by Billy Cerveny
“...Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame...” Hebrews 12:2
I was a 20 year old college student when I bought the first thing of real significance with my own money. It was a 1967 Harley Davidson Chopper that was white, had straight pipes (that means no muffler) and was so loud it set off car alarms when I drove it. I named it Raul and it was every bit the obnoxious, two-wheeled monument to my 20-year-old ego that you’re probably imagining right now. I loved it with every fiber of my being.
I loved the thrill and bravado that Raul brought into my life, but one of the real reasons Raul meant so much to me was what I went through to get her (yes, Raul was female). I had always had a low grade obsession with motorcycles but to my parent’s credit, I was not allowed to own one in high school. So, when I moved to New England for college I spent months and months saving, scraping and selling whatever I could to raise the money. It was my first real exercise in self-denial and sacrifice, but eventually I saved $1,500; the going rate for one, 1967, very mechanically unsound, Harley Davidson Chopper named Raul.
The first time I parked my new prize in the garage next to my best friends’ motorcycles I just sat and stared. It glowed. After years of anticipation, all I had been through to get her, I was as committed as a new father. That bike might have been old, but it was new to me. I spent hours polishing the pipes, tank, tires and fixing every mechanical issue I could as my friends and I drank Black Label beer and listened to Bob Seger tunes into the wee hours of the morning. When we were done, I would wrap one end of a cartoonishly large chain around Raul’s frame and the other around a 450 lb. lobster boat engine the previous tenant had abandoned in our garage, then I would secure it with a pad lock. Raul had cost too much. She meant too much. She belonged to me and I wasn’t going to let anything happen to her.
When I consider that old chopper, I am reminded of what a heart is prepared to do when it wants something it loves deeply. Truth be told, Raul was a piece of junk that never ran properly, leaked oil (unless there was none in it) and left me stranded on the side of the road more times than I can count. But as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So is value. The value of something is not determined by its functionality or effectiveness. Sure, those things might go into someone’s determination of something’s value, but ultimately value is determined by one thing: the lengths someone is willing to go or the price someone is willing to pay in order to call a thing their own. And cost is a great indicator of the kind of continued care someone will show their possession over time. It’s simple. If you love something and have paid a heavy price for it, you’ll care for it and protect it with everything you have.
I have noticed that when life hurts — I mean, really hurts — I don’t doubt God’s power. I don’t even doubt who Jesus says He is. I doubt how much I mean to Him. I see the circumstances of my life as the grand proof that in the post-resurrection banquet feast I am the broken Happy Meal toy lost deep in the crack of God’s car seat. After all, how could a God that says He loves me allow me to experience so much pain? If I’m supposed to be His child, how could He allow things to get so out of control, so dark and so crazy?
In my more spiritually sober moments I realize that those thoughts don’t reflect the truth about God’s heart for me; they only reflect how deep I’m hurting and how my sin loves to cut with the grain of my pain in order to blind me to the truth of God’s heart for me.
When I take a minute, as the the old song says, to survey the wondrous cross in all it’s pain laden realities, I begin to see the truth again. When sin entered the world way back in Genesis 3, God didn’t wipe out the world and start over. It was His. He made and loved it. So, He made a promise that would cost Him something. He was willing to sit in anticipation. He arranged all of history and denied Himself for millennia until the time was right so He could serve judgement on Himself instead of us. In Christ, He stepped from perfection into our imperfection so that He could take the hits, bruises and humiliations not only that we created but that we experience. Why did He do this? The writer of Hebrews says, “for the joy set before Him.” What was that joy? Me. You. Those that He calls His own.
Our value is not found in our ability to run right and not spew oil. Our value is found in the eyes of the one that values us. Jesus. We can see the magnitude of that reality reflected in His eyes in Gethsemane. We hear it in the cry of dereliction on the cross. Those things reflect our value to Him because they display the price He was willing to pay to call us His own; to be with us. (side note: It was not the cross that made us valuable to God. John 3:16: God so love the world [i.e. valued it] that He gave His only Son...)
If a few months of inconvenience and $1,500 will move me to obsessively care for and protect a beat up, 22 year old motorcycle, how much more will a perfect, unbreakable God who valued us so much that He was willing to become breakable, protect and care for His treasure: You. Me. His people.
Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said, “no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). It was personal. We cost Him too much.
When we look at our price tag, the cross, we can believe the promises of scripture. We can trust that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion...” (Phil. 1:6). That isn’t some trite spiritual platitude we plaster on coffee mugs to get us through the mundane slog of another day in the cubicle. It is the backbone of our faith, especially when we are hurting. Jesus, by the power of His Holy Spirit, has wrapped an unbreakable chain around what is His and around His own waist. “In Him all things are held together” (Col. 1:17).
I have a framed picture of Raul that sits on my desk. Sadly, Raul probably occupies some forgotten corner of a New England junk yard by now. But even now when I stare at that picture long enough, she starts to glow again. How much more do we glow to our God who paid so much to call us His own? How much more in our pain and suffering can we trust that He hasn’t left us to rust? We cost too much. My prayer for you today is that you are able believe and experience that Jesus is Emmanuel. God with us. A God that is committed to polishing our tanks so we reflect His face to the world.