As my wife and I entered the old Spanish fort on the island of Vieques, I immediately noticed the statue of a white woman with flowing blond hair and bright blue eyes. She was holding a child of similar complexion. The Roman Catholic symbolism made it obvious that this was Christian art. I assumed it to be the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus, but I had never seen them depicted so Scandinavian. “Who’s the woman?” I asked the Puerto Rican man behind the counter, as I pointed toward the statue. “It is Saint Barbara, the protector of the fort.” he replied. Now knowing I had the identity of the woman wrong, I wondered if I had the identity of the child wrong as well. “Who’s the kid?” I asked. The man looked at me as if I had spoken blasphemy. “It is God!” he said, “The Lord! Jesus!”
Embarrassed, I sought to justify my error. “It’s just that Jesus probably didn’t look like that,” I said. “He was Jewish. He would have looked more like you than me. His skin would have been darker. His hair and eyes probably brown.” “How do you know this?” asked the man. “I’m a Lutheran pastor,” I replied. “What is a Lutheran?” he asked. I responded, “We are followers of Jesus. We believe the Bible teaches that we are saved by faith alone, through grace alone, in the work of Christ alone.” “…and by being good,” he added, as if I had left something out. “No!” I replied. “We try to be good, because God is good, but it doesn’t save us. Only Jesus does that.”
Over the next twenty minutes, my wife toured the Spanish fort, while the man and I took an express trip through the book of Romans. As we stood next to each other, shoulder to shoulder, both looking up Bible verses on our phones, the man couldn’t get enough of the idea that Jesus did everything necessary to bring him eternal life, and I began to notice the identifying marks of a life lived hard. His visible skin displayed a few deep scars. His arms were covered in amateur tattoos, and the wrinkles on his face aged him well beyond his years. I wanted to know his story, but didn’t ask. Something told me our limited time was better spent in the Word of God.
We know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.
As I sensed my time with the man coming to a close, I asked him, “Do you believe what you have read today?” He replied, “I need to see it in Spanish. I have a Spanish Bible at home. I will look up the verses you gave me.” “Please do,” I said, “and know this: if you believe them, you will see Jesus in paradise one day.” The man smiled and added, “And he will look like me.” “Yes,” I said. “But the important thing is not the color of his skin, it is the fact that he took on skin—that he became human like us—so he could die as a sacrifice for us.”
A few seconds later, a group of new tourists entered the fort, and I bid the man farewell. I left that place amazed by God’s relentless pursuit of the broken.
Are you broken? Does your soul bear the marks of a life lived hard? Perhaps today you need to be reminded that God pursues you as well. There is no scar too deep, no sin so ugly, that it cannot be covered by the blood of Christ.
Call to Jesus. He does not discriminate. Those who call on the name of the Lord, he heals, and those who believe, he saves.
Rev. Troy Tysdal is Director of Communications and Prayer for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and serves as editor in chief of Faith & Fellowship magazine.