In light of Good Friday, I wanted to share this memory. It is an excerpt from an article I wrote while serving as a missionary in West Africa. I was working with a Muslim people group in the bush. On this instance we were showing the Jesus Film to a village. Hundreds had gathered around a small television and generator I had transported out there for this occasion. For many, it was their very first time hearing the gospel story. For a number of them, it was their first time seeing a movie in their own language.
Can people see or hear something so much that it loses its significance? I found the answer to that question last week.
It was dark, with only a fingernail sliver of moonlight to give any definition to the little huts that dotted the village. I could hear the audio from the movie clearly, despite the fact that I was a good distance away from where it was showing. I walked the little paths of the village just observing. Not a soul was around. It appeared as though everyone was watching the movie.
I made my way back to the open area where the film was playing. Hundreds of people crowded around the television, following along as the story unfolded. Many were watching a movie in their own language for the first time.
The glow of the television, a small one like you would see in a college dorm, was more than enough for me to make out the faces of the crowd. So, I leaned up against our truck and observed. For the next two hours, my face alone was turned away from the television. I was instead watching the sea of faces staring back in my direction, towards the television.
I saw a story unfold that night. I watched it take place on the faces of a crowd who were hearing and seeing the gospel for the first time. Their eyes told the story. At times, they were eyes filled with laughter or joy. Sometimes they were eyes surprised by something Jesus said or by one of his miracles.
As the movie reached its end, Judas met Jesus in the garden with a mob. Christ was betrayed, drug off and tried. From this point forward, the crowd of viewers became restless. I noticed people protest what was occurring on the screen to the person beside them. Their eyes filled with anger at the injustice that was taking place before them. But what happened next took me off guard. Eyes began to fill with an emotion I did not expect.
It was that of pain.
On the screen in front of them, Jesus was beaten with poles and tied to a post to be whipped. He was drug through the street, stripped of his clothes and nailed to a cross. He was hung by those nails in the air, suffering as the crowd looked on.
But in front of me, I watched eyes fill with tears. I watched people turn their heads away from the television. I saw others cover their eyes to avoid the sight.
I cannot remember the first time I heard the gospel, and I could not begin to count the number of times I have heard or retold it since. It is a story I know better than most. Yet in that moment, I realized how deadened I had become to the sheer audacity of what really took place. I was desensitized to the cross. The events of that day were those of a bloody horror story. Our freedom was ransomed by a price too high for us to fathom. The king of all glory was brought low on that day. The author of creation was drug through the street like a criminal and beaten. He was laughed at and mocked. Soldiers blindfolded him and played games with him and finally gambled for his clothes. Torture is not an adequate word to describe the suffering of crucifixion. Hung in the air by nails, slowly suffocating to death; that is crucifixion.
Yet somewhere in the pastel shades of the Easter holiday, I lost sight of the pain. It took a crowd of people who had never heard the news to show me what I had lost. I saw in their eyes a pain I should reflect in my own.
The coming weeks will be filled with opportunities to discuss the events of that film with those villagers. There are now many unanswered questions out there. Pray for those people.
But let us also take a lesson from their reaction to the cross. May we who celebrate the victory that was won on that Sunday not become desensitized to the horror that was endured on that Friday.Thank God that he loved us that much.