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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:I Love the Old Rugged Cross
Text:LD 16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Added:2023-01-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Read: Galatians 3:1-14; Galatians 6:11-18

Lesson: Lord’s Day 16

 

I LOVE THE OLD RUGGED CROSS

  1. Despite What It Is

  2. Because of What It Gives 

  3. Because of What It Takes Away

 

  1. Psalm 92: 1, 5, 6

  2. Psalm 116: 1, 2, 5

  3. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: 1-2

  4. Hymn 2

  5. Psalm 91: 1, 5

  6. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: 3-4

 

Words to Listen For: painted, pew, produces, promised, preach

 

Questions For Understanding:

  1. What is the difference between glamorizing the cross and glorying in it?

  2. Why was crucifixion so terrible?

  3. Explain - gently! - to 5 year old Jeremy why he was wrong.

  4. What are the three kinds of death?  How did Christ affect each one?

  5. What kind of cross does Satan like?  Why?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

What does the cross mean to you?  What does the CROSS mean to YOU?

It’s a symbol that is everywhere.

Traditionally, up until not too long ago, crosses crowned the top of hospital buildings.  The cross was seen as a symbol of healing.  A symbol of care.

Crosses were, and are often still used as grave markers.  The cross was used as a symbol of belonging to Christ.  Of hope for the resurrection - for the cross is EMPTY, and the empty cross was met by an empty grave.

Crosses, shiny gold or silver crosses, have been worn around the necks of many - especially women - as a designation of being a Christian.

But there are also those who do not like the cross.  Even religious people.  Even those who call themselves Christian.  I received a message on our Facebook page not too long ago from a woman who questioned our theology.  “Why would you post something about this, or that?  How is this faithful to Scripture?”  And I responded gently, pointing her to various texts, and finally, after a few messages back and forth, she said: “Well, whatever you say, I’m not going to listen to you, because I see in your profile picture, that you have an idolatrous symbol.”

Our profile picture...is the name of our church...and a cross.

Now, between these two options…it seems fairly clear to us which is right.  Those who see the cross as a symbol of care, a symbol of hope, a symbol of belonging to Jesus Christ, over against those who see the cross as an idolatrous symbol…we know which one is right!

But what if both options are missing the point?  What if both options have it wrong?

Because, while we can never DEMONIZE the cross, viewing it as a symbol of idolatry, of false religion - for our very salvation depends upon it - we also must be careful not to GLAMORIZE the cross.

What does this mean…to GLAMORIZE the cross?  Doesn’t the Apostle Paul himself BOAST in the cross?  We just read that, a few minutes ago - far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ

Absolutely Paul boasts in the cross, and we must as well - boast in the cross all day long, your entire life long!  But boasting in the cross is not the same as glamorizing it.

This afternoon, let us learn to have a fuller and more faithful view of the cross, so that we can truly sing about the wondrous cross.  The wondrous, horrific, greatest good and lowest evil, perfectly just and demonically corrupt, blessed and cursed symbol of our faith.

This afternoon, let us proclaim together:

I LOVE THE OLD RUGGED CROSS.  We will see that we should have this love  

  1. Despite What It Is

  2. Because of What It Gives, and 

  3. Because of What It Takes Away

 

I LOVE THE OLD RUGGED CROSS DESPITE WHAT IT IS

Let’s attempt to clarify things here together, right at the beginning.  Because things might be a little confusing by now.

We are not to GLAMORIZE the cross…but we can GLORY in it.  That’s a little confusing.  We are not to GLAMORIZE the cross, but we can and we should LOVE it.

Not to mention the list of polar opposite adjectives for the cross that we heard:

  • Wondrous and horrific

  • Greatest good, lowest evil

  • Perfectly just and demonically corrupt

  • Blessed and cursed

If we’re paying attention, we are likely a little confused by now.

So…how does this all work?

 

Well to answer that, we must first step back with a bit of a more basic question: what is the cross?

What exactly is this symbol of Christianity that adorns the top of churches, and hangs around the necks of the faithful?  This symbol that the Emperor Constantine painted on his shield

Well, as you may or may not know…the cross is a symbol of unimaginable brutality.  While being graphic for “shock value” has no place in a sermon, it is vitally important that we briefly, but starkly, look at crucifixion.

Death by crucifixion was a terrible way to die.  Probably THE MOST PAINFUL, THE MOST HUMILIATING, THE MOST TORTUROUS way to die in all of human history.

