Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve found that around Easter time it’s very easy for our thoughts to be occupied with the events of Resurrection Sunday—sometimes even to the exclusion of the events of Good Friday. That may be for a number of reasons. Perhaps it’s because the church’s time together on Good Friday is usually an abbreviated service at the end of a busy workday, while Resurrection Sunday is a special holiday spent with family. Perhaps it’s simply because it’s more pleasant and encouraging to meditate on the triumph and the victory of Christ’s resurrection than the injustice, suffering, and agony of His death.
But truly, you can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday. You can’t have the resurrection of Christ without the atonement of Christ. Each is vitally essential to the Gospel. And of all days, Good Friday is a day to give ourselves to the contemplation of and reflection upon the nature of Christ’s atonement on our behalf. Something that has stirred me to worship, supplemental to Scripture’s accounts of and commentary on the atonement, is a 19th-century hymn called “O Christ! What Burdens Bowed Thy Head.” It may be the best non-inspired worship song that I know of that captures the depth of the theology of penal substitutionary atonement. And it not only purveys the soundest of theology, but it’s also one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry I’ve ever read. Consider the words of these six verses, Christian, and worship the Lamb who has borne the wrath of God in your place.
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O Christ! What burdens bowed Thy head!
Our load was laid on Thee;
Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead,
Didst bear all ill for me.
A Victim led, Thy blood was shed;
Now there’s no load for me.
Death and the curse were in our cup:
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
‘Tis empty now for me!
That bitter cup, love drank it up;
Now blessing’s draught for me!
Jehovah lifted up His rod;
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.
The tempest’s awful voice was heard,
O Christ, it broke on Thee!
Thy open bosom was my ward,
It braved the storm for me.
Thy form was scarred, Thy visage marred;
Now cloudless peace for me.
Jehovah bade His sword awake;
O Christ, it woke ‘gainst Thee!
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake;
Thine heart its sheath must be;
All for my sake, my peace to make;
Now sleeps that sword for me.
For me, Lord Jesus, Thou hast died,
And I have died in Thee!
Thou’rt ris’n—my hands are all untied,
And now Thou liv’st in me.
When purified, made white and tried,
Thy glory then for me!
* * * * *
That load of sin was my burden to bear. But there’s no load for me. That bitter cup of wrath was mine to drink. But now I drink from the stream of overflowing blessings. The rod of God’s anger was for my back. The sword of His wrath was to pierce my heart. But it pierced the heart of the innocent Son of God, and now that sword sleeps for me.
And, dear sinner, it can be put to sleep for you as well. What could be keeping you from fleeing to this Savior? What fleeting and false pleasure of sin is worth losing your soul to the flaming blade of God’s wrath? To you who are outside of Christ on this Good Friday, God Himself calls upon you to turn from your sin—to put away all hope of attaining righteousness and forgiveness by your own good works—and to look upon this Savior, and see in Him all the righteousness and all the satisfaction that you could ever dream of. There is only one Mediator between God and men: the Man, Christ Jesus. And He is bruised and scarred and broken for you, that you might know the cloudless peace of eternal life. Turn to Him and live.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what we celebrate on Good Friday. May it be that the truths of this hymn enrich your worship. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.