The title above comes from a hymn that I just learned. We have sung it a couple of times at Third Avenue Baptist Church and it is very, very beautiful. But it is beautiful in a way that only a song about the cross can be. It is the kind of beauty that cannot be imagined by the natural mind. This is the kind of beauty that, when one sees it as it truly is, saves the sinner’s soul. This is the beauty of calvary – the peculiar splendor of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God slain for those who hated Him.
The words of this hymn capture the wonderful horror of the cross of Christ. The tune is somber, if not haunting. Glory is not often chipper. Dark melody gives way to light in the last lines of each verse and gives us a better sense of this gospel paradox- unspeakable sorrow and transcendent joy.
“Stricken, smitten, and afflicted, see him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ by man rejected; yes, my soul, ’tis he, ’tis he!
‘Tis the long expected Prophet, David’s son, yet David’s Lord;
by his Son God now has spoken: ’tis the true and faithful Word.”
The first verse sets the gruesome and surprising theme. The One who is dying on the cursed tree is the Christ. He is the Messiah, the One in whom the hope of God’s true people had always been. But even though they hoped better than they knew, they did not quite understand what was transpiring in front of their eyes. Had they understood better their Old Testaments better, they would have known that every single drop of blood spilled was pointing to this event. The entire world had been driving to this event. The cross stands at the center of history.
This Jesus was the Prophet long expected. But He is more than a prophet. Being David’s greater son, He is also David’s Lord. 2 Samuel 7 predicted the day when the eternal reign of David’s throne would be established and established by the accomplishment of the atoning work of a mediator. The question of the Old Testament about how a holy God could continue to save wretched sinners would finally be answered here – on a cross. In Christ, redemption and revelation are complete. Eternal joy, though in an unexpected form, has dawned.
“Tell me ye who hear him groaning, was there ever grief like his?
Friends thro’ fear his cause disowning, foes insulting his distress;
many hands were raised to wound him, none would interpose to save;
but the deepest stroke that pierced him was the stroke that Justice gave.”
The hymn writer sets us up to see the true meaning of the cross. Many are fine with attributing tremendous physical suffering to Christ on the cross. They see it as a model for self-sacrifice and obedience. And that is not false. The physical sufferings of Christ are unfathomable. Jesus was fully divine and also fully human. His human nature was not spared one ounce of pain.
But many a criminal was crucified on a Roman cross. Thus, there would be nothing unique nor saving about the cross if there had not be something else happening as well. Oh but there was something else going on! Jesus Christ was receiving the full weight of God’s wrath due our sin on Himself. The One who knew no sin became sin for us. In our place and for our sin Christ hung there. The eternity of hell is not enough for the penalty of sin against an infinitely worthy God to be satisfied. But here we see that justice gave the stroke. And the stroke was received in full.
“Ye who think of sin by lightly nor suppose the evil great
here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.”
Simply put, we don’t value the cross because we do not see the heinous nature of our sin. The cross does not aim at the alleviation of guilt only. The cross did cancel our sin, effectively ransoming us from the wrath of God and guilt of sin. But we also should look at the cross the mourn our sin. The glory of the God is the highest possible joy imaginable. God is a fountain of inexhaustible pleasure and that is why He created a people. God decided to make much of Himself by a people’s gladness in Him. And yet, every single one of us have decided to regard the glory of God as something plain. That which the entire world revolves around has been lied about. We have loved ourselves and our sin, perhaps using God as a means to our own ends.
See here distinguishing nature of your sin. Does it grieve you? The cross was not designed to show us how much we are worth. The cross shows us just how evil and filthy we are – from our very core right on up to our members. As the Puritan once wrote, ’til sin be bitter Christ will not be sweet. In the cross we see the glory and goodness of God portrayed in His white-hot fury over our sin. God’s wrath is tied to His worth. When we downplay sin we rob God the glory due His name and rob ourselves of the transfixing majesty of our salvation.
“Here we have a firm foundation, here the refuge of the lost;
Christ’s the Rock of our salvation, his the name of which we boast.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded who on him their hope have built.”
All of this horror was designed by God to purchase our eternal enjoyment of Christ. Here the gospel is put on full display! The paradoxical event shows forth its grand design. Here is where we must run. As ruined sinners, we have never done one deed that was not absolutely detestable in God’s sight. He is blindingly good. Christ’s person and work is the only hope of the world. Faith and repentance is the duty of men. Praise God those two graces were purchased for us too. But we point the world here, upwards to Christ like the brazen serpent that they might behold His glory here and be saved.
None who come to Him will be disappointed. All those who are weary and heavy laden may find their rest here. Guilty has been cleared if we would just dip our robes in His cleansing blood. Believers must build their lives on this truth – that Christ has died in our place purchasing everything needed for our eternal good in Christ. He has redeemed us to show forth His glory. All other ground is nothing but sinking sand.
I hope this hymn has encouraged you. The cross is the substance of Christianity. All of the promises of God have had their yes purchased by Christ. The flood of God’s wrath is sparred His chosen people because of Christ alone. We never grow past this truth. The everlasting hymn of heaven is quite similar to “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.” We will spend our eternity seeing and savoring the glory of Christ in the atonement. The One crushed by the Father has made us to stand adopted by His blood. To quote another hymn, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”