Roman law forbade Roman citizens to be crucified, because the agony and humiliation were too much for citizens of the greatest empire on earth.  This was a punishment for “the other.”  For those who “didn’t belong” those who “didn’t fit in” … especially those who appeared to challenge the rule of Caesar.  This is why the trial turned against our Saviour when he was accused of claiming to be a king.  No king would be tolerated.  No Lord but Caesar!  This is why it was written above our Saviour’s body “Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews.”  It was a message from Pontius Pilate - THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO KINGS.  No kings here.  Only one emperor, only one Lord - Caesar himself.

There are those who compare crucifixion to the electric chair.  Those who compare it to lethal injection.  But both these modern methods of execution are done relatively privately.  In the back room of a prison with just a few onlookers.  Both these modern methods of execution are quick.  Lethal injection is painless, and all the “death” has been taken out of death.  Just an injection.  Just a routine medical procedure.

But crucifixion was not private.  Crucifixion was not quick.  Crucifixion was not painless.

The wooden cross - rough wood, stained by the blood of previous victims - was laid on the ground, and the victim, stripped naked, was forced to lie upon it, and then nails - not even really nails, but 5-7 inch metal SPIKES would be driven through the wrists.  One spike in each wrist, and a third spike through both feet.  Now the man and the cross were inseparable.

Then the entire contraption would be pulled upright and dropped - none too gently - into the hole in the ground prepared for it.  Imagine the jolt, the tearing of the flesh that would happen, even then, right at the beginning.  And then, for hours, or even DAYS, the victim would fight against suffocation.  Because of the way that the victim’s body hung on the cross, breathing was impossible.  And so he would have to push up on the spike through his feet to get a breath, and then slump back down to minimize the intense pain in his feet.  It was a trade off - intense, unthinkable pain in your feet, and burning in your lungs.  Back and forth.  For hours, even for days.

Exposed to the elements, exposed to the crowds, staring, mocking, blaspheming our Saviour.

This is a far cry from the shiny gold crosses we have around our necks.  A far cry from the sanitized, glamorized crosses we have on pamphlets, and on our website.

Now, despite all this, there’s nothing wrong with having the cross as the symbol of our faith.  There is nothing wrong with wearing it around our neck - I too have a cross necklace.  I too drink from mugs adorned with the cross.  It is RIGHT.  It is FITTING.

Paul BOASTS in the cross.

We are to LOVE the cross.

 

But we are to boast in the REAL CROSS.

We are to love the GENUINE CROSS.

 

What was done to our Saviour by the Jews, by the Romans…was horrific, evil, corrupt, and cursed.

On Good Friday, and every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper - when we celebrate, what our form for the Lord’s Supper so perfectly refers to as the BLESSED MEMORY of the BITTER DEATH of our Lord…we do so…not because we are sadists - celebrating that the man we love more than anything else, went through unspeakable anguish, pain, terror, and agony…but rather, we celebrate, and we rejoice because of what was earned, what was GAINED on the cross.  Our second point.

After that first point…how can we LOVE the cross?  The horrific, evil, corrupt, and cursed cross?

Because it is also wondrous, good, just, and blessed!

Let me explain.

 

Now, we are properly into Lord’s Day 16.

We needed too take a running start, as it were, to get into the description of humbling unto death, and the descent into hell.  We needed to back up and speak of the crucifixion, which belongs more to Lord’s Day 15.

But let’s get into our Lord’s Day properly now.

Question and Answer 40

Why was it necessary for Christ to humble Himself even unto death?

Because of the justice and truth of God, satisfaction for our sins could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God.

Let’s pause for a moment on those final words: The death of the Son of God.

The DEATH of the light of the world.

The DEATH of the dearest and best.  He was slain for a world of lost sinners.

The death of the Son of God.

I remember when I first came to the realization that Jesus died for ME.  That it was MY SINS that caused Him suffering.  It was MY SINS that caused the death of the Son of God.

As a child I sat there in the pew, overcome with various emotions.  I was struck by grief - I was the one who did this to Jesus.  I was struck by confusion, frustration, and even anger - “God…why would you let this happen?  Just let ME burn in Hell - I don’t want to have caused this.  Don’t put my sins on Jesus, let me take them with me into Hell.  Because it’s not fair.  I REFUSE to let Jesus pay for my sins.  The cost is too high, and the reward isn’t worth it.”

