Two Paintings (Lent 5b)

John 12 verses 20-33





Some people are always eager to know or learn something, to find out about a place, a situation, a person.

Many Greeks were like that: enquiring, searching, probing, querying, questioning.

Greeks were known for their curiosity— they loved to travel, study people, places, as well as the natural world to find things out. Many of them were born seekers after the truth.

It was no unusual thing to find a Greek who has passed through philosophy after philosophy, and religion after religion, and gone from teacher to teacher in the search for truth. The Greek was the one with the seeking mind.

And now a group of them wanted to see Jesus, so we’re told in today’s Scripture.

It’s interesting how Jesus responds to their request.

Jesus is way more than a mere curiosity for people to study. His answer here in verses 23 to 26 certainly points the Greeks as well as all of us to something above and beyond observers and curiosity seekers.

He points them – as he points all of us to the way of the Cross.

Today, I want to tell two stories – both involving paintings of Jesus.

I can’t state categorically that the first tale is historically accurate – many art experts have tried, and failed, to prove the existence of an artist of this name ……. but the story of the painting, real or not, points us to a great truth.

Here goes:

An artist, named Stenburg, was, so the story goes, once commissioned to paint an altarpiece depicting the crucifixion, even although he had no interest in Christ at all.

One particular day, he was struggling to capture a detail in the painting, so decided to go for a walk to clear his head and gather his thoughts.

Near the edge of the forest at Düsseldorf (his home city) he came across a gypsy girl who was weaving a straw basket.

He was entranced by her innocent beauty, and thought that she would be an ideal subject for a portrait.

She agreed to come to his studio in the city. But she just wouldn’t sit still, constantly looking at the unfinished painting of the Christ. Continually asking questions: “who is that man? What’s he doing there? Who are these evil looking people around him? Why are they hurting him? Was he a bad man?”

And so it went on, until Stenburg put down his brushes in frustration, and told her the Jesus story, even although it had no personal significance for him.

After a few more sittings, and loads more questions, she left. Before she went, however, glancing at the unfinished painting of Christ, she said, “you must love him very much; he has done so much for you”

Embarrassed, the artist said nothing.

Then one evening, he saw a group of people going into an old dilapidated building in Düsseldorf – out of curiosity, he followed them, to discover that they were followers of the Reformer Jan Hus.

The little group began to discuss their faith and talk about Jesus as someone with whom they had a personal relationship.

Stenburg had never heard anything like this before. He saw Christ in a brand new light.

He started painting again with a new zeal. Not just the agony of a crucified man, as he’d depicted before in his recent work, but now the love of God, revealed in and through Jesus Christ.

This new painting was donated to Düsseldorf’s gallery, where the general public could view it. And view it they did, hundreds of them. Touched, amazed, uplifted – they had seen nothing so glorious.

One day, the little gypsy girl came. She said to the artist, “I am only a poor gypsy. For you is the love, but not for someone as lowly as me”

“It is also for you, and for everyone” the artist replied.

And Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’


HYMN – When I survey the Wondrous Cross


Isaac Watts hymn, which we’ve just sung, has been described as being the most beautiful in the English language.

What wonderful, inspiring and moving words –
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my, life, my Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my, life, my all.




Count Nicholas Zinzendorf was born into one of the most noble families of Europe.

During his Grand Tour (a rite of passage for young aristocrats) Nicolas visited an art museum in Dusseldorf where he saw a particular painting. Now, some commentators would like us to believe that it was the very same picture that we’ve just been thinking about – by the “artist Stenburg”

In fact, the painting that Zinzendorf viewed, was by an artist named Domenico Feti.

Ecce Homo, “Behold the Man.” portrays the crucified Christ – with the legend, in Latin,

“This have I done for you – Now what will you do for me?”

As the story goes, when Zinzendorf’s eyes met the eyes of the thorn-crowned Saviour, he was filled with a sense of shame.

He could not answer that question in a manner which would satisfy his own conscience. He stayed there for hours, looking at the painting of the Christ on the cross until the light failed.

And when the time arrived for the gallery to be closed, he was still staring at the face of Christ, trying in vain to find an answer to the question of what he had done for Christ.

He left the gallery at dusk, but a new day was dawning for him.

From that day on, he devoted his heart and soul, his life and his wealth—all he had—to Christ, declaring, “I have but one passion; it is Jesus, Jesus only.”
Did those Greeks move beyond their curiosity and observation of Jesus to be drawn closer to him by following his way of the cross?

What about us? May Christ who is lifted up on the cross draw us ever more closer to him so that like Nicholas Zinzendorf and countless others; our passion is Jesus, Jesus only!

Even though many would mock and outright reject the way of the cross, nonetheless it is God’s way of drawing people to himself.

The cross is a clear demonstration that Jesus does not want us to be indifferent or distant bystanders or observers.

Rather, he called those Greeks long ago and everyone else to come close up and actively engage in life by following the way of the cross

May we, like the hymn writer be able to say – now and always –

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my, life, my all .


Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

2 responses to “Two Paintings (Lent 5b)

  1. is that painting still somewhere by,Domenico Feti . Jesus on the cross and written at the bottom, I give my life for the what have you given for me.?


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