Jesus, the Priceless One

Laszlo Dalnoki

What the most expensive painting in the world can tell about our life and priorities. Some personal thoughts.

There was a great sensation in world media when Christie’s auction house sold Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Salvator Mundi (Savior of the World) to the highest bidder for 450 million dollars at the end of last year. This makes it the most expensive painting of all time, and it represents nothing but a (fictitious) portrait of Jesus Christ. The previous record-holder was a Picasso piece, which sold for half that amount.

Any normal person with both feet firmly on the ground can only shake his head over such high numbers. It’s difficult for us to imagine this sum, when there is so much need and suffering in the world. There are actually people who are in a position to spend that amount of money on a painting, created by one of the greatest geniuses in art history.

When I heard the sensational news, I immediately wondered what the new owner might do with this exceptionally valuable work of art. Will he hang it on his living room wall? (Not exactly a safe solution.) He shouldn’t show the painting to his circle of friends, because once its location is known, the danger of theft is constantly present.

Our Lord Jesus aptly says, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt 6:19-21).

The buyer can lock the painting in a bank vault, hand it over to a museum as an exhibition piece, or resell it. In any case, this deal could be a very worthwhile investment for the future. But Jesus asks us, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt 16:26).

We do not know whether the buyer of the painting really believes in Jesus Christ. It seems unlikely. In an interview with Zeit Online, art historian Wolfgang Ullrich calls the purchase a “power gesture.” We could put it this way: The buyer has bought a “Christ” for himself, who may now be resting in a bank vault where nobody can see him. The light of the world is locked up instead of living in the heart of the owner.

Jesus warns us: “And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). God’s grace, embodied in Christ Jesus, cannot be bought, even with all the money in the world! There were (and still are today) those who wanted to buy the Holy Spirit of the Lord with money. But that’s impossible, as we see from a biblical incident: “And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:18-21).

The thought that troubles me is that a rich man has acquired for himself a painting depicting Jesus for a tremendous sum, but if he does not turn to Jesus, he remains a lost man. This truth is impressively evident in the case of the rich young man. He said that he had kept all the commandments of God. Thus, he lived as an upright man, as Jesus had thought. But then he stood before the Redeemer, a step away from eternal life, but he could not part with his fortune. This story is bitter, for then Jesus told His disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).

The Preacher also speculated on wealth, and came to the following realization in reference to God: “For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I? For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit” (Eccl 2:25-26).

How happy is the one who has found Jesus Christ in his heart, the one who has found the Redeemer! Such a person has not given a penny for it, because Christ has given Himself out of His precious and priceless grace: “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many” (Rom 5:15).

No one, no one, can take this acquired treasure, the gift of eternal life, from the one who believes in Jesus Christ. Anyone who thinks he can buy “Christ” while his heart remains empty, without the living Christ dwelling in it, keeps “Him” in vain under lock and key. We read about eternal life: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
We don’t know what the future destiny of this painting will look like. It may be that a new buyer is coming who will buy it for even more money. But if we look at it from the perspective of the history of salvation, we realize that this wealth too will pass away with our dying world. God is creating a new heaven and a new earth, where there will be no transience, no suffering, no money or material wealth, for our only wealth will be Jesus Christ Himself and eternal life with Him: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:16-17).

The Savior of the world and His salvation are not for sale at any price. Neither in the department store nor in fine galleries, nor even in any of the most prestigious auction houses can you bid on Him. Yes, you can buy the painting, which consists of frame, canvas, and color, and on which the signature reads “Leonardo da Vinci”; but the true, living Christ is not there. If you seek Him, start at the cross of Calvary. If you look up at the cross, you will discover the inscription INRI: “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” He is the guarantor of our faith and champion of our salvation. He has paid the highest price ever paid on this earth. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11).

Those who have found Him can say that they are the richest people in the world. Jesus Himself is the best investment for your future!             

(This was Brother Laszlo’s last contribution. He went home to be with the Lord 28 March 2018.)

Midnight Call - 05/2018

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