“I am not worth HIS pain.  And so, I do not want to love the cross.  I don’t want to cling to the cross.  I don’t want to SURVEY the wondrous cross, I want to distance myself from it as far as I can.  Because…with all due respect God…you made a mistake there.  Your only beloved Son is far better than me, your adopted son.”

That was the heart of 5 or 6 year old Jeremy breaking open and pouring out.  And at that moment, what I wanted more than anything, maybe one of the only people EVER IN HISTORY to want this…was Hell.  I wanted to suffer in Hell to save my Saviour suffering so much on the cross.

And there’s actually something useful, something valuable that we can learn from the mistaken and emotional 5 year old Jeremy.

 

If it was about WORTH, if it was about VALUE…then this is the right response.

Not a single one of us…not anyone here, not anyone in history, not Mother Theresa, not the Apostle Paul, not Luther or Calvin or Bonhoeffer, is of more value than Jesus Christ.  Not a single one of our “eternal lifes” is worth the suffering of Christ on the cross.  If it would be a trading of value…this would be the worst trade in the history of forever.

But that’s not what it’s about.

What does our catechism say instead?

Because of the JUSTICE and TRUTH of God, SATISFACTION for our SINS could be made in no other way than by the death of the Son of God.

It’s not that God the Father loves you more than He loves Jesus Christ…He doesn’t.  It’s not that He pushed Jesus out of the way so that you could have the best seat in Heaven.

The message of the cross is not a message of our infinite value.

When we survey the wondrous cross, when we cling to the old rugged cross, we are not rejoicing in it because it shows us how much we are worth.  That we are worth more than all the diamonds or the pearls, that when God looks at us, He has to catch His breath because of our beauty.

No.  Instead, the cross testifies to 4 things, not a single one of them being our value.

The cross testifies to:

1. The Infinite value of the glory of God - God’s glory, His name being spread abroad, His church being gathered from all corners of the globe…THIS is worth the death of the Son of God.

2. The Enormity of our sin - because of HOW MUCH we have sinned, because of HOW OFFENSIVE our sin is, because we have racked up for ourselves infinite wrath in sinning against an infinitely holy God…it was only through an infinitely perfect and holy sacrifice that we could be reconciled to Him and that justice could be done.

 

We also see, through the cross,

3. The Immeasurable Greatness of the Grace of God.  God didn’t HAVE to do this.  His justice could have been accomplished by sending each and every one of us to Hell.  We would pay for our sins forever, away from His goodness and light.  God’s justice would be accomplished, and even God’s glory.​  God is glorified by vessels for destruction as well as vessels for salvation.  But instead, out of His love, out of His infinite GRACE, He chose to save us.  To save wretches like you and me, and bring us into His family.

 

And finally, through the cross, we see 

4. The New Creation that God is bringing into being.  Through the cross, because of everything that flows from it, because of the sanctification of His church that flows out of the justification accomplished, because of the glorification that is to come, flowing out from this one act of redemption.  It is beautiful.  It is glorious.

 

No wonder we can glory in the cross.

 

As our catechism says - Through Christ’s death, our old nature is crucified, put to death and buried with Him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer reign in us., but that we may offer ourselves to Him as a sacrifice of thankfulness.

 

The most loving thing, the most glorifying thing, for 5 year old Jeremy, for 30 year old Jeremy, for each and every one of us…is not to REJECT the cross, not to have our sense of justice and fairness and wisdom valued more than God’s perfect wisdom, but to accept, no matter how difficult it can be at times, to accept that Jesus’ cross - His suffering, His death…was the best thing to happen in the history of redemption.

We must GLORY in the cross, we must BOAST in the cross as the Apostle Paul says in our reading.

“Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

But what about all of these benefits of the cross?  Can we not boast in them as well?

  • Because of the cross we have access to God, reconciled, the dividing wall of hostility broken down - Ephesians 2.

  • Because of the cross, we are adopted as dearly loved children of God - Romans 8

  • Because of the cross, we have been set free - Galatians 5

Can we not boast in these things too?  Can we not boast of the holiness of our God?  The love of our God?  The sheer extravagance of the grace of our God?

Let’s not misunderstand the Apostle Paul here - we can and we should and we MUST boast in all these things too.  The Apostle Paul has his own list of boasting:

  • We exult in hope of the glory of God - Romans 5:2

  • Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance - Romans 5:3

  • Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses - 2 Corinthians 12:9

  • Who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you?” - 1 Thessalonians 2:19

So how does this all work?

