Skin for Skin

“’Skin for skin!’ Satan replied. ‘A man will give all he has for his own life’” (Job 2:4).  That seems true of me but not of the celebrated con man Charles Ponzi.

Pearl Gosset was a nurse at a mining company’s hospital in 1912. She was badly burned when a gasoline stove she was cooking a patient’s meal on exploded.  Ponzi asked a doctor how she was doing.  He said that she needed a skin graft but he couldn’t find anyone in the 2000 person camp to donate so much as one inch of skin.  Ponzi was willing to give it all.  The doctor tried to give him time to brace up for it, but Ponzi wouldn’t hear of it.  That night the doctor took 72 square inches from his thighs.  She needed 50 more square inches and Ponzi gave that from his back.  He spent months in the hospital recovering. The nurse recovered as well (Ponzi’s Scheme, 52-54).

I am struck by this selfless gesture on the part of Ponzi.  He really received no notoriety or credit for this extremely generous deed.  He was no skinflint; he was willing to give skin for skin; he didn’t scrape by in the good works department by the skin of his teeth.

Ponzi did go to a Catholic college and probably was raised in a Catholic home, but as an adult he did not regularly attend church.  His selfless act shows that good works can be only skin deep and still be very impressive.  His selfless act also shows that what separates Christians from others is not our good works.  I don’t know that I would give my skin for anyone else, and I do have the sense, the fear, that I will protect it at all costs.  You’ll recall that Job weathered the loss of goods, fame, and child(ren) with “The Lord has given the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  But when Satan’s beachhead was his skin, his faith in the Lord’s grace crumbled and he fled to his works.

What separates Christian’s from non-Christians is not our works, not our social programs, not our piety or our pity, but the faith that holds us. The faith that God took on skin, and then gave up that skin for all the skin-jobs (A name for humanity in some sci-fi shows.) in the world.  He gave up that holy, pure, unblemished skin for the sake of us pimpled, scared, and dirty-skinned human beings.  He gave not a piece of His skin but all of His skin not to be grafted to someone else but to be whipped, slapped, brutalized, and then nailed to a tree.

My salvation is not tied to what I do with my skin or how well I tolerate what Satan does to my skin.  No, my salvation is tied to what God in Christ did in His skin for the sake of my skin.

You know con man is short for “confidence” man.  They operate by getting you to bestow confidence on them, and they do this by being supremely confident.  So maybe it’s not so remarkable that a confidence man would have the pluck, the temerity, the chutzpah, the machismo to part with 120 square inches of skin.  He knew it was for a good cause; his skin wouldn’t be wasted.  Jesus’ skin was.

This bothers the limited atonement crowd.  I’ve had more than one say, “God wouldn’t waste the blood of His only beloved Son atoning for the sins of unbelievers.” That is totally reasonable, isn’t it?  And it’s totally reasonable that Ponzi wouldn’t have parted with his skin he if knew the nurse was going to waste it.  But God was willing to see the blood, sweat, tears that flowed from the skin of His Son wasted so that some would be saved.  That’s not reasonable, but where would we be if reason ruled the world?  In a reasonable world, virgins don’t conceive, let alone conceive God; Water doesn’t regenerate; Wine isn’t Blood and Bread isn’t Body, and Words can’t forgive.  But in a world ruled by the God of grace, God takes on skin; Water on the skin rebirths; our skin can receive Christ’s Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine, and Words that vibrate the skin of our eardrums can absolve us.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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