When I Survey the Wondrous Cross Intro
From Jesus’ youth, indeed even from his birth, the cross cast its shadow ahead of him. Jesus’ death was central to his mission. Not only does the New Testament declare this, the church has always recognized this. John Stott, in his classic book, ‘The Cross of Christ’, paints a picture for us as he describes a stranger to our faith.
‘Imagine a stranger visiting St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Having been brought up in a non-Christian culture, he knows next to nothing about Christianity. Yet he is more than a tourist; he is personally interested and keen to learn.
‘Walking along Fleet Street, he is impressed by the grandeur of the building’s proportions, and marvels that Sir Christopher Wren could have conceived such an edifice after the Great Fire of London in 1666. As his eyes attempt to take it in, he cannot help noticing the huge golden cross which dominates the dome.
‘He enters the cathedral and stands at its central point, under the dome. Trying to grasp the size and shape of the building, he becomes aware that its ground plan, consisting of nave and transepts, is cruciform [cross-shaped]. He walks round and observes that each side chapel contains what looks to him like a table, on which, prominently displayed, there stands a cross. He goes downstairs into the crypt to see the tombs of famous men such as Sir Christopher Wren himself, Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington: a cross is engraved or embossed on each.
‘Returning upstairs, he decides to remain for the service which is about to begin. The man beside him is wearing a little cross on his lapel, while the lady on his other side has one on her necklace. His eye now rests on the colorful, stained-glass east window. Though he cannot make out the details from where he is sitting, he cannot fail to notice that it contains a cross.
‘Suddenly, the congregation stands up. The choir and clergy enter, preceded by somebody carrying a processional cross. They are singing a hymn. The visitor looks down at the service paper to read its opening words:
We sing the praise of him who died,
Of him who died upon a cross;
The sinner’s hope let men deride,
For this we count the world but loss.
‘From what follows he comes to realize that he is witnessing a Holy Communion service, and that this focuses upon the death of Jesus. For when the people around him go forward to the communion rail to receive bread and wine, the minister speaks to them of the body and blood of Christ. The service ends with another hymn:
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.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the cross of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
‘The stranger leaves the cathedral impressed, but puzzled. The repeated insistence by word and symbol on the centrality of the cross has been striking. Yet questions have arisen in his mind. Some of the language used has seemed exaggerated. Do Christians really for the sake of the cross ‘count the world but loss’, and ‘boast’ in it alone, and ‘sacrifice’ everything for it? Can the Christian faith be accurately summed up as ‘the faith of Christ crucified’? What are the grounds, he asks himself, for this concentration on the cross of Christ?’
If the message of salvation by crucifixion is true, then it is the most important truth ever told. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ give humanity hope that there is an answer to the fatal problem of death. Join us this week as we begin a new series on the cross. This week we will consider that the cross fulfills God’s eternal plan (see Acts 2:23). In this series we will also ask questions such as, ‘Why is this message true’? ‘How can it be true’? And’ if it is true, what difference does it make for my life’?
Will you join me in praying for the Spirit’s work in this series of messages? And not only praying, but will you make efforts to invite friends and family members to join you during this time? This series of messages will be especially helpful to those who are unfamiliar with the biblical gospel, yet also invaluable to we who long to do the great commission by taking the gospel to our world. I hope you join us for this series we are calling, ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ after Isaac Watts beautiful hymn by that same name.
For Christ’s Glory,