By Anthony Casperson
Usually, I’m not much of a person who likes TV series that predate me. But one of my favorite things to do during both New Year’s and the Fourth of July is watch the marathon of The Twilight Zone that Syfy shows during those two holidays.
(I know that it’s the day before Palm Sunday and I’m talking about other holidays. Just stay with me here.)
Though not necessarily my favorite, one of the most artistically memorable episodes of the old-school sci-fi series is the episode entitled “The Invaders.” Other than the opening and closing narration by Rod Serling, there is only one line of dialogue during the entire episode (not counting the few screams of pain) and that’s at the very end of the episode.
The episode begins with the aforementioned opening narration. “This is one of the out-of-the-way places, the unvisited places, bleak, wasted, dying. This is a farmhouse, handmade, crude, a house without electricity or gas, a house untouched by progress. This is the woman who lives in the house. A woman who’s been alone for many years. A strong, simple woman whose only problem up until this moment has been that of acquiring enough food to eat. A woman about to face terror, which is even now coming at her from - The Twilight Zone.”
A simple house. An unassuming woman. We see a flying saucer land on her house. Two tiny figures exit the vehicle, appearing about 6-inches in comparison to the woman. Who, or what, are these invading creatures? We don’t know because they’re in suits.
Throughout the episode, these invaders fire radiation guns at the woman. She screams in pain. We jeer at the little imps agitating the poor woman who did nothing to deserve their ire. We cheer as the woman wraps one of the pair in a blanket, beats it senseless and throws it in the fire.
The second tiny invader runs back to its ship, seeing the demise of its compatriot. The woman picks up an axe, following the creature out to its ship. She’s going out to finish what the invaders started. And we cheer for her vengeance.
Then we get the only line outside of the narration. In English, the astronaut frantically calls back to Earth to warn them to not come back to this planet because it’s filled with giants who are undefeatable. The camera pans over the saucer and we see markings reading, “U.S. Air Force Space Probe No. 1.”
Now in horror, we watch the giant monster obliterate our fellow human being. She smashes the ship to pieces and we don’t know how to feel. Our perspective changed because what we thought to be true came to light as a lie. The truth revealed, we realize how nasty we as human beings can be. We cheered at the violence because we thought the woman was one of us, but when we see the truth, we switch sides.
Good art does that. It acts as a mirror for the author/artist’s intended audience. The artist reveals to the audience the truths that we don’t believe to be true. Or at least we turn a blind eye to because we don’t want to believe it to be true.
This is no less true in the cross. The greatest Artist of all time, the Creator of the universe who crafted from nothing the beauty that all other artists hope to copy, did this during his showcase of love acted out in horrific display.
The cross calls us to see the truth about ourselves.
As we’ve been going through this series during the season of Lent, looking at what the cross teaches us, we’ve discovered several teachings. But today, we’re going to look at the thief on the cross.
Jesus, beaten, bloody, and broken, hung on the cross. Several others who had done terrible things hung nearby on their own crosses. Rebels, rioters, terrorists. Pinned to their own crossbeams, they agonized.
One calls out to Jesus, “Hey, Messiah-boy, why don’t you just save yourself? Actually, I wouldn’t mind if you let me down too. Whatcha say?” Adding to the choir of voices mocking God enfleshed in humanity for not picking up the rights that he’d laid down so that he could save these very people.
But another voice arose. One owned by another rebel. “Why don’t you shut up? It’s not like we’re innocent. We deserve to be here. He doesn’t. He’s done nothing wrong. He doesn’t deserve to be mocked. Not by the likes of us.”
The “thief” on the cross saw the truth that Jesus didn’t deserve to die. He’d done nothing wrong, nothing deserving this punishment. And the truth about Jesus’ purity led this rebel to see his own sinfulness. He knew he deserved this punishment, this death, this pain.
The cross was a mirror. And the rebel saw himself staring back from it, affixed to his own cross. It showed him his need. It gave him a new perspective. One that moved from deserving his own cross because of rebellion against the Roman Empire, to deserving it because of his rebellion against God.
Faith beyond understanding moved in this man’s life as he believed the truth of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The reason why Jesus couldn’t show his power by saving himself from the cross was because then he could never save the rest of the world. The once-rebel surrendered to the True King as he asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus comes into his kingdom.
And that act of faith, as that rebel stared in the mirror of the cross, saved him. He died on his cross, but salvation came for him that day as he traveled with Jesus to Paradise.
The cross calls us to see the truth about ourselves.
We, like the man on the cross next to Jesus, are sinners deserving just punishment for our rebellion. But the beauty of the horrifying scene of death mounted on rough wood is that we can be saved from it, once we realize the truth of our own sinfulness. We deserve that punishment, that death, that pain, but Jesus paid it so that we don’t have to get what we deserve.
The statement that we deserve that punishment doesn’t sit well with us. We don’t want to believe it to be true. We’re not that bad. That guy over there is worse than we are. But one glance at the cross will reveal the mirror that our sin, our rebellion against God must be paid.
We will either mock Jesus like the one rebel, or see the truth like the other rebel. We will either die in our rebellion, or be led to Paradise by Jesus. The choice is ours.
The mirror stands before us.