The wondrous cross

The events clustering around the cross are the all-essential element of the gospel of salvation.

Gordon M. Hyde is director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.


One of the best loved of the 600 hymns written by one of the greatest British hymn writers, Isaac Watts, who died 230 years ago, is entitled "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." Charles Wesley said of it that he would gladly exchange all the 6,500 hymns he had written for this one hymn by Isaac Watts.

Written in 1707, it was based on Galatians 6:14, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."

Many contemporary people have long since decided that the Christian faith does not really need the cross, because they have also decided that there really is no such thing as sin, and even if there were, that it does not need the cross of Christ to take care of it. Of course, during the earliest days of the Christian church, the Greeks already had decided that the cross was foolishness, and for the Jews it was something to stumble over (1 Cor. 1:23).

But according to the testimony of the inspired Word of God, the event that towers above time and eternity is the cross of Jesus Christ. There is no greater commission given to Christians in their gospel outreach to the world than to make known by words and deeds that the cross is the supreme event of history.

To His apostles—His sent-out ones—Jesus said, " 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . teaching them . . . and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age' " (Matt. 28:19, 20, R.S.V.). Hear Him speaking to a man who, from fear of being seen, came to Him by night. To Nicodemus Jesus said, " 'And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life'" (John 3:14-16, R.S.V.).

Peter declared to the rulers, elders, and scribes of Jerusalem, just a few weeks after Calvary: " 'Be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. . . . And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved' " (Acts 4:10-12, R.S.V.).

It is sometimes said that the greatest fact of the New Testament is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And certainly that was central to the apostolic witness. But there can be a resurrection only after there has been a death. All of eternity and all of history pivot around the cross of Calvary. In a sense, it was a sacrifice made from all eternity that climaxed at Calvary.

Ellen G. White wrote: "The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God." —Education, p. 263.

Look at Calvary's cross as long as you wish, write poems to the glory of the cross with all your skills, let the artist paint his conception of what happened, or the sculptor sculpt his impression, but you can not begin to capture it all. Your deepest insights into the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross are only a little glimpse of the pain that has existed in the heart of God ever since the first sin was committed.

The Gospels make it evident that the events clustering around the cross are the all-essential element of the gospel of salvation. It has been estimated that if the Gospels told as much about the whole three and one-half years of Christ's ministry as they tell about the last three days of that ministry^ we would have a life of Christ 8,400 pages long! Surely Scripture intends us to understand the centrality of the cross in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But there is a persistent question that is asked: Who required Jesus to go to the cross of Calvary? Who demanded the death of Christ on the cross? Was it the Roman governor Pilate; intent on saving his own neck and his own position? Was it Herod Antipas,-. "that fox" (as Jesus once spoke of him), who made friends with Pilate over the condemnation of Christ? Was it the Jewish council, which met repeatedly and illegally in its efforts to silence the voice of Him who claimed to speak from God? Was it the Roman soldiers who actually drove the nails? Or was it Satan, that liar and. murderer from the beginning? Was it he who demanded the death of Christ? Was this the price he exacted from God in order that man might be released from the devil's prison house of death? Was it God the Father who required this of His Son? Was this the price, as some say, to save sinners from the hands of an angry God? Let me ask, Did Jesus pay any actual penalty at the cross, or was the cross merely a beautiful demonstration of the fact that God loves us?

We have already quoted, " 'For God so loved the world that he gave,'" so there is no question from the Biblical standpoint that the cross is a supreme revelation of the love of God—no question at all. But to make such a statement provides no adequate idea of eternity. Have you ever sat down and tried to think back through eternity? How far did you get? Perhaps it would be possible to unbalance the mind if a person tried specifically and definitely to conceive of eternity. But look at Calvary's cross. There God the Father and God the Son were separated for the first time in all eternity.

Perhaps you have experienced separation from a loved one through death. Perhaps you are grievously missing someone today. We hear of tragedies and accidents, and our hearts go out to those involved. But who has ever been separated from someone for the first time in all eternity? We really cannot under stand it. In a way, God the Father and God the Son were on opposite sides at the cross for the very first time in all eternity. What put them on opposite sides? Had Jesus ever gone against His Father's will? Had He ever done anything contrary to His Father's will? Hebrews 4:15 says that He "was in all points tempted like as we are," so at times when He was here as man, He faced the temptation to go contrary to the will of His Father. But the writer of Hebrews goes on, in that same verse, to say "yet without sin." Jesus was tempted in all points as we are, yes, but without sin. He never yielded, and temptation is not sin until there is a yielding to the temptation. It is true that Pilate, Herod, Annas, Caiaphas, Judas Iscariot, the Sanhedrin, the devil, and his evil angels, all had some part in preparing the way to Calvary's cross and in putting Jesus there. Even the Father, in one sense, gave His unwilling consent for His Son to be there. But it was your sins and mine, actually, that put Him there. They are what did it.

