For the past couple of weeks, a neighborhood church has had the following phrase on their sign: “Jesus keep me near the cross”.
At first, my mind went directly to the hymn that we used to sing in my home church when I was a little girl. The hymn, entitled “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” was written by Frances (Fanny) Crosby and was published in 1869. I loved singing that song and my heart swelled when I thought of it.
Later, however, I started pondering that phrase. Do we really want to be “near the cross”? Have we thought about what that entails?
The cross was not a beautiful thing that people wanted to be near. It certainly was not a symbol that was hung around your neck as a personal decoration!
It was a means of killing people in a most humiliating, vicious, excruciating manner. It was gory and ugly. It was meant to be a deterrent to those who would try to copy the wrongdoing that resulted in the criminal being executed. The cross was a well-known instrument of cruel and ignominious punishment. It originated with the Phoenicians and was borrowed then by the Greeks and Romans . The most heinous criminals, especially robbers and the authors and/or abettors of insurrections, were executed in this horrific manner.
Each of the Gospel writers of Scripture record the crucifixion. For example, Mark records the following just before Judas betrayed Jesus and the soldiers arrived:
“And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'” … Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.
Mark 14:27. 29-31
Peter, dear impetuous Peter. This is the same person, please recall, who saw Jesus walking on the water and who got out of the boat to go to Jesus. “Here I come, Jesus; I’m with you.” But then when he took his eyes off the Lord and saw he was on water, he sank, screaming for Jesus to help!
This Peter said “I’ll be with you Jesus, no matter what, I’m your man. I’ll be there even if all these other disciples run away. Not me, I’ll stick right by your side!” (my own paraphrase,) Jesus knew Peter well (just as He knows each of us) and Jesus knew that Peter was going to deny knowing Him. But dear Peter just clung to his original position – “I’m your man, right by your side, through thick and thin, even if that means death!”
Then Judas and the soldiers arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal kiss was given, and the soldiers seized Jesus. Then we read these awful, haunting words:
And they all left him and fled.”
Suddenly the bravado was gone. The talk was forgotten. The three years of listening and learning from The Master was behind them. In modern terms, when the rubber met the road, they ran. In clear, heart-rending honesty, Mark records what occurred to a “young man” who many commentators believe was Mark himself:
“And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.”
Can’t you see the picture? Can you imagine the downward spiral? “We’re with you Jesus, all the way!” Oh, the soldiers, and clubs, and spears. We’re out of here. Oh, they grabbed my clothes, I’ll keep running even if I am naked!
No, Beloved, the cross was not a lovely thing to look at. It was a place of jeering, of mocking, a place of taunting the criminals and laughing at their predicament. No one wanted to be considered a friend of the condemned man. The person who was a friend was also a likely candidate for crucifixion!
So, all of Jesus’ disciples and friends had abandoned him. He was beaten so viciously that He was unable to carry His cross all the way to Golgotha, the execution site. No disciple was there to help; instead a man in the crowd was grabbed by the guards and handed the cross to carry for the Lord.
As Jesus was hanging there, there were only a few who were present with sadness and love in their hearts for Him:
“but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”
Jesus’ mother was standing by the cross, along with several other women. The disciple John apparently was standing near but not as close as the women.
Notably, none of the other disciples were mentioned in any of the Gospel narratives. They had fled and were well outside the scope of the cross and all its ramifications.
So, would we find ourselves standing near the cross? Or would we be like the clear majority of folks who had heard Jesus and who loved Him and who declared their undying loyalty until difficulty came and then they ran?
The second verse of the hymn “Near the Cross” says:
Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and Mercy found me;
There the bright and morning star
Sheds its beams around me.
I pray that God would give me the grace, mercy and perseverance to stand near the cross; and to stand up for the cross, even when difficulties arise, when persecutions may threaten, when family members criticize, when it is uncomfortable to be a follower of Jesus.
“but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
May we stand firm, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as the light of our Lord shines through us when we stand at the foot of His cross.
Please listen to the rendition of Fanny Crosby’s well-known hymn, “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross”, as sung by the Smucker Family with the video by SE Samonte, 2013.
Father, I am afraid that I would have been like the disciples who ran and scattered when Jesus was arrested, who did not stay by His side in support of Him, who hid and trembled in fear before they saw Him resurrected from the grave. I pray that I would have the grace and strength to stand for You no matter what, as I am kept near the cross through the love of the Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit.