A Survey of the Cross
What a wonderful opportunity to be able to come together as God's people and sing praise to him and to pray to him together. Fortunately, the weather has allowed us to be able to come together this morning. Just a couple of weeks ago, the sky rained down ice on us. I thought it was kind of pretty at first. Everything had sort of a crystal look to it. Reminds me of what I sometimes picture in Heaven where everything is shiny and sparkling with the glory of God.
But not everything was pretty. In many places there were messes that needed to be cleaned up. Some people were in the dark because they had lost power to their homes. Others had other problems to deal with.
Normally, you don't think of trees as being dangerous. You do things under large trees without thinking about it. The only thing that falls are leaves that needs to be picked up. You usually don't think about the danger of power lines either. Even though they are coursing with all kinds of power, we drive under them all the time. The problem is that ice and trees do not mix well. Ice and power lines do not mix well either.
It is the same way with God. He is all-powerful, but he is not inherently dangerous. Adam and Eve used to walk with him in the garden with intimacy. The problem is that sin and God do not mix. Sin and God's creation do not mix. Sin burdens, twists, and breaks God's creation. Sin devastates the life God intended for us to have. You can see evidence of the brokenness and destruction caused be sin everywhere. Sin is a universal problem.
Fortunately, God has provided a universal solution. Titus 2:11 says that the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all. God's grace came ultimately in a little baby who grew up as any human being would. Many people this time of year are remembering that birth. People are singing timeless songs about it. Life seems to slow down while many take time to celebrate. God has drawn near to us and intends for us to draw near to him. One of the ways we do this is through singing.
In the early 1700's, there was a Father and son who were walking home on a Sunday morning. They were having a heated discussion about participation in worship.
The father said, "Son, I am disappointed that you did not sing in worship." The son replied, "Oh, Dad, the songs are boring and out of date." The father replied, "Well, son, if you think you can do a better job, then go ahead."
I am sure that the father thought he had silenced his rebellious son at this point. But young Issac Watts took his father's challenge seriously and wrote his first hymn that week entitled, "Behold the Glory of the Lamb." From that point forward, he wrote a hymn nearly every week. In all, he wrote about 750 hymns. This gave birth to the "Hymn movement in England." Historians have called Isaac Watts the "Father of the Gospel Song." 300 years later, we are still singing some of his songs, such as (261) We're Marching to Zion, (135) At the Cross, (353) How Shall the Young Secure Their Hearts, (330) I'm not Ashamed to Own My Lord, (659) Joy to the World. (Sing #659)
Watts' hymns were revolutionary. Prior to Watts, many church's sang exclusively from a Psalter, which was a collection of the Biblical Psalms put to metered beats for singing. Watts hymns became popular not only in England, but also in America where many churches began to sing Watts' hymns more than the Psalters. Church historians and musicians have hailed Watts' hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" as perhaps the finest hymn he has written. (#171 in our song books) This is the first known English hymn to use the personal pronoun "I." His songs were often very personal. Indeed, the baby in the manger reminds us that our Lord is personal. He came from Heaven to earth to live among us and bring us back to God.
For Watts', it was not acceptable merely to gaze at the cross in wonder, but to survey its implications, to reflect on its meaning for myself, to deliberate on its personal application.
Verse one says, "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." Pride. We are a proud people. We are proud of our family tree. We are proud of our history. We are proud of our nationality, our position we gain in life, our education, our degrees, our accomplishment. We are proud of all we have accomplished and gained. But in view of the cross, we pour contempt on all the pride and count our gains as losses.
Verse two addresses God, "Forbid it Lord that I should boast save in the death of Christ my Lord. All the vain things that charm me most I sacrifice them to His blood." There are so many things that have charmed me, like my toys, my things, my friends and all kinds of other things. I give it all up for Christ and I will not boast in anything except in my Lord Jesus.
Verse three says, "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." No words can adequately describe his sacrifice. Look at the nails in his hands and in his feet. See how he is literally pouring out his life for you. Love and sorrow both flowing down together, flowing freely for you. Picture his head with the crown of thorns that he wore because he loves you. Look at the sorrow in his eyes as those he loves nail him there. Look at the love in his face as he prays for their forgiveness, for our forgiveness, for your forgiveness.
Verse four is a statement of commitment. It says, "Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far to small. Love so amazing so divine demands my soul, my life, my all." If I owned the whole world, the whole universe, it would be too small of a present for God. It would not be an adequate offering to him. His love is unfathomable, limitless. That kind of love demands my soul, my life, my all. God does not want for me to give an earthly gift. He simply wants me to offer myself. I give myself to God.
And that is what God has always wanted. That is why our Lord came from Heaven to earth to be born, to live, to die, and to rise from the dead on our behalf. Even though we allowed sin to twist our lives and devastate our relationship to God, he has provided the way to God for us. He has given all of mankind hope. He is not finished. He is coming back to take us home.
Sing this old song and reflect on its meaning. If you find that you have not given your soul, your life, your all, then make the decision to do so today. If you do not know how, ask. (Sing #171)
Sources used includes articles from Christian History Magazine, A Song is Born by Robert Taylor, and Cyberhymnal.com