The chorus of a popular worship song ends with these words: “He took the fall and thought of me above all.”
I have liked that song, but last time I sang it I found myself asking, “Self, do I really believe that during the torture I was the one uppermost in the mind of Jesus? Jesus ‘thought of me above all’? What about God’s purposes? Wasn’t it God’s justice that was at stake? God’s faithfulness to His promises? God’s holiness? Jesus’ love for His Father? God’s glory?”
Drawing my mind back to the song, much as I liked the melody and hated to mess up the rhyme, by the last chorus I either couldn’t sing it or had to (quietly so as not to disturb others) change the words.
This song provoked me to think again about God’s perspective of the cross in relation to these words. I’d like to use the occasion to do the same here.
First, I appreciate that the lyricist wanted to communicate the love of Christ for sinners. God’s love for sinners is a vital truth, so I am thankful for that reminder. Writing doctrinally accurate lyrics with singable rhyme and rhythm, all developed with literary finesse, is a skill that I think must be challenging. Again, I appreciate what I trust is the intent.
I’m still uncomfortable with that last line. Our culture has been so indoctrinated with the idea that we should esteem ourselves that Christians actually incorporate that doctrine into their belief system and call it “Christian.” God loves me. Jesus died for ME, so wouldn’t the most logical conclusion be that I am significant? I disagree. The most biblically logical conclusion is that since Jesus died for me, JESUS is significant. What amazing love GOD has that He would deign to love someone so insignificant and underserving as me. “What is man that Thou dost take thought of him?…Man is like a mere breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Ps. 144.3-4). It is to God’s credit that He deigns to love us.
On the cross, did Jesus think of me? Yes. He prayed, “Father, forgive them…” “Them” refers to people at the cross and, by extension it includes all future followers. (See His prayer in John 17.)
On the cross, did Jesus think of me “above all”? Was I the priority? It is true that Jesus died that I might be forgiven and be reconciled to God and, oh, how thankful I am for that. How thankful! But my very gratitude surely reminds me that “me above all” was the cause of the problem in the first place. Adam thinking of “me above all” robbed God of His glory. My selfishness does the same. Therefore, God’s purposes for the cross cannot be summarized in my salvation.
The cross is not just about redemption of men. Just look at Jesus’ own thoughts and desires. John 12:27-28 reveals what Jesus was thinking as the cross loomed near. “What shall I say, Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Thy name.” Jesus died for love of His Father.
And John 17:1 records Jesus later praying, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee.” On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished!” What was finished? His Father’s plan for the Son’s substitutionary work. He was thinking of His Father.
In the cross, Jesus was loving God and loving others (people). But He would not love us (others) were love not first and foremost sourced in the Trinity. Love for His Father necessarily must be the priority.
The cross is for the glory of God. Note also the purpose Jesus Himself states. “For this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Thy name.” And again, “… that the Son may glorify Thee.”
Our salvation is a means to an end that transcends us. In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul writes one long sentences of praise to God for the many blessings we receive in our salvation. Believers are chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, etc. But there are three key purpose statements within the passage.
- Verse 6: “to the praise of the glory of His grace”
- Verse 13: “to the praise of His glory”
- Verse 14: “to the praise of His glory”
God’s glory, not our salvation, is the purpose of the cross. God’s plan of redemption is part of His broader plan of kingdom and glory. Jesus told us to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). It is the Father’s kingdom and glory that are the priority.
The cross is about God above all. The cross was far more about God being glorified than it was about us. Forgiveness and reconciliation through the cross demonstrated the righteousness of God. In Romans, the apostle Paul wrote extensively about why Jesus “took the fall.” In 3:23-26, it says,
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
About this passage, John Piper says,
Without the cross, the righteousness of God would demonstrate itself only in the condemnation of sinners…God would not be glorified in the gladness of his sinful creatures. His righteousness would simply be vindicated in their destruction.
What the text teaches is that–even though all scorn the glory of God (according to Rom. 3:23), and even though God’s righteousness is his unwavering commitment to uphold that glory (implied in 3:25)–nevertheless, God designed a way to vindicate the worth of his glory–and what he designed was the death of his Son. It took the infinitely costly death of the Son of God to repair the dishonor that my pride has brought upon the glory of God.
It horribly skews the meaning of the cross when contemporary prophets of self-esteem say that the cross is a witness to my infinite worth, since God was willing to pay such a high price to get me. The biblical perspective is that the cross is a witness to the infinite worth of God’s glory and a witness to the immensity of the sin of my pride. What should shock us is that we have brought such contempt upon the worth of God that the very death of his Son is required to vindicate that worth. The cross witnesses to the infinite worth of God and the infinite outrage of sin.*
I will continue to sing the song, just modified to direct my mind to prioritize His glory.
* John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Baker Books, 2015, p. 37.