I Will Let You Choose
By Max Lucado
God's promise through the two crosses
Edwin Thomas is a master of the stage. During the latter half of the 1800s, this small man with the huge voice had few rivals. Debuting in Richard III at the age of fifteen, he quickly established himself as a premier Shakespearean actor. In New York he performed Hamlet for one hundred consecutive nights. In London he won the approval of the tough British critics. When it came to tragedy on the stage, Edwin Thomas was in a select group.
When it came to tragedy in life, the same could be said as well. Edwin had two brothers, John and Junius. Both were actors, although neither rose to his stature. In 1863, the three siblings united their talents to perform Julius Caesar. The fact that Edwin's brother John took the role of Brutus was an eerie harbinger of what awaited the brothers and the nation two years hence.
For this John who played the assassin in Julius Caesar is the same John who took the role of assassin in Ford's Theatre. On a crisp April night in 1865, he stole quietly into the rear of a box in the Washington theater and fired a bullet at the head of Abraham Lincoln. Yes, the last name of the brothers was Booth... Edwin Thomas Booth and John Wilkes Booth.
Edwin was never the same after that night. Shame from his brother's crime drove him into retirement. He might never have returned to the stage had it not been for a twist of fate at a New Jersey train station. Edwin was awaiting his coach when a well-dressed young man, pressed by the crowd, lost his footing and fell between the platform and a moving train. Without hesitation, Edwin locked a leg around a railing, grabbed the man, and pulled him to safety. After the sighs of relief, the young man recognized the famous Edwin Booth.
Edwin, however, didn't recognize the young man he'd rescued. That knowledge came weeks later in a letter, a letter he carried in his pocket to the grave. A letter from General Adams Budeau, chief secretary to General Ulysses S. Grant. A letter thanking Edwin Booth for saving the life of the child of an American hero, Abraham Lincoln. How ironic that while one brother killed the president, the other brother saved the president's son. The boy Edwin Booth yanked to safety? Robert Todd Lincoln.
Edwin and James Booth. Same father, mother, profession, and passion yet one chooses life, the other, death. How could it happen? I don't know, but it does. Though their story is dramatic, it's not unique.
Abel and Cain, both sons of Adam. Abel chooses God. Cain chooses murder. And God lets him.
Abraham and Lot, both pilgrims in Canaan. Abraham chooses God. Lot chooses Sodom. And God lets him.
David and Saul, both kings of Israel. David chooses God. Saul chooses power. And God lets him.
Peter and Judas, both deny their Lord. Peter seeks mercy. Judas seeks death. And God lets him.
In every age of history, on every page of Scripture, the truth is revealed: God allows us to make our own choices.
And no one delineates this more clearly than Jesus. According to him, we can choose:
a narrow gate or a wide gate (Matt. 7:1314)
a narrow road or a wide road (Matt. 7:1314)
the big crowd or the small crowd (Matt. 7:1314)
We can choose to:
build on rock or sand (Matt. 7:2427)
serve God or riches (Matt. 6:24)
be numbered among the sheep or the goats (Matt. 25:3233)
"Then they [those who rejected God] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Matt. 25:46 NIV).
God gives eternal choices, and these choices have eternal consequences.
Isn't this the reminder of Calvary's trio? Ever wonder why there were two crosses next to Christ? Why not six or ten? Ever wonder why Jesus was in the center? Why not on the far right or far left? Could it be that the two crosses on the hill symbolize one of God's greatest gifts? The gift of choice.
The two criminals have so much in common. Convicted by the same system. Condemned to the same death. Surrounded by the same crowd. Equally close to the same Jesus. In fact, they begin with the same sarcasm: "The two criminals also said cruel things to Jesus" (Matt. 27:44 CEV).
But one changed.
