On a hill far away

Published 7:31 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Most of us live in the immediate. What is happening right this very moment is the most important aspect of our lives.

When I ponder subjects about which to write, I usually consider first the current events. That’s because I get caught up in reading about them or experiencing them and it’s what’s on my mind.

This week, though, is a different kind of week. For those of us of the Christian faith, it’s called Holy Week. We remember our Lord Jesus and the last week of His earthly life and ministry. I don’t mean to make it more dramatic than it actually was, but I think it was the most important week in all of history.

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What happened “on a hill far away” had and continues to have eternal consequences and opportunities for all of mankind. Everyone in the world will not take advantage of the opportunities, but that doesn’t negate the fact that what happened on that hill far away was for all people.

Most of you, especially if you have been in a church for a number of years, will recognize the words, “on a hill far away.” Those are the opening words to one of the most popular Christian hymns of all time, “The Old, Rugged Cross.” It’s a great song anytime of the year, but is most often sung during these days of remembering our Lord’s most profound work.

According to an online history of the classic, it was begun in 1912 by a Methodist evangelist whose name was George Bennard. The song was not finished until 1913 and was first performed on June 7 of that year by a small choir of five people. They were accompanied by a guitar. Maybe that’s one of the reasons the song has been a favorite of mine.

When I say that it has been recorded by just about everybody, that’s an obvious exaggeration, but a list of 20th century artists who included it on albums would read like a Who’s Who of major stars. And, I would venture to say that every Christian denomination’s standard hymn book would have “The Old Rugged Cross” as a part.

The recognition of the song is mighty, but falls infinitely short of the influence of the real story of what happened on a hill far away.

I know the subject of sin and sinfulness is not a pleasant subject. In fact it is so unpleasant that we would rather not admit that it is a part of lives. We’ll turn all sorts of cartwheels to keep from admitting we do wrong.

It’s no surprise that the Bible disagrees with our assessment of our imagined, perfect lives. Through the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans, it says that we have all fallen short of God’s perfection. In other words every one of us could use a savior.

That’s where that old, rugged cross on a hill far away comes into play. It’s really ironic. The only person in all of history who never did one thing wrong was the One who was chosen to bear the burden of every sin ever committed. It had to be that way.

Love, mercy and grace are attributes of God, well known and often preached. There is another quality or trait of God to which we sometimes turn a blind eye. In other words, we ignore it. In addition to having a love that is unconditional and boundless, God also has a righteousness that must be maintained.

That’s a difficult concept for people who always want, and most of the time claim, what they want. Another way of saying that is that we are spoiled people. God has given us so much love that we recoil when we are asked to satisfy His integrity. When we come face to face with God’s demands that we “straighten up and do right” we simply don’t want to hear of it.

Just because we don’t want to hear of our sins, don’t want to think about them, doesn’t mean that God can simply dismiss them. Sometimes the character of God has to be acknowledged and there is an inconvenient truth so far as humanity is concerned. God’s ways or God’s righteousness does not allow Him to simply forget our waywardness.

Thus, on a hill far away stood an old, rugged cross. That’s where the love of God met the righteousness of God. The sins of the world would be reconciled to a perfectly, just God by the only One who could be found worthy to pay the debt. In all of the world and in all of time, only One has been able to be called truly worthy of that debt. Not surprisingly, God had to supply the payment. It was His only Son.

There is so much about God that is almost impossible for us to understand. Why did the very beings God created in His image turn out so rotten? Why didn’t God just simply wash His hands of the whole mess? Then the question of all questions: How could God allow His only, begotten Son to die on a tree that was the symbol of suffering and shame?

I cannot answer any of those questions. I can only accept, by faith, what God has done. I will sing “The Old Rugged Cross” Sunday morning. It’s part of an Easter musical program at one of my churches. It will be a solemn song to sing.

But before we finish all the songs, we will have sung another song that trumps the song about the cross. It’s called the “Love of God.” I’ll end with the chorus.

O love of God, how rich and pure

How measureless and strong

It shall forevermore endure

The saint’s and angel’s song.

Thank you, Lord, for that hill far away.