George Bennard wrote "The Old Rugged Cross" in 1913. In the years since, this has become one of the most familiar and most loved of our hymns and spiritual songs. Let us notice its theme and the powerful picture it presents of the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
On a hill far away. Jerusalem is built high in the hills of Judea. Solomon built the temple at Jerusalem upon Moriah, the same mountain where Abraham offered his son, Isaac. Genesis 22; 2 Chronicles 3:1. The place of Jesus' crucifixion was called Golgotha. John 19:17. Strong's says this was "a knoll near Jerusalem." It was also called Calvary. Lk 23:33.
Stood an old rugged cross. It was rugged in every way. Jesus had told His disciples He was going to be crucified. Mt 20:19. Of this He said, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:" Jn 3:14. The cross was made of a tree. 1 Pet 2:24. Jesus began the procession from judgment to execution by carrying His own cross. Jn 19:17. However, the soldiers then compelled Simon of Cyrene, who was then passing by, to bear Jesus' cross. Mk 15:21. After a long week of intensive work and a sleepless night, Jesus had been beaten, scourged, crowned with thorns, smitten with a reed, spit upon, and mocked. It may very well have been that Jesus was not able to carry His cross farther. Then, at Calvary, He was nailed to the cross by His hands and feet and lifted up before a jeering mob. Lk 24:39.
The emblem of suffering and shame. Crucifixion was an ancient, public manner of capital punishment for the lowest of criminals. By being hung upon a tree, Jesus was made a curse for us. Gal 3:13. Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame associated with it. Heb 12:2. From our understanding of the times given in the gospels, Jesus was on the cross for six hours from the third unto the ninth hour. Mk 15:25, 34-37. Within these hours He cried out, "I thirst!" Jn 19:28. He also cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Mt 27:46.
And I love that old cross. It is not that we love the suffering that Jesus experienced; it is that we love his experiencing this suffering for us! This love for the cross may, I believe, be likened to how we might prize an old washboard upon which our mothers may have bestowed so many hours of labor when we were children. We would not love her suffering, but we would truly love her for her suffering upon that old washboard. "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." Gal 6:14.
Where the dearest and best. "... Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:" 1 Pet 2:21, 22. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Philippians 2:5-8. Jesus was tempted in all points like as we are, yet He was without sin. Heb 4:15.
For a world of lost sinners was slain. The justice of God demanded punishment for the sins of the world; the love of God provided the perfect sacrifice! "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Rom 6:23. "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows ... he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all ... he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter ... for the transgression of my people was he stricken ... he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." Isa 53. Jesus was that perfect lamb of God "which taketh away the sin of the world." Jn 1:29.
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross. It is only by the cross of Christ that the world is crucified unto us and we unto the world. Gal 6:14. When we hear the gospel that Jesus died upon the cross for our sins, and when we truly repent of our sins, then is our old man crucified with Christ. Rom 6:6. We are then buried with Christ in baptism for the remission of our sins. Rom 6:4. We then arise to walk in newness of life! As Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Gal 2:20.
The new life in Christ is often filled with persecutions. "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18. We are willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus, because we like Him will, in the words of the hymn, exchange it some day for a crown! 2 Tim 4:6-8. -Editor.
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