Focal Passage: Matthew 27:28-31, 45-50, 54
“On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, The emblem of suff’ring and shame; And I love that old cross where the dearest and best, For a world of lost sinners was slain.
“So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, Till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, And exchange it some day for a crown” George Bennard (1873–1958).
“The Old Rugged Cross” is among the favorite hymns of all time. It has been performed by scores of popular musical artists. Recently “The Old Rugged Cross,” celebrated its 100th anniversary. Its author and composer, George Bennard, began work on this hymn in the fall of 1912, but didn’t complete it until sometime in 1913. Bennard went public with it in June of that year, using it in a Methodist church in Pokagon, Mich. Today we love the hymn because we love the cross.
Our affection for the cross is quite ironic when we pause to think that crucifixion was the preferred method of execution in the Roman Empire. Would we cherish the electric chair, the gas chamber, the executioner’s needle, or the hangman’s noose? It is the unique atoning dimension of Jesus’ death that endears us to the cross. In short, His death is like no other because of all the ways He suffered in our place.
Jesus experienced emotional pain for us. Read Matthew 27:28-30. The soldiers made sport of Jesus, mocking and degrading him. Ironically, what they said in jest was actually eternal truth. Jesus WAS the King of the Jews, deserving of our sincere worship and honor.
Jesus experienced physical pain for us. The physical torment of Jesus’ sacrifice was not experienced solely on the cross. The gospels tell of the scourging, the crown of thorns, and the numerous strikes He endured. Each of these, including the anguish of crucifixion, was part of the exceptional cost He paid in our place.
Jesus experienced spiritual pain for us. Read Matthew 27:46 NIV. The Gospels record Jesus’ words from the Aramaic language, accentuating the feeling of intense agony within Jesus’ words. This sense of abandonment was the greatest pain of all those He endured.
Jesus experienced separation from His Heavenly Father so we could experience unity with Him. Jesus experienced forsakenness by His Heavenly Father so we could experience restoration with Him.
The cross shows us the emotional, physical, and spiritual fate we all deserve because of our sins. But we do not have to endure this suffering because Jesus faced it for us by taking our place and thus “satisfying” our debt to God.
At the old rugged cross we see man at his worst, but God uniquely at His best.
J. Barrie Shepherd is a retired pastor from the First Presbyterian Church of New York City. In a sermon some years back, he told the story of a time when he was flying back to the USA from his native Scotland. It so happened that Shepherd was carrying back, for his church, a two foot metal Celtic cross from the Isle of Iona. He had wrapped the cross carefully in layers of paper and padding. Not trusting the baggage handlers, he decided to carry it onto the plane himself.
When his plane landed at New York’s Kennedy Airport he made his way to customs where the customs agent asked: “Do you have anything to declare?” “Only this cross,” said the sleepy-eyed pastor. The agent looked down and scribbled on a form in front of him: “Item of a sentimental nature. Of little or no value.”
Is that the perception you have on the cross of Jesus? Is it just a sentimental symbol? Or do you declare that the cross is the place where a death like no other took place? Do you declare that Jesus’ death makes heaven, eternity, and redemption possible?
“I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20c, NIV).
— McCluskey is pastor of North Cleveland Baptist Church, Cleveland.