The Old Rugged Cross

Bible Book: Psalms  22
Subject: Cross; Crucifixion
Series: The Way of the Cross

This is the first in a series of messages on the Cross. The very thought is overwhelming. Where do you start? What do you include? What do you leave out in a series like this? We know the story of the crucifixion. In the movie, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, Mel Gibson focuses the attention of the world on the Cross as he dramatically and shockingly portrays the bitter trials, abuse, torture, scourging, and finally the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Surely you remember the testimony of Paul that he sought to preach only Christ and Him crucified. Now, compare that to those preachers today who do not preach Christ and Him crucified for fear of offending someone by mentioning anything that gory.

You mention the Cross and immediately I think of the great hymns about the Cross: THE OLD RUGGED CROSS, THE WAY OF THE CROSS LEADS HOME, AT THE CROSS. When I think of those great hymns all I can say is AMAZING GRACE!

You mention the Cross and immediately I think of all the symbolic crosses I see today. There are the little crosses you see ladies wearing as pendants on chains. There are the crosses displayed at churches. There are the three crosses someone started putting up in fields near highways some 25 of 30 years ago, representing the Cross of Christ and those of the two thieves crucified on either side of Him. There are the crosses you see on Bibles. There are also the crosses we know as crucifixes.

I remember going to see the Christ of the Ozarks in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. We have seen pictures of the Christ of the Andes, both of which are gigantic. On my way back from a LifeWay Christian Resources board of trustees meeting in Glorieta, New Mexico in 2001, I saw the signs along I-40 between Amarella and Oklahoma City, advertising the largest cross in the western hemisphere. I found the exit and went to see it. I spent some time there talking with people about their plans, picking up literature, and observing the cross and the many representations that take us through the life of Christ, all the way to Calvary. I was especially appreciative of that cross because I was viewing it two days after the terrorist attacks of nine-eleven.

When I began thinking about the sermon with which I would introduce this series on the Cross, it occurred to me that I wanted to talk with our “Miss Mickey” (Dr. Irene Steward). Miss Mickey is a retired doctor who runs a home for Alzheimer’s patients where she has see some 50 people die of that horrible disease in fifteen years. I made it a point to go by and talk with Miss Mickey this morning before I began writing this. I asked her about family members and her patients. Then I asked her, “What does the Cross mean to you.” Now, I know you may wonder why I didn’t call a pastor, or possibly a scholar like Dr. Gene Jeffries, Dr. Paul Brown, or Dr. Leon Hyatt. Believe me, either of those men could help me on the subject, but Miss Mickey could help me from a totally different perspective.

Miss Mickey has a framed cross with a history behind it, given to her by our mutual friend, John Kennedy, a Catholic priest who openly professes that he is a born again Christian. His grandmother was a member of our church and she had witnessed to him when he was a youth. Miss Mickey also has a Cross which was minted at the Vatican, blessed by the pope, and sent to her by her son, a Jesuit priest at the Vatican. There were 24 of these crosses minted, according to what she was told, and copies were made to be sent out all over the world. Miss Mickey also has a rosary which was blessed by Mother Theresa. She told me that the most impressive person she had ever known was not the pope, but Mother Theresa. She said, “She once handed me a baby she picked up from the street and the baby was so filthy and slimy that I held it out from me to keep the filth off my clothes. Mother Theresa held the baby and hugged it against her.”

Miss Mickey has been a born again believer for a number of years now and she rejoices in her personal relationship with the Lord. It means a lot to her that she can go directly to the Lord without having to go through an earthly priest.

I asked Miss Mickey, “What does the Cross mean to you?” She said, “People have given me a lot of crosses, but I really don’t like to wear them. To me the cross is not a thing of beauty to be worn as jewelry. It is rough and crude and it represents death. You will notice that the cross you are holding (from the Vatican) has a place for a chain or a waist cord, but I really don’t like to wear a cross because of what the Cross means to me.” She repeated that to her the Cross is not adequately represented by a piece of gold jewelry. It was rough and ugly. I asked, “THE OLD RUGGED CROSS?” She said, “Yes.” This is not a criticism of those who wear a cross on a chain. As a matter of fact, I would recommend it as long as the wearer recognizes what it represents.

Now, instead of our looking back to the Cross I would like for us to back up in time and look ahead to the Cross. In order to do that we need to go back to the Old Testament.


