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The Reformation Herald Online Edition

The Cross of Calvary: The Centerpiece of Human History

Christ and Him Crucified
Peter C. Cay-ohen
Christ and Him Crucified

Paul and Silas were said to have “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) with the unique doctrine they were preaching everywhere they went. Their message was so powerful that people were turning away from idolatry to become followers of Christ, at the risk of imprisonment and death.

The most essential knowledge

What did Paul identify as the most important knowledge to be gained? He told the Corinthians:

“I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.” “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 2:2; 1:23, 24).

“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: . . . For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:17, 18).

Paul was inspired to write that the most important knowledge one could obtain is the knowledge of Christ and Him crucified.

The just dying for the unjust

What makes the crucifixion of Christ so important? The apostle explains:

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1–4).

Of the three crucified by the Roman authorities on Calvary, only Christ was resurrected. The others were crucified for their sins, but the innocent Lamb of God was crucified for ours.

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God;” “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Why Jesus had to die

To be able to appreciate the significance of the message of Christ’s death for our sins, let’s go to the beginning of history. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created holy but not immortal. In Eden they were placed on probation. “Immortality was promised them on condition of obedience;” [but] “by transgression they would forfeit eternal life.”1 They received the sentence of eternal death since God had warned: “Thou shalt not eat of it [the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil]: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17).

Yet the couple was spared and given a second chance to live, albeit for a limited time. Why were they spared? We read:

“The news of man’s fall spread through heaven. Every harp was hushed. The angels cast their crowns from their heads in sorrow. All heaven was in agitation. A council was held to decide what must be done with the guilty pair. . . .

“Sorrow filled heaven, as it was realized that man was lost . . . and there was no way of escape for the offender. The whole family of Adam must die. I saw the lovely Jesus and beheld an expression of sympathy and sorrow upon His countenance. Soon I saw Him approach the exceeding bright light