April 8—When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

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 I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts)

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39–43 NLT)

The final verse of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is among the harshest and most demanding within hymnody. Jerry B. Jenkins writes in Hymns for Personal Devotions, “Perhaps it’s the distance between where Watts encourages me to be and where I truly am that makes this hymn so hard to sing. It’s a lofty and worthy spiritual goal to say that ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all,’ but how short I fall!” For those who want to truly take the words they sing to heart, this hymn sets the bar just about as high as it can go. Even still, it can be easy to regard this demand to give God your soul, your life, your all as simply hyperbole, but that’s not how the disciples saw this. Of the eleven who saw the resurrected Christ firsthand, it is generally understood that ten of them were martyred for their faith and one was sent to an island to spend his remaining years in exile. If those who knew Jesus best thought it worthwhile to give their lives and their all for His sake, then it only make sense that those of us who strive to have a similar intimate relationship with Jesus should be willing to do the same.

Yet the bar still seems incredibly high. However, there is hope found in the vast goodness of God’s grace. Like the widow with two mites, the criminal who hung next to Jesus who asked to be remembered in the coming Kingdom did not have a lot, but he gave what he could. ­He used his words, his voice, to stand up for Jesus and reprimand the other criminal for mocking the Messiah. In return, Jesus said he would be welcomed into paradise.

We are not required to give everything we are in order to be welcomed into paradise, but our natural response to God’s grace in our lives should be a regular and ongoing pouring out of ourselves as an offering for our Messiah. What do you have to offer God today? What is preventing you from giving more readily of yourself?