The Old Rugged Cross
I begin today with a scripture commonly called the Golden verse – found in John 3:16 and which reads:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life“.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Church (Rom 1.16) that “he was not ashamed of the Gospel,” clearly Paul was declaring to them that he had discovered a relationship with Jesus Christ that had revolutionized his life. His Damascus Road encounter had turned his life around, and given him a new reason to live! Paul was excited about sharing the Gospel, the love of Jesus, and this was clearly his motivation for ministry.
Christians today are, or at least should be motivated by that self-same love! Indeed that is precisely why I am speaking to you now! I am not conducting these weekly radio services for my own amusement or advancement, but it is because I love you and I want you to know about one who loves you much more than I ever could, …. and who loves you so much that he laid down his life for you. His name is JESUS and if you will return him love for love, he can transform and revolutionize your life also. It is because we Christians love you that we want you to share in the same joy, peace and security that we enjoy being united to Christ.
So as we consider the loving motivation that moves US to share Jesus, let us look at the loving motivation that moves HIM.
Today’s Text – “The Golden verse” John Ch 3: v16
GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD In other words God loved the world “so much”. God has so much love for us we could not begin to comprehend or understand it! God created us for himself, to love us and be loved by us. for mutual fellowship and companionship,- but in the Garden of Eden, our first parents made the WRONG choice of disobedience and as a result our inherited SIN separates us all from God. THIS DOES NOT MEAN GOD STOPPED LOVING US. Nothing we have done, nothing we can do, nothing we may yet do, can alter the boundless love of God towards us.
Which of you who are Parents would ever stop loving your child even if and when they rebel? Why the concept is unthinkable, … and so it is with God!
GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD That means you and millions just like you. It does not mean the world apart from you? You are included. God doesn’t love nor act, nor think like we do. If we are being really honest we will have to admit that there are some people who are hard to like, let alone love. This is how the Love of God comes into its own. What we cannot do ourselves, God can do through us. If we cannot even like another human being, God can give us love beyond liking. He can give us grace to do what we could never do on our own.
Then the verse tells us that God loved the world so much ….
THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY …. SON ! God Gave His ONLY son for what? He Gave Him up! Mark 15.34 confirms this in the words of Jesus on the cross – “My God – why have you forsaken me?” Jesus hung on the cross as a Man, for the sins of mankind. “The just for the unjust that he might bring us to God.” For a brief moment God could not even bear to look on his Son who carried in his dying body the sin of all our humanity. The bottom line is that He gave His son to take the wrap for you and for me.
I am old enough to remember the days when caning was still common place in most of the country’s secondary schools, and even in some primary schools. But imagine if you will that deserving of a caning for some misdemeanour on my part, my best mate stood up in my place and took that caning for me. Now it didn’t happen, but stretch your imagination if you will. If so, the headmaster could not then cane me, the penalty had been taken, the debt had been paid, the account cleared. So it is with Calvary’s Cross where Jesus paid it all – there He took your beating!
And then John 3:16 continues…..
THAT WHOSOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM SHOULD NOT PERISH BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE
Everlasting life does not begin when you DIE but begins when you ACCEPT him as your Sin-bearer or SAVIOUR.
One Hymn writer says,
“Love moved him to die, and on this I rely He has loved me, has love me, I cannot tell why?
but this I can tell, He has loved me so well, that He laid down his life to redeem me from Hell”.
The Saddest thing in the world is UN-REQUITED LOVE Love that is not returned! I spoke to a young woman once and counselled her to cast out the love she held in her heart for a certain young man for it evoked no response, but her reply to me was “I can do nothing about it – this love has gone so deep it could not go deeper” … and dear friends, God loves YOU like that – and it has gone so deep it could not go deeper. Jesus himself said “greater love has no man than this, that a man laid down his life for his friends” Jesus laid down his life for you. Believe it, accept it, and rejoice in it today!
This brings me to my second point, we have seen something of the LOVE of the Cross, next, let us consider,
THE PAIN OF THE CROSS
All of us at some time or other have known pain, even to something as simple as toothache. (often anything but simple) When we think about the PAIN OF THE CROSS we usually associate this suffering with the Physical, and often overlook the mental, emotional and spiritual anguish of the Saviour. So today let us consider the Totality of His suffering!
Consider with me first of all ….
