On A Hill Far Away

1 of 3 message in the “Old Rugged Cross” series. Find the rest here.

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In 1912 George Bennard was heckled incessantly by several youth at a revival meeting in Michigan.

He was frustrated by the lack of respect for the gospel.

Bennard meditated on the work of Christ and the Cross.

He later said that it occurred to him that Christ and the Cross were inseparable. He was moved to write a song along this theme.

He easily put together a melody and completed verse 1 during revival meetings being held in Albion, MI.

He set the song aside for a few months, but while in another revival meeting in Pokagon, MI he picked it back up and wrote the remaining verses and chorus. He played it for the pastor of the church where he was conducting the revival and the pastor’s wife and they were moved to tears and told him it should be a part of the service that night.

So on June 7, 1913 with Guitar accompaniment George Bennard first performed what would quickly become a classic song entitled “The Old Rugged Cross.”

Evangelist Billy Sunday heard the song and loved it and incorporated it into his revival meeting gaining it even more popularity.

(Source: Lifeway http://www.lifeway.com/Article/the-history-behind-the-old-rugged-cross-hymn-george-bennard-revival)

As we’ve just come out of our revival and we are looking toward Easter which is only 3 weeks away, I thought it would be appropriate for us to look at an old song of the Cross. Not just the old hymn, but also the old psalm.

You see Psalm 22 is a song about the cross.

Spurgeon said that when you read Psalm 22 you might just think that the songwriter was sitting at the foot of the hill of calvary watching the entire spectacle play out.

Psalm 22 was written by David and it’s all about the cross though David lived a thousand years before Jesus was born.

Psalm 22 describes in poetic form many of the events that took place at the cross when Jesus was killed.

It mentions Jesus being encircled by beasts or strong bulls which Jesus experienced in the Praetorium when the Roman palace guard tortured him and beat him and mocked him.

It mentions Jesus being completely dried up in verse 13, which scripture says that Christ called out that he thirsted…

It mentions Jesus being pierced in his hands and feet in verse 16

It mentions the guards rolling dice or casting lots for his clothing in verse 17

It also contains several lines that would be used as direct quotes.

We’ll spend the next few Sundays looking at this passage and comparing it to George Bennard’s song of the Cross.

The Old Rugged Cross starts off:

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

Psalm 22

In Matthew 27:46 we have Matthew’s direct quotation in the original language of what Jesus cried out on the cross as the sky turned black in the middle of the day and the ground shook-

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!?
Which is interpreted

My God, My God, Why Has thou Forsaken Me!?

Matthew 27

45Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”

51And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 54When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

These supernatural events were chronicled by 3 secular historians.

Thallus, Africanus, and Phlegon.

From creation.com
Thallus wrote a history of the eastern Mediterranean world since the Trojan War in about AD 52.

Although his original writings have been lost, he is specifically quoted by Julius Africanus, a renowned third century historian. Africanus states, ‘

Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away the darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably as it seems to me.’ Apparently, Thallus attempted to ascribe a naturalistic explanation to the darkness during the crucifixion.

Phlegon was a Greek historian who wrote an extensive chronology around AD 137:

In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (i.e., AD 33) there was ‘the greatest eclipse of the sun’ and that ‘it became night in the sixth hour of the day [i.e., noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.

(source: http://creation.com/darkness-at-the-crucifixion-metaphor-or-real-history)

What was this darkness?

We believe it was the natural manifestation of God laying on Christ the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah prophesied in chapter 53

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray … and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

In this moment, when the iniquity of the world was being laid upon Christ, when as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21

“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’

Christ felt the most alone anyone has ever felt.

There are different levels of intimacy- Tim Keller illustrated this well.

If a co-worker said to you “I’m angry with you, I’m leaving the company” you might be upset, you might not be depending on how close you were to the person or how must you appreciated them. If your closest friend came to you and said, “I’m so angry with you I never want to see you again!” You would be devastated.

Why? Different level of intimacy. This is why it is so painful when we are disagreements with our family- they are people who we’ve been extremely close to…

We can’t grasp the intimacy held between the Father and the Son.

Jesus had said, I am in the Father and He is in Me.

They are divinely unique yet the same.

Yet Jesus experiences alienation from the Father, and it’s painful. So painful.

You see, sin always alienates.

From the beginning it has alienated us.

Wherever unity is lost there is sin.

Sin breeds loneliness and it reproduces shame.

In heaven, with the absence of sin, there will be no loneliness and no embarrassment.

There will be no grudges in heaven. No feuds.

So to take the consequence and punishment of our sin, Christ took the alienation and separation and loneliness of sin on that cross.

He experienced absolute desertion.

He was alone.

Christ faced the ultimate separation so we would never have to be alone again.

Christ faced the greatest shame so we would never be embarrassed again.

22:1 why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

22:2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not;


On a hill far away, stood an old rugged Cross

The emblem of suff’ring and shame

And I love that old Cross where the dearest and best

For a world of lost sinners was slain

22:3 But thou art holy

In David’s song, He cries out,


David didn’t pull any punches in his songs.

As I recently pointed out on a Sunday night looking at a Psalm of David, he was honest about the fact that he was disappointed that God hadn’t helped him, depressed that things didn’t go his way, etc.

But while he is brutally honest about his feelings in these poems and songs, he comes back to this point-
God I don’t know what you are doing or where you are at, but I know that you are good.

It’s in that same spirit that Jesus cries out from the Cross,

My God, My God.

While Jesus was calling out WHY!? While Jesus was calling out, God you’ve forsake me!