A. God Clothed Adam and Eve With Animal Skins, Geneses 3:14ff.

“Then the Lord God said to the serpent: Because you have done this, you are cursed more than any livestock and more than any wild animal. You will move on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life (3:14).

“I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel (3:15).

“He said to the woman: I will intensify your labor pains; you will bear children in anguish. Your desire will be for your husband, yet he will dominate you (3:16).

“And He said to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife’s voice and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’: The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it. For you are dust, and you will return to dust”(3:17-19).

“Adam named his wife Eve because she was the mother of all the living. The Lord God made clothing out of skins for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them”(3:20).

“The Lord God said, “Since man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, and also take from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove man out, and east of the garden of Eden He stationed cherubim with a flaming, whirling sword to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:21‑24, HCSB).

In a strict sense, this may not be the best Old Testament passage pointing to the crucifixion. There is something here that is significant, however. In the first place this happens immediately after the Fall, when Adam and Eve sinned against God by violating a clear commandment that the must not ear of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the Garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He had told them they would die if they ate of that fruit. They did, and they did. They stand before God in fig leaves, troubled that the are naked. They were not only physically naked, they were spiritually naked. Fig leaves could not adequately cover them, so God made clothes of animal skins to cover them. Man’s efforts to cover his sins will always be woefully inadequate. God’s solution will adequately cover our sins.

Now here is the question for you: Is God implying that clothes of animal skins are superior to clothes made from a plant? I don’t know about you but I love to wear cotton. Of course I grew up on a cotton farm and spent several summers working for the ASCS, a division of the USDA, measuring cotton. I grew up where cotton was king. It was often called White Gold, but even if I didn’t have cotton in my blood, I would still prefer wearing cotton to animal skins!

What does this have to do with the Cross. Perhaps noting, but then again, perhaps a lot. Where did God get the animal skins? From dead animals? Is it just possible that God slew animals to make skins to cover Adam and Eve, and that this is prophetic of what was to come when the blood of an animal would be sprinkled before the Mercy Seat, the covering over the Ark of the Covenant, by the high priest to make atonement for himself and the people? Without the shedding of blood there is no remission.

B. Abraham Was Ordered to Sacrifice His Son Isaac, Gen 22:1ff.

God had called Abraham and told him to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees and go to a land He would give him and his descendants forever, or until the end of time. God promised him a son and in time gave him the son of promise, miraculously conceived by a barren woman who was also well beyond childbearing years. This son would be the one from whom a great nation would spring. Now, all of a sudden, God tells Abraham to take his young son Isaac to a certain mountain and offer him to God on an altar. “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he answered” (Gen. 22:1).

“Take your son,’ He said, “your only [son] Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about” (vs. 2).

This must have been both mystifying and shocking, but Abraham demonstrates why he was called the father of the faithful by simply obeying the Lord. The better you know the Lord the more readily you obey Him. The better you know the Lord the less you question Him.


“So early in the morning Abraham got up, saddled his donkey, and took with him two of his young men and his son Isaac. He split wood for a burnt offering and set out to go to the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.’ Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac. In his hand he took the fire and the sacrificial knife, and the two of them walked on together” (22:3-6).

The conversation that follows would surprise no one.

“Then Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, ‘My father.’

And he replied, ‘Here I am, my son.’

Isaac said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’

Abraham answered, ‘God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’ Then the two of them walked on together” (22:7-8).

The Genesis account of this incredible story continues:

“When they arrived at the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac and placed him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son” (22:9-10).

Abraham took the knife and prepared to slay his own son. Abraham does not question God. God had promised him a son and assured him that from this son there would come more descendants than one could number. Also, from that son would come One Who would bless all nations. Of course we know this is a Messianic prophecy. The question is, how can all that happen if Isaac is slain? Abraham did not have to have the answer to that question. But he trusted his Lord. The better you know Him the more likely you are to hear Him and trust Him.

“But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” He replied, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him. For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your only son from Me” ( 22:11-12).

His faith was put to the test, and like Job he passed the test. No wonder he is called the father of the faithful. The Lord will have his sacrifice, but instead of Isaac, a ram will is provided for the sacrifice.

“Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So Abraham went and took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering in place of his son. And Abraham named that place The Lord Will Provide, so today it is said: ‘It will be provided on the Lord’s mountain” (Gen 22:13‑14).

