Jesus Paid It All

Today is Good Friday. I know I am not the only one who has ever pondered why it is called “good” Friday when it is a day of remembering the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus was sinless yet He bore the sins of every person who ever lived and suffered an agonizing death to pay a price that no one else could pay. It was God’s love that caused Him to send His Son to earth as a human baby, knowing full well He would die on the cross. It was Jesus’ obedience to the Father and His own love for humanity that motivated Him to go through with God’s plan despite His desire to avoid it if there was any other way. As He prayed in the garden asking the Father to take the cup away from Him He also yielded and told God, “Not my will but thine be done.” The death of Christ is horrific and entirely unfair, but it is also incredibly wonderful. Only because Christ died…and rose again…can any of us have any hope of eternal life.

Elvina Hall’s 1865 hymn “Jesus Paid It All” is one of my favorite hymns, if not my favorite. The words of the refrain are simple yet profound. The sum up completely the fact that the penalty of sin was paid in full by Christ’s death and resurrection. The refrain says this:

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

Jesus did indeed pay it all, and I do owe Him all. Interestingly, though, my all will never come anywhere close to what He paid. I do owe Him all but even if I were able to give Him all my earthly wealth and live a life full of good deeds I would still never come close to being able to repay Him.

The first verse of the hymn says,

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

My strength is small. It is infinitesimally small, in fact–not even worth mentioning or attempting to measure. Yet, Christ made possible incredible assurance and blessing through His sacrifice and He has offered it freely to all who believe. In Him I can find my all in all. The second verse reinforces the message of the refrain that I owe Him all yet there is nothing I could hope to do to repay Him. It reads,

For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

There is truly nothing I have that is of any value. As the Apostle Paul wrote, any human accomplishments I may have are worth nothing more than dung in comparison to what Christ has done for me…and for all who believe.

There are four more verses to the hymn, some more well known than others…

And now complete in Him,
My robe, His righteousness,
Close sheltered ’neath His side,
I am divinely blest.

Lord, now indeed I find
Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.

When from my dying bed
My ransomed soul shall rise,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
Shall rend the vaulted skies.

And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down,
All down at Jesus’ feet.

I learned that last stanza with a different ending and I am not sure which is the one Hall originally wrote. I learned it ending with “Jesus died my soul to save My lips shall still repeat.” Since that’s the way I learned it I suppose it is the one I prefer, but both endings are beautiful and accurate. I will lay down any trophies I may have; another classic hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross,” mentions this too when it says, “My trophies at last I lay down.” And I suspect I will spend eternity continuing to repeat that Jesus died for my soul…praising and thanking Him for His wondrous love.

Great hymns are great not so much because of their beautiful melodies–though some of them are indeed wonderful. Rather, they are great because they contain great theology; they are are easily-memorable, portable pieces of biblical truth. I think God loves to hear us sing about His love, to praise Him for His goodness, His mercy and His gift of salvation.

And ultimately this is why Good Friday is good…because Jesus did pay it all.

Songs About the Cross

My wife likes to joke that I have a jukebox in my head, because there is often some song stuck in my mind, and any number of things can bring a song to my mind at just about any time. This morning I woke up with the lyrics from “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” running through my head. Specifically, the line, “It was my sin that held him there,” kept repeating. This song was written by Stuart Townend, in my opinion one of the best contemporary hymn writers, and has been recorded by many recording artists. It is a powerful song, one that I enjoy singing and that always makes me stop and consider the cost of my salvation and the immeasurable gift of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

As I was singing this song to myself this morning, though, I began to think about the fact that the line I mentioned above is not really accurate. It really was not my sin that held him there. That would imply, after all, that sin was powerful enough to keep Christ on the cross–that sin was more powerful than the Son of God–and that simply is not true. Interestingly, as I looked up the lyrics online this morning I found two separate versions of that particular line. Some have it as I learned it, and was singing it this morning. Others, however, have that line as, “It was my sin that left him there.” Unfortunately, Stuart Townend does not have the lyrics for his songs on his own web site, so I could not “go to the source,” as it were to see how he wrote it.

Please note that, whichever way Mr. Townend wrote it, I am not criticizing the song. It is full of powerful and thought-provoking truth, and I am thankful for the song. I also recognize that song writers use some artistic license to craft the lyrics of their songs. I am simply trying to make two points, both of which struck me this morning: (1) I often sing songs without stopping to consider the accuracy of the words, and (2) the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was an incredible sacrifice, but one that was made willingly.

Because I am well acquainted with the story of the death of Jesus Christ, I have sung the lyrics to Townend’s song numerous times (the variation that says “held him there”) without ever even recognizing what I was really saying–because my sin did not hold Jesus on the cross. Since I do have so many songs in my mental jukebox, though, this immediately got me thinking about the lyrics to other songs about the cross. There are many, many such songs, and it took no time at all for several to come to mind.

One such song, that is not nearly as well known as Townend’s, is “Love Did,” by southern gospel singer/songwriter Mark Bishop. This song’s chorus ends with the line, “Nails didn’t keep Him on the cross, Love did.” This is, of course, exactly right. No nail has ever been created that could have held Jesus Christ on the cross had He decided He was unwilling to die there. Not only did He have the power to come down from that cross Himself but, as another great song about the cross says, “He could have called ten thousands angels, to destroy the world and set Him free.”

A number of years ago our church was re-doing the church directory. As part of each member’s profile, the new directory listed favorite hymns. Until I was asked to fill out the questionnaire for that directory I am not sure I had ever stopped to consider my favorite hymn. If I remember correctly, though, it did not take me long to decide on “Jesus Paid It All.” This classic hymn, written the year the Civil War ended, reminds me that the incredible debt that I owed because of my sin was paid in full by the Son of God, Jesus Christ, when He willingly died upon Calvary’s cross. As the chorus says, “Jesus paid it all/All to Him I owe.” I never could have paid that debt myself, no matter how hard I may have tried or what I may have done.

There are so many songs about the cross, and so many of them contain powerful lyrics that cause the singer (or listener) to really stop and consider that incredible sacrifice Jesus paid to purchase redemption for our sins. It is such a powerful event, that has such fantastic ramifications, that there are other songs that refer to “the wonderful cross” and “the wondrous cross.” The cross was designed as an excruciating and humiliating method of carrying out the death penalty. How could that be wonderful? Why would we sing songs about that? Because Christ’s voluntary death on the cross “paid it all.”