He was still calling Him “MY GOD.”

On Monday night Corey preached to us about the temple being a place of prayer and when Jesus cleansed the temple of all the people who had turned it into a marketplace.

Great message. If you didn’t get to be hear that night, go to our website and you’ll be able to find all of the messages from revival.


In that message Corey was talking about how Jesus was displaying anger and might and passion- it was violent and aggressive. It was powerful and authoritative.

He was pointing out that Jesus is often portrayed as this simply meek and mild mannered soft character- but Jesus was strong, powerful, and tough.

He wasn’t weak- he merely restrained his strength.

Corey then illustrated his point using the part of CS Lewis’ chronicles of Narnia where Lucy is about to meet the Lion that represents Christ and she’s fearful so she asks,

“Is he safe?”

And the response says, “oh no, He’s not safe. But He’s good.

That was Monday night.

Tuesday morning I was working at the church and a woman who’s kids attended our VBS and their little baby, Meredith had to have heart surgery on Friday of VBS.

She came by to donate some Easter eggs.

I asked how Meredith was doing and she updated me on her condition and that she would need to have another surgery.

She said, God’s not safe and it all hasn’t worked out like we want, but God’s good. He’s not safe, but He’s soooo good.

When Jesus cried out MY GOD!

When David wrote MY GOD!

They were crying out for their father, but never questioning His goodness. You see in that very moment of separation, in that moment that Jesus was on the cross far away from everyone, when he was experiencing the greatest loneliness that anyone has ever felt, God was good- God was doing a great work. A great work.

Through that moment of intense loneliness God was making it to where none need to be separated by sin…

Through the greatest separation of all time God brought about the greatest unification of all time.

When God and Christ were separated by the darkness of Sin,

God and man were brought together by the light of Christ.

You see what Matthew tells us right after he tells about Jesus crying out and the darkness is this:

51And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

The veil was a curtain that hung in the temple and separated the place where God’s presence dwelt from the place where the people worshipped. If anyone wandered into the place where God’s presence was- because of their sin, they would fall dead.

But when Christ died on the cross, the curtain was torn in two and thrown back- God’s presence now comes to live within the believer and inhabit our churches and our homes and wherever believers gather and go, the Spirit of the Lord goes with them.

Jesus was all alone on the cross so we would never be alone again.

God turned His back on the sin being laid upon Jesus, then He turns to the world with open arms.

Even if you have no other person in the world, you have God.

He welcomes you. He invites you.

Verses 4-5 say:

4Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.

5They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.

David is referring to the ancestors of the Israelites that God led through the wilderness and to victory and ownership of the promise land under the leadership of Moses and Joshua.

Throughout scripture we see God again and again does some of his very best work in the wilderness places.

God led the Israelites out of Egypt and became their God in the wilderness.

Before David became Israel’s greatest king, he had to make his home in the wilderness and in the caves.

Before Elijah became the prophet who would lead Israel back to God, God met with him in the wilderness. When Elijah became depressed and wanted to quit, God took him out to the wilderness and provided for him.

When John the baptist began his ministry to reach the people with the message of the Christ, he didn’t start in the city, he started in the wilderness.

God often works in the wilderness and in this wilderness of abandonment and desertion, Jesus did the greatest work ever done, He experienced the pain and loneliness for us.

Why would the cross become something that we celebrate?

Why would an instrument of suffering and pain and torture become something that we cherish?

Because on the cross, all alone, despised and rejected and abandoned, Christ did the greatest work that has ever been done.

Christ’s final hour was His finest hour.

The cross was a instrument torture but it served the purpose of healing hearts and reconciling sinners to God.

This song of David in Psalm 22 is a song of pain and struggle and loneliness, but the refrain is that God is good and He delivers those who trust in Him.

It’s interesting that most great musicals, operas, and broadway shows are in fact tragedies.

They’re stories of loss, pain, struggle, and heart break.

What has been classified as the greatest musical of all time is “Les Miserables.” The title literally means “the miserable ones.”

It’s a story of the most unfortunate events, of separation,

disagreement, heart break-

There was a time when men were kind

When their voices were soft

And their words inviting

There was a time when love was blind

And the world was a song

And the song was exciting

There was a time

Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in time gone by

When hope was high

And life worth living

I dreamed that love would never die

I dreamed that God would be forgiving

But the tigers come at night

With their voices soft as thunder

As they tear your hopes apart

As they turn your dreams to shame

I had a dream my life would be

So different from this hell I’m living

So different now, from what it seemed

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed

but it ends with a final reconciliation when Cosette and her husband Marius come to Valjean- the man who saved Marius’ life in battle though he didn’t know it and who rescued Cosette from the abusive family her mother had left her with before dying in poverty….

It truly is a sad story that ends with great joy because of the reconciliation at the end…


Oh Cosette my child

Am I forgiven now

Thank God

Thank God

I’ve lived to see this day

Now you are here

Again beside me

Now I can die in peace

And now my life is blessed


Come with me these chains will never bind you

All your grief at last at last behind you

Lord in heaven look down on him in mercy


Forgive me all my trespasses and take me to your glory

How could Bennard sing “And I love that old Cross where the dearest and best was slain?”

For a world of lost sinners was slain”

How Could David write, “but you are good?”

How could Lewis write, “He’s not safe but He’s good?”

Because the cross reconciled God and sinners.

How do we come to appreciate the wilderness?

How do we come to cherish the old rugged cross?

How do we rejoice at the torture and death of the dearest and best?

We place our faith in that life and death to be reconciled to God.