“Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” is one of the most popular hymns written by Fanny Crosby. Blinded in infancy by a Doctor’s negligence, Crosby was influenced by a godly grandmother and inspired by the famous poet William Cullen Bryant when she was a student at the New York Institute for the Blind.
Fanny Crosby had a heart that could see Christ and feel the impact of the cross. Many of her 8,000 poems speak to Crosby’s relationship with the Lord and insight into the importance of the cross. Ironically, there were people present at Jesus’ crucifixion who were near the cross, but far from Christ.
The apostle John was there and records what he witnessed.
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says:
“They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.”
Therefore the soldiers did these things. (John 19:23-24)
Think about it. Gambling for garments while God hung on the cross. Playing games. Throwing dice. Eagerly grabbing your winnings. To the soldiers it was just another Friday. And Jesus was just another criminal.
And so while their Creator looked down in agony, past his bruised body and bloody feet, the soliders below with down-cast eyes, were blinded to what was really happening. And you wonder what was Jesus was thinking?
It’s a little too easy, however, to quickly judge those pagan soldiers on that forlorn Friday so long ago. We sing, “Jesus keep me near the cross” but are we blinded to our own sins? Shortcomings? And spiritual stumbles?
In fact, do we sometimes find our selves playing games at the foot of the cross? Jockeying for position? Lusting for power? Grasping for gain? Seeking status? Searching for fulfillment–but in all the wrong places? And as Jesus looks down from heaven, you wonder what He’s thinking today?
Could it be that we are sometimes more like the soldiers than we care to admit. Near the cross. But far from Jesus. From really seeing him. And engaging in a relationship with Him. Blinded by our own hubris we pursue petty politics. But of a religious sort. Much like the Pharisees who also were near the cross, but their myopic view of Jesus kept them from seeing what should have been so obvious.
But what the gamblers didn’t get was this was no ordinary Friday. What was happening while they cast lots for Jesus’ clothes would turn the Roman Empire upside down. Transform dispirited disciples into enthusiastic evangelists. And forever change the world!
They could only see what was in front of them. A cross. Some clothes. And another Friday at work. They couldn’t see Sunday coming! Little did they know on Friday that the cross, an instrument of torture, would become Sunday’s triumph. That Friday’s suffering would result in Sunday’s rejoicing. That Friday’s defeat would turn into Sunday’s victory. That Friday’s shame would become Sunday’s glory.
As we sing “Jesus keep me near the cross,” let’s draw closer to Christ. To His example for living and loving. To His relationship with the Father. And to His Word that offers life and light.
It may be Friday. But Sunday’s coming!
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman