Isaac Watts, who wrote many of the hymns in our hymnbooks, wrote a hymn around 1700 entitled, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” I have read that Charles Wesley said that he would give up all his other hymns to have written this one. In second verse Watts wrote – “Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God!” Obviously that line comes from the verse of scripture we read just a little while ago – “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 6:14) “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is a tremendous song, yet I have a hard time this Easter singing it.
The word ‘wondrous’ means something that is wonderful. Although I know why Watts considered the cross to be wonderful, from a human perspective it was anything but wonderful. One resource I studied this week said that crucifixion on a cross was the “… most disgraceful form of death, reserved for traitors, captive armies, slaves and the worst of criminals.”
I. When I Survey the Cross from Man’s Perspective
A. Christ’s Suffering Before the Cross
From man’s perspective, Jesus was getting what He deserved. The prophet Isaiah wrote – “We thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole.” (see Isaiah 53:4-5)
1. Suffering at the Hands of the Jews
Throughout His ministry He was repeatedly attacked by religious leaders. Things began to come to a head after the resurrection of Lazarus. The Bible says that after the resurrection of Lazarus, many people began to believe in Jesus and to follow Him. During a special meeting the religious leaders determined that Jesus had to die and scripture says ‘from that point on, they began to plot His death.’
Their hatred of Jesus only intensified with the Triumphal Entry. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah, the people shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” (Matthew 21:9) In essence the people were saying, “Here is our Messiah who has come to save us.” Unfortunately they thought that Christ’s salvation would be freedom from the Roman government. They had no idea that Jesus had to die on the cross for our sins.
Then there was the betrayal by Judas. The Bible says that Satan out it into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus. (see John 13:2) Judas led a group of temple guard to the garden where Jesus often prayed and there he betrayed Jesus with a kiss.
Jesus suffered while praying in the garden. Our Lord said to His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (see Matthew 26:38) The Bible says that while He was praying, His sweat began to be mingled with blood. Experts tell us that there is actually a medical condition where this can occur when someone is under extreme stress. Jesus said that His soul was weighed down to the point of death.
No doubt as soon as Jesus was arrested, He began to suffer physical abuse. Luke’s gospel tells us that those who arrested Jesus – “mocked Him, and struck Him, and blindfolded Him and then hit Him in the face saying, ‘tell us who it is that struck you.’”
All through the night Jesus stood trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin as they attacked Him with false accusations. Finally the next morning, Jesus was violently taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor.
Scripture says that it was round 6 am the next morning when Jesus was brought before Pilate. I can imagine his reaction to being greeted by such a group so early in the morning. “Take Him and judge Him according to your own law” Pilate told them. (see John 18:28-32) “It is not lawful for us to put a man to death” the Jews replied.
This is somewhat confusing. The Jews did at times execute people by stoning them to death. Some say that the Jews had permission to execute someone over religious matters, but not over civil matters.
What were the Jews accusing Jesus of that would warrant a Roman execution? The Jews were accusing Jesus of trying to lead a rebellion against the Roman government in order to set Himself up as king. Was this what Jesus was trying to do? “Are you a king?” Pilate repeatedly asked Jesus. Jesus replied – “My kingdom is not of this world.” The kingdom of Christ is not a kingdom of swords and spears and massive armies. The kingdom of Christ is a renewed heart where the Spirit dwells and righteous reigns.
2. Suffering at the Hands of the Romans
After closely examining Jesus, Pilate reported that there was nothing in Him worthy of a Roman execution. Yet the Jewish leaders insisted that Jesus be crucified. Finally, when he realized that he could not persuade them otherwise, Pilate consented to their request and ordered Jesus to be scourged and then crucified.
In order to get a full picture of what Jesus suffered, we must take a moment and consider a Roman scourging. The scourging consisted of the accused being tied to a post so that his back would be exposed and vulnerable. We read from the prophet Isaiah –
“I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:6)
Once the victim was tied to the post, he was whipped repeatedly with an instrument called a flagrum which consisted of several pieces of leather attached to a wooden handle. Sometimes the whip was referred to as ‘the Cat of Nine Tales’ indicating that there were nine whips attached to the handle. Sometimes it was referred to as ‘The Scorpion’, indicating that it would bite the victim as it went across his back. This scorpion like effect was due to pieces of bone, sharp medal and broken porcelain attached to the end of the leather straps. It has been said that just a few lacerations from the Scorpion could rip the skin off of a man’s back and the longer the whipping went on, the deeper it would penetrate into the muscle and eventually to the bone. So severe was the scourging that many men died during it.