To many people, the great lesson here is that of Substitutionary Atonement. God provided a substitute for Isaac. Jesus is our substitute, dying on the cross for our sins. God did provide a substitute for Isaac and He does provide a substitute for us. This is true and it is important. But there is more. Get ready for this! This is amazing:

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; he who had received the promises was offering up his unique son, about whom it had been said, In Isaac your seed will be called. He considered God to be able even to raise someone from the dead, from which he also got him back as an illustration” (Heb 11:17‑19).

Do you see it? Abraham had received a promise from the Lord, a promise that demanded that Isaac live. He had then been told to slay him as an offering to the Lord. He held nothing back, only the angel of the Lord stopped him. Why was he willing to do this? “He considered God to be able even to raise someone from the dead, from which he also got him back as an illustration.” This is a picture of the death and resurrection of God’s Son. God accepted Abraham’s son as having been slain, then provided a substitute. God’s Son, also miraculously conceived, would grow up, live the only perfect life on this planet, and suffer for the sin of all others. God would place His Son on the altar but he could not provide a ram as a substitute for Him. You see, Jesus is the Substitute.


A. First, Let’s Look at the Passover Lamb. 

One of the best known stories in the Bible is found in Exodus. God sent ten plagues upon Egypt, each of which that the gods of Egypt did not deserve to have their names spelled with a capital letter. They are gods who do not exist. The final plague targeted the first born of Egypt, including the first born son of the Pharaoh. The Hebrews obeyed God and brushed the blood of a lamb on the lintel of the door and on the two door posts. God sent the death angel through Egypt slaying all the first born sons in homes where there was no blood on the door posts and lintel. The angel passed over those homes. God instructed the Children of Israel to observe the Passover each year to commemorate their deliverance for bondage.

In the New Testament we find that Jesus is our Passover. He is the One to whom every Passover observance pointed. People back there were saved looking ahead in faith to the coming Passover Lamb, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Paul called Jesus, “Christ our Passover” (1 Cor 5:7). Today, if you would be saved you must look to the Cross. 

B. Let Us Look at the Serpent Moses Was Told to Raise on a Pole in the Wilderness. 

I would like to read a brief account from Exodus and see if we can make a connection with the Cross. 

“Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey. The people spoke against God and Moses: ‘Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!” Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died. The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord so that He will take the snakes away from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a snake [image] and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover. So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered” (Num 21:4‑9).

Now, let’s make the connection. Actually, the connection is made for us.

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.

“For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14‑16).

The rebellious people in the wilderness were judged for their sin. God was punishing them for rebelling against Him. He sent poisonous serpents among them to bite them. “The people then came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord so that He will take the snakes away from us.” They confessed and asked Moses to intercede for them. He told Moses to make a bronze serpent and raise it on a pole. When the people were bitten, if they looked to the serpent on the pole in faith, they would live and not die.

When one today is deceived by that old serpent, the devil, if he will confess his sins and look to Jesus, the Christ of the Cross, we will live and not die. Look to Jesus, but not just to the Babe in the manger, or the Jesus who is walking on the water. Look to the Jesus who died on the cross, was buried, and raised on the third day for us. Look to the One who ascended to the Father with the blood of perfect sacrifice to sprinkle on the mercy seat of heaven for our atonement. He is alive, standing at the right hand of God, and He is coming again.


A. David’s Inspired Description Is Very Vivid in Psalm 22

I am going to read parts of this great Psalm which David was inspired to write. This Psalm prophecies of a cross, not a beautiful gold cross, not a bejewelled cross, not a shining cross on a hill. It points to THE OLD RUGGED CROSS. In it, hear the words of our Savior from the Cross:

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning? My God, I cry by day, but You do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest” (Ps. 22:1-2).

“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by people. Everyone who sees me mocks me; they sneer and shake their heads: “He relies on the Lord; let Him rescue him; let the Lord deliver him, since He takes pleasure in him” (22:6-8).

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed; my heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength is dried up like baked clay; my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You put me into the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet” (22:14-16).

“I can count all my bones; people look and stare at me. They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing. But You, Lord, don’t be far away. My strength, come quickly to help me” (22:17-19).

Whether you and I connect these words with the Cross or not, Jesus did. While he was dying on the Cross for you and me, He was crying out those words, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

The Bible Illustrator introduces a poem with a note about the author and his purpose: “George MacLeod wrote a poem that helps put a lot of things in perspective, helping to emphasize content rather than cosmetics, Christ rather than self, the gospel going beyond the church walls rather than simply being contained within them.”

