Centurion at the Cross

Surveying the Wondrous Cross

Like the prophet in Isaiah 6, the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” vacillates between describing the awe of beholding God and reflecting on our own changed state:

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 death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.

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?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

When the centurion beheld Jesus’ death on the cross, he described what he saw: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39) Yet his words tell as much about his changed heart as they accurately describe Jesus. In Luke’s account, the centurion “praised God” (Luke 23:47) as he recognized the innocence of the man hanging on the cross. Beholding Jesus live out his self-sacrificial love on the cross changes one forever.

Christ became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Hanging on a tree, He became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). He “emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7), obeying the Father to the point of death. Jesus gave all of Himself.

When I think of Jesus’ crucifixion, I often reflect on how different His life was from mine, how distant the drama of His mission from the mundane life I lead. The fact remains that only Jesus could have done what He did, and I struggle to understand how to follow in His footsteps all the way up the cross. Yet Jesus expects us to take up our cross and follow Him.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)


This year (as in 2018), the first night of Passover falls on the same day as Good Friday. On Passover, we recount how we became free from slavery in Egypt through the saving power of God. Freedom, however, requires sacrifice—the death of the old enslaved person. As Jesus gave Himself in complete obedience, we take up our crosses and follow Him by giving ourselves completely to God, holding on to nothing.

So that we may ponder this further, I end with a few verses wherein Paul tells us how Jesus’ death and resurrection allow us to follow in His footsteps by making us completely new creations.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13-14)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)


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