Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died on Calvary.
By God‘s Word at last my sin I learn,
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned to Calvary.
Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus everything;
Now I gladly own Him as my King;
Now my raptured soul can only sing of Calvary.
O, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
O, the grace that brought it down to man!
O, the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary!
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty, At Calvary.
This is a hymn that I find myself meditating over and over again. I previously wrote a commentary on this hymn, but as we draw closer to Easter, I cannot resist writing about it again. Instead of writing much about the story behind this song, I prefer this time to ponder on the cross which is the theme of the song.I cannot however resisit telling the story again about the hymn writer.
Born in Savannah, Ohio. Newell was an evangelist, Bible teacher and served for a time as assistant superintendent of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois.
One day while Newell was on his way to teach a class, he thought about what Christ had done for him on the cross. The words to “At Calvary” came to him and he quickly entered an empty classroom and penned them down on the only available paper he had, an old envelope. He gave the words to Daniel Towner, who was the director of music at the school. Within an hour, our hymn, “At Calvary” was born. In 1895 it was published and Christians around the world have sang this testimonial as their own. With that thought in mind, welcome to the Week of Easter.
I am aware that for many this is a time to take a holiday. But today. I want to focus upon the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. I suppose any preacher of the word could preach his entire life and never exhaust the unsearchable riches that surround the Cross of Christ. Oh, the wonders of Calvary! Everything about Calvary was and is significant!
The world on Easter has its attention focused in many different places. There are many places where we can focus our attention these days. But I would suggest to you today that the place where all men ought to focus their attention — is the place most neglected by many. Very few people ever turn their thoughts toward a place called Calvary! But — it was there — on that hill — where the greatest battle of the ages was waged and won. It was there that Heaven met Hell in the most spectacular battle ever fought. It was Calvary where sin and Satan were vanquished and redemption and righteousness were forever claimed. It was there that Heaven claimed the eternal victory over Hell for all who will put their trust in Jesus.
I would like to direct our thoughts, our hearts and our focus on Calvary. I want to look in on some of the events that occurred the day that Jesus went to the cross to die for you and me. I would like for us to look to Calvary and see just what happened there that day.
Why — you might ask –– should we even bother to spend our time considering an event that took place more than 2000 years ago? The answer to that question is that by looking to Calvary — we can see what Jesus accomplished there for us. If that happens — we will be in a position to partake in what He did for us there; — and, if we have already received Jesus — we can enjoy what He did for us even more.
There were many places that played a part in our Lord’s earthly life. There was Bethlehem — Bethany — Nazareth and Jerusalem. There were the Judean hillsides — and the shores of the Sea of Galilee. There were the synagogues in the villages — and the great temple at Jerusalem. Those places were important places in the life of Jesus — but they were merely steps along the path to the place mentioned in our text today.
But then we turn to Luke’s Gospel, chapter 23 — and look at verse 33. — Luke 23:33. — “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary — there they crucified Him.”
Every step Jesus took in His earthly life was leading Him to the place which the Hebrews called “Golgotha” — and the Romans called “Calvary”. It was known to all as “The Place of the Skull” – in Hebrew Golgotha.
All through the Gospels — Jesus had said this was His destiny. Following Peter’s great declaration in Caesarea Philippi — “You are the Christ — the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16) — “Jesus began to tell His disciples plainly that He had to go to Jerusalem — and He told them what would happen to Him there. — He would suffer at the hands of the leaders and the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. — He would be killed — and He would be raised on the third day” (Matt. 16:21 NLT). A little later on, Jesus again predicts His death: — “One day after they had returned to Galilee, Jesus told (His followers) — ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed. — He will be killed — but three days later He will be raised from the dead.’ — And the disciples’ hearts were filled with grief” (Matt. 17:22-23). While teaching His disciples about serving others — Jesus said: — “For even I — the Son of Man — came here not to be served but to serve others — and to give my life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Upon arriving in Jerusalem — Jesus taught many things — and when He had finished, He said to His disciples — “As you know, the Passover celebration begins in two days, — and I, the Son of Man, will be betrayed and crucified” (Matt. 26:2). In fact, the very morning of His death — Jesus told Pontius Pilate that Calvary was the place He was going: — “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world” (John 18:37).
So I would like for us to travel back in time to a Place Called Calvary. As we do — I want to focus on what it is that makes this place so special — different from all others. Join me now as we take a good look at a Place Called Calvary.
1. First of all — Calvary was a Place of Unbelievable Torment!
Dr. Luke writes that “when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary — there they crucified him …” (Luke 23:33). There they crucified Jesus — God’s only begotten Son — the Christ! The phrase “there they crucified him” — condenses over 18 hours of suffering into just four words.
