“The Old Rugged Cross”

A missionary was visiting with Mahatma Gandhi, and at the close of their visit Gandhi said, “Before you leave, would you sing one of your hymns?” When asked what hymn he would like to hear, Gandhi replied, “Please sing a hymn that expresses all that is deepest in your faith.” After a few moments, the missionary broke out in

“When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died;
My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Often, we who have been redeemed from the curse of the law ought to go back to where, for us, life began. “Lead me to Calvary” should be our constant prayer: “Lest I forget Gethsemane, lest I forget Thine agony, lest I forget Thy love for me, lead me to Calvary.”

Come back with me for a few moments today as we kneel at the cross.

Paul, the Apostle, in his epistle to the Galatian saints, made three references to the cross. In each of these we can find something significant about the cross—the emblem of suffering and shame, and of the Christian’s faith.

(1) The Offense of the Cross: “And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offense of the cross ceased.” (Gal. 5:11) The cross is the source of shame: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” (Gal. 3:13) In Deut. 21: 22,23 Moses gave instruction that if a man committed a crime worthy of death, and he was put to death by hanging on a tree, his body should not remain all night upon the tree, “but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day, for he that is hanged on a tree is cursed of God.” Cicero, a Roman statesman and orator, said of the cross and crucifixion: “The very name should be excluded from the thought, eyes and ears of a Roman citizen: no word can adequately describe such a nefarious thing.”

The cross was also a source of stumbling. (I Cor. 1:23) To the Jews, looking for a Messiah, it was a stumbling block since they were awaiting the appearance of their King. Pilate, interrogating Jesus, asked, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” He would later have the superscription written on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” And, while the cross was a stumbling block to the Jew, it was just plain foolishness to Greeks—lovers of wisdom, beauty, and bodies. The cross, to the Gentile, was not wise; nor was there beauty in a body that was beaten, bloodied and bruised. “Human nature, whether of the philosophic mind of the Greek, the religious mind of the Jew or the analytic mind of the Roman, or the intellectual mind of modern man, recoils from the thought of seeking salvation from a crucified messiah.” (MacArthur)

Contrast what Harry A. Ironside—the 20th-century Bible commentator and one-time pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago—said about Isa. 53:6, a verse which paints the picture of our suffering Savior as he pays the price for sin at Calvary: “To me verse six (‘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’) is the most wonderful text in the whole Bible. I have been trying to preach for sixty years and that is the first text I ever preached on. I was just a boy 14 years old, and out on the streets of Los Angeles with the Salvation Army. I started speaking on that verse, meaning to take 5 minutes, but a half hour later the captain leaned over and said, ‘Son, we should have been in the Hall twenty minutes ago; you’ll have to tell us the rest some other time.’ I have been trying to tell the rest all through these years since, but it is a text I never get beyond.”

(2) The Persecution of the Cross, Phil.3:18: “I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ.” Lucifer, of course, is the ancient and age-old enemy of the cross of Christ. He has been—and is to this hour—joined by unbelievers, modern religion, false prophets, and the masses of the world who are simply indifferent to the Cross. Rembrandt, the famous Dutch artist, in painting the scene of the crucifixion of Christ, painted himself in a corner scene, suggesting that he himself was just another interested but indifferent part of the crowd that crucified the Christ. “When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree…when Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.” (Studdert Kennedy)

(3) The Glory of the Cross, Gal.6:14: “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.” Our Lord, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, “and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2) We can and should then “glory” in the cross, as did Paul. “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (Col. 3:13-15)

When Portuguese traders, following the trail of the explorer Vasco da Gama, settled on the south coast of China, they built a massive cathedral on a hillcrest overlooking the harbor. In time, though, typhoons and three centuries wreaked havoc on the structure, leaving only the front façade. That part of the cathedral stood long after most of the structure had crumbled to dust. Left “high on its triangular top, clean cut against the sky, and defying rain, lightning and typhoons, is a great bronze cross. When Sir John Bowring, Governor of Hong Kong, visited Macao in 1825, he was so impressed by the scene that he wrote the famous hymn, ‘In the Cross of Christ I glory; towering o’er the wrecks of time; all the light of sacred story, gathers round it head sublime.’” (Samuel Zwermer, The Glory of the Cross, 1928)

Think of hamburgers and you might think of a golden arch; think of the Olympics and a burning torch might come to mind; think of freedom and the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island may loom large in your thinking; think of politics and a donkey or an elephant might be the physical emblems of what you have in mind. We do not have a golden arch or a burning torch or a Statue of Liberty or an elephant or donkey; BUT we have an “old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame.” May we ever glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!

“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32)

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