In Gethsemane the cross was presented to Christ in the symbol of a cup—a bitter cup—that He was to drink. See Him in Gethsemane, aware of what it means to drink that cup, knowing it will put Him and His Father on opposite sides for the first time in all eternity. He will come to feel the wrath of God against sin, our sin. See Him pleading with tears and, as the scripture says, sweating drops of blood in the intensity of His agony at the coming burden of sin—not His, but ours. See Him pleading with His Father, "Isn't there some other way?" But each time He adds, "Not My will but Thine be done. Father, I know that back in the ages of eternity You and I agreed this was the only way. I still wish You could find another way, but if I must drink it, I will drink it." Had riot that decision been made in Gethsemane, there would have been no Calvary. We might never have heard its name.

In The Desire of Ages, page 686, Ellen White says about this experience of Christ in Gethsemane that He was "now standing in a different attitude from that in which He had ever stood before." Christ had never had this experience before, and neither had anyone else, for that matter. "His suffering can best be described in the words of the prophet, 'Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts.' Zech. 13:7. As the substitute and surety for sinful man, Christ was suffering under divine justice. He saw what justice meant. Hitherto He had been- as an intercessor for others; now He longed to have an intercessor for Himself."

How understandable that He came to the sleeping disciples and said, "Could ye not watch with me one hour?" (Matt. 26:40). How He needed the strength that would have come from heaven in answer to their prayers! "

Behold Him contemplating the price to be paid for the human soul. In His agony He clings to the cold ground, as if to prevent Himself from being drawn farther from God."—Ibid., p. 687.

Can you see Him? He feels sin tearing Him away from the Father for the first time in all eternity. He begins to feel the wrath of the Godhead—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—against sin, and clings to the earth as though the very ground it self might be able to prevent Him from being pulled farther away from God.

Can we not begin to see an answer to this question, Who demanded the death of Christ at Calvary? Who required the cross? Obviously He was not forced to bear the cross, other wise there would have been no meaning to His prayer in Gethsemane and to the decision He had to make under such awful circumstances. If He could not have laid the cup aside, the pleading would have been meaningless. But the anger against sin under which Jesus suffered in Gethsemane and on Cal vary was not the anger that you and I have when we lose our tempers not petulant, petty, or selfish. The wrath of God against sin is the consuming presence of His holiness. Sin cannot exist in the presence of God (see Exodus 19).

But it helps us to understand God the Father's love for us a little better when we understand that the Father Himself would have gone to the cross as willingly as He permitted His Son to do it. That is evidently the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:19, R.S.V.: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them."

God was in Christ. In one sense, Christ was not alone on the cross. Yet in another sense He was, be cause sin forced the Father to hide His presence in that phenomenal darkness surrounding the cross. However, in still another sense God was in harmony with Christ, as together they carried out the agreement they had made in eternity.

Unquestionably the blood of Christ, shed on Calvary's cross, provided reconciliation, atonement, and remission for our sins. For some 4,000 years the offering of blood sacrifices in the Old Testament era had proclaimed the unchangeable truth: "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22, R.S.V.). And that constant message was not suddenly canceled when John the Baptist, pointing to a wayfaring man in the crowd at the Jordan, thrilled the souls of his few disciples when he declared: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

The wondrous cross does reveal the love of God. Not because the cross turned a God who hated us into a God who loves us, but be cause in the cross we see a God who shows His love for us in that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). But the cross was also the God-agreed means whereby God could count us righteous with out the members of the Godhead making themselves unrighteous. The cross made it possible for God to be just and the justifier of them who are in Christ Jesus. At the wondrous cross we see a glimpse of the pain that sin has brought to the heart of God ever since the first sin.

After an angel stayed the hand of Abraham as he was about to take the life of his son in obedience to God's instructions, Abraham "called the name of that place The Lord will provide" (Gen. 22:14, R.S.V.). God provided a ram caught in a thicket, and the ram was sacrificed in Isaac's place as a substitute and a surety. Jesus took that place for us on Calvary's cross.

We can never exhaust the theme of the wondrous cross. But we must keep in mind that there would have been no wondrous cross without a wondrous life, and the wondrous cross would have been inadequate for us without a wondrous resurrection from the dead, and the benefits of Calvary would still remain unappropriated were there not a wondrous Intercessor, our High Priest, standing at the right hand of God, holding out His hands and pleading His blood before the Father in be half of penitent, believing sinners (see Acts 7:56; Heb. 1:11-14). Those words must describe our experience, for only as we are penitent and believing will the salvation wrought in Christ's life and death and resurrection be ours.

"Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. 'With His stripes we are healed.'"—Ibid., p. 25.

Who nailed Christ to that wondrous cross? You did. I did.

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.


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Gordon M. Hyde is director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

July 1978

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