Here is what Jesus suffered during those hours. He had been arrested — tried and convicted in a mock trial. False witnesses had been called against Him and He had been abused by the Temple guards. He had been taken to Pilate where He was abused by Pilate’s soldiers: — scourged — beaten — spit upon — His beard pulled out — a crown of thorns placed upon His head — and mocked. He was sentenced to die and made to carry His own cross. Then He suffered a cruel crucifixion: — He was nailed to the cross. He submitted Himself to the horrible death of the cross.
The Apostle Paul writes of this event saying: — “Though He was God — He did not demand and cling to His rights as God. — He made Himself nothing (He laid aside His mighty power and glory) — He took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. — And in human form He obediently humbled Himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8 NLT).
My friends — Calvary was no accident! It was not the result of clever manoeuvring on the part of Jewish leaders — nor yet of Pilate’s desertion of duty. Neither did it happen because the followers of Jesus panicked and fled in a moment of crisis. Nothing in history was more deliberately planned — or more carefully approached! In the parable of the Good Shepherd — Jesus Himself said: — “No one can take my life from me — I lay down my life voluntarily” (John 10:18). He did it all for you and for me!
I have read of the story of George Nixon Briggs when was governor of Massachusetts in the USA. It is said that three of his friends visited the Holy Land. While they were there — they climbed Golgotha’s slope and cut from the summit a small stick to be made into a cane. On their return they presented it to the governor, saying: — “We want you to know that when we stood on Calvary — we remembered you.” Governor Briggs accepted the gift with gratitude — but tenderly remarked: — “I appreciate your consideration of me, gentlemen — but I am still more thankful for Another Who thought of me there!”
Yes — dear friends — Jesus “thought of you; — He thought of me — when hanging there in agony.” Calvary is the result of God’s eternal heartache for our perishing souls. “Love so amazing — so divine — demands my soul, my life, my all!”
2. Secondly — Calvary was a Place of Unspeakable Tragedy!
In every account of the death of Jesus in the Gospels — one little pronoun keeps appearing. — It is the pronoun “they”. Just a quick glance at Luke’s account gives us a glimpse into the heart of the people: —
- Verse 18 tells us they chose Barabbas over Jesus.
- Verse 21 tells us they cried out for His death.
- Verse 23 tells us they “shouted louder and louder for Jesus’ death.”
- Verse 26 tells us they led Jesus away to His death.
- Verse 35 tells us they even mocked Him as He died.
The pronoun “they” — suggest a plural responsibility for Christ’s crucifixion. — Who were “they”? Who is to be included in that word — “they”? Or — a better question is — “who is to be excluded?”
Certainly the Jewish religious leaders were responsible for the Cross. The political representatives of that day — were also responsible. The Roman soldiers who participated in the punishment and death of Christ — must also bear responsible for the cross. The thoughtless populace was also involved in the responsibility for the cross.
But my friends — there is also a collective responsibility — involving the whole human race — including you and me — involved in the deed of the cross! — All mankind must share in the guilt! The Apostle Paul declared that — “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures.” — His death was caused by our sins! Christ’s death was planned before the foundation of the world — because of sin. — “He was wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5). Our sins put Jesus on the Cross! — We all had a part in His death! Thus we all stand guilty and condemned for our part in the tragedy of the Cross — until we repent and are saved by the Christ of the Cross.
If you were to look at Rembrandt’s painting of The Three Crosses — your attention would be drawn first to the centre cross on which Jesus died. Then as you would look at the crowd gathered around the foot of that cross — you’d be impressed by the various facial expressions and actions of the people involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God. Finally — your eyes would drift to the edge of the painting — and catch sight of another figure — almost hidden in the shadows. Art critics say this is a representation of Rembrandt himself! — for he recognized that by his sins; — he helped nail Jesus to the cross.
We find it easy to blame the Roman soldiers — or Pontius Pilate for Christ’s death — but actually we were all participants in His crucifixion — because He died for our sins!
It may make us feel better to point the finger at those who put Jesus on the cross — but it is a shocking thought that we can be as indifferent as Pilate — as calloused as the soldiers — as ruthless as the mob — or as cowardly as the disciples.
It isn’t just what they did; — it was I who nailed Him to the Cross! I crucified the Christ of God! — You crucified the Son of God! We are standing there at the foot of the cross — in the shadows — along with Rembrandt — and all of mankind. “He was wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5).
What makes this so tragic is the fact that people still reject Him today! Jesus is the only hope of salvation — and yet people still mock Him — curse Him and refuse Him. How — oh how, could such love be refused? Why would anyone say “No” — to His amazing love? My friends — He loves you! — Have you come to His love?
