I started playing the guitar when I was ten years old. My parents bought me my first guitar for Christmas that year. It came from Woolco, and cost the princely sum of $39.95! I thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world…for a while. After about a year I began to realize just how hard to play my Woolco guitar really was. In those days inexpensive guitars were mainly “instruments of torture”.
I’d look at other guitars when I went shopping with my parents. They used to sell guitars and amplifiers at Sears and other department stores. These instruments also weren’t very expensive—or very good—but they sure were fun to look at. Back then, I thought that the more buttons and knobs a guitar had, the better it was.
Then in my teen years I discovered real music stores, stores that sold professional-grade instruments. I felt like I was walking through a musical wonderland with guitars of all shapes and sizes and colors, hanging there on the wall, just out of reach behind the counter. And when I looked at the price tags, the cost of these guitars was out of reach, too. At least, it was for a broke teenager.
But then one day I saw a guitar that really took my breath away. It was a deep burgundy solid-body electric guitar, and it looked just like the ones being used by really famous rock groups of the day. (It was actually a Japanese copy of those guitars, but that mattered very little to a 15-year old.) This guitar cost $214.10! And it provided me with the incentive to do something I’d never done before: get a job.
So I got a part-time job, first working in the dishwashing room at a large cafeteria, and after that at a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store. I absolutely hated the first job. Washing dishes for 8 hours straight in a hot, steamy, back room that smelled like garbage was not any fun at all. Working in the ice cream shop was more pleasant…until some little kid decided he didn’t like the ice cream he’d just been screaming for and dumped it on the floor. Or worse, threw up.
But I worked those jobs in order to save up enough money to purchase that new guitar I so desperately wanted. I never knew a dumpster could smell that bad…and you haven’t lived until you’ve washed huge pots in the pot room of a big cafeteria. But I was willing to endure all those unpleasant tasks in order to purchase that guitar.
One day I had finally saved up enough to go buy the guitar and bring it home. And it was really wonderful to play music on it! While it hung in the store, it was silent. But now that I had it in my hands, I could use it to make some joyful noise! (My parents could have confirmed that the guitar wasn’t silent anymore! Not with a 140-watt amplifier!)
There’s a parallel here with the Gospel: one day Jesus Christ, the Son of God, saw you and I hanging in the marketplace of sin, and for reasons we will never comprehend, decided that He wanted to make us His own. He endured so much in order to pay the price for us. The Lord Jesus Christ “gave Himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6), and “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). And those who receive Him by faith are “bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) We are then forever His, and the music that flows out of our lives is only because of Him.
But this illustration isn’t quite exact: there was nothing bright and shiny about us before we came to the Lord Jesus. So let me tweak the illustration a little more.
The older I get, the less I care about a guitar’s shiny finish or the number of knobs and buttons it has. It can be pretty dinged up, and I still might buy it. I’m not looking primarily at the outside of a guitar. Instead, I want to know how it sounds and if it will respond easily to my touch.
Once I went into a music store in Greenwood, Indiana and saw an old classical guitar hanging on the wall. It had a very low price, and I wondered why. I took it down and played it for a few minutes. It had a wonderful, mellow sound, and was fairly easy to play. It didn’t “resist” me; the instrument was responsive to my touch on the strings.
I sat there and played an instrumental song I’d written for my daughter, prompting one of the sales staff to look up and compliment my playing. (It’s always great when you don’t make any mistakes while you’re trying out a guitar in a store. It happens every now and then.)
Then I inspected the guitar a little closer and found out why it was priced so low: there was a hole in the back of it. It looked like a small horse had kicked it, leaving about a 3-inch depression with a hole in the middle.
But I didn’t care. I bought the guitar and took it to my in-laws’ house, where I left it so I would have something to play when we came to visit. It didn’t matter to me how it looked or how it had been abused. What did matter to me was that it responded to my touch, and I could make beautiful music with it. I didn’t buy it because it was shiny and new; I bought it because of what I could do with it.
And there’s an even better parallel with the Gospel: Jesus didn’t ransom us because we were shiny and desirable and new-looking. We weren’t very attractive: sin had marred our lives. But Jesus didn’t pay the price for us because we deserved it. He made us His own because of what He could do with us after we were His.
If guitars could talk, that beat-up little classical guitar I bought wouldn’t be able to brag about anything. It was used, scratched-up and had a hole. No bragging rights there! But I could still take it, clean it up and make beautiful music with it.
We don’t have any room to brag, either. When Jesus found us, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). To a greater or lesser degree, sin had left each of us scarred and marred. It wasn’t because we were desirable that He paid the price for us. It was simply and solely because of His grace. But once we’re His, He can make something beautiful flow out of our lives. And when that happens, He gets all the credit and all the praise.
I still go into music stores and look at guitars. (My wife says it keeps me off the streets.) Every once in a while I still see a guitar and think, “Wow…what could I do with that one?” And every once in a longer while I still take another guitar home. (Then I try to figure out how to tell my wife!) All my guitars are quite different from one another. The only thing they have in common is this: I bought them all.
Believer in Jesus, sometimes the only thing that we have in common is that Jesus purchased us with His blood, in the sacrifice He made for us on the cross. None of us deserved it; some of us were pretty banged up. But we can look at each other and say, “Did Jesus purchase you? Me, too!”
And that gives us plenty in common.
Soli Deo Gloria!