The CHURCH HYMNAL: “At the Cross”
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
I attended a church ‘revival’ many years ago in a city close to where I was pastoring at the time. The evangelist’s sermon lasted 45 minutes, during which time he expounded on the subject, “George Washington, Jesus Christ, and You.”
For the first 40 minutes, he spoke of nothing but the man ‘George Washington.’ Sadly, he devoted just the last five minutes to telling of JESUS, the King of Kings. What I heard in his ‘sermon’ seemed to be nothing more than a school history lesson for America’s first president.
Some may seek to deny the Cross of Christ and His shed Blood, but it does not alter the fact the Word of God is true. The Cross of JESUS was very real. His shed Blood is an irrefutable fact, and the agony He endured for humanity while on The Cross was far more than any mind can ever grasp.
The message of God’s love through The Cross of JESUS is told in many Southern Gospel Music songs, including, “The Old Rugged Cross Made the Difference,” “When He Was On the Cross, I Was On His Mind,” and “Room At the Cross For You.”
This same message is also told in text and titles of songs found in “the old Red Back book” CHURCH HYMNAL. Just a few titles found in this hymnal that tell of The Cross are, “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Kneel at the Cross,” and this month’s featured song, “At the Cross” (found on page 264).
Songwriters Isaac Watts and R. E. Hudson begin this great old hymn with thought-provoking questions that ask: “Alas! And did my Savior bleed? And did my Sov’reign die? Would He devote that sacred head, for such a worm as I?”
Additional questions are presented in the second verse, with the writers this time asking, “Was it for crimes that I had done (that) He groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And LOVE BEYOND DEGREE!”
We try to picture in our minds all JESUS endured before and while He was on The Cross, but we will never fully realize His terrible agony. The Cross of JESUS was, without a doubt, a place of incomprehensible suffering. It was also the place of evidence of God’s supreme love for us all.
Join me now as we journey back to The Cross. As you look around that unspeakable scene at Calvary, you’ll notice right away a contrasting crowd gazing upon JESUS on The Cross –– but all for various reasons. Some came to the crucifixion merely as curiosity-seekers, while others came as part of a group who had a designated purpose in mind.
Ecclesiastical leaders of the day were found AT THE CROSS. JESUS had before that time challenged their leadership and had rebuked them in His preaching. The chief priests, rulers, scribes, elders and Jews called for His crucifixion, and they even persuaded the multitude to ask for the release of Barabbas, instead of JESUS.
Soldiers were also AT THE CROSS. They were duty-bound in being there, yet they still stripped JESUS and placed on Him a scarlet robe. They crowned Him with thorns, mocked Him ruthlessly, spit on Him, smote Him, cast lots for His robe, and then pierced His side.
Pilate was AT THE CROSS because it was his official duty. While he knew JESUS was not guilty of any crimes, he still gave in to the demands of others. He eventually took water, washed his hands, and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person” (Matthew 27:24). But just ‘saying’ these words did not make Pilate innocent.
There was also a multitude of people AT THE CROSS. Many came out of anger and hatred. Some came out of great curiosity, while others came in sympathy.
As I read God’s Word and get lost in mind while gazing upon that terrible scene, there is yet another small group found AT THE CROSS. Included in this handful of women is the mother of JESUS. “Now there stood by the Cross of JESUS His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25).
As I read God’s Word and fix my eyes on all standing at different distances from the Cross, I can’t help but witness the mother of JESUS in great sorrow. There, I see Mary in the most heartbroken scenes of Calvary, other than JESUS Himself nailed to The Cross.
I observe her moving closer to Him. As she looked at her Son hanging on The Cross, I know her heart ached beyond imagination. In her face you can see how she longs to hold her Son’s bleeding head in her lap and stroke His Blood-stained brow.
While standing near, Mary unquestionably had many things of JESUS’ life go through her mind as she saw Him nailed to that Cross. Her first thoughts, perhaps, began when she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem 33-plus years prior.
No doubt Mary was thinking on the night JESUS was born, and how she had to place Him in a lowly manger, all because there was no room in the inn.
As Mary looked up at JESUS even more intently, she surely had to be reminded of the ecclesiastical leaders and mobs of angry people who were standing all around her; those angry ones who, even then, found ‘no room’ for Him in their lives.
No doubt Mary contrasted the great opposites of the bright Star that led the shepherd’s way to the night manger scene in Bethlehem long ago, and what she was facing now. On this dismal afternoon, the Sun refused to shine.
Two more individuals were also near The Cross of JESUS, but certainly not by choice. In fact, each thief was hanging on a cross of his own. One of the thieves then strained to turn his head toward JESUS, where it is said he “…railed on Him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us” (Luke 23:39).
The other malefactor heard these things and turned his head to speak. But rather than mocking JESUS, he looked beyond Him to speak to the first thief to say, “…we receive the due reward of our deeds: BUT THIS MAN hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:41, 42).
At one point that afternoon, Love once again cried from The Cross as JESUS said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Soon after, JESUS cried out, saying “…It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost”(John 19:30).
The number “30” – in old newspaper jargon – was always placed at the end of a news story to represent “the end.” But verse “30” of John 19 was FAR from any declaration of “the end” for the Son of God. The phrase “It is finished” was definitely not a statement of defeat, but rather one of great triumph. The work of man’s redemption and salvation was then completed with His death on Calvary.
Darkness was indeed everywhere that afternoon, for it was told, “And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst” (Luke 23:44, 45).
Just a few verses later, we’re told of a much different day – one like the world had never seen before – or since. We’re told on the third day “…the first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre” (John 20:1).
The stone at the entrance of the tomb where JESUS’ body was laid had been rolled away, for He was risen from the dead. JESUS later said, “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death”(Revelation 1:18). “GLORY!”
The message of JESUS and His love did not end AT THE CROSS, for He rose from the grave and HE LIVES TODAY. Because of JESUS giving His life and rising from the dead, those who serve Him today can truly sing: “At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away; it was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day.”
I’m happy to tell you –– and all others –– “HE LIVES”