ROCK OF AGES
By Pastor Glenn Pease
1776 was the year the United States of America was born. It was also the year one of the favorite hymns of all time was born, and that was Rock Of Ages. The author was an Englishman named Augustus Montague Toplady. He wrote 133 poems and hymns, but they were all forgotten. This one, however, lives on, for it gives an image of Jesus that people need. We need to know that all else can crumble and collapse, but Jesus is that Rock of Ages, that solid rock on which we can stand when all other ground is sinking sand.
Toplady died at the early age of 38, but he was secure in Jesus, and his hymn has been a favorite at funerals ever since, for it reminds us that though life is insecure, Jesus is not. He is the Rock of Ages. Toplady's last words were, "My prayers are all converted into praises." He felt secure because he had built his life on the solid rock. His hymn has been translated into almost every known language. What is surprising is that people know this hymn more than they know the Bible reference that gave Toplady the idea. It is really rather shocking how often God and Jesus are called the Rock in the Bible. It is one of the major names of God.
Paul in I Cor. 10:3-4 tells us Jesus was with the people of God in the Old Testament disguised as a rock. The rock from which water poured out to keep them alive in the desert was Jesus. He wrote, "They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them and that rock was Christ." Jesus has always been the source of the water of life, and has always been the Rock of Ages. He was the source of life and security for God's Old Testament people just as He is for God's New Testament people. They just did not know it was Jesus as we do. But they knew their God was a Rock, and they sang of it often. In Psa. 18:31 we read, "For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God." In Psa. 31:2-3, "Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue, be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me."
England made the Rock of Gibraltar the strongest fort in the world, for it is cut right into the rock and defended with canons. A certain insurance company has capitalized on this strong image, and the Rock of Gibraltar is their trademark. God's Old Testament people had this image long before, and God was their Rock. They didn't just have a piece of the rock, they had the whole Rock. Psa. 71:3 stresses it again: "Be my rock refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress."
There are so many references to God as the Rock that we cannot read them all, but let me give you just phrases that give you a clear impression.
Psa. 28:1, "To you I call, O Lord my Rock."
Psa. 42:9, "I say to God my Rock."
Psa. 78:35, "They remembered that God was their Rock."
Psa. 89:26, "You are my Father, my God, the Rock, my Savior."
Psa. 92:15, "The Lord is upright, He is my Rock."
Psa. 95:1, "Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation."
There are many others, but these ought to be sufficient to impress us that the Rock was a favorite image of God in the Old Testament, and of Jesus in the New Testament. Bible lands were rock filled lands where rocks were a part of their way of life. This fact motivated me to study rocks, and what I learned was amazing. Rocks are one of the most valuable resources in the world, and our lives are more dependent upon rocks than we realize. Let me give you some examples, for the more we see the value of rocks, the more we will treasure what we have in the Rock of Ages.
Many of the wonders of the world were made of huge rocks, and because of this they have survived in part to this day. You have for example:
The Great Wall of China.
The Great Pyramid of Egypt.
The Parthenon of Greece.
The Aztec Temple of the Sun.
The Stonehenge in England.
The rock is the symbol of stability, and that is why when men build something to last they use rock, or stone if you prefer. The two terms are used as synonyms in the New Testament. Peter in I Pet. 2:6-8 calls Jesus the Stone, the Cornerstone, the Precious Stone, the Stone the builders rejected, the Capstone, a Stone that causes men to stumble, and a Rock that makes them fall. Jesus is the Rock and the Stone.
There are endless parallels between men's use of rocks and stones, and who Jesus is. Jesus is the Rock, and Jesus is the Way. If you study the history of roads, you will discover that those that have lasted are made of rock. The old Roman roads of New Testament days are still being used where they were made of stones. The old cobblestone roads of early America are still being used in places, and the modern superhighways are built with a foundation of various size rocks, and so is the bed for railroad tracks. If you want to make a way to anywhere be lasting, you make it with rocks. Jesus is the permanent way to God and eternal life, for He is the Rock of Ages. On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. Man knows that anything that lasts has to be built on a solid rock foundation. That is why there are over three thousand commercial crushed rock plants in the United States. They play a major role in the construction of our nation.
