Read His Words Before Ours!
On a hill far away
Stood an old Rugged Cross
The emblem of suff’ring and shame…
I read the words of this old, beloved hymn, and I’m immediately transported back to a musty university classroom surrounded by mostly older folks. Ray Koon stands in front of everyone, directing with his hand – his suit and tie perfectly in place. On one side of me are my grandparents, singing their hearts out, my Gamma’s sweet, soprano voice lifts above the other voices and carries throughout the room. My Papa’s voice, once a clear and perfect tenor, is starting to strain a bit, but his German accent and steady vibrato create a lovely sound. My little brother and my parents are to my other side. My mom’s alto harmony mixes in with the rest of the voices, and my dad holds my brother while rocking back and forth, singing quieter, but with pure and evident belief in each word he sang.
And then me.
I like to imagine that my voice was beautifully melodic, sounding like an angelic child. But I probably was singing in my “grown lady voice”, sounding like an opera singer wanna-be gone wrong. But the song… that song gripped me, even then.
I sang with my own conviction, but I sang noticing the convictions of the people around me, and trusting that what I sang would remain true, even as I grew into an adult.
…And I love that old cross
Where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners
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 someday for a crown
When you analyze these lyrics, without testimony, heart, or conviction behind them,
They seem almost strange.
“I love that old cross”
A cross representing suffering and shame?
A cross where the dearest and best person was brutally murdered after being shamelessly attacked and recklessly beaten?
I love that old cross?
Oh, but I do!
Because that cross,
as gruesome as it is,
held the sacrificial body of King Jesus.
The body of the slain Lamb.
My perfect, beautiful Jesus.
Fully God the Son, who chose to come to earth and wrap Himself in human flesh.
To walk with us, teach us and love us, before finally tasting the bitterness of separation from God the Father as He died to pay the price for our sin.
Your sin, Sister.
When George Bennard wrote this hymn in 1912, it took him some time to complete, as the melody came first and the words slowly followed.
The only words that were steady and true were “I’ll cherish the old rugged cross”.
The rest of the lyrics developed, surrounding those first words.
“I’ll cherish the old rugged cross.”
In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said,
“If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
Jesus was speaking of the suffering that accompanies a life spent following Him.
In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul wrote
“We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that Jesus’ life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh. So then, death is at work in us, but life in you.”
Paul was describing the simple, yet confounding complex miracle that is salvation.
Our physical bodies? They are finite.
They become ill and age.
One day, they will breathe their last,
and on that day our eternity will be continued in a different way.
In the passage above, Paul was talking about the juxtaposition of our eternal soul, cloaked in and polished by the righteousness of Jesus, existing inside these bodies that deteriorate.
Our mortal flesh yearns for the things of this world,
but if we have surrendered our lives to Jesus,
we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit so our spirit craves the holy!
As our physical bodies age and deteriorate over time, His resurrection power is glorified when we deny our fleshly desires (read: sin) and choose instead to be refined by righteousness over and over again.
Does that thought exhilarate you as much as it does me, Sister?
As we access the power of salvation in our daily lives and receive the refining redemption,
He alone makes us new; we are freed!
Freed from the sin that used to bind us.
Freed because the sacrifice Jesus made on that cross
severed the chains of (idolatry, greed, envy, lying, pride, fill-in-your-blank) sin
we used to call our own.
Freed from the guilt that once forced us to keep our head down and eyes lowered.
Freed because in paying the price for our sin,
Jesus forever separated us from the guilt we rightfully deserved.
Freed from the shame that used to haunt our trapped hearts.
Freed because Jesus’ death on the cross and miraculous resurrection
sealed our righteousness in Him forever,
effectively banishing shame because
IT IS NO LONGER OURS TO CARRY!
I love that old cross… and I’ll cherish it.
*Written by Kendra Kuntz and Merry Ohler
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!