The Old Rugged Cross
It is said that heaven never gets over the cross, thus we shouldn’t either. Throughout the book of Revelation the prevailing name for Jesus is “the Lamb that was slain,” or some equivalent. It is His sacrificial death, the shedding of His blood, which makes Him the only one worthy to open the seals, and worthy of the worship of all the heavenly beings and the redeemed. It is this cross-slain Lamb who is the only one worthy to reign, to have His enemies under His feet, and to be the Bridegroom to the Bride He has chosen and redeemed.
Paul tells us that the cross is a stumbling block and foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23) to some, an object of scorn and shame to others (Heb. 12:2), and for others it is merely a benign symbol they wear as an ornament. So, how is it an attraction and beauty to those of us who have been saved? Why is it that we can “cherish the old rugged cross”?
First of all, the same passage that says it is a stumbling block and foolishness also tells us that the cross is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (1 Cor. 1:18, see also vv. 17, 24). We are powerless to save ourselves. Our righteousness is filthy rags in God’s sight. We cannot pay the debt of our sin, nor do we have the strength or will or nature to live a perfectly holy life. Therefore the cross is that symbol for us of God’s willingness and His power to save. It gives us the assurance that we have been truly redeemed.
Above I mentioned the word “debt.” The cross is where our unpayable debt was “paid in full” by Jesus. One of His “seven last words” from the cross was Tetelestai, which means, “Paid in full.” And Colossians 2:14 tells us that our debt was nailed to the cross. As another hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, expresses it: “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” He bore our sin and our curse (Gal. 3:13) in full. When we think of the confounding and amazing truth that ALL of our sin has been nailed to the cross, does it not become an object of wonder? Stop for a moment and let those lyrics wash over your soul and worship the One who accomplished this for you.
We also see in Scripture that the cross is our peace with God (Col. 1:22). Because God canceled our debt on the cross, through the person and work of Jesus Christ, we no longer have to run from God. He has removed the debt, He has shown us His favor, He has drawn us to Himself and given us peace. Scripture tells us that before we were saved we were enemies of God, but the wonder of it all is that while we were still His enemies He died for us on that cross!!! Jesus reconciled us with God at the cross (Eph. 2:16; 1 Pet. 3:18) so that we are no longer enemies. And the fact that we have peace with God gives us the peace of God. We no longer have to fear. Even if we stumble or fail, since all of our sins were forgiven at the cross, we can run into His arms for cleansing and renewal of our relationship with Him.
The cross is also a symbol of love to us. The most well-known Bible verse is John 3:16, which is so familiar that perhaps we no longer feel the impact of the words: “For God SO LOVED the world that He gave His only Son (on the cross)…” The cross speaks the love of God in heart-piercing decibels. Romans 5:8 reinforces our paragraph above when it says, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This verse could be paraphrased: “God demonstrates His love in this,” but notice the words I left out: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this.” The words used show how personal this is—His own love for us! This isn’t just any generic, universal love, it is directed toward us. Paul also tells us in Ephesians 5:2 that, “Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” There is no clearer picture of the love of God for us than the cross.
When we think about all the things this old rugged cross symbolizes, it is no wonder heaven never gets over it, and neither should we. It is not just something that was meaningful for the day of our salvation, something that we look back on as a point in our life that was a way marker, a milestone, a memorial of something past. Jesus tells us that we are to take up our cross daily and follow Him. This is because the cross is also a symbol of obedience—first His (Phil. 2:8), and then ours. But it is not something we drag around like a burden of obligation. When we look at all the wonderful meaning behind the cross we can joyfully shoulder it and take it with us as a treasure. Yes, it will mean that there are days when we endure it as Jesus did—for the joy set before Him, but knowing the power, forgiveness, peace, reconciliation, and love that flows from that old rugged cross, we can take it up with rejoicing and worship, and one day we will surely exchange it for a crown—one we will gladly cast at the feet of the One who died for us on that Old Rugged Cross.