March 25, 2016

Now Sleeps that Sword for Me

by Mike Riccardi

Isa 53;5Maybe 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.

*     *     *     *     *

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.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • pallu

    “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.”. True. However growing up in India, it was not. We observed the evening of Maundy Thursday and the washing of feet. Good Friday services were 3 hours long where the Pastor it guest doesn’t would give a sermon for each of the 7 sayings from the cross. It was a somber, reflective worship and everyone wore white – the color of mourning and yet purity too in our culture. Most people fasted or are simple vegetarian food. On Saturday we gathered flowers and candles. On Easter Sunday we woke at 3am to go to the cemetery for the service at 4am. We would put flowers and candles on the freshly painted grave not to anoint anyone, but to celebrate Christ’s resurrection symbolically. Children, adults, everyone went. There were so many thousands of candles that you didn’t need any electric light. In that time we sang the glorious hymns of resurrection and looked forward to the day when we would be united again. The worship would end with the sunrise when we would walk to the church a kilometer away to take part in the 6am Resurrection Service and then celebrate the rest of the day with friends and family with greetings of “Jesus is Risen!” with a counter getting if “He is Risen indeed”.
    Yes it was traditional, but it was meaningful. We never thought of Good Friday and Easter as just another weekend.

    • Edward L. Smith

      Sounds like a awesome experience. Blessings to you. SDG

    • Jason

      That does sound great. As a boy I remember getting dragged out of bed for church. I wasn’t a loud grumbler, but inside I felt like all the old hymns and dry reading may just literally bore me to death.

      I find, as I mature, that some of the things I hated when I was dead to sin are the most enriching experiences now. Unfortunately, they’re also becoming increasingly rare. Earnest tradition, rooted in Biblical truth, really has a way of stirring a believers heart in a way that more “entertaining” stuff just can’t.

  • Ralph M. Petersen

    Hello Pastor,

    With your permission, I would like to repost this, with proper credits back to you, on my Blog, Hymns That Preach:

    • Sure thing, Ralph. I hope it’s helpful to you.

      • Ralph M. Petersen

        Thank you. I’m hoping my blog will serve as a helpful resource to other song leaders.

        • Ralph M. Petersen

          Here it is –


  • Darrel

    Why do you and nearly all the rest of today’s “Christians” perpetuate the lies of “Good Friday” as you insist that was the day on which the Lord Jesus was crucified? Don’t you understand that in saying that this catholic fantasy is fact that you are declaring the Lord Jesus to be a liar? No, I guess you do not. Read Matt. 12:40 and then please tell us all how there are three days from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. It’s a stretch to come up with forty hours, far short of the 72 hours spoken of by Jesus.
    You may complain that this is “splitting hairs” or maybe one of those “negotiable” points of doctrine not found in the “list of essentials”, but it boils down to who and what you really believe about the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Someone is teaching a lie and it ain’t the Lord Jesus.

    • Darrel,

      It’s a shame that you could read a post about the innocent and righteous Son of God bearing the wrathful punishment for sin that He never deserved but that you and I richly deserved, and respond in the way you have. It reflects the kind of hardness of heart that ought to compel you to some serious self-examination. Even if you have a genuine concern for how the timing of Jesus’ death coheres with the biblical account, it doesn’t need to be asked with slanderous nastiness, accusations of lies, and insinuations of lack of genuine conversion. Shame on you.

      Nevertheless, there is a simple answer to your question, which I suspect you’re aware of, but, because others may not be aware of it, I’ll share it here. Quite simply, it is a Jewish custom to refer to part of a day as a day. A bit of a fuller answer from Defending Inerrancy:

      First, the phrase “day and night” does not necessarily mean a complete 24 hour period. The psalmist’s reference to meditating “day and night” on God’s Word does not mean one has to read the Bible all day and all night (Ps. 1:2).

      Second, it is clear from the use of the phrase “three days and three nights” in the Book of Esther that it does not mean 72 hours. For, although they fasted three days and nights (4:16) between the time they started and the time she appeared before the king, the passage states that Esther appeared before the king “on the third day” (5:1). If they began on Friday, then the third day would be Sunday. Hence, “three days and nights” must mean any part of three days and nights.

      Third, Jesus used the phrase “on the third day” to describe the time of His resurrection after His crucifixion (Matt 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; cf. 26:61). But, “on the third day” cannot mean “after three days” which 72 hours demands. On the other hand, the phrase “on the third day” or “three days and nights” can be understood to mean within three days and nights.

      Fourth, this view fits best with the chronological order of events as given by Mark (cf. 14:1), as well as the fact that Jesus died on Passover day (Friday) to fulfill the conditions of being our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7; cf. Lev. 23:5–15).

      Variations of the same answer are given by CARM, by AIG, and by John MacArthur (Ctrl+F for “How Many Days Was Christ Dead?”).

      That will be all for this issue on this thread, as it’s not the topic of the original post.

  • Enjoyed that! Will be singing it sometime soon I hope.