On a Hill Far Away

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“And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha.” (John 19:17)

by Dr. John M. Morris, Ph.D. 

The Hebrew word golgotha and the Latin word calvarie actually mean “skull.” The Romans had selected a place of execution outside Jerusalem (Hebrews 13:12) but near the city (John 19:20), near a public highway (Matthew 27:39), and easily visible from some distance away (Mark 15:40). This has led many to speculate that it was on a hill, as in the first verse of the well-loved hymn “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.

Truly His cross involved great suffering: “Christ also suffered for us. . . . Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:21, 24). Likewise, it involved great shame: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). But this suffering and shame was not in vain, for as we see in both passages above, it was on our behalf. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

However, God’s dearest and best, indeed God’s “only begotten Son” (John 3:16), was slain, not so much for “friends,” but for enemies! A world of lost sinners put Him on the cross. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us . . . when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:8, 10). So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross. JDM

Click here for the sheet music for this hymn.