B. Christ’s Suffering on the Cross
After the scourging, Jesus was forced to carry or drag His cross to the place of His execution. Scripture says that at this point, Jesus had been so severely abused that He was unable to carry the cross and another man was ordered to help Him. The prophet Isaiah wrote that Jesus was so physically abused that He was beyond recognition. (see Isaiah 52:14)
Finally Jesus arrived at a place called Golgotha in Aramaic and Calvary in Greek. Scripture tells us that these words mean – “the place of a skull.” Some say that it was a part of the city dump. There Jesus’ hands and feet were nailed to the cross and He was raised up to be suspended between heaven and earth.
Jesus said –“… as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” (John 3:14) Jesus became the symbol of sin that was judged by God. Our Lord also said, “And if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32) Through Christ’s crucifixion, many have found salvation.
II. When I Survey the Cross from God’s Perspective
I have read that some men hung for days on the cross. Scripture says that Jesus hung there for six hours. Why is that significant? Although we should not place too much weight upon this, the Bible does teach us that the number six is sometimes used in scripture to represent man. Could it be that Christ’s six hours on the cross symbolized His dying for the sins of mankind?
This we do know for sure, the six hours were divided into two segments, each consisting of three hours. As I have studied each of the four gospels carefully, I have concluded that the first three hours could be considered as a time when Jesus was cursed by man and the last three hours as a time when Jesus was cursed by God.
A. 3 Hours to be Cursed by Man
The Bible teaches us that Jesus was nailed upon the cross at 9 am in the morning. From 9 am till noon, it appeared that Satan had won. No doubt Satan was speaking through the mouths of men and women as they openly mocked Jesus.
Matthew 27:39 And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, 40 And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. 4 1Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, 42 He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. 43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. 44 The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
Though many of these individuals thought that they were stripping away from Jesus His claim to deity, actually they were affirming it. They were fulfilling prophecy concerning the Messiah.
Psalm 22:6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. 7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, 8 He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
Psalm 22 is what is often referred to as a Messianic Psalm, prophesying of the sufferings of the coming Messiah. Their scorning of Jesus was a fulfillment of scripture.
B. 3 Hours to be Cursed by God
At noon something extremely important and significant happened.
Matthew 27:45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.
The particular word used here refers to the darkness of night. It was more than a lunar eclipse. God caused a deep darkness to come upon the city of Jerusalem. As you study the four gospels, it’s as though detail after detail is given during the first three hours, but when the darkness comes, there is silence. What happened during those three hours of silence and darkness?
Perhaps the Apostle Paul gives the clearest explanation. .
2 Corinthians 5:21 He (God) made Him (God) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. NASB
The Bible scholar Ravi Zacharias said that hell visited Calvary during those three hours. The Bible tells us that part of hell’s torment is outer darkness and isolation.
Finally, near the end of the three hours, the silence was broken.
Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Here is an important truth we must not overlook. During the first three hours of the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Jesus addressed God as ‘Father.’ At the end of the crucifixion Jesus prayed, “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” (Luke 23:46) Again Jesus again addressed God as His ‘Father.’ But during the hours of darkness, when Jesus was bearing the sin of the world upon His shoulders, our Lord prayed – “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” Jesus did not call God – ‘Father’. During that moment, the relationship between the Son and the Father had been broken because our sin stood in the way.
But praise God, at the end, Jesus cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:3) and “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” (Luke 23:46) No doubt at that very moment, the sun reappeared.
Humanly speaking, the cross is not wonderful. It is terrible. It is the most unfair and unjust thing that ever happened. Yet heavenly speaking, it is wonderful. The cross tore down the barrier that stood between us and God.
As I studied for this message, the Lord brought to my mind a hymn we all love to sing.
The Old Rugged Cross
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.