Both the thugs crucified alongside Jesus looked at him. However, one merely gawped at a man whipped to shreds and badly disfigured, and sneered: ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ (Luke 23:39). The other, seeing Jesus blooded but unbowed, praised him (‘this man has done nothing wrong,’ verse Luke 23:41) and prayed to him (‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,’ verse Luke 23: 42). Each looked at Jesus; only one looked to Jesus.
When John in his Gospel quoted Zechariah’s prophetic sentence ‘They will look on [or at] him whom they have pierced’ (John 19:37), he had in mind those who like the first criminal gawped and shrugged and passed on indifferently. But Zechariah had also foreseen those who would look at Jesus like the other guy and ‘mourn … and weep bitterly over him’ (Zechariah 12:10), repenting of their sins of indifference and rebellion. Then they would able to look to Jesus to end their grief, for: ‘Those who look to him are radiant’ (Psalm 34:5).
A panoramic view
The Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, commander of the International Space Station, was the first earthling to take a walk in space. In his memoirs he describes how he squeezed out through the narrow doorway in his cumbersome space suit to look at the universe in its marvellous array of shapes and colours. He compares it to turning to look over your shoulder after concentrating your whole attention on polishing a sheet of glass, only to discover yourself at the top of the Empire State Building!
In Ephesians 1:0; and 2:0 Paul offers us such a view:
God the Father has blessed us in the Beloved – not in a space suit. In him we have through his blood forgiveness. Even when we were dead in trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us with him – not in some space station, but – in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, according to his purpose in Christ, a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
The next thing Hadfield saw was a tear that had formed on his right eyeball, which he instinctively tried to wipe away with his gloved hand that simply clanged against his visor! Then when he tried to shake it off, it stubbornly stayed put for lack of gravity. The irritation provoked more and more tears to form, until that eye was completely blinded.
Anxiously he looked to Mission Control at Houston, Texas (whom he could not look at of course), and listened in as they consulted their medical colleagues, while his other eye began to weep. Eventually they told him where to get his gloved hand around a fine tube and insert it into his helmet to drain the tears out into space. After that he could see again to service instruments outside the space station and complete his twenty-minute work shift. Had he pierced his space suit, within moments his blood would have boiled, his testicles would have roasted and his heart and lungs would have packed up.
* Call ‘Mission Control’! ‘We have a great high priest … able to sympathise with our weaknesses’ and bestow ‘mercy and grace to help in time of need’ (Hebrews 4:14-16).