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Some time ago I was reading about the 18th century German sculptor Johann Heinrich von Dannecker. His skills were impressive. He could bring stone to life with his tools. At the height of his powers, he wanted to do something special with his gifts -- he wanted to shape a statue of Christ that would stand out as a witness to his world. For two years he chiselled and scraped and polished the marble, till he was certain that it carried the likeness of his Lord. But he wanted to test his work on eyes that wouldn’t lie. So he went out to the street, and brought in a young girl. He took her into his studio, and he set her down in front of the shrouded stone. Uncovering it, he asked her, Do you know who this is? No, sir! she replied. But he must be a very great man. And Dannecker knew that he’d failed. The statue was good enough for kings and nobles, but it wasn’t good enough to speak the word about Christ.


He was discouraged. He was disheartened. He was depressed. But he knew that he had to try again. So he set his hand to the task. Six years it took him this time! Every day, painstakingly, shaping and carving. Finally it was done. And again, he brought in a child as his first critic. He took off the shroud, and asked her gently, Who is that? Legend has it that tears came to her eyes as she recognized Jesus. It was enough. Dannecker had finished his task. He had created his masterpiece. He had given visible shape to his faith. And later, to a friend, he told the secret of those last six years. It was as if, he said, Christ had joined him daily in his little room. He felt the nearness of his Lord. He sensed the glory of his Presence. All Dannecker had to do, really, was to transfer the vision of Christ that he received to the block of marble.


It’s a powerful story, isn’t it? But there’s more to it. There’s another chapter that comes later, one so striking that it actually makes John’s vision come alive.


Some years later, the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte saw Dannecker’s work. He was very impressed. He sent for the sculptor, and he had a commission for him -- Make me a statue of the goddess Venus for the Louvre! he said. Quite an honor! To be chosen as the creator of a work of art like that! Who could refuse? But you know what?! Dannecker did! He refused the commission. He gave up that honor. And you know why? This is what he told Napoleon:


"A man who has seen Christ can never employ his gifts in carving out a pagan goddess!"

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