Kennedy and Christ

“As for me, God forbid that I should boast in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Galatians 6:14

Today is the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. I overheard a guy this morning in the coffee shop tell someone else that Christians wearing crosses is like Jackie Onassis wearing a pin with a picture of a rifle on it. I wasn’t amused. It reminded me of what many comedians have said that if Jesus had been killed in our time we’d all be wearing little electric chairs around our necks. It didn’t make me angry nor did I feel any compulsion to barge into their conversation with some snide defense of the One I love. Instead it just made me sad.

John F. Kennedy was a great man and it was a terrible day when he was murdered right next to his wife and in front of the nation – in front of the world. Those of us old enough to have been alive in 1963 remember where we were when we were told about our president being shot and killed. I was in 3rd grade, out on the schoolyard, next to the fence during recess. It was probably more due to the teacher’s reaction than my own sense of loss, but I remember feeling like crying for sadness. I imagine some consider it as criminal and as horrific as 911. Anyone with any concern for humanity, much less the United States of America, still grieves, especially on this 50th anniversary. But to compare JFK’s murder with the sacrifice of Jesus and to frame the latter in a comedic way, to my mind, is just sad.

Let me say that I’ve never worn on my person or displayed on my wall any cross symbols. I’m not opposed to it on religious grounds, but I’m not really a jewelry kind of guy and I just haven’t seen it as a strategic tactic of exhibiting my love and allegiance to Jesus. I love him with all my heart and will forever be grateful that he gave his life for mine on a brutal cross. I celebrate communion often, sometimes with tears and at other times I feel like jumping up and dancing – something I have been known to do. I’m not likely to forget what he did to rescue me from myself and don’t need a necklace to show it. I have no opinion about anyone with crosses in their house or around their neck; it’s just not me.

But when I heard the guy say what he did I felt an unsuspected sadness about how most people misunderstand and miss out on the ultimate beauty of the ugly death of Jesus.

I mean no disrespect for our former president or wish to minimize the tragedy of his death, especially on this day of remembrance, but there are major differences between the assassination of one of the greatest men in America’s history and the crucifixion of the Son of God for the sake of the whole world. I’m sure that if he were available for comment JFK would agree with the contrasts I propose.

JFK was ruthlessly murdered, taken away from his family, from his country, and from the whole world. How could someone be so twisted as to commit such an evil act to kill anyone, let alone a president? But murder is not nearly the same as sacrifice. No one took Jesus’ life from him; he laid it down by his own choice. All people, except him are born and then they die. He was born to die. It’s why he came here. A professor of mine used to say that Jesus’ blood wasn’t “spilled” as some of the old hymns say, but it was poured out. He’s the only one who ever lost on purpose.

JFK was, in my estimation, a brilliant politician and a model American in many ways. From all I can gather from what has been written about him, since I was too young to know first hand, he was a great man. Last, but not least, he rescued the country from Richard Nixon for another eight years! Just saying. Even if one thinks otherwise, his office, which he held for less than one full term before being gunned down in cold blood, demands respect. Jesus, on the other hand, was a great man, but – like no one before, since, or forever – was the God Man. His intentional death is my only boast of how God adopted me into his big family and I love him for it.

Lee Harvey Oswald did no favors for anyone, except maybe those who put him up to it. Alternately, the Romans who put Jesus on one of their crosses were used by Providence to make a way for everyone and anyone to have a friendship with God. Jesus said that if he were lifted up on a cross he would draw people to God through it – and he did. He still does.

While I have no opinion about JFK’s spirituality or about his eternal state, there is one thing that’s clear – he’s dead and Jesus is alive. Three days after they buried Jesus’ dead body in a cave he got up and left the grave clothes behind. He’s still quite alive and able to live inside people and empower them with his life in such a way that they become gradually more like him. Great men and women can inspire us to be better people, but only one can actually enable us to be like them from the inside out.

I admire John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, and many other great people, but I love Jesus for what he did for me on the cross. I revel in his love for me, love that came all the way here to this place and went all the way to a cross to take my place.

It’s everyone’s prerogative to ignore Jesus, doubt his claims, and even make jokes about his cross. But I hope this man in the coffee shop today will someday see his own need for what Jesus died to give him, fall in love with him, and even boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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