How many songs do you know that ascribe beauty to the cross of Jesus? There are many songs that use the adjective “wonderful” in some form or another to describe the cross of Christ. Isaac Watts penned, “When I survey the wondrous cross.” In the song, he writes these 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.
When was the last time you were singing about the wondrous cross and paused to ask yourself why something so harsh could be considered so wonderful? The words wonderful and cross don’t seem to go in the same sentence naturally, and that points to the heart of the gospel (1 Pet. 2:24).
The Ignominious Cross
The Roman cross was an instrument of execution. To die on the Roman cross was by far the most shameful way to die. It was greatly despised by people in Jesus’ day and greatly feared. The Romans referred to the cross as “the infamous stake.” Every single movement while on the cross would send shocking waves of pain through the body. In order to breathe, the person nailed to the cross would press with his feet and move the body upward to inhale and then back down to exhale. That pattern would result in terrible pain.
Beyond the physical pain, execution by way of the Roman cross would deliver a heavy blow of emotional stress and pride crushing shame. As people watched the criminal hanging on a cross beam naked and exposed—words of derision would be hurled upward like spears. The Roman soldiers were not hospice nurses committed to making criminals comfortable. They were executioners who found joy in watching people suffer.
The Wonderful Cross
The only way we can describe the cross of Jesus as a wonderful thing is to look at the whole story of what was being accomplished on that horrid instrument of suffering and shame. Seven centuries before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a prophet wrote these words, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand” (Is. 53:10). As horrible as the cross was, it was the plan of God to save sinners. It pleased the LORD to crush his own Son on the cross.
As we read in Psalm 22:1, we find these familiar words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As Jesus died on the cross, he was quoting Psalm 22 in his anguish and pain. Yet, we read on in the New Testament, and we find words of hope, words of light, words of salvation. For instance, in 1 Peter 2:24, we find these glorious words written by Peter to describe what was accomplished on the cross:
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Unlike the common criminal of the day, as Jesus was put to death, he didn’t take any of his own sins to the cross. He took the sins of his people on himself as he was nailed there as the lamb of God (John 1:29). It’s through Jesus’ death and suffering that we find hope and healing from the penalty of our sins. Jesus suffered in our place as he received the crushing blow of the Father’s wrath. Paul, writing to the church at Philippi, said these words:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:5-11).
Jesus, in his humanity died, but not just any death. Notice the language of Paul as he emphasized the fact that Jesus was obedient to death—even death on a cross. The second Person of the Trinity took upon human flesh and died in the most painful and shameful way during his day—the Roman cross. Yet, it was a glorious scene of God’s saving grace. The drama is intense, but the outcome is a wonderful thing to behold as Jesus saves his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). J.C. Ryle writes,
The sufferings described in it [the crucifixion] would fill our minds with mingled horror and compassion if they had been inflicted on one who was only a man like ourselves. But when we reflect that the sufferer was the eternal Son of God, we are lost in wonder and amazement.
Only the cross of Jesus could be described as a wondrous cross.
The providence of God is a beautiful doctrine. It can be overwhelming to study and at the same time a comfort to your soul in the midst of difficult circumstances. Have you paused to consider the way God interacts with creation? God is not the “clock maker” who creates and then stands back to gaze upon His work from afar. Instead, God is interested and involved with every minuscule aspect of His creation. What this means is that God is in the details of life and eternity.
On this day, April 3rd, in AD 33, Jesus of Nazareth was brutally murdered on a Roman cross under false charges. To be more specific, 1,982 years ago today, the Son of God was slain on a hill called Calvary. The charge was blasphemy, but His miracles proved otherwise. What greater miracle than the resurrection could prove the deity of Jesus? The virgin birth, the calming of the raging sea, and raising Lazarus from the dead were all mind blowing miracles, but the resurrection was the clincher. When the religious establishment wanted to silence Jesus, they killed Him. However, by killing Jesus, they became part of the validation process of Jesus’ deity because on Sunday morning Jesus rose from the dead.
The gloomy account of the crucifixion is an ignominious picture of human depravity. It hardly seems right to call this day, “Good Friday” seeing the darkness and depth of wickedness surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion. The Roman crucifixion was a horrible and painful way to die. The Romans had perfected the art of execution, and from the nails to the eventual suffocation under the bright sunlight, it was an utterly painful way to die. The religious establishment of Jesus’ day was angered with His preaching and their anger eventually culminated with Jesus’ death upon the cross. Although the movies often make it appear that Jesus’ death an unplanned and unfortunate set of circumstances, the Bible reveals quite the opposite. While wicked men crucified Jesus on the cross, it was the providence of God that directed human affairs to fulfill the will of God.
Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology book explains the doctrine of providence in the following way:
God is continually involved with all created things in such a way that he (1) keeps them existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them; (2) cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do; and (3) directs them to fulfill his purposes.
Behind the dark veil of the murder of Jesus of Nazareth, there was a divine purpose at work. This divine purpose was orchestrated by the providence of God as He directs the affairs of human history. In one sense, as these men were nailing Jesus to the cross, God the Father was nailing Jesus to the cross. That may seem like a strange thing to say, but consider the words of the prophecy of Isaiah in Isaiah 53:10 – “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief.” The act of Jesus’ crucifixion was simultaneously an act of lawless murder and divine salvation. Through the providence of God, which is at times mysterious to us, God was working out the evil intentions of the Jews through His own intent of the cross to save sinners through His Son – the lamb of God (John 1:29).
In a similar way we see this take place in the book of Genesis when the brothers of Joseph sold him off into slavery. Their actions were evil. However, we have two specific verses that point to God’s providence that was at work in the entire story of Joseph’s slavery. In Genesis 45:5, Joseph said, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph places the focus upon God’s will as opposed to the evil sin of his brothers. Once again, in Genesis 50:20, Joseph said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” In a way that cannot be overlooked, Joseph confirmed that his brothers had an evil intention, but God had an intention as well. While God’s intent was good, it was nevertheless an intent.
As we examine the first sermon of the Christian church, we see Peter saying the exact same thing about the crucifixion of Jesus. In Acts 2:22-23, we read:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
We must note the powerful words of Peter. He called the death of Jesus the “definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” He went on to say that Jesus was crucified and killed by lawless men. At the exact same time that lawless men were killing Jesus, it was God’s decree and definite plan. God didn’t merely look through time to discover it. God planned the bloody cross in order to accomplish His saving mission for guilty sinners.
As we ponder the darkness of this day in human history, let us see the light of God’s divine providence shining to us from the cross. God had a plan! As the hymn writer William Cowper reminds us, God plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm. He is in complete control, and behind that frowning providence He often hides a smiling face. Let us see the light of God’s providence and remember that Sunday is coming! Only in the resurrection could this dark day be referred to as “Good Friday.”
William Cowper – God Moves in a Mysterious Way
- God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
- Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.
- Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
- Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
- His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
- Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.