s the most amazing story ever told.
Jesus changed my life. If you don’t know Him yet and are curious, don’t you ever for a minute hesitate to reach out to me. It would be an honor to introduce you to to Him.