There is a Green Hill Far Away
There is a Green Hill Far Away
There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall
Where our dear Lord was crucified;
Who died to save us all.
We may not know, We cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us;
He hung and suffered there.
He died that we might be forg'ven,
He died to make us good,
That we might go at last to hea'en;
Save by his precious blood.
There was no other good enough,
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate,
Of hea'en and let us in.
Ohh dearly dearly has he loved,
And we must love him too;
And trust in his redeeming blood,
And try his work to do.
What an amazing hymn! I could spend the whole of this post (and many other) expounding the tremendous doctrines found in these five verses.
I could talk about how none of us meet God’s standards of righteousness - about how sin entered in by one man, Adam. and how Jesus was the only one who could pay the price for sin.
I could talk about the atoning blood of the lord and how, without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness, and how the sacrificial system under the law points to Jesus’ shed blood as an eternal offering. Paid once - and for all.
Or about how we are not justified by works or by keeping the law but have been justified only by him who knew no sin.
Or how, as Christians, we are crucified with Jesus - As paul says in Galatians:
Galatians 2:20 NASB
"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
I could try to explore the unfathomable spiritual pain which caused our saviour, the son of God to cry out "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?"
But tonight I’d like to talk about three more general things - First of all is the reality of the crucifixion
The Reality of the Crucifixion
From the moment I was given this hymn to talk on I have struggled to bring something together. You might think that the topic of Christ’s death should be an easy one for any Christian to talk about - and as I’ve highlighted, there are many things and approaches I could have used tonight.
But from the very start, the one thing that I have struggled with, the one thing I believe the Lord has put on my heart, is the Hymn’s title - “There is a Green Hill Far Away”When we think on this title we most often might imagine this image
I don’t know how many of you have been to Jerusalem or Israel in General - but there aren't many “Green Hills”
The land surrounding Jerusalem is pretty baron, rough, rocky scrubland - nothing like the rolling hills of Wales that we sometimes picture in mind.
The reason is that I think that sometimes it is possible for us as Christians to romanticise the crucifixion.
We talk of “Calvary” as some sort of beautiful thing. Now don’t get me wrong - What occurred, what happened, the outcome, the necessity, the perfect plan of God, the substitutionary sacrifice of one for all - IS the most amazing, most incredible, most merciful, most beautiful thing that has ever happened in all of history. In fact, this one event is the pivot point of the entire biblical narrative. Everything before it pointed to it and everything after it looks back at it.
But we rarely look at, or think about, what actually took place. The sadness of it all, the brutality, the sheer horror of what Jesus, our Lord, suffered on our behalf. All four Gospels say that Jesus was taken out of the city to a Place of a Skull.
This word, Golgotha is from the Aramaic word gulgulta and the Hebrew gulgoleth, both meaning skull. Only in Luke do we see the word Calvary used.
Matthew 27:32-35 NKJV
Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink. Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: "THEY DIVIDED MY GARMENTS AMONG THEM, AND FOR MY CLOTHING THEY CAST LOTS."
Mark 15:22 NKJV
And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.
John 19:17 NASB
They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.
Luke 23:33 NKJV
(33) And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.
This is from Latin Calvaria - Latin Calvaria is related to calvus, which means "bald" - so you can see how it relates to a skull.
In any case - this place - Golgotha, was the local name for the place where the Romans carried out their public executions and at this point in Roman history that was most commonly by Crucifixion. It was brutal and barbaric - Even the great Roman orator Cicero, for example, described crucifixion as "a most cruel and disgusting punishment" and suggested that "the very mention of the cross should be far removed not only from a Roman citizen's body, but from his mind, his eyes, his ears"
There were many versions of this punishment but whether it was pre-constructed apparatus combing an upright and crossbeam or just a crossbeam hung on a stake or tree or sometimes just a tree - Or whether nailed through the hands or feet or simply roped on - or hung right way up or upside-down.
We know that the Romans used this punishment not simply as a means of execution but also as an example to others. Which is why they most often carried them out at busy locations with plenty of through traffic.
For centuries, theologians, historians and archaeologists have tried to identify the place of Jesus’ crucifixion, be it the church of the holy sepulchre, or just outside the Lions Gate, or on Aelia Capitolina.
There is a location just outside the Damascus gate, often called Gordon’s Calvary (named after Major-General Charles George Gordon who believed this was the location) - I have been there - The location, usually referred to today as "Skull Hill", is beneath a cliff that contains two large sunken holes, which Gordon regarded as resembling the eyes of a skull. He and a few others before him believed that the skull-like appearance would have caused the location to be known as Golgotha.
It is also right beside the main road that would have led from Jerusalem to Damascus.
Today there is a bus station car park at the base of the hill.
In Jesus' day I can imagine this as being a dry, rocky, dusty roadside, framed by a cliff with a huge skull in it where Rome’s condemned prisoners hung naked, slowly dying an agonising and humiliating death, in the heat of the day, as travellers, traders and locals alike passed by.
Hardly the image that springs to mind when we hear - “There is a green hill far away”
And yet it was here, in this awful place that God poured his wrath out on sin. It is here that the bible tells us.
2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
In fact when you think of this location in those terms, the awfulness of the place makes more sense. But let us never forget that It was here that Jesus said “It is Finished”
The Centrality of the Crucifixion
This leads me on to my second heading - which I think we’d all agree on - The centrality of the crucifixion. In fact it’s more than that.. There is a central truth on which all other truths depend - and breaks into three parts.
Christ crucified - Christ risen - Christ coming again.
All other truth is dependant on this. There are many truths outlined in scripture, but none of them should eclipse this central tenet.
If we elevate anything else above this we are in danger of losing focus. Be it:
- The place of Israel
- Speaking in tongues
- The rapture
All of these are truths but likewise all have been the cause of splits or division or even heresy because they were raised in their importance beyond the central truth. In fact it is even possible to even get this central truth wrong.
IF we overemphasise the risen Lord, we can see Jesus simply as the conqueror of death. Put our trust and hope in a version of Jesus who simply gives us hope in Eternal security - and completely miss the absolute necessity of the crucifixion and the substitutionary atonement. I might even argue that if you did this that you have missed the point entirely and probably aren’t saved.
IF you downplay or remove Jesus’ return, then you end up with a redemption that is incomplete. Remember what Jesus said:
Luke 21:27-28 NASB
"Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory. "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
In fact in many ways I think this is happening to the church at this moment - so much of the teaching I hear these days is “now” focused, is “self-centred” - is about what God can do for me today to make the most of this life in this age. Surely the message is not about today - It is about eternity!
Like it or not EVERYONE lives forever. Saved or not, Christian or not. Eternal life is NOT about living forever - Everyone does. Eternal life is a life in fellowship with God. Not me, today but rather God, forever!
As Christians we have come to know, to understand, to believe, to trust, to have faith in what God did at Calvary (at Golgotha). Through Jesus, by his atoning sacrifice, he paid for us with his own blood. He put right what we could not. AND THERE WAS NO OTHER WAY!
The Response to the Crucifixion
So what should our response be to all this?
Once we’ve accepted it, been truly born anew, filled with His Spirit, by Grace and Grace alone, by His Mercy rescued from this condemned world... What should we do with that? Well the last line of this hymn gives us a clue - “And try his work to do.”
I’m going to say something that you may find shocking. It would be better for us if we were dead! I didn’t say that ... Paul did.
Philippians 1:18-24 NASB
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
So to put it another way, if we were being completely selfish - we’d be better off dead, as we’d be with the Lord. It begs the question, why didn’t we just drop down dead the moment we were saved? But Paul gives us the reason why not... Because there is fruitful labour to be done!
Paul is in prison in Rome but it is clear that he sees his life in this world has a single purpose - To proclaim the Gospel. So I ask again - what should our response be to all this be? Well I expect most of us would struggle to be as single minded as Paul - but that’s it, isn't it?
What is the work we have to do? Proclaim the gospel.
What is our response if not to offer ourselves as “living sacrifices” to be used of God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus? ... And where does that begin? With the absolute necessity of Jesus to have offered himself as a sacrifice for sin in that awful place - Golgotha!
It may not be a green hill - Let's not romanticise it.
And it certainly isn’t far away - It’s right here, right now.
Let us, like Paul set our minds on the fruitful labour.
Let us proclaim the cross until he comes or takes us home.
Christ Crucified - The ransom for sin
Christ Risen - The conqueror of death and the grave
Christ Coming Again - Maranatha