Friday, April 12, 2019

Hymn of the Week: Look Upon the Cross of Jesus

As we're drawing nearer to Holy Week, I decided to write another hymn of the cross. It's written to a slightly modified version of the tune of an old and lovely hymn with a very similar theme: "Here Is Love Vast as the Ocean," recently re-popularized by Matt Redman (you can find sheet music for it here). This song, "Look Upon the Cross of Jesus," seeks to express the truths found in the major categories of atonement theology. Don't worry, though--it's easily singable and understandable. If you're interested in the theological background of the hymn, then take a look at the explanation at the bottom of the post. And if not, simply enjoy.

Look Upon the Cross of Jesus

Look upon the cross of Jesus,
Where for us our Savior died;
Where our sins met endless mercy
And where we were justified.
Jesus took our sins upon him,
Walked our road of shame and death;
We are saved by his atonement,
For he suffered in our stead.

Look upon the cross of Jesus:
There before our eyes displayed
Hangs the fullness of God's mercy
And the measure of his grace.
Here we see his love for sinners,
Boundless as the mighty sea,
Love that overspills the heavens,
Stretching to infinity.

Look upon the cross of Jesus,
Where our Lord wins victory
Over death and hell and Satan,
Over our captivity.
He has triumphed in his dying,
Burst the chains of sin and shame;
We have liberty unmeasured
In the power of his name!

Look upon the cross of Jesus;
Praise the Savior crucified!
Sing with wonder at the mystery:
Deathless God for us has died!
Praise and glory, now and always,
We will render at his throne;
By his death the Lord of mercy
Bought us as his very own!

Now for the explanation of the atonement theology behind the verses: You see, theologians love to fight about whether Jesus' death on the cross gives us salvation by means of substitutionary atonement (taking our place and bearing our sins), or by moral governance/example (teaching us saving truth by displaying the full nature of God's love and justice), or by triumphing in victory over the powers of sin, death, and Satan ("Christus Victor"). These are representative samples of the broadest categories; elements have featured prominently in many different streams of Christian tradition (the tradition of which I'm a part usually puts its emphasis on the first). Depending on which theologians you read, there may be many more possibilities enumerated. But I've never thought that this argument was reducible to a zero-sum game; rather, I've always thought that the mystery of Christ's atonement for us was rather like the beauty of a mosaic or a stained glass window, and that each piece gave us a further view of his glory and love (you can read an in-depth essay I wrote on this subject here). This hymn, then, explores the truths of these theories of the atonement: verse 1 is the substitutionary model; verse 2 is the moral example model; verse 3 is the Christus Victor model; and the final verse is simply a response of praise.

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