By Jackina Stark
It is said that John Milton, 17th-century poet, arguably the greatest poet of all time, read everything of consequence in English, Latin, Greek, and Italian, and that he knew the Bible by heart. He wanted to use the greatest literary form, the epic, to honor the greatest kingdom and hero of all time.
In his unparalleled Paradise Lost (1667), he tried to explain something of God’s ways to man. In book three (of 12), Milton fictionalizes the moment Jesus makes his grand commitment to God and man.
God and the Son watch Satan, who is bent on revenge, fly to earth to find and ruin God’s beloved new creation. God tells the Son that justice demands that man must die for choosing disobedience, disloyalty, and treason—unless. This little preposition, unless, couldn’t be more important. It has made all the difference to Christians. Man must die,
unless for him
Some other able, and as willing, pay
The rigid satisfaction, death for death.
(Paradise Lost, Book 3, lines 210-212)
Then God asked if there were, in all of Heaven, one who would be “mortal to redeem Man’s mortal crime, and just the unjust to save.” Was there one with that much purity? Was there one with that much love?
And out of the silence of Heaven came our redemption as the Son of God spoke:
Behold me then: me for him, life for life
I offer: on me let thine anger fall;
Account me Man; I for his sake will leave
Thy bosom, and this glory next to thee
Freely put off, and for him lastly die
Well pleased; on me let Death wreak all his rage.
(Paradise Lost, Book 3, lines 236-241)
That’s how Milton imagined it. God’s Word doesn’t tell us how it was agreed upon. It simply tells us it was and that God sent his Son to be our sacrifice in order to restore us to himself.
But the cost was exorbitant.
See the sweat drops of blood on his forehead. See him facedown in the garden begging the Father to remove this cup of suffering and shame and separation and sin, and perhaps other agonies we cannot fathom or name. See him stagger up the road to Calvary, see him offer himself up to the cross, see him push up on his ragged feet to take enough air into his collapsing lungs to shout, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
The songwriters are right. The cross of Christ is a rugged cross and it is a wonderful cross. If we remember nothing else, we should remember this.
Jackina Stark is a retired Ozark Christian College English professor who lives in Branson, Missouri.