Well, all of Paul’s boasting, all of our boasting…it comes BECAUSE OF THE CROSS.

WHEN we boast in God’s holiness and grace, when we boast in our weakness, when we boast, as Paul did, in the beauty of the church…we must recognize that all these things are only possible because of the cross.

It is the cross that has gained all of these things, the cross that has displayed all of these things

The wondrous and horrible cross.

The cross where the sinless one suffered and died to fulfill God’s justice.

Because of the cross, we have received this amazing portrait of God - made SO CLEAR TO US in the cross.  All of His perfections so marvellously displayed - merciful and just, loving and gracious, holy and almighty.

Because of the cross, we have received every blessing - each and every blessing comes to us because of the curse that our Lord suffered.

This is so wonderfully shown in our form for the Lord’s Supper.  This powerful list of 6 ultimate contrasts:

  1. HE was BOUND that He might FREE US from our sins

  2. HE suffered COUNTLESS INSULTS that WE might never be PUT TO SHAME

  3. Though innocent HE was CONDEMNED TO DEATH that WE might be ACQUITTED at the judgment seat of God.

  4. He even let HIS BLESSED BODY BE NAILED TO THE CROSS that He might CANCEL THE BOND which stood against US because of OUR SINS

  5. By all this HE has taken OUR CURSE upon himself that he might fill US with His BLESSING.

  6. On the cross He humbled himself, in body and soul, to the very deepest shame and anguish of hell. Then he called out with a loud voice, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  that WE might be ACCEPTED BY GOD and NEVERMORE BE FORSAKEN BY HIM.

In the Heavenly Courtroom, were there ONLY JUSTICE and no grace…if our Saviour had not suffered and died on the cross…we would stand condemned.

When asked for a verdict, Satan would accuse us and call out: DEATH!

The holy angels would call out: DEATH!

God Himself the judge would call out: DEATH!

DEATH!  DEATH!  DEATH!

But the cross DID HAPPEN.  Justice and grace, mercy and love, were poured out.  And so, when we stand by the cross, marvelling at it, marvelling at the man upon it, clinging to the cross with all our might, with all the might that our God has given us to cling…our verdict is changed.  Our death is taken away.  Our final point.

Sin leads to death.

We know this, all throughout the Bible.  From the very beginning, when God warned Adam and Eve, still in their sinless state, that if they sinned…death was the result.  The day you eat of it, you shall surely die.

Paul writes in his glorious theological masterpiece, his sermon to the Romans - the wages of sin is death.  What we earn for ourselves when we sin, when we obey Satan and become coworkers with him of evil…he will pay our wages.  Death.

And then, at the very end, evildoers will be thrown into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.

Sin leads to death.  We could say that sin is CURSED.  Sin is something that God has cursed with the consequence of death.

And it was in the cross - the glorious, wonderful cross - that our Saviour received the curse for us.

As our reading says: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”

Christ died the death that WE DESERVED.  For WE were cursed.  From the moment Eve, and then Adam ate the fruit, to the moment we were conceived in our mother’s womb, to the moment when we began to display our sinful nature and sin against those around us…a curse lay upon us.  The curse of death.

“But what exactly does this death look like?” you might ask.

It was promised to Adam and Eve that the day that they ate of the fruit, they would die.

But…Adam died when he was 930 years old.  This means, if you do the math, Adam lived to see the birth of Lamech, his great great great great great great grandson.  6 greats, count them.  This doesn’t sound like he died the day he ate the fruit.

So what does this mean?  What exactly does this curse of death look like?  It can’t JUST be physical death.

 

And you’re absolutely right.  The death that God warned our first father and mother of, was a threefold kind of death.

There was physical death - this death came to Adam when he was 930 years old.

There was spiritual death - this death came to Adam and Eve immediately when they ate the fruit

And there was eternal death - this is the second death.  The true bitterness, the true sting of death.  This is death that, from what we read in Scripture, it seems Adam and Eve did not have to suffer.

And each one of these three kinds of death was addressed at the cross.  It did not remain the same, but our Lord had a powerful effect on all death.

Our catechism addresses the physical death aspect in question and answer 42

Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?

Our death is not a payment for our sins, but it puts an end to sin and is an entrance into eternal life.

While physical death DOES HAPPEN - every single human being who has been born will one day die.  Each and every one of us here has a tombstone waiting for us, unless Christ returns first.

