Now counted as Public Domain, the long-adored spiritual song “The Old Rugged Cross” was written in 1912 by George Bennard. Though the words of that song were not inspired by the Holy Spirit, their message is thought-provoking, and as we sing those words from our heart to the Lord (Colossians 3:16), it stirs our souls.
It is the opening statement in the song’s chorus that we want to highlight now: “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross . . .” Which cross is that? Why is it old and rugged? What is there about it that I should cherish? Why is it still worth remembering today?
Which cross is it that is so cherishable? On multiple occasions, Jesus foretold that He would be killed. Not only that, He even predicted the manner in which He would be put to death, saying in detail, “. . . and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again” (Matthew 20:18,19). In every aspect, all of those things occurred in the precise manner that Jesus said they would. That should not surprise us!
When Jesus said He would be crucified, that was an indication that His body would be put on and nailed to a wooden cross. That was the Roman Empire’s cruel manner of capital punishment. In John 19, we read several references to Jesus’ cross. Aided by Simon of Cyrene (Luke 23:26), He bore His cross, and He arrived along with the cross at a place known as Golgotha (John 19:17). There they crucified Him (19:18). Pilate, the Roman governor, wrote this title on the cross: “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (19:19). As God’s Son was hanging there, lifted above the earth (John 3:14; 12:31,32), some women, including Jesus’ mother, “stood by the cross” (19:25). In the end, after Jesus breathed His last breath, His body was taken down from the cross and taken to be buried by Joseph of Arimathea (19:30,38).
Mr. Bennard called the cross of our Lord “old” and “rugged.” Was his description accurate? Jesus died in about A.D. 30, which was about 1900 years before this hymn was written and nearly 2000 years before we sing it today. Jesus’ cross and His blood were part of God’s eternal plan, in His mind before the creation (1 Peter 1:18-20), but to man’s way of thinking, Jesus died long ago, meaning that from our vantage point the cross is old. Remember this: “old” does not mean outdated, and the passing of time does not diminish the power of the cross!
What was “rugged” about the cross on which our Savior was crucified? At times the Bible refers to Jesus’ cross simply as a tree. It is written about Jesus, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree . . .” (1 Peter 2:24). That same apostle earlier preached to unbelieving Jews, saying, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree” (Acts 5:30). Such simple language, yet what a powerful image it brings to our mind’s eye: the body of the sinless Lamb of God nailed to a tree, a wooden cross. “Rugged” is defined as that which is sturdy or durable, but we also think of rugged as that which is severe, harsh, or hard [www.yourdictionary.com]. The wood of Jesus’ cross was sturdy, and the punishment received there was severe and harsh.
Why should you and I cherish the old, rugged cross? We ought to cherish it because there the greatest love was demonstrated: God’s Son died for those called ungodly, sinners, and enemies (Romans 5:6-10).
We should cherish Jesus’ cross because there He paid the price for our redemption, giving Himself “a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6).
We need to cherish the cross because the message of the cross is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).
We ought to cherish the cross because Jesus used His blood to purchase His church (Acts 20:28), the body of which He is the Savior (Ephesians 5:23).
We should cherish the cross because it gives hope to the hopeless, allowing us to look to the eternal glory of heaven as our eternal dwelling place. What a cross!
Let us appreciate the cross of Calvary and be committed to telling others of its amazing value. May we soberly reflect each day on the meaning of the cross for our life. Yes, let us cherish that old rugged cross, even if mockers reject it, even if the world feels comfortable in darkness and refuses to repent, and even if God’s church is in the minority.
— Roger D. Campbell