On my first time driving out west, I recall the repeated advertisements for “Wall Drug.” an old-time pharmacy, soda fountain, and in my opinion over-rated tourist stop in Wall, South Dakota. The adds started along the interstate still hundreds of miles away.
Although I typically get tired of the endless advertizing, the billboards upon billboards, which line our roadways, these actually gave me something to look forward too. It was a distraction from the monotonous drive across the Midwest. Starting at a mere $1,000 per month per billboard you could post your own message up there too.
Artist Jennifer Bolande did that with an exhibit in Southern California called, “Visible Distance.” It’s a set of billboards that have a photographic image of the landscape immediately behind them. The idea is to open people’s eyes to what is going on all around them. Instead of distracting us from the landscape, for once she wanted the billboards to draw a driver’s attention to the reality they were missing right behind the sign.
Jesus was doing this in the Gospels too. He didn’t use billboards. There were no billboards in Galilee or Jerusalem of which I know. Yet from the time he and his disciples started onto that road, from the one to the other Matthew tells us, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). A little later he did it again “As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day’” (Matthew 17:22-23). As they drew closer he said it again, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day” (Matthew 20:18-19).
Every time Jesus said it, it was because the disciples were distracted from the landscape of salvation that God had situated all around them. In Matthew 16 they were distracted by advertisements for bread and yeast that had them wondering if they had brought enough and if not how they were going to get some. In Matthew 17 the disciples were distracted by an epileptic boy that they could not heal, or if he had a demon, why they could not cast it out. In Matthew 20 they were distracted by their own competition over who was going to be first among them. In every instance Jesus pointed them back to his crucifixion and resurrection!
In the center of this April is a grand billboard that we call Holy Week. It’s God’s billboard. He’s placed it here to point us back to the spiritual landscape that he has situated all around us. The billboard depicts Good Friday and Easter, the cross and the empty tomb, Jesus’ crucifixion and his resurrection.
When we are distracted by daily bread, or groceries of any kind, even the money to buy them, Jesus invites us to see his cross and empty tomb. When we’re distracted by sickness that we can’t overcome, or Satan’s attacks which seem overwhelming, Jesus invites us to look to his wounds and take heart in his resurrected life. When we’re caught up in the competitive nature of the world around us, Jesus invites us to see his humility, which transforms into the true exultation of eternal life.
No matter where his travels took him, the Apostle Paul kept his eyes on those billboards. “We resolved to know nothing while we were among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). That’s where Paul found healing, strength, contentment, and so much more. So can we. Let’s keep our eyes on that billboard.
In Jesus name,