Author: Ron Graham 1960
A Story of Great Wonder
—Christ on the cross
We sing, "The old old story, it is ever new." What makes the ancient story of the cross ever new? Wonder does.
There is great wonder in the story of Christ crucified. This wonder makes a new song of the old story. This wonder occupies more and more books, uncounted prayers. It replenishes the thoughts of the Christian who once more sits down at the Lord's Table, though he has done so perhaps two thousand times before.
The cross still fills him with wonder. He sees in the story yet something new to wonder at, a new point that puzzles him, a new aspect that awes him.
Here are just three elements of great wonder in the story of the cross...
1 The Possibility of His Refusing to Die
When we read the story of Christ's crucifixion, we wonder at the possibility of him passing up the task.
"My Father," Jesus prayed, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me." Wondrous words surround that "if." There was a possibility of Christ passing up the crucifixion. What would have happened to the world, to us, if He had? We can but wonder. So real was the possibility that to avoid it Jesus prayed, not once, but three times (Matthew 26:36-44).
And while he prayed, his disciples slept. Little moral support they were! Sometimes friends so push a man into something that he can hardly back out. Not so in this case. Jesus' disciples discouraged him; which discouragement added to the possibility of His passing up the task.
Then came the chance to escape. Approaching the garden where He was, the noisy, weapon-bearing band with their flickering torches, filled with fear the night, and the Man they were coming to get. Jesus was human. Adrenalin was in his blood. He wanted to run. It was possible.
But He stayed, and they captured Him. The awesomest possibility was still open to Him. "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:45-54).
Jesus could not have done that and fulfilled His task. But He could have done it and passed up the task. It was possible. If He had, what would the story have been? How close did that different story come to being told? We wonder.
If the Bible teaches that Calvary was Christ’s inevitable destiny, it does not teach that this was because He had no choice in the matter. His initial decision to let go of His equality with God and empty Himself of all His glorious heavenly riches (Philippians 2:6-8 RV) was His real choice, His will.
The possibility of passing up the task, of relinquishing the burden, existed right through to the time He became obedient unto death and ignored the derision, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross" (Matthew 27:40).
That was possible. It was entirely up to Him. He could have passed up the task. His divinity did not make it improbable. His humanity made it quite possible. It certainly makes us wonder.
Note —The name “Calvary” (where Jesus was crucified) appears only once in the Bible (Luke 23:33 KJV). Latin/Roman Calvarius, Greek Kranion, Hebrew Golgotha. All three mean [Place of the] Skull (John 19:17). “Calvarius” was not a name used by Bible writers.
2 The Awful Loneliness of His Suffering
When we read the story of the cross we wonder at the loneliness of our Lord in His suffering.
His disciples slept; he had to pray alone. Later, "all the disciples forsook him and fled" (Matthew 26:55-56). He had to face his enemies alone.
- Peter followed Jesus afar off (Matthew 26:57-58).
- Pilate washed his hands of Christ (Matthew 27:24).
- The criminals on companion crosses cast mockery and rejection in His teeth (Matthew 27:41-44).
However, the great wonder of Jesus' loneliness is that he even felt forsaken by God. "My God!' My God! He cried, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:45-46). That is a question of great wonder.
3 The Reason for His Death
When we consider the story of Christ crucified, we wonder at the reason for His death.
The reason for His death is stated simply in Galatians 1:3-4. Christ "gave Himself for our sins". Titus 2:14 says "Christ gave himself for us that he might redeem us."
He gave Himself for us. The reason for Christ's death? "Us." This in one sense includes the whole world (1John 2:2).
Each one of "us" is to some extent responsible for the Lord's death. We are each to some extent the reason.
But to what extent? Does "himself for us" suggest that each one of us is, say, ten billionth of the reason? Do we each bear a tiny fraction of the responsibility for Christ's death? Is that what "himself for us" implies?
In Galatians 2:20, Paul does not say "himself for us." He says, "himself for me." "Christ loved me, and gave himself for me."
So in this verse, the reason given for Christ's death is not "us." It is "me." Paul says, in effect, "I am the reason for the Lord's death;" not a fraction of the reason, but all of it. Paul acknowledged full (not fractional) responsibility for the death of Jesus Christ. So should every individual.
Had you been the only one ever to sin, Christ would have had to do just as much, to save you alone, as He had to do to save us all. If you were the only sinner, do you suppose that Jesus would have needed to suffer only a mere ten billionth, say, of what He had to suffer for us all.
You alone would have cost Christ as much as all of us did together. We all bear individually on our own shoulders full responsibility for the death and suffering of Christ. It does make us think. And wonder.
Charles Gabriel wrote...
I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how he could love me,
A sinner condemned, unclean.
For me it was in the garden
He prayed, "Not my will, but Thine."
He had no tears for his own griefs,
But sweat drops of blood for mine.
He took my sins and my sorrows.
He made them his very own.
He bore the burden to Calvary,
And suffered, and died, alone.
How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be,
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Saviour's love for me.