On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross.
Those iconic words compose the first line of a beloved hymn written by George Bennard in 1912.
The words are powerful by themselves, but to know the story behind them takes the song to a deeper level.
You see, George was converted by the gospel of Jesus Christ when he was 22 years old. Now, just in case those church words are confusing for you, let me explain.
The word gospel means good news. The gospel is a story of the greatest news ever told throughout history.
It is the story of a glorious God who created a good world. Everything in this world was good until mankind got involved. They chose a lie over truth. They chose their way over God’s way. They disobeyed. That’s called sin.
And sin must be punished. The penalty for sin is nothing less than death itself. Every person who has ever sinned has death awaiting them.
You might be thinking, so how is this message called the good news?
Great question. Let me introduce the main character at the point in the story where this truly becomes good news. In steps Jesus, the long-Awaited Messiah foreshadowed throughout the pages of Scripture.
He has a miraculous birth that only God can receive the credit for. He lives a perfect life. Sinless. Holy. Completely other than. He never messes up one time.
And then he does something unique – he takes our punishment upon himself.
He goes to the cross that was intended for you and me.
He takes our place. He becomes our substitute. The death that he died on the old rugged cross can satisfy the payment required for sinners like me. Like you.
Faith placed in the grace displayed at the cross of Christ leads to salvation. A complete trust in the person and work of Christ on the cross allows him to stand in your place and you can spend eternity with him forever. Free of charge. That’s why they call this good news. That’s the gospel.
The Defining Moment
Let’s take you back to George Bennard’s story. He believed in this good news. He was converted. That means Jesus changed him from the inside out. His life was completely different after that.
He decided to take this good news to others. He would travel and share and preach the gospel wherever he could go.
On one particular occasion, he was preaching this good news and he received some resistance to this message. He witnessed people have a disregard for it. They thought it was somewhat dated.
Troubled by this encounter, he went home and did some introspection. Instead of this moment watering down his conviction, it actually caused him to plant his feet even firmer upon the gospel. In those moments he wrote down lines like these:
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, the emblem of suffering and shame
Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world has a wondrous attraction for me
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true, it’s shame and reproach gladly bear
In his time, he felt like the gospel of Jesus Christ was being marginalized but he refused to let such a treasure slip from his grasp. He cherished the old rugged cross. He clung to the old rugged cross.
And so should we.
We live in a different context but same conflict. The gospel is being marginalized. The news of Jesus Christ is outdated by so many, that we feel the need to come up with something unique.
If a sinless Savior dying for our sins isn’t exciting enough for us, then nothing else could be.