I simply argue that the cross be raised again

at the center of the market place

as well as on the steeple of the church,

I am recovering the claim that

Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral

between two candles:

But on a cross between two thieves;

on a town garbage heap;

At a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan

that they had to write His title

in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek...

And at the kind of place where cynics talk smut,

and thieves curse and soldiers gamble.

Because that is where He died,

and that is what He died about.

And that is where Christ's men ought to be,

and what church people ought to be about.

‑‑ George MacLeod

B. Isaiah’s Prophecy is Vivid and Powerful, Isaiah 53.

Once again, I am going to read a passage that we can readily connect with the Cross. In fact, Isaiah was inspired to write in the Eighth Century B. C., a description of the agony and anguish of Jesus while he was on the Cross. Observe that this prophetic passage stresses both the agony of the Cross and the vicarious suffering and death of Christ. That means that He died for you and me.

“Who has believed what we have heard? And who has the arm of the Lord been revealed to? He grew up before Him like a young plant and like a root out of dry ground. He had no form or splendor that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him” (Is. 53:1-2).

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like one people turned away from; He was despised, and we didn’t value Him. Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted” (53:3-4).

It was for me He died. Can you read those words without being overwhelmed with gratitude? Can you believe the One who created you, actually suffered and died for you? What does it say about the person who can read this story and walk away without feeling anything at all? Can there be any excuse, or hope for one who would read of the suffering and death of Jesus for them and not trust Him? There is no hope for anyone who would look God in the face and say, “I don’t what you.”

“But He was pierced because of our transgressions, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all” (53:5-6).

His hands and his feet were pierced with those nails. The nails were driven through His flesh with wicked blows from a mallet as He was nailed to that crude, harsh cross. His side was also pierced and blood and water flowed “mingled down."

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth. He was taken away because of oppression and judgment; and who considered His fate? For He was cut off from the land of the living; He was struck because of My people’s rebellion” (53:7-8).

“They made His grave with the wicked, and with a rich man at His death, although He had done no violence and had not spoken deceitfully. Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him, and He made Him sick. When You make Him a restitution offering, He will see [His] seed, He will prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will succeed by His hand” (53:9-10).

He died between two thieves, an ignominious, shameful, inglorious death. But he was buried in the grave of Joseph of Arimathea, a man of great wealth. Neither death nor the grave would be the end. The victory was scheduled before Adam was ever created.

“ He will see it out of His anguish, and He will be satisfied with His knowledge. My righteous servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him the many as a portion, and He will receive the mighty as spoil, because He submitted Himself to death, and was counted among the rebels; yet He bore the sin of many and interceded for the rebels” (Is. 53:11‑12).

The Cross was not afterthought on the part of God, and it was not something Satan or his followers imposed on Jesus. When Jesus died on the Cross, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. If you would know God, if you would go to heaven, you must go to the Cross. There is no other way, regardless of what the world tells you, regardless of what the devil’s religions tell you, and regardless of what some churches teach.

Jesus died for you. Jesus alone. Jesus died, was buried, and raised for you. No one else could do that for you. This is the price of your salvation. This is how much God loves you. This is glorious! However, for those who look at the Cross and said to God, “I don’t want you,” their eternity will be indescribably horrible. It is either heaven or hell. The question is not, What will you do with Jesus, my friend. The question is what will He do with you. You don’t choose Him, He chooses you. You must, however, trust Him. If He is speaking to you, you must respond in faith.


It was not a thing of beauty as it stood there on that mount, the same mount where Abraham prepared the altar on which he placed his son Isaac, that God turned His back on His Own Son and let Him take your sins and mine upon Himself and die so that we would not have to die for our sins. God gave His Son to die for us. Then, He then raised Him for the dead so that you and I may have life and have it abundantly.

You know the words. They are from one of the two or three best known hymns in the world. As a matter of fact, before HOW GREAT THOU ART became so popular, the best known and most popular hymn among Christians was THE OLD RUGGED CROSS. 

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.

Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,

Has a wondrous attraction for me;

For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above,

To bear it to dark Calvary.

In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,

Such a wonderful beauty I see;

For ‘twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,

To pardon and sanctify me.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true,

Its shame and reproach gladly bear;

Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,

Where His glory forever I’ll share.

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 some day for a crown.