3. Finally — Calvary was a Place of Unequalled Triumph!
Not all was tragedy that day at Calvary! Yes — Jesus suffered a more horrible death than we can even imagine. But He also accomplished something of eternal importance! At Calvary we see the seriousness of sin! Sin is a debt — a burden — a thief — a sickness — a leprosy — a poison — a serpent — a sting. — Sin is the spade that digs a man’s grave — steals his virtue — and damns his soul.
- Man calls sin an accident; — God calls it an abomination.
- Man calls sin a blunder; — God calls it blindness.
- Man calls sin a chance; — God calls it a choice.
- Man calls sin a defect; — God calls it a disease.
- Man calls sin an error; — God calls it enmity against God.
- Man calls sin fascination; — God calls it fatal.
- Man calls sin an infirmity; — God calls it iniquity.
- Man calls sin luxury; — God calls it leprosy.
- Man calls sin liberty; — God calls it lawlessness.
- Man calls sin trifle; — God calls it a tragedy.
- Man calls sin a mistake; — God calls it madness.
- Man calls sin weakness; — God calls it wilfulness.
Stand at Calvary — and see the wounded, buffeted, bleeding, ridiculed — and dying Son of God — and discover that He is dying for the sins of the world! The sins of the world put Him there! — And by His stripes we are healed; — by His blood we are cleansed; — by His death we are offered eternal life! At Calvary — “God was in Christ — reconciling the world to Himself — no longer counting people’s sins against them” (2 Cor. 5:19 NLT). At Calvary — “God made Christ, Who never sinned — to be the offering for our sins — so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Cor. 5:21 NLT). At Calvary — we are provided present salvation from sin’s guilt and stain!
Calvary! — The name is familiar to us from a hundred hymns. ”Mercy there was great — and grace was free; Pardon there was multiplied to me; There my burdened soul found liberty — At Calvary!”
Calvary! — It is sweet music in our ears! — It tells us of sins forgiven; — of peace with God; — of life for evermore!
- Calvary! — Where we see man at his worst — and God at His best!
- Calvary! — Where every person must come if they expect to be saved.
- Calvary! — Where God’s Son shed His precious blood.
- Calvary! — Where we come with our sorrow — and leave with His joy!
- Calvary! — Where the Son of God died that the sons of men might live.
- Calvary! — Where we hear the greatest story ever told!
- Calvary! — Where we come with our ruin — and receive His peace.
- Calvary! — Where we come with our bitterness and receive His blessing.
- Calvary! — Where a Savior died — and salvation was born!
- Calvary! — Where we come with our darkness and receive His light.
- Calvary! — Where we come with our hell and receive His Heaven.
- Calvary! — Where sinners plunged beneath that flood loose all their guilty stains.
No wonder the song writer said my ransomed soul can only sing of Calvary!
A little girl got lost in the city and could not find her way home. The policeman saw her and asked if he could help her find her way. She said she lived near the church where the big cross could be seen; — if he would take her to the cross — she could find her way home!
My friends, it is not enough to look at Calvary and say: — “Behold the man!” We must also be able to say: — “Behold the Lamb of God! — Who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
Have you come to that place called Calvary? Whether or not you have ever been to the Holy Land — or whether you ever plan to go there — you can still say in gratitude and love — “I’ve been to Calvary!” — What a wonderful place is Calvary! Have you received the benefits provided for you by the death of Jesus Christ at Calvary? When you look to Calvary and trust in Jesus as your Saviour — you too will experience pardon and peace. — There is still room at Calvary for you! The ground is level at the foot of the Cross! The blood of Jesus Christ goes deeper than the stain of sin! Thanks to Calvary — you can become a new person altogether!
Conclusion: — When you look at Calvary — what do you see? Calvary was a place of unbelievable torment. Calvary was a place of unspeakable tragedy. But Calvary was also a place of unequalled triumph. When I look at Calvary I see a Saviour Who loved me so much that He willingly took my place on that Cross so that I could be saved from my sins — and miss the fires of Hell. I see that hill as the place where my past is erased and my future is secured. We do not worship a place — nor do we worship the Cross; — we worship Christ — Who is alive forevermore! We were lost — confused, without purpose and meaning — no assurance of a future life — but Jesus, at Calvary — reaches out by His death — and rescues us.
Is that what you see? — Or do you see yourself dying in your sins? Do you see that He loves you and will save you if you will come to Him? Will you come to Jesus for your salvation today?
William Newell was a noted evangelist — Bible teacher — and later the assistant superintendent at Moody Bible Institute. One day on his way to teach a class — he was meditating upon Christ’s suffering at Calvary — and all that it meant to him. Suddenly some thoughts so impressed themselves on his mind — that he stepped into an empty classroom — and quickly scribbled down the lines of a hymn on the back of an envelope. — These are the words he wrote: —
Years I spent in vanity and pride — Caring not my Lord was crucified —
Knowing not it was for me He died — On Calvary!