One of the criminals on a cross began to shout insults at Jesus: "Aren't you the Christ? Then save yourself and us." But the other criminal stopped him and said, "You should fear God! You are getting the same punishment he is. We are punished justly, getting what we deserve for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus said to him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:3943)
Much has been said about the prayer of the penitent thief, and it certainly warrants our admiration. But while we rejoice at the thief who changed, dare we forget the one who didn't? What about him, Jesus? Wouldn't a personal invitation be appropriate? Wouldn't a word of persuasion be timely?
Does not the shepherd leave the ninety-nine sheep and pursue the one lost? Does not the housewife sweep the house until the lost coin is found? Yes, the shepherd does, the housewife does, but the father of the prodigal, remember, does nothing.
The sheep was lost innocently.
The coin was lost irresponsibly.
But the prodigal son left intentionally.
The father gave him the choice. Jesus gave both criminals the same.
There are times when God sends thunder to stir us. There are times when God sends blessings to lure us. But then there are times when God sends nothing but silence as he honors us with the freedom to choose where we spend eternity.
And what an honor it is! In so many areas of life we have no choice. Think about it. You didn't choose your gender. You didn't choose your siblings. You didn't choose your race or place of birth.
Sometimes our lack of choices angers us. "It's not fair," we say. It's not fair that I was born in poverty or that I sing so poorly or that I run so slowly. But the scales of life were forever tipped on the side of fairness when God planted a tree in the Garden of Eden. All complaints were silenced when Adam and his descendants were given free will, the freedom to make whatever eternal choice we desire. Any injustice in this life is offset by the honor of choosing our destiny in the next.
Wouldn't you agree? Would you have wanted otherwise? Would you have preferred the opposite? You choose everything in this life, and he chooses where you spend the next? You choose the size of your nose, the color of your hair, and your DNA structure, and he chooses where you spend eternity? Is that what you would prefer?
It would have been nice if God had let us order life like we order a meal. I'll take good health and a high IQ. I'll pass on the music skills, but give me a fast metabolism . . . Would've been nice. But it didn't happen. When it came to your life on earth, you weren't given a voice or a vote.
But when it comes to life after death, you were. In my book that seems like a good deal. Wouldn't you agree?
Have we been given any greater privilege than that of choice? Not only does this privilege offset any injustice, the gift of free will can offset any mistakes.
Think about the thief who repented. Though we know little about him, we know this: He made some bad mistakes in life. He chose the wrong crowd, the wrong morals, the wrong behavior. But would you consider his life a waste? Is he spending eternity reaping the fruit of all the bad choices he made? No, just the opposite. He is enjoying the fruit of the one good choice he made. In the end all his bad choices were redeemed by a solitary good one.
You've made some bad choices in life, haven't you? You've chosen the wrong friends, maybe the wrong career, even the wrong spouse. You look back over your life and say, "If only . . . if only I could make up for those bad choices." You can. One good choice for eternity offsets a thousand bad ones on earth.
The choice is yours.
How can two brothers be born of the same mother, grow up in the same home, and one choose life and the other choose death? I don't know, but they do.
How could two men see the same Jesus and one choose to mock him and the other choose to pray to him? I don't know, but they did.
And when one prayed, Jesus loved him enough to save him. And when the other mocked, Jesus loved him enough to let him.
He allowed him the choice.
He does the same for you.
There they crucified Him, and with Him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle.
John 19:18 (NAB)
The prison has been stormed, and the gates of the prison have been opened, but unless we leave our prison cells and go forward into the light of freedom, we are still unredeemed in actuality.
On the wood of the Cross the world was saved all at once, and whoever is lost loses himself because he will not receive the Saviour, because he falls again and repeats the fall of Adam.
Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf
Max Lucado is a Christian minister who has published several books. Born in Andrews in West Texas, he did not become a Christian until age 21. He is married to Denalyn and they have three daughters.
He placed one scoop of clay upon another until a form lay lifeless on the ground.
All of the Garden's inhabitants paused to witness the event. Hawks hovered. Giraffes stretched. Trees bowed. Butterflies paused on petals and watched.
"You will love me, nature," God said. "I made you that way. You will obey me, universe. For you were designed to do so. You will reflect my glory, skies, for that is how you were created. But this one will be like me. This one will be able to choose."
