I stand in the mid-morning sunshine outside my hotel in Jacksonville, awaiting the shuttle to take me to the airport. In times past, I would work out my impatience by pacing and checking my phone. But I’m learning to be more present in each moment through observation, so I slowly take in my surroundings.
When I look up, an enormous white X marks the sky, as if slashed by an illiterate Zorro. As I watch it float by, I start to notice other vapor trails, some emanating from jets in the moment.
They remind me of the whip-wounds of Christ. I note the dissipation of the older contrails above me, contrasted to the sharp lines of the fresh ones, and I wonder anew at the startling fact that Jesus’s resurrected body still bears the marks of his torture and death. In the famous scene in John 20, Jesus presents his healed wounds to a disciple:
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:27
Think of it. Jesus made countless sick and dying people whole again. But his own resurrected body remains disfigured for eternity. It will be, when all is said and done, the only mark of imperfection in the coming Kingdom.
Why? As I ponder this, a verse of a memorized hymn comes to mind:
Crown him the Lord of love;
behold his hands and side,
rich wounds, yet visible above,
in beauty glorified;
no angels in the sky
can fully bear that sight,
but downward bends their wond’ring eye
at mysteries so bright.
So, those wounds are a testimony to his heavenly attendants. In this hymn, the angels are so overcome by the wonder of his sacrifice that they can only glance at those “rich wounds.” But Charles Spurgeon imagines the angels’ response differently:
But can you not conceive that the presence of the wounded Christ will often stir up the holy hearts of the celestial beings to a fresh outpouring of their grateful songs?
John records in his vision of heaven that the angelic host (presumably upon seeing those visible wounds) cry out, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” (Rev. 5:12)
Those scars are also a testimony to us. Matthew Henry, a 17th-century theologian, considers the physical gestures of Jesus in his exchange with Thomas – holding out his hands, pulling back his tunic to reveal his side – as a metaphor for how he will forever treat his loved ones:
“The exalted Redeemer will ever show himself open-handed and open-hearted to all his faithful friends and followers.”
They speak to me today. Though his wounds, Jesus is saying to me, to us: “Look at the extent of my love – what I was willing to do to have you with me forever.” For now, my wonder is mingled with a grief over my own sin. In the coming Kingdom, our grief will be swallowed up in the greatness of his love.
Then, we will no longer weep when we see those reminders of his torture and death on our behalf.
We’ll sing with the angels in wonder of his grace.
Reader: What’s your favorite hymn verse about his sacrifice of love? Feel free to share it with me.