This is a consequence of the fall into sin - Adam lived for 930 years instead of eternally - but that physical death that comes is something that has now been TRANSFORMED.  It has been transformed from a destination into a doorway.  For the Christian, death is merely the doorway into heaven’s glory.  

Because of Christ’s resurrection, we can confidently and joyfully say with the Apostle Paul: “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting?”

It is as the preacher Billy Graham once so powerfully said, “Some day you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don't you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

THIS is what the cross has done for us in our physical death.

Death - Satan’s greatest weapon - has been co-opted in service of God.  Truly He is more than a conqueror.

 

This is our physical death.  What about the second aspect?  Our spiritual death?

Well, this aspect is not directly addressed here in the catechism, but our spiritual death is our separation from God.  It is what happened to Adam and Eve that very day - they were removed from the Garden.  They were removed from the presence of the Lord God.  No longer could they walk and talk with Him face-to-face, but God dwelt in unapproachable light.  Those who could once approach Him, now stained with sin, could not.  Fellowship with God was damaged and broken.

And still today, we feel the effects of this spiritual death.  We still feel its effects, but, because of the cross, we are, in some senses, closer to God than Adam and Eve ever were.  Instead of walking and talking with God in the cool of the day, God Himself dwells in our hearts.  Not just once a day, but every second of every day.  While we do not hear Him speaking in our ears, we feel His Spirit bear witness with our spirit.  We feel His promptings.  We know His will for our lives.  Our spiritual death has been SOFTENED, and our spiritual death is not forever.  For there will be a day when we will see Him face to face once again.

 

And finally, our eternal death.  Not just cast out of fellowship with God for 80 or 90 years in this life, but forever.  What has Christ done to our eternal death?

Well…He has died that death for us.

Question and Answer 44

Why is there added: “He descended into Hell” ?

In my greatest sorrows and temptations, I may be assured and comforted that my Lord Jesus Christ, by His unspeakable anguish, pain, terror, and agony, which He endured throughout all His sufferings, but especially on the cross, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of Hell.

I don’t know about you…but this is one of THE MOST COMFORTING answers in all of the catechism for me.  Let’s go through it line by line, just briefly as we close.

 

In my greatest sorrows and temptations

This is when we can and we should turn to the cross.  When we are struggling, when we are downtrodden, when we are anxious, when we feel hopeless…when we are fighting against the powers of Satan and his minions, or we have given in to temptation AGAIN and we think - how could God EVER LOVE ME…all that is waiting for me is fire and brimstone…all that is waiting for me is the eternal wrath of God…

 

In my greatest sorrows and temptation, I may be assured and comforted

There IS HOPE.  You may FEEL hopeless, but preach to your own soul the TRUTH - which is sometimes different than, or even the OPPOSITE of what you feel

 

I may be assured and comforted that my Lord Jesus Christ

He isn’t just THE Lord Jesus Christ, He is MINE.  I am His and He is mine

 

My Lord Jesus Christ, by His unspeakable anguish, pain, terror, and agony, which He endured throughout all His sufferings, but especially on the cross, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of Hell.

That wondrous and horrific, good and evil, just and corrupt, blessed and cursed cross of Christ…it is what gives us a hope and a future.

Because the reality is that each of us, each and every one of us deserves a life of suffering.  Each and every one of us deserves a death of suffering, followed by an eternal death of suffering.  These are the wages of sin.  But the cross has transformed all of that.

 

I think writer Jared Wilson put it best.  This is what he said about the atonement.  About the blood of Christ shed on the cross.

The blood of the Lamb is too precious to not be applied to our own doorposts.

The Devil loves a bloodless cross. He doesn’t mind a shiny trinket around your neck so long as it’s not a shining treasure in your heart.

Satan is afraid of the blood. He knows it washes sinners clean. He knows that the bloody cross spells his doom. And he knows the blood of Christ pays the wrath owed sinners, thereby forever making his accusations against God’s people null and void.

Which is why Satan would love for you to keep your gospel nice and respectable.

 

Satan would love for you to keep the cross on top of the steeple of the church.  Satan would love for you to keep the cross as a shiny, sanitized glamorized symbol of gold around your neck.  But it is when you begin to glory in the cross.  When you cherish the old rugged cross.  When you lay down your worldly trinkets and trophies…when you cling to the old rugged cross, knowing that one day, you will exchange it for a crown…it is then, with death lying defeated behind you, that you truly begin to live.

 

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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