The “Smoothing” of the Old Rugged Cross
Crucifixion was a horrible way to die. The Romans intended it that way. A criminal might languish for hours and hours as his life slowly drained away. The very public death was also intended to be humiliating. The near naked man was displayed for all to see and to berate with every conceivable insult. There was nothing easy about crucifixion. The Bible writers said that Jesus “endured” the horrors of Calvary (Hebrews 12:2). Oxford says to endure is to suffer through something painful and prolonged with patience. Jesus patiently suffered through pain, agony and humiliation.
As ugly as crucifixion was, it is an event to be shared by those who are followers of the Lord. We are to walk in his footsteps in all areas of life and death. Paul said he wanted to ”share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 1:5), Peter echoes the same thought that we suffer with Christ (1 Peter 4:13). Men normally do not choose the manner and time of their death and so cannot literally be crucified. But the idea is that Christians still endure suffering as they follow after Christ. Many examples illustrate the idea. Disciples are to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:5). We are to “work hard” (Acts 20:35) to serve the Lord. We follow the example of men like Paul (1 Corinthians 11:1) who discounted all of life’s pleasures so that he might follow after Christ and come to know him (Philippians 3:7-11). The Christian life is not a life of ease or pleasure. It is modeled after a Savior who wandered the lands seeking the lost. It is modeled after his earliest followers who struggled and died for His cause.
If we now turn to the present day we see a contrast between the lowly, struggling Christians of the early church and the comforted, at ease Christians of today. Suddenly, the old rugged cross isn’t quite so rugged anymore.
Some have sought to turn to a life of deliberate, induced suffering living as monks or nuns (monasticism) or through self inflicted rituals (asceticism). But such is not taught to followers of Christ. Like our Lord, our suffering comes not from things we deliberately do to ourselves but from things arising from our service to God. Jesus wandered Palestine with few possessions and then submitted to a cruel death not because of some value inherent in suffering, but because His pursuit of serving God led Him into those things. His devotion was such that it produced suffering – not the other way around. If devotion produces suffering – and there is no suffering – is there devotion? You decide.
The by-word of modern society is “tolerate” and the motto is “you’re ok, I’m ok.” We are taught to blend into society and accept the advance of culture. To violate these societal norms is to bring humiliation and ostracism. Perhaps the ease with which we navigate the present culture should suggest a lack of devotion?
Our churches are ornate and have the finest padding on the pews and the best air conditioning and heating that can be purchased. We drive expensive automobiles from our fine homes to worship. We have convinced ourselves that we can easily fit Christianity into our lives. May we suggest that we should fit our lives around our faith? We have taken sandpaper to the old rugged cross and smoothed it so much that it is no longer burdens us. We have changed it. It has not changed us.