If you go to the Capital of our country-Washington D.C., you will discover that it conveys an image of strength and endurance, for all of its major buildings and monuments are made of quarried sandstone, limestone, or marble. The White House, the Capital, the Supreme Court, the Smithsonian Institution, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial, plus many of the lesser known buildings are all made of this material.
When God reveals the eternal city where we will dwell forever, it is a city of such strength and endurance. The temple is Jesus-the Rock of Ages, and the walls, according to Rev. 21:17, are around 200 feet thick. There has never been such a city for security. And for beauty its vast walls are all decorated with the most precious stones God has ever created on this planet. The study of precious stones in the Bible is a subject in itself that we can only mention at this time. Rocks are the source of great riches. Almost all the treasures of this world are hidden in rocks, which are the many jewels of history.
Rocks were a part of the everyday environment of Bible people. They were everywhere, and they were used constantly for building, grinding, and for weapons. Not only did man use rocks to build altars to God, but God used rocks to give His laws to man, for Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments on two slabs of rock. When something was written in stone it was meant to be permanent. When God chooses a man to build His kingdom He chooses a rock-like man. The Rabbi's said this of Abraham: "When God looked on Abraham, who is to arise, He said, "Low, I have found a rock on which I can build and found the world. For this reason He called Abraham a rock."
It is of interest that Jesus chose Peter to be the leader of the 12, and they were the foundation of his church. Petra is the Greek word for rock, and Jesus said, "On this Petra I will build my church." Peter, who is often more like quicksand, was made a rock that Jesus could build on. Petrology is the science of rocks. A specialist is called a Petrologist. All Christians need to be Petrologists who specialize in the study of the Rock of Ages. Jesus said the foolish man builds on the sand and the wise man builds on the rock, and so He labored with Peter until he was a solid rock on which He could depend. We call certain people pillars of the church, because they can be counted on. They are the rocks on which any church stands. Without such rocks the foundation of any church will crumble. All that lasts depends upon rocks. The rock is-
Firm and not fickle.
Stable and not sinking.
Permanent and not passing.
Fixed and not fluctuating.
Established and not erratic.
Constant and not changing.
These are the characteristics of a Christian who is Christlike. They are rock like in their stability, solidarity, strength, and security. When somebody says of another that he or she is a rock, you know they are people who are dependable. Most of God's people are like David. They have their solid side and their weak side. That is why David very wisely calls out to God for a greater stability than he has in himself. In Psa. 61:1-2 we hear his prayer: "Here my cry, O God listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I." He is the king and you can't go any higher in rank than the king. Yet, he knows there is a rock higher than him, and he wants to stand on that exalted rock. We have this rock in Jesus. This theme is one that is common as we march upward to Zion pressing on to higher ground.
"Lord lift me up and let me stand
By faith on heaven's table-land.
A higher plain than I have found,
Lord plant my feet on higher ground."
The greatest adventure of life is the adventure of ascending the rock that is higher than I. I have only climbed one mountain in my life, and that was in the Black Hill of South Dakota, and it was more work than pleasure. But I remember the great pleasure I had as a youth climbing the rocks around the Sioux Falls, and when Lavonne and I dated, one of our favorite places was the Palisades of Garretson, South Dakota. These solid rock formations were plenty high, and climbing them was sheer pleasure. There is a feeling of achievement to climb up a rock cliff, and to leap from rock to rock over rushing water. Much of my youthful adventure was around rocks. Now I see that the adventure of the Christian life is also one that revolves around the rock that is higher than I-the rock of my salvation-the Lord Jesus.
There are risks in rock climbing, and the number of people killed trying to scale the mountain heights is staggering. Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina is considered the highest peak in the United States East of the Rockies. It is 6,711 feet above sea level. It is named after Professor Elisha Mitchell of the University of North Carolina. In 1857 on his fourth climb up the mountain, he fell to his death. Later his ashes were taken to the top and buried there. He loved to get to the top of that rock that was higher than he. It was not a goal that most of us would consider worth the risk, but in the spiritual realm this same desire is to be the motivation of our life. We are to long to be led to that Rock that is higher than us, and be ever climbing to a higher level of stability in Christ. If we are not so climbing, we will be sliding downward to that sand that is lower. You can't stand still in the Christian life. We are always climbing higher or slipping lower.
