THE OLD RUGGED CROSS
The cross. We sing about it. We talk about it. We even decorate with it. The cross is the symbol of our faith. But, at times, we are in danger of becoming so accustomed to having a cross dangle from our ears, hang around our necks, and decorate our walls that we forget it represents torture, brutality, and death. As Robert Peterson notes, "Christians chose Christ’s cross as their emblem. On the one hand, this is amazing because the cross spoke of crucifixion, which was regarded with horror in the ancient world . . . On the other hand, in light of Paul’s sentiment, 'But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Gal. 6:14), they chose well. Why? Because the cross describes where the work of salvation was accomplished."[i]
Even though it is important to remember that our salvation is more than the summary statement, "Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins," it is never less than that. The cross is the center point of our salvation. It is the defining moment, the place where the great battle for our souls was fought . . . and won. The cross is where Jesus was headed, what he was born for, the location of the greatest battle of all time. And Jesus knew he had been sent (John 17:18) in order to "give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Jesus knew what he had been sent to do; he knew he had been born to die.
But knowing it and doing it are two different things. Lest we ever forget, in no way did his determination make his sacrifice easy. Jesus, in a garden, knowing he has been sent to fulfill the promise made in the first garden (Genesis 3:15), knowing he has been sent to reclaim all that was lost in the first garden, asks his Father three times, "Is there any other way?" (Matthew 26:36-46). And the Father answers, no. Why? Because Jesus is the way, the only way — he is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6).
Jesus knew the cross was his to endure. He knew it was the Father’s will and the Father’s way. When we read Isaiah's prophecy of the one who will suffer for the many (Isaiah 53:4-12), we learn what Jesus already knew — that there will be one, singular person who will experience suffering on behalf of or for the sake of the many. Jesus was sent to be that One, to suffer in our place, and to accomplish that which we could not do.
Robert Peterson says the following, "The innocent Servant suffers willingly. 'He poured out his soul to death' (v. 12). He does so as a Sin-Bearer in the place of others; he takes the punishment that they deserve. The Servant’s substitutionary death has amazing results. His death accomplished justification; it makes 'many to be accounted righteous' (v. 11). His death is an 'offering for guilt': (v. 10), which according to Leviticus makes 'atonement' and procures forgiveness (Lev. 5:16, 18)."[ii] This all happens at the cross.
The cross of Christ, the place of so much suffering, is also the place of so much victory. It is the paradox of the gospel — life comes through death. The cross, that which was intended to shame and kill and become that in which we glory most. It is why the cross is the symbol of our faith.
In 1912, George Bennard wrote the following lyrics about that cross:
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering 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.
So today, think about the cross; cherish the cross. The Son bore it for our transgressions because it was the Father’s will and the Father’s way to bring us to himself.
[i] Robert A. Peterson, Salvation Accomplished by the Son: the Work of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012),13.
[ii] Peterson, Salvation, 64.
(This is an excerpt from a Bible study I am currently writing.)