Lenten Hymns: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
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.
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?
Several years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, who happened to be a non-Christian, during Holy Week. He asked me, “Why do you call the day Jesus died Good Friday? I don’t see anything good about that!”
Unwittingly, he had landed squarely on the mystery of Good Friday. In a way, it is the best of all days, as Jesus, God’s holy Son, sacrificed Himself upon the cross to atone for our sins. In another way, it was the worst of all days, as humankind crucified the perfect, holy Son of God. They demanded that Barabbas, a murderer and insurrectionist, be set free and that Jesus be crucified.
Isaac Watt’s first hymn rings theologically true, with echoes of the Apostle Paul: “For me to live in Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21) When we think about the supreme sacrifice of Christ for us, all we can do is pour contempt on our pride. All of the things in our lives that seem so important pale in comparison to Christ’s work for us on the cross.
The word pictures in verse 3 of the hymn are startling. God’s justice and mercy meet at the cross. Jesus’ sorrow and love are mixed together as his blood flows down the cross. Jesus, the King of Kings, never received a golden crown encrusted with precious stones. Instead he received a crude, painful crown of thorns in order to show the richness of his grace for us. He laid down his life in this painful way even for Barabbas, the two thieves on the cross, for you, and for me.
Dear God, help me to understand the depth of your love for me during this Lenten season.
Suthee Thumasathit is a native of Thailand who grew up in Iowa and is a practicing internist with Texas Health Resources. He is a leader in NorthPark's Thai Fellowship and a ruling church elder.