I first heard this story in the mid-1990s from a pastor in Austin, Texas. I've taken a few liberties with the details (due to fading memory), but the main subject of the illustration remains unaltered.
Many years ago in Great Britain, the wife of a wealthy man died and left him with a child, their only son. This man loved to collect rare works of art, possessing all the grand masters in his collection, from Picasso to Van Gogh. When Hitler invaded England, the son went off to war and within a year, the father was notified that his son, who he loved dearly, died courageously in battle. A few months later, just before Christmas while the old man was still deeply grieving, there was a knock at the door. When he answered, there stood a young man on the porch with a large package in his hands.
He said, “Sir, you don't know me, but I served with your son in the war and we became great friends. He even gave his life for mine. He actually saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly.”
The young man then held out his package, saying “He often talked about you, and your love for art. I'm not much of an artist, but I wanted to do something, and I think your son would have wanted you to have this.”
The father opened the package and discovered that it was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. Even though the painting was not technically great, he nevertheless stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son. The father was so drawn to the portrait that his own eyes welled up with tears. When he regained his composure, he thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture.
“Oh, no sir, I could never begin to repay what your son did for me. It's a gift.”
The father hung the portrait over his mantle, taking down the expensive painting that previously hung there. Whenever visitors came to his home he always took them to see the portrait of his son before showing them any of the other great works in his collection.
The man died a few months later and a great auction of his paintings was scheduled. Many influential people from all over Europe gathered, along with some who flew over form the USA, excited over the opportunity to purchase one of the great paintings for their collection.
The auction began with the first painting brought and displayed on the platform - the painting of the son.
The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?”
There was silence. The auctioneer again asked “OK, who'll make the first bid for this painting?” After a few more moments of silence, a voice shouted, “'We want to see the famous paintings. Why don't you skip this one.”
But the auctioneer persisted. “Will someone bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding? $100, $200?”
Another voice shouted angrily. “We didn't come to see this painting. We came to see the Rembrandts, the Michelangelos. Get on with the good stuff!”
But still the auctioneer continued. “'Will someone please bid on this painting. Come on now. Who'll take the son?”
Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. The longtime gardener of the father had just stepped into the room and said “I'll give $10 for the painting.” Being a poor man, it was all he could afford, but he loved the father and son dearly.
The auctioneer said “We have $10, who will bid $20?”
Another voice shouted “Give it to him for $10. Let's see the masters.”
“The bid is $10, won't someone please bid $20?”, the auctioneer persisted.
At this point, the crowd was becoming increasingly hostile. They didn't want the picture of the son. They wanted only the worthy investments for their collections.
hhe auctioneer signed, then pounded the gavel. “Going once, twice, SOLD for $10 to the gentlemen in the back.”
A person from the crowd then shouted, “Well, it's about time. Now let's get on with the valuable collection!”
The auctioneer however, laid down his gavel and announced, “I'm sorry, but the auction is over.”
The crowd shouted “What? Wait a minute. What about the other paintings? What about the Raphaels? What about the Picassos?”
The auctioneer replied, “It was a stipulation in the will. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned, and whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. In other words, it is the father's will that whoever takes the son would get everything, and those that do not take the son would get nothing!”
God sent his Son to die in our place. Much like the auctioneer, God is pleading with us, “Who'll take the Son”. Because, you see, whoever takes the Son will co-inherit the kingdom with Him (Rom 8:16,17 and 1Peter 1:3-5), but whoever rejects the Son will suffer eternal damnation (Rev 20:15).
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (Jn 3:16-18)
Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 Jn 5:10-12)
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