“Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and proper worship.”
One day a young Isaac Watts decided the music in his church was sadly lacking, and his father challenged him to create something better. Isaac did. His hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” has been called the greatest in the English language and has been translated into many other languages.
In Watts’s worshipful third verse, he ushers us into the presence of Christ at the crucifixion.
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?
The crucifixion Watts describes so elegantly stands as history’s most awful moment. Something that makes people want to turn away and cry at times. What a grisly image it can be. When we watch The Passion of the Christ we see only a fraction of what truly it would have looked like. What it would have even sounded like.
We would do well to pause and stand with those around the cross. The Son of God strains for breath, held by crude spikes driven through His flesh. After tortured hours, a supernatural darkness descends. The trembling of soldiers hands on spear shafts. The cries of women and men who had followed him faithfully. The gasp of the man forced to carry His cross. The laughter and jeering of those who did not believe. Finally, we would hear the cry of Jesus of “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” The Lord of the universe would then say “it is finished” and dismiss His anguished spirit.
An earthquake rattles the landscape. Back in the city, the thick temple curtain rips in half. Graves open, and dead bodies resurrect, walking about the city (Matt. 27:51–53). These events compel the centurion who crucified Jesus to say, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (v. 54). What a thing to see and year and to just…take in. Everything would have happened so fast.
“The Cross reorders all values and cancels all vanities,” says the Poetry Foundation in commenting on Watts’s poem. The song could only conclude: “Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.”
When the Lord Jesus Christ hung upon the cross, cosmic events accompanied by signs and wonders occurred between heaven and earth. A supernatural darkness came over the earth midday. Many theologians believe that for the first time in eternity past the fellowship between the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—was interrupted. As Christ took our sins upon Himself on the cross, His Father could not stay in fellowship with Him. An earthquake opened the tombs of some Old Testament believers, who were brought back to life. So dramatic were these events that even a Gentile, such as the Roman centurion who oversaw Jesus’s crucifixion, made a declaration of faith.