HIS EMOTIONAL PAIN. In the Garden of Gethsemane those who had been his friends Peter, James and John and the
others, had deserted him in his hour of greatest need. It was a time for Prayer – He turned to God (and what a Prayer) – Facing the most difficult decision of his life (for God did not send him into this world as a robot, but as a Son) Jesus says Father, “If it is possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not MY will, but YOURS be done” Consider the anguish, the emotional tearing at his heart. The human apprehension and maybe even fear of what was to come. Jesus was human, in every sense human like you are. He had seen crucifixion, ( a common practice of the Roman Occupation) it was a horrible end for any man, and it was looming on the horizon for him!
Then obviously we must consider …
HIS PHYSICAL PAIN The Crown of Thorns, the nails in his hands and feet, the spear in his side, the spitting of the crowd, the weight of his body pulling down against the flesh that was tearing away from his limbs, the mocking, the ridicule of those who passed by. ISAIAH 53 proclaims “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him and by his stripes we are healed.”
We can have no experience of the terrible physical suffering he endured. Remember too that he said: “I lay down my life – no man taketh it from me“? We know, he could have called 10,000 angels to destroy the world and set him free, but he didn’t, he stayed there, suffering, bleeding, dying – for you and for me. For I reckon that in that hour he saw your death and mine, and hung on, so that you and I might go free, might avail of his blood, might accept him as Saviour?
Now consider with me for a moment ….
HIS SPIRITUAL PAIN For 3 years he had known the anointing of the Holy Spirit on his ministry. He had known since his Baptism in the Jordan the favour and fellowship of the Father and a holy calm resting on his life and ministry – NOW he cries out “Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani” Why have you forsaken me? The nearer presence of God was absent for the first time in his life? We cannot imagine the pain of this. Having known and experienced the supernatural spiritual power of God in miracle after miracle and now to be without help and without God – alone.
Think too of the SPIRITUAL PAIN of those who he knew would belittle his suffering and reject him, not least of all his own people the Jews. In the prophetic words, “Is it nothing to you all you that pass by ….. behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow?” Perhaps you too have passed him by, even today at this very hour, your continued rejection pains him? Many are still by-passing the Cross, doing it their way and not Gods way. But 1 John 5.12 reads: “He who has the Son has life … and he who has not the son has not life.”
It could not be more plain and more simple.
The hymn writer penned this beautiful sentiment:
“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 someday for a crown!”
Queen Victoria was once asked what she would do when she stood face to face with Christ. “ I will take my crown and lay it at his feet and he will give me another, a better crown, the crown of life” she said. Are you breaking His heart by your continual rejection of his mercy and grace, his love and forgiveness. This Gospel which I preach today is GOOD NEWS – it’s not telling you that you are on your way to Hell, but it is telling you that you need not go to the Devils Hell. Don’t tell me that you don’t believe in Hell? You might as well tell me that you don’t believe in daylight. Many a man who never stood inside a Church, never read the Bible, and never thought of his souls eternal welfare, has used the words “go to hell!” Of course he believed in Hell just as he believed in Heaven, for John Chapter One tells us that the light has dawned on “every man” – not every Christian, every man. Don’t reject this light!
So then, we have seen something of the Love of the Cross, and the Pain of the Cross, but finally let us look at ….
THE GLORY OF THE CROSS
The apostle Paul exclaims in Galatians 6.14
“God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Christ…”
The Cross has been the symbol of the Christian Church for more than 2000 years – it marks Graves, it adorns Churches – in stained glass windows – engraved in wood – carved in stone – painted in oils, and most are fine beautiful examples. BUT Christ’s Cross was a rough hewn blood stained cross, and anything but beautiful – yet the Apostle Paul gloried in it. Paul could have gloried in many other things – he was a genius of his time, an expert, a master, a brilliant mind and a courageous man, but whatever gains he had made – he says he “counted ALL as refuse in order to be found in Christ, and to be like Christ“.
There’s an old Hymn which begins …
“In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time”
When all of this worlds famous icons have become the wrecks of time, and have turned to dereliction, the CROSS of Jesus Christ will still be standing, as a beacon of life and hope and love to every generation; Mark my words!
As we consider the Cross, let us look at
THE CURSE OF THE CROSS Galatians 3, 10-14 reminds us that Christ has become accursed for us or on our behalf. Crucifixion was seen as a curse, a shameful end to those who
most deserved it, yet Jesus was the sinless spotless lamb of God; Innocent! The Hymn writer could say “bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned He stood and sealed my pardon with his blood, Hallelujah what a Saviour!”
