The year was 1707. Sir Isaac Watts published his first book of hymns. This was a bold move, because just about every Church of England congregation only sang out of Psalms. Watts felt like this practice limited the church from singing about all Christ had accomplished in the New Testament. He is credited with writing over 750 hymns. One of my personal favorites is the hymn he wrote entitled: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”
Here are just a few of the words:
When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.
As we turn our attention to Luke 23 I would like to share with you what I see when “I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Although this is the darkest day in human history, it is one of the greatest days in human history! It is the day that our forgiveness was purchased and hope was born! As we take this journey together my prayer and hope is that we will all realize how wondrous and amazing the cross really is.
Pilate has given in to the pressure from the Jews and has handed Jesus over to be crucified. The Jewish people had chosen Barabbas, who had been guilty of murder, to be released and demanded Jesus to be put to death. The guilty was set free and the innocent would be beaten, bloodied, bruised and marched up Golgotha’s hill to die.
As Jesus walked up this hill, after enduring a tortuous night, the soldiers demanded a man named Simon, from Cyrene, to assist Jesus in taking His crossbeam. As they approached Golgotha (also known as “the place of the skull”) there were two criminals who were crucified along with Jesus that day. Please take a moment to read Luke 23:33-37.
Imagine everything Jesus had been through up to this point. He had been up all night. He had agonized in prayer, to the extent that His sweat became like great drops of blood. He had been hit repeatedly in the face. He had been mocked. He had been whipped with a “cat of 9 tails.” He had a crown of thorns placed on His head and driven down into His scalp. He was walked uphill, with the crossbeam on his back part of the way. He had spikes driven through His wrists and His feet. He had been raised up on the cross, and his bones had probably come out of joint as the cross dropped into the hole with a thud. The linen garment that had been stripped from His body was gambled over by the soldiers . . . and what does He say? He didn’t curse them, but He cried out to His Heavenly Father and said, “Father, FORGIVE THEM for they know not what they do.”
Charles Swindoll noted in his book, “The Darkness and the Dawn”, the phrase “Father forgive them,” conveyed the idea of continued past action. In other words He did not just pray it one time, but rather prayed this prayer repeatedly throughout the ordeal. He prayed it over and over again.
Let me quote from his book:
“Perhaps when they drove the nails into His hands, He was praying, ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’ When they nailed His feet to the beam and lifted that timber high and dropped it in the hole, with a jolt that tore His flesh, He was praying, ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”
The very first words that Jesus uttered from the cross, were the words of forgiveness. These words were directed toward the men who were guilty of literally picking up the hammer and the spikes and driving them through His flesh and raising that cross up to be suspended between Heaven and earth while the Son of God was left to die in the most agonizing manner ever invented! Yet He proclaimed, “Father forgive them.”
But I do not believe those words were just directed to the Roman soldiers doing their job that day. I believe those words were directed to you and I that day as well. Because we are just as guilty of Jesus’ death as they were. Jesus wasn’t just dying on the cross that day because of Pilate’s decision, He was dying on the cross that day because of the Father’s decision to pour out His wrath on Him instead of YOU and I!
Note the words of the Apostle Paul as he penned the book of Romans, 2 Corinthians and Colossians:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6-10 ESV)
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
(Colossians 2:13-14 ESV)
Forgiveness is made possible, not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has already done! We must simply trust what He has done on our behalf, and we can be reconciled to God through faith and receive the forgiveness of our sins!
I found a story sermonillustrations.com that I think illustrates this forgiveness well. The story is told about the first missionaries who came to Alberta, Canada. They were savagely opposed by a young chief of the Cree Indians named Maskepetoon. But he responded to the Gospel and accepted Christ.
Shortly after his conversion, a member of the Blackfoot tribe killed his father. Maskepetoon rode into the village where the murderer lived and demanded that he be brought before him. Confronting the guilty man, he said, “You have killed my father, so now you must be my father. You shall ride my best horse and wear my best clothes.” In utter amazement and remorse his enemy exclaimed, “My son, now you have killed me!” He meant, of course, that the hate in his own heart had been completely erased by the forgiveness and kindness of the Indian chief.
When I read this story I was reminded of the fact that I am guilty of killing God’s only Son. My sin is what brought God’s judgement upon Him. My sin brought His death. My rebellion, my lust, my guilt was placed upon Jesus and although He knew no sin, He became sin for me so that I might have His righteousness and His forgiveness! O what a glorious thought, when I survey the wondrous cross!
And then to think, God the Father comes to me and says, “Now YOU can be MY son! Now YOU can wear the robes of righteousness that belong to Christ who died in your place. The home that my Son is preparing can now be yours.”
O the forgiveness of God Almighty, what a wonderful thing it is, but what a HIGH cost it was for me to have it!
If God can forgive me for what my sins put Christ through, then who am I not to forgive others who have put me through far less? We have been forgiven of MUCH, therefore we must learn to forgive MUCH! That is one of the most important evidences of being a true Christ follower.