A popular hymn that grew out of the great Moody-Sankey revivals captured this message of David:
"Oh, safe to the rock that is higher than I,
My soul in its conflicts and sorrows would fly;
So sinful, so weary, Thine, Thine would I be
Thou blest Rock of Ages, I am hiding in Thee.
In the calm of the noontide, in sorrow's lone hour,
In times when temptation casts o'er me its power;
In the tempests of life, on its wide, heaving sea,
Thou blest Rock of Ages, I'm hiding in Thee."
There are a lot of famous rocks in the world, but none of them can be relied upon for permanence but the Rock of Ages. I remembered when I looked down on the Plymouth Rock and felt disappointed, for it was just a huge rock in the sand, and not as large as I had imagined. It was famous, but not very impressive. Far more impressive is the rock sculpture of Mt. Rushmore. It is very impressive, but the fact is, it is wearing away all the time, and needs repairing, for the weather is creating decay in this massive rock work of art. When Jesus comes again even the mountains will melt with fervent heat, and so there are no rocks in history anywhere that are safe for all eternity, except the Rock of Ages. He is not only the rock higher than I, but the rock higher than all. He is the ultimate, the absolute, the Alpha and Omega of rocks.
People put their trust in so many rocks that are not the Rock of Ages. Diamonds, which represent the precious stones of the world, captivate many minds and hearts, and people put their trust in these rocks of riches, but they will not stand anyone in good stead when the judgment comes. In the song of Moses in Deut. 32, Moses calls the gods of the heathen their rocks, with a small r, and he says in verse 31, "Their rock is not like our Rock." The world is full of rocks that people worship, but there is only one Rock you can rely on, and that is the Rock of Ages.
About 180 years ago the Queen of the Hawaiian Islands became a Christian. She desired to lead the people out of their captivity to the pagan gods. She decided to defy the much feared goddess of the volcano-Kilauea. Against the terrorized pleadings of her subjects, she began to walk over the rough lava beds freely eating of the forbidden berries sacred to Pele. She fearlessly ascended to the brink of the crater and began to hurl rock after rock into the great lake of fire challenging the fire goddess to avenge herself. Because of her stand on the solid Rock of Jesus, she could defy the superstitions of her people, and thousands of Hawaiians accepted Jesus as there Savior. She was saying, this rock is not like our Rock. She led them to the Rock that was higher than her, and them, and all other rocks-the Rock of Ages.
This theme is in many hymns and songs:
1. Rock of Ages, which we all know.
2. On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.
3. Built On The Rock.
4. My Anchor Holds And Grips The Solid Rock.
5. The Lord's Our Rock.
6. Be Our Rock, Our Shield, Our Tower.
7. He Hiddeth My Soul In The Cleft Of The Rock.
The Bible proclaims it over and over; hymnology sings it over and over-Jesus is our Rock. He is the most precious Rock in the universe for strength, value, and durability. Jesus was put in a rock tomb, and a huge rock was rolled to cover the entrance. The Rock of Ages could not be so confined within that rock.
The Roman rock was the only lock
They had to keep Him in the grave.
It was a real shock when He rolled away that rock,
And came forth in life to save.
You don't have to be a rock collector to be a good Christian, but you do have to be a rock lover-that is a lover of the Rock of our salvation. The Old Testament saints like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were always collecting rocks to build an altar to God, and I thought that went out with the Old Testament, but not so. Even in modern times men of God meet with God around a pile of rocks. Listen to this testimony of Bruce Larson from his book The Presence. He is one of the most popular preachers in our day, and so is the other pastor he writes of:
"I once heard God speak in a field near Minocqua, Wisconsin.
I was with my long-time friend, Lloyd Ogilvie, and we were at
the time just out of seminary and starting our ministries. We
built a pile of rocks, like those Ebenezer described so often in
the Old Testament, and made a covenant with the Lord. Our
prayers went something like this: "Lord, we want to be your
people. We pray you will use us to build your church." I'm
sure I could never find that place today. But in my mind,
those stones are still remembered and that covenant is
genuine. Lloyd and I can only go back in memory to that
holy place where God did business with us."
Rocks can always be relevant to the spiritual life if we focus on all the ways they can remind us of the Rock of Ages.