He took the shame, he took the horror of that awful end, without a word, “ like a lamb led to the slaughter and as a Sheep before its Shearer’s is dumb, he opened not his mouth”
Then we notice ….
THE CRUSH OF THE CROSS Luke 23, Pictures the crush, the pain both spiritual mental and physical. Isaiah says “smitten of God and afflicted” -and- “despised and rejected of men – a man of sorrows (Isaiah 53) Charles Wesley writes -“’tis mystery all, the immortal dies?” God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
Then happily we see
THE CURE OF THE CROSS John 3 reflects back to the OT book of Numbers, when many of the Children of Israel were bitten by deadly snakes and many died, (we read the story early in the service from Numbers 21,6-9) and God instructed Moses to craft a bronze serpent and raise it up in the wilderness that whosoever looked upon it, that brass serpent when they had been bitten would be healed, and not die. John says “As Moses lifted up the Serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” There is a cure in the Cross of Jesus for all the ills of the human race. A healing power, not only for the soul, but for the body – it’s a DOUBLE CURE – Praise God!
The Hymn writer called it, “The balm of life the cure of woe, the measure and the pledge of love, the sinners refuge here below, the angels theme in heaven above.” Corrie ten Boom, the great Dutch evangelist tells how on one occasion when her Aunt was dying that her Father encouraged her that she would come home to God with hands full of great the service and sacrifice she had rendered. To which her response was, “What does God care for our little tricks and trinkets, its all empty, empty” and then in prayer she bowed her head and said “Dear Jesus, I thank you that you have done all, all on the cross, and all that we need in life or death is to be sure of this.” She had found the cure, the cure was in the Cross-work of Jesus Christ.
This then brings us to
THE CRY OF THE CROSS “Father forgive them” Luke 23.34. Perhaps this is the most touching of all the words uttered from the cross? Jesus was saying … Father look at me, the price I’ve paid for them, and forgive them. Throughout the pages of the Old Testament we see again and again, the blood sacrifices of bulls and goats, birds and lambs and so on, shed and sacrificed as a covering for the sins of the people. This is exactly what it was, a mere covering. But Calvary was no cover-up job. Nothing was swept under the carpet, all was out in the open, the veil of the temple was torn in two, the way back to God from the dark paths of Sin was now open, Sin could be Cleansed, not merely Covered up. The central message of the Cross is one of Forgiveness, that is why this Cry is perhaps the most significant of them all. Without the Shedding of blood there can be no remission, no forgiveness, but the blood of bulls and goats was not sufficient. Gods lamb, His only begotten Son, as a sinless spotless lamb had to die. And if you can accept that he died for you then it will not have been in vain.
You see if you could buy your way to heaven, buy forgiveness, buy a Mansion in the Glory, earn a title to your heavenly inheritance, work to achieve acceptance in God, labour and sweat for a place in the Holy throng, prayed and pilgrim-aged your way to the Heavenly gates, then ask yourself,
why did Jesus Die? Why the Cross?
If by ourselves we could merit favour with God, the Cross is a nonsense!
That is why another Hymn writer says:
MY FAITH HAS FOUND A RESTING PLACE NOT IN DEVICE OR CREED, I TRUST THE EVER LIVING WORD, HIS WOUNDS FOR ME SHALL PLEAD , I HAVE NO OTHER ARGUMENT, I NEED NO OTHER PLEA, IT IS ENOUGH THAT JESUS DIED AND THAT HE DIED FOR ME.
Now this final word.
Some times we preachers will give an Alter Call, offering time to one and another to come forward in the Service and receive Jesus as Saviour. Some of us, make a hurried Alter Call, others linger and make the call a prolonged call, hoping and praying that just one more will come. Dr Rodney Howard Brown, tells how on one occasion, many had come forward in a Service to receive Jesus, but God would not allow him to close the Alter Call.
Eventually one man, and his teenage son came forward together, just as the call was closing. That night they both knelt down at the Alter and received Jesus as Saviour and Lord, together. Thank God they did, for on the way home they were killed by a huge articulated truck which literally sliced their motor in two. Absent from the Body they were present with the Lord.
In the mercy of God, I have your heart in my hand at this hour, in a few moments I will let you go, and the Service will end.
Where will you be this afternoon, if your life was to end this morning – where would you be tomorrow, if your life was to end today? The choice is Yours, always yours. Don’t reject the call for Whatever you are, and Whoever you are – God loves You.
God Bless you – Amen