All were silent as the Creator reached into himself and removed something yet unseen. A seed. "It's called 'choice.' The seed of choice."
Creation stood in silence and gazed upon the lifeless form. An angel spoke, "But what if he . . ."
"What if he chooses not to love?" the Creator finished. "Come, I will show you."
Unbound by today, God and the angel walked into the realm of tomorrow.
"There, see the fruit of the seed of choice, both the sweet and the bitter."
The angel gasped at what he saw. Spontaneous love. Voluntary devotion. Chosen tenderness. Never had he seen anything like these. He felt the love of the Adams. He heard the joy of Eve and her daughters. He saw the food and the burdens shared. He absorbed the kindness and marveled at the warmth.
"Heaven has never seen such beauty, my Lord. Truly, this is your greatest creation."
"Ah, but you've only seen the sweet. Now witness the bitter."
A stench enveloped the pair. The angel turned in horror and proclaimed, "What is it?"
The Creator spoke only one word: "Selfishness."
The angel stood speechless as they passed through centuries of repugnance. Never had he seen such filth. Rottern hearts. Ruptured promises. Forgotten loyalties. Children of the creation wandering blindly in lonely labyrinths.
"This is the result of choice?" the angel asked.
"They will forget you?"
"They will reject you?"
"They will never come back?"
"Some will. Most won't."
"What will it take to make them listen?"
The Creator walked on in time. A tree that would be fashioned into a cradle. Even then he could smell the hay that would surround him.
With another step into the future, he paused before another tree. It stood alone, a stubborn ruler of a bald hill. The trunk was thick, and the wood strong. Soon it would be cut. Soon it would be trimmed. Soon it would be mounted on the stony brow of another hill. And soon he would be hung on it.
He felt the wood rub against a back he did not yet wear.
"Will you go down there?" the angel asked.
"Is there no other way?"
"There is not."
"Wouldn't it be easier to not plant the seed? Wouldn't it be easier to not give the choice?"
"It would," the Creator spoke slowly. "But to remove the choice is to remove the love."
He looked around the hill and foresaw a scene. Three figures hung on three crosses. Arms spread. Heads fallen forward. They moaned with the wind.
Men clad in soldier's garb sat on the ground near the trio. They played games in the dirt and laughed.
Men clad in religion stood off to one side. They smiled. Arrogant, cocky. They had protected God, they thought, by killing this false one.
Women clad in sorrow huddled at the food of the hill. Speechless. Faces tear streaked. Eyes downward. One put her arm around another and tried to lead her away. She wouldn't leave. "I will stay," she said softly. "I will stay."
All heaven stood to fight. All nature rose to rescue. All eternity poised to protect. But the Creator gave no command.
"It must be done . . . ," he said, and withdrew.
But as he stepped back in time, he heard the cry that he would someday scream: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" He wrenched at tomorrow's agony.
The angel spoke again. "It would be less painful . . ."
The Creator interrupted softly. "But it wouldn't be love."
They stepped into the Garden again. The Maker looked earnestly at the clay creation. A monsoon of love swelled up within him. He had died for the creation before he had made him. God's form bent over the sculptured face and breathed. Dust stirred on the lips of the new one. The chest rose, cracking the red mud. The cheeks fleshened. A finger moved. And an eye opened.
But more incredible than the moving of the flesh was the stirring of the spirit. Those who could see the unseen gasped.
Perhaps it was the wind who said it first. Perhaps what the star saw that moment is what has made it blink ever since. Maybe it was left to an angel to whisper it:
"It looks like . . . it appears so much like . . . it is him!"
The angel wasn't speaking of the face, the features, or the body. He was looking inside - at the soul.
"It's eternal!" gasped another.
Within the man, God had placed a divine seed. A seed of his self. The God of might had created earth's mightiest. The Creator had created, not a creature, but another creator. And the One who had chosen to love had created one who could love in return.
Now it's our choice.