Rich Wounds

We seem to be guilty of two common distortions of the cross of Christ--both of which miss the mark. One is to turn it into a sterile symbol, a mere decoration to adorn our houses of worship and other things. But in the very familiarity of that polished ornament we sometimes lose the awareness that Calvary was a place of terrible suffering. Many today wear crosses as articles of jewelry, while seeming to have no concern for what happened there.

The other error is to see all the pain and gory horror of the cross, but miss the joy and eternal blessing of it. (The much analyzed film, The Passion of the Christ, has this weakness, among others.) Yes, Calvary was a scene of ugly cruelty. To some, that is so repulsive they even edit from their hymn books any songs about “the blood.” All this talk of a bloody sacrifice appals them. But there is an awesome beauty in the cross which they have missed. What Christ accomplished in His death is glorious beyond compare. That is where the Word of God places the emphasis, and so should we.

There is a relatively brief reporting of what happened at Calvary. John says simply, “They crucified Him” (Jn. 19:18). In contrast there is passage after passage, in the epistles, explaining the spiritual and eternal meaning of the cross. In effect, the cross planted on Golgotha’s hill towers upward to the very throne of God. The death of Christ is so significant God has planned for us to have eternal reminders of it. We know the resurrection body of Christ, a glorified body, still bore the wounds of Calvary (Jn. 20:26-28). And apparently those identifying marks will be visible in heaven. In Revelation, John sees a vision of Christ in the midst of God’s throne appearing as “a Lamb as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6).

Matthew Bridges (1800-1894) was an English poet who spent the latter years of his life in Canada. In 1851, he wrote the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns.” Twenty-three years later, an Anglican clergyman named Godfrey Thring (1823-1903) added some verses of his own. In our current hymn books, stanzas one, two and four are usually Bridges’, and the third verse Thring’s. The song is based on the words of Revelation 19:12, “On His head were many crowns.” It pictures our worship of the Saviour around the heavenly throne. Verse four says, “Crown Him the Lord of love! Behold His hands and side, / Rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified: / All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou hast died for me: / Thy praise shall never, never fail, throughout eternity.”

That is striking imagery. Our attention is drawn to Christ’s “rich wounds, yet visible above.” In that realm of infinite perfection, when all the saints have been clothed in glorified, resurrection bodies, do you expect your body to retain the scars and imperfections of earth? I don’t! Yet apparently there will be one jarring exception to that, the scars in the hands and feet and side of Jesus. But far from being distracting and repellent, those wounds will be, for us, heaven’s most beautiful sight. Why? Because of the richness of their meaning. Because they are the evidence of God’s matchless love.

The emblems of Christ’s passion will forever remind us of how we came to be there. That He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Pet. 2:24). That He “loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5) That “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5). To us the marks of Calvary will be “rich wounds” indeed, radiant with the beauty of grace. In the words of an ancient love song we will say, “He is altogether lovely, this is [our] Beloved, and this is [our] Friend” (Song 5:16).