I meant to post this last week but the trip to Chicago scrambled my internal calander.
Survey the Cross
John 19: 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier … 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” 25 … Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross! Ah one of those old hymns. I would guess that most of us over the age of 35 are familiar with this hymn. The youngest among us may not know it, but if you are curious go Google the lyrics. Either way most of us probably have never stopped to take in the meaning of that phrase? What was the author saying, when he penned those words, “survey the wondrous cross?”
I was driving between Dallas and Austin one evening, and that question came to me. I had been listening to an alternative Christian radio station out of Dallas and was rather enjoying the rock/edgy music. Unfortunately, the signal faded before I reached Hillsboro, and I still had two hours of driving to reach Austin. So I fumbled with the seek button on the radio until I heard this rich Scottish accented voice coming from my speakers. As I listened, I heard an incredible, impassioned argument as to why Christians needed to put the Cross back into the center of our RELIGION. The sermon ended, or the station faded; I don’t remember which happened first. I drove on in silence for quite some time. Then the title of the hymn leapt into my mind: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. No sooner had the phrase entered my mind, when the thought struck me; “Wow, SURVEY the Cross, cool.” You probably are thinking, “what is so cool about ‘Survey the Cross’,” but that’s okay. Hopefully by the time we are finished you will understand.
I think it is interesting that the author chose the word survey. Depending on the context, the word survey can have a couple of different meanings. In college, if you took a survey course, it was a broad overview of a particular subject. You could, for example, take each section of American History separately, or you could take the American History Survey. In this sense, survey means to step back and take a look at the big picture.
A second definition of survey is to take a careful measurement of. If you have a piece of property and you want to build a house on it, normally you will have a survey done to mark the precise boundaries of your property. A few years ago an oil company hired a firm to survey the town in which we were living and surrounding area. The goal of the oil company was to find any oil and natural gas so that they might be able drill new wells. In order to find these oil or gas deposits, they needed exact measurements of the country-side. The firm hired to do this task spent weeks and months using radio signals to make a map of the area. The key for the oil company was that the map must be accurate or the information would be useless. Survey, in this context means to take a detailed account.
You may be asking yourself, “What do oilfield surveys and college courses have to do with the cross?” I ask that you would indulge me for a moment longer. I promise, at least I hope, this will all make sense in the end. You see, I believe the author purposely chose to use the word SURVEY. In this case he meant the latter definition: To take a careful measurement. While there is nothing wrong with looking at the big picture, I think the author is saying that he is taking a careful measurement of the cross, taking it all in. He is not simply glancing at the cross in an off-handed manner. Nor is he merely passing by. To Survey the Cross, implies to take a serious account of the Cross, to really study it.
Have you ever been driving along a familiar road and suddenly saw something that you have never noticed before? It happens to me all of the time. I think it happens to men more than it happens to women. I can just hear this conversation between a man and wife as the husband is driving along a country road. (I am just saying the husband is driving for purposes of illustration. I am fully aware that wives have been granted the constitutional right to drive, even in the presence of a man.) The man notices a big red barn,
“Marge, when did the Johnsons build that new barn?”
“Henry,” the wife answers, “That barn has been there for ten years. You drive by it every day.”
I have a feeling that many Christians are that way about the Cross. We come to church every Sunday and sometimes even on Wednesday night. Some of us are Sunday School teachers or on the Church Board. But, we don’t even seem to notice the Cross. Every once in a while, we look up and by some accident catch a glimpse of it and, like the husband ask, “Well look at that, I wonder how long that Cross has been there?”
I believe that God requires more than a passing glance at the cross. I believe that the sacrifice of Jesus deserves a complete and detailed accounting. We as Christians need to stop our bustling activities (and I am talking about Church work here) and take a good hard look at the Cross. We need that image, the image of Christ hanging on the Cross, His body bruised and broken, His shoulders bowed with the weight of our sin; we need that image of the Cross burned into our minds.
The Cross is the center-piece of what we as Christians embrace. I recently had someone ask me why Good Friday was called Good Friday. In answer, I explained that it was on that Friday that Christ gave His life on the Cross. The person responded, “That’s what I mean. How can it be called GOOD, when Jesus died?” The answer is that because Jesus DIED it is GOOD Friday. If Jesus had not died, the price for our sin would not have been paid. On the Cross, Jesus won the VICTORY. He took our place. He took our SIN. On the Cross, the power of SIN was cancelled and the battle ended when Jesus cried out “IT IS FINISHED.” The Lord breathed these words not in anguish, but in VICTORY. This is the full measure of the Cross!
We cannot expect the world to preserve the sanctity of the Cross. I mean, if we expect the Cross to be something more that an intriguing fashion accessory on necklaces or ear-rings, we cannot leave the Cross in the hands of the world. We as Christians must make the effort to Survey the Cross on a regular basis. If we don’t, we will find ourselves in the place of that husband. I know you wives can relate to that. If we aren’t really paying attention, we will be like that man, who six months after that divine revelation that the neighbors built a big new red barn TEN YEARS AGO drives down the same road and looks up and proclaims, “Well look at that. When did the Johnsons build a new barn?” If we don’t take a regular survey of the Cross we, as Christians, will continue to walk around blindly, only too infrequently and accidently looking up to notice the Cross and muse, “Well look at that. Wonder when they put that big cross up in the sanctuary?”
So I challenge you to survey the wondrous Cross. Take a close look. What do you see? Do you see the coarse heavy wood that made the beam that caused Christ to stumble? Can you see the holes where the nails pierced Jesus’ wrists? Did you notice the blood stains? Did you see the sign above His head? Go ahead, take a look. It is all there. Survey the Cross! Soak it all in. Let the image of the Cross burn itself into your soul. And it’s okay if you come back from time to time to take another look. You never know when you might see something new. “Well look at that. I never noticed those threads from Jesus’ garments before.”