Tag Archives: Ray Overholt

He Could Have … But Didn’t

closeup of a representation of the Jesus Christ crown of thorns and nail representing his death, he could have escaped but did not.
from Flickr, Luciano Inline

He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world and set Him free.
He could have called ten thousand angels,
But He died alone, for you and me.

Ray Overholt, 1959

Today is Holy Friday. In my meditation on Jesus’ death, I was reminded of this hymn we used to sing in the church I grew up in. It reminds me that Jesus voluntarily gave up His life for me.

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Romans 5:7-8 NLT

The Back Story

As I looked up the lyrics to the hymn, He Could Have Called Ten Thousand Angels, I found the back story. It’s fascinating because Ray Overholt, the lyricist, was not a believer when he wrote the song.

Ray sang in the group, The Grand River Boys, hosted a TV show for a while, and then did the nightclub circuit. While playing, singing in a nightclub at the height of his career, he realized he wanted to “clean up his own life.”

“I had left my television show ‘Ray’s roundup’ and entered the nightclub scene. I was drinking pretty heavily. I began thinking there must be a better life than the nightclub, show-business whirlwind. I was so intent on changing my lifestyle that I went home and told my wife that I was quitting all of the smoking, drinking and cursing. I wanted to cleanup my own life.”

Ray Overholt

Out of the blue

Ray tells the story of one day thinking he would like to write a song about Jesus – the idea seemed to come out of the blue. To find words for his song, he turned to the Bible, reading from the gospels about Jesus at Gethsemane. He was struck by the idea that Jesus could have asked His Father, who could have sent legions of angels to rescue Him but didn’t. Instead, Jesus submitted to the horrific death on the cross to fulfill the Scriptures.

But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?”

Matthew 26:52 – 54 NKJV

The song

After reading the scripture, Ray Overholt penned these words, which would become his most famous song, nominated for three Gospel Music Association Dove Awards in consecutive years:

They bound the hands of Jesus
In the garden where He prayed
They led Him through the streets in shame
They spat upon the Saviour
So pure and free from sin
They said, “Crucify Him He’s to blame”

Upon His precious head
They placed a crown of thorns
They laughed and said, “Behold the King”
They struck Him and they cursed Him
And mocked His holy name
All alone He suffered everything

When they nailed Him to the cross
His mother stood nearby
He said “Woman, behold thy son”
He cried, “I thirst for water”
But they gave Him none to drink
Then the sinful work of man (was) was done

To the howling mob He yielded
He did not for mercy cry
The cross of shame He took alone
And when He cried, “It’s finished”
He gave Himself to die
Salvation’s wondrous plan was done (was done)

Chorus:
He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world (the world) and set Him free
He could have called ten thousand angels
But He died alone (alone) for you and me

Ray Overholt, 1959

Ray meets God

The story is told that Ray quit the nightclub scene. And he found himself invited to sing in a small church. He sang the only song in his repertoire that he thought appropriate, this one song. After the special music, the pastor preached. And God used that message to pierce Ray’s heart. He realized then He needed a Savior – the very one he had been writing and singing about. Ray’s story is a beautiful picture of how God came to seek and save the lost – first giving Ray a desire to write about Christ, pointing him to the scriptures, and then using, at least in part, the words of his own song to lead Ray to a saving knowledge of the One who loved him so!

By the way, Ray went on to be a traveling minister, singing and preaching the gospel and writing over 200 songs.


God still seeks and saves

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. 

1 John 3:16 NLT

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

Psalm 18:16, 17, 19 NIV

Jesus submitted to the cross, laying down His life for us because He loved us. He could have called for His Father to send legions of angels, but He did not!

This is the definition of love – a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the flourishing of another. I love how the Psalmist describes being rescued – because “he delighted in me!” And that’s so true. Jesus delighted in us then – at that moment on the cross – amid that great battle when he laid down his life for you and me.   He even loved us before the foundation of the world when he chose us and prepared the kingdom for us! AND He delights in us now!

Our response

Such great sacrificial love demands a response! Just as Ray heard the gospel’s message and surrendered his life to Christ, we are invited to hear and respond. Thank Him for so great a salvation as this if you know Him today! And if you don’t know Him today, He is calling you at this moment. Respond to His call, and say yes to Jesus today!

PS – there are many versions of Ten Thousand Angels – click here to listen to the version I love.


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