When we got to the third line of the first verse of Grace Greater than Our Sin this past Sunday and sang “Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,” all I could think about was Planned Parenthood and the abortionists who crush the skulls of infants. That’s a strange association, you might say. Indeed it is. Allow me to explain.
In the first of a series of videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, an organization that was formed to expose the evils of Planned Parenthood, abortionist Dr. Nucatola was caught on camera detailing how doctors harvest the organs from the babies they are aborting, including a graphic description of the problem the size of the head poses to this state-of-the-art procedure.
An undercover agent asks Nucatola, “How much of a difference can that actually make, if you know kind of what’s expected, or what we need?”
“It makes a huge difference,” says Nucatola. “I’d say a lot of people want liver. And for that reason, most providers will do this case under ultrasound guidance, so they’ll know where they’re putting their forceps. The kind of rate-limiting step of the procedure is calvarium. Calvarium—the head—is basically the biggest part.”
I have to confess, this is the first time I have ever heard the word calvarium in conversation. But really, apart from the medical field, it is not used colloquially—probably the reason why Nucatola felt the need to clarify: “Calvarium—the head—is basically the biggest part.”
So back to the hymn we sang this past Sunday at church. When I sang about “Calvary,” the words of Dr. Nucatola and her nonchalant deployment of the word “calvarium” came racing into my mind. Homonymic coincidence? Or etymological significance? Turns out to be the latter.
I recall a time listening to Dr. Jim Hamilton—my doctorvater and pastor—explain the origins of the word Calvary when he was preaching through the book of John.
Calvary is simply the anglicized word for the Latin Vulgate’s translation of the place where Jesus was crucified in the Gospels. The Latin word calvaria is the undeclined form of the word used by Dr. Nucatola, which as mentioned above means “head” or “skull.” The Vulgate translates the underlying Greek in John 19:17, which is Κρανίου Τόπον (kraniou topon), or “Skull Place.” In this passage in John 19:17, the apostle makes the additional aside that Κρανίου Τόπον in Aramaic (very closely related to Hebrew) is Γολγοθα, Golgotha (cf. Hebrew גלגלת, Gulgeleth), which likewise means “skull.”
The mount that Jesus was crucified on was called Golgotha, Skull Place, Calvary. Why? There are several theories as to why the hill bears this name, from the resemblance the hill has to a skull to the association of the hill as an execution site and a cemetery. But regardless of how the hill came to be named, the fact that Jesus was crucified on Skull Place creates an interesting theological connection.
The book of Genesis foretells of one descended from Eve who will crush the skull of the ancient serpent in Genesis 3:15. Theologians sometimes refer to this prophecy as the protoevangelion, or the first hint of the gospel.
So with the coming of Jesus, the seed of the woman had arrived, and he had on his snake-stomping boots. But the way he went about crushing the head of the serpent—dealing a death-blow if there ever was one—was not through outright physical engagement, boot-to-head style. Instead, it was through the subversive power of dying and not staying dead, a death that disarmed the serpent of the one weapon he had to wield—accusation of sin. And it was on the cross of Christ—on the tip top of the Skull Place—where the skull of the serpent was crushed and he was dealt a mortal blow that will be completed when Jesus returns to finish what he started.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything more evil than crushing babies’ heads. And I also can’t think of anyone more evil than Satan. There is a connection. It is the spirit of the antichrist, Satan himself, that animates a doctor—under Hippocratic Oath no less—to do such an evil thing.
But praise be to God that on Calvary, the Skull Place, Jesus crushed the skull of the skull-crusher. And praise be to God that Jesus’s death and resurrection are powerful enough to save those who try and sanitize the sound of such a heinous procedure, even as they substitute calvarium for “head” in order to deceive their consciences away from the reality that these are babies’ heads we’re talking about here.
So let’s sing that verse from Grace Greater than Our Sin at the top of our lungs, and let’s pray for justice and mercy to rain down until Jesus is reigns over all, when no longer will infants have their heads crushed in the name of medical progress.
Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled.