Chris Tomlin wrote the song The Wonderful Cross, sung here by Matt Redman and Chris, to express the wondrous effects brought about by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Their combined talents have given us a musically interesting and spiritually moving song.
Musically, the song has two very distinct feels. The background music for verses has a droning sound, reminiscent of the sound of saying ‘om’ while meditating. This continuous sound gives the verses a prayerful sense, allowing one to close one’s eyes and float with the music. The droning single chord is accompanied by a simple introspective melody, along with an ethereal sounding keyboard providing an almost other-worldly spiritual sense . Together they encourage one to ponder the lyrics and melody, thinking about the wonders of the cross. When listening to the verses, I can imagine walking along the road to Calvary, alone, contemplating the events that took place some 2000 years ago.
The refrain, on the other hand, has a more ‘normal’ sound for a song. The instrumentation is much more pronounced and fuller, and the singing is clear and forthright. The voices and lyrics in the refrain boldly proclaim the cross of Jesus. The combination of instrumentation and singing generates a sound that is celebratory. I can imagine singing a refrain such as this upon arriving at the site of the crucifixion and looking up to where Jesus hung on the cross, feeling awed by the loss and love given to us by our Savior.
The lyrics in the first two verses emphasize the stark contrasts exposed by the cross. Jesus, the innocent Prince of Glory, was put to death on the cross, a demeaning execution usually saved for the worst people of the time. Compare the humiliation of our Lord’s crucifixion with our own self-pride when we think we have done something great. Did our greatest accomplishment have as much impact on the world as Jesus’s humble death on the cross? Likely not. The blood flowing from his head and feet, from the nails used to hang him on the cross and the crown of thorns, mixed together as they flowed down, symbolizing the sorrow and love which was poured out for us. Jesus must have been full of sorrow (for our sins) and pain from his wounds. Yet he was also full of love and joy at having done the will of his Father. Contrasts.
The refrain calls us to reflect on these dichotomies as we seek to die to the world in Christ, so that we can live with him in spirit. Humility and pride. Gain and loss. Sorrow and love. We stand in awe of his great sacrifice, and realize how wonderful it really was. We are called by grace to stand at the foot of the cross, ponder these contradictions, and bless the name of the Lord.
The third verse again exposes a dichotomy – the magnitude of this sacrifice, which could only have been made by Jesus, compared to what little the world can offer. What could we sacrifice that would be as big as that made by Jesus? These words recall those of the prophet Isaiah (Is 40:16) describing how great our God really is. If we were to sacrifice all of nature, it would still not be as big as the sacrifice of Jesus. His love for us is so abundant that he made the ultimate sacrifice. Shouldn’t we love him in return, and give him our all? Oh! the wonderful cross!
After the refrain is sung twice, there is a short musical interlude, allowing us to catch our breath. Matt goes on and sings again about the amazing love the Lord Jesus has for us, a love so bountiful that he was willing to die on the cross for us, even though we are sinners. Think about how much love Jesus must feel, that he would die for others, even those that crucified him. That amount of love is truly overwhelming. It inspires us to give more, much more, to others. To give of ourselves. To even give our lives.
The last refrain reminds us to go to the cross. Die to the world and be born again in Christ. Receive the grace of God.
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