The Mystery Cross
By Anthony Casperson
In 2007, the TED talk heard round the world caused storytellers to question conventional methods of portraying their craft. Director, showrunner, and producer J.J. Abrams spoke about a paradigm called the “mystery box.”
When he was young, Abrams’ grandfather took him to a magic shop where he found this box. For $15 you could buy a magic mystery box that contained “$50 of magic tricks.” You couldn’t see what was in the box. And the only way to know what was in this mysterious container was to open it. However, the filmmaker chose to keep it closed.
During his TED talk, Abrams spoke of how the box represented infinite possibility and hope. The questions of what it could contain fueled his imagination. Inquiries flowing one after the other without an answer to slow down the interrogative onslaught.
He transitioned to talking about how movies like Jaws kept the big bad monster largely hidden from the audience. Their imaginations playing a greater part in the frightful presence of the beast. “How big is this thing?” “Could it really swallow a person whole?”
In truth, and Abrams admits as much, if the filmmakers had caused the animatronic shark to be seen in full, it would be far less scary. Part of the reason why the shark wasn’t shown more in Spielberg’s classic film was because it looked ridiculous, especially since it kept sinking in the water.
The awe of being kept mysterious overcame the ridiculously mundane.
And here’s the thing about the mystery box, the reality will only let you down. Once answers begin to manifest, the hope of all that question-asking fades. The infinite possibilities become a reality of sub-par substance.
In the intervening years since Abrams’ TED talk, people have bought and opened various magic mystery boxes only to find that they contain small magic tricks (as one would expect given that’s what it was sold as). Most of them were tricks that had been mass produced, but little desired. Others were illusions about to be discontinued. The greatest trick of all being that people looked within the infinite questions only to find a pitiable substance.
If the value of a mystery is found only in the questions, then the answers will reveal its worthlessness. The questions might be able to raise excitement about the mystery, but it’s only in the answer that value is truly found.
And the value of a mystery can be found nowhere more substantial than in the event of the cross. God’s great plan of uniting in himself those who would call upon the name of Jesus.
No one could have guessed that God would choose to offer salvation by dying. It was inconceivable for God’s victory to pour forth from the blood of his Anointed One. The mystery of this seeming defeat being God’s plan from the foundation of the world.
And while most of the time in the New Testament that we find the word “mystery” it refers to the fact that God offered salvation not only to his people in Israel, but also to the Gentiles, Ephesians 1:7-14 reveals a fuller answer to the mystery. It’s not just that Gentiles had the possibility of coming into relationship with God, but that in the cross we who believe are all united in him.
We’re given an inheritance beyond our imaginations. This mystery grants us unfathomable hope as we’re anchored into the God who sacrificed himself for us. We no longer have to ask un-answered questions because he is our answer. We become a part of his weighted value, of his glory, even as he seals us with his Holy Spirit.
The mystery of the cross reveals us to be a sealed gift worth more than we could ever imagine. Our value found in his glory.