Many years ago the artist Stenburg stood deep in thought in his Dusseldorf studio. He had just promised to provide a painting of the crucifixion of Christ for a church building. It was to be a masterpiece, and he would be paid a handsome price for his work.
In the weeks that followed, Stenburg searched out all he could find of the facts of the death of Jesus. Stenburg was talented; he was famous; he was becoming wealthier every year. But what Stenburg did not have was peace in his soul.
The first brush stroke of color touched the canvas, then another and another. Soon the cross stood stark and upright on Calvary’s hill. Day after day Stenburg’s brush added detail to the canvas.
Then suddenly he was tired. “I need a rest from this,” he told himself. “I’ll walk out to the country and sketch.”
It was spring and the forest had turned a fresh green. At the edge of the forest Stenburg stopped. He saw a gypsy girl weaving a straw basket. Blue-black hair reached to her waist; her red dress was faded and torn. Her eyes were black, large and restless.
What a painting! thought Stenburg.
The girl stared up at the artist. Smiling, she dropped her weaving, jumped up and raised her hands high above her head and twirled and danced in front of him.
“Stand still,” cried Stenburg. The girl dropped her arms. “This week you must come to my studio. I want to paint a picture of you.”
“Oh, Signor,” the girl said shyly, “I’m only a poor gypsy girl.”
“That doesn’t matter . . . come!” he said. And she came in her red dress and with her hair tucked back with a flower. Stenburg was ready. “Sit!” he commanded.
Pepita had never been in an artist’s studio before. Her questions amused Stenburg. But suddenly her eyes stopped at the painting of the crucifixion. It was almost completed.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“The Christ,” the artist said, indifferently.
“But what are they doing to Him?”
“Crucifying Him,” he answered.
“But who are those cruel people?”
Stenburg dropped his brush in frustration. “Listen to me,” he said. “You stand still . . . right there . . . and do not move your lips to speak.”
Pepita stopped talking, but her eyes never left the crucifixion.
After several hours, posing for the day was over. At the door, Pepita stopped. “Was He bad?” she asked.
“No, no; very good,” Stenburg said. “Remember! Come back the day after tomorrow.”
Each day that Pepita came to the studio, she asked another question. “If He was good, why did they do it?”
Impatiently Stenburg said, “Listen! I will tell you once what I know.” Hurriedly, he repeated the facts of Christ’s death, and as he talked he saw her black eyes fill with tears.
One day, both paintings were finished—the one of the crucifixion and the Spanish dancing girl. For the last time Pepita came to the studio. When she saw herself on the canvas, she was delighted. Then she walked over to the other painting and stood silently. She turned to Stenburg. “You must love Him very much, Signor, when He has done all that for you . . . don’t you?” Then she was gone.
Stenburg watched her as she went down the street, but the street noises refused to drown out the sound of Pepita’s voice: “. . . love Him very much when He has done so much for you.”
All week he heard the question: “You must love Him very much, don’t you?” His restlessness and turmoil of soul grew. He could stand it no longer. He tried going to church, and the vicar attempted to pacify him with, “All will be well.” But when Stenburg left, his heart was still tormented.
He decided to present his masterpiece to the church at a fraction of its cost. He found the vicar and told him of his decision. The grateful vicar said, “For what you have done for the church, God be with you.” But even giving such a wonderful gift to the church brought him no peace. Stenburg knew God was not with him. He was still haunted with the question: “You must love Him very much, don’t you?”
He walked night and day up and down the streets of Dusseldorf, trying to shake off his sadness of spirit, but nothing helped. One night he watched a group of people hurrying into a house. Curiously, he noticed that all the people who entered looked happy.
One evening, to satisfy his curiosity, Stenburg went to the house and sat down with the people. He listened to the speaker, a man who seemed to have found the peace that Stenburg was looking for. That night Stenburg found the answer for his restless soul and mind. The church could not give peace to his soul, nor could his gift to the church. Jesus had died on the cross for Stenburg, and at last the artist could say, “And how much I love Him!” It was the crucified Christ who gave him peace for his soul and rest for his mind.
The next morning, he could not keep this joy to himself. “How can I tell others?” he asked himself. “I can paint!” he said with certainty. And soon a great masterpiece was presented to the Dusseldorf gallery for every visitor to see—a sermon for all to read.
One day he found a girl weeping in front of his picture. She turned, and it was Pepita! “It is you, Signor,” she cried out. “Oh, Signor, if only He had loved me so much!”
They both sat in front of the painting while he told her the meaning of His cruel but wonderful death and His glorious resurrection. “For all men, for gypsies, for everyone—Christ Jesus has suffered and bled on the cross. And He did all this for you too, Pepita.”
The gypsy girl was quiet. Then she looked up. “I believe it,” she said simply.
Two years later Pepita died, trusting in Jesus. Her last words were, “All this I did for thee.”
The artist grew older, and finally he had to set his brush aside. Dusseldorf lost its artist, but the painting still hung for all to see.
Years later, a young German nobleman wandered into the Dusseldorf gallery and stopped in front of the Stenburg masterpiece. He read the inscription on the frame. “All this I did for thee. What hast thou done for Me?”
Later that night, the young nobleman made a decision—to give his life to answering the question under the Stenburg painting. That nobleman was Count Zinzendorf.
The gallery burned years ago and with it the famous canvas. But the question for everyone— for you, for me—remains the same: “All this I did for thee. What hast thou done for Me?”
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).
“The Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).