Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hymns for Lent V: Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted

[NOTE: The fifth in a series of seven blog posts on Lent. The full series is available here. Enjoy!]

It's Maundy Thursday now, and Holy Week is well under way.  We continue our meditation on Good Friday with the rather directly titled 'Smitten, Stricken, and Afflicted,' by Thomas Kelly.

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
’Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
’Tis the long expected prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
Proofs I see sufficient of it:
’Tis a true and faithful Word. 
Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress:
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave. 
Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God. 
Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation,
Christ the Name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded!
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.
The first verse focuses on Christ's fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  He is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, "stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted."  He is the Son of David, yet also David's Lord.  (Ps. 110, explained by Jesus in Matt. 22:41-46).  His fulfillment of these prophecies proves that he is the Messiah, the Word of God.  (John 1:1)

The second verse calls the hearer's attention to Christ's unparalleled suffering.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, he was "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (Matt. 26:38)  When he was arrested, his disciples deserted him and fled.  (Matt. 26:56)  Peter, one of his closest friends, denied three times that he even knew Jesus.  (Luke 22:54-60)  He was mocked, spat upon, and beaten by Roman soldiers, and at the insistence of the bloodthirsty crowd, he was condemned to crucifixion.  (Matt. 27:27-31) Those who had the power to stop the crucifixion did not do so, even though they knew him to be innocent.  (Luke 23:13-25)  However, despite all this physical pain and emotional anguish, the greatest agony he endured was at the hands of his own Father--the ultimate act of justice and mercy, pouring out wrath for sin on his Son, rather than on the sinners who deserved it.  (Is. 53:4-6; Rom. 3:25-26Rom. 5:9)

In light of this ultimate sacrifice, the hearer is admonished in verse three to remember the true nature and gravity of sin. (Rom. 6:23; I Cor. 15:56; James 1:15)  When we ask 'How big a deal is sin, really?' the answer is 'The cross.'  In Christ's suffering, we see the extent of our sin and wretchedness.  We were in such a deep hole that the only way out was for Christ to die a horrible death in our place, taking on himself the penalty for our sin.  He was born a man--fully man, and fully God--lived a sinless life, fulfilled the Law in every point, and then was punished as a lawbreaker, all because we who had broken the Law could not bear the punishment ourselves.

Having set forth the glorious good news of the gospel, the fourth verse celebrates the resulting salvation for those who believe.  Christ is the foundation on which we build our lives--he grounds us and gives us a firm place to stand.  (I Cor. 3:11)  Christ is our refuge, our shelter.  (2 Sam. 22:2-4; Ps. 18:2)  The oppressed can seek protection and freedom in the shadow of the one who was oppressed for their sake.  (Ps. 9:9-10; Is. 53:5-8; Luke 4:17-19)  He is our rock--though others stumble over him, for believers he is the source of strength and salvation.  (Ps. 62:1-2; Is. 8:13-15; Is. 26:4; I Cor. 10:1-4; II Pet. 2:7-8)  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29; Rev. 5:11-13) For this reason, we boast in him to the praise of his name.  (Ps. 44:8; I Cor. 1:30-31; Gal. 6:14)  He was wounded for our transgressions, and because of his sacrificial death, we have bean cleansed of our sin and guilt and our debt has been canceled.  (Is. 53:4-7; Heb. 9:11-14)  We will never be disappointed, ultimately, or overcome, because our hope is in the one who cannot disappoint.  (Rom. 5:5-8; Rom. 8:37-39; II Cor. 4:7-10; I John 5:3-5)

The hymn can thus be summed up as follows:  The long foretold Messiah (v. 1) bore the wrath of God (v. 2) for your sins (v. 3) so rejoice in your certain, reliable, and complete salvation (v. 4).

Praise the Lord.  

(Honorable mention:  'O Sacred Head Now Wounded', by Bernard of Clairveaux. 'What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered / Was all for sinners' gain / Mine, mine was the transgression / But Thine the deadly pain.')

We will meditate on the events of Good Friday for one more entry before moving on to the joyous celebration of Easter.

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