On Good Friday, at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we opened worship with the old gospel hymn “At the Cross”, an adaptation of Isaac Watts’ hymn, “Alas, and did my Saviour bleed”. In it, there is a line that says:
Would he devote that sacred head to such a worm as I?
While Watts will surely have taken his inspiration for that moniker from Psalm 22.6, today, we might wonder whether that’s an appropriate term for a human being.
The Psalmist used the term to denote his feeling of dehumanization from oppression and suffering. That certainly applied to Jesus, and he appropriated the passage for himself more than once, as you’ll see if you read the entire Psalm.
In response, some hymnal editors have rephrased the line to read:
Would he devote that sacred head to sinners such as I?
This also captures the essence of what Watts was trying to express: that is, the tragic irony that the perfect God-Man Jesus gave his life for the decidedly imperfect human race.
Sadly, people today tend to track toward one extreme or the other. That is, people either view themselves as the worst of the worst, hopelessly irredeemable; or they view themselves as ‘darned near perfect’ – not sinners, and definitely not “worms”!
One of the challenges God’s people face in sharing the gospel with others is that many people don’t think they’ve sinned, so they don’t need a Saviour, while others think they are so bad that there is no hope for their redemption.
But we know that in Jesus, neither of those views is true.
Anyone who claims not to be a sinner need only be furnished with the ten commandments to be reminded that she or he has not lived up to God’s perfect standard. And anyone who claims to be irredeemable need only be told of the apostle Paul’s reminder to the Christians in Rome that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5.8, NLT), or his statement to Timothy, his young protégé: “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1.15-16, NLT).
On those days when we feel like we’re on top of the world and can’t do anything wrong, Jesus still died for us. And on those days when we feel lower than a snake’s (worm’s?) belly, Jesus still died for us.
We are created in God’s own image, and he proclaimed us, with all creation, to be “very good”. We messed that up in disobedience, but Jesus came to redeem the least and the worst of our disobedience.
Walk with him in confidence today!