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Painted into the picture

We are not only united with Jesus in his crucifixion but also in his resurrection.

In 1633, the Dutch artist Rembrandt painted The Raising of the Cross. The painting shows many hands pushing and pulling a large wooden cross to raise it into its place. The body of Jesus is already attached to that cross with spikes through his hands and his feet. Jesus is being raised so that he may undergo his punishment of death by crucifixion.

But as you look at the painting, something stands out very clearly. At the base of the cross is a strange-looking man wearing a blue hat and a blue shirt who definitely does not look like anyone else in the painting. The colors alone stand out in contrast to the rest of the painting. As he was famous for doing, Rembrandt had painted himself into The Raising of the Cross. By placing himself at the base of the cross and in the middle of the painting, Rembrandt was saying very clearly: “I was there too. I am as responsible as anyone for Jesus going to the cross.”

The Bible tells us the same. Our sins led Jesus to the cross. If given that skill by God, we all could paint ourselves into our own depiction of the crucifixion. Each one of us would have to say, “I was there too. I put Jesus on the cross.” The hymn writer asked, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” (Christian Worship 426:1). The answer is a resounding yes!

Yet the apostle Paul makes a different application of that truth. Yes, it was our sins that led Jesus to the cross, but we also want to understand what Jesus did to our sins through that cross. “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Romans 6:6). Paul says not only were we there at the cross of Jesus, but in his crucifixion we also have undergone a crucifixion—our sin has been put to death.

It gets even better! “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). Not only are we united with Jesus in his crucifixion, but we are also united with Jesus in his resurrection! As Jesus died on Calvary’s cross, so did our slavery to sin. As Jesus was raised on Easter, so we were raised from everlasting death to eternal life.

I don’t know if Rembrandt painted a scene of the resurrection with his figure curiously added, but God tells us that this is exactly the case. We are united with Jesus. His death means the death of our sin. His resurrection is our resurrection.

We don’t have a painting, but we have the very Word of God that comforts us. We can say, “I was there too. I have been raised with Jesus!”

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Author: Kent Holz
Volume 110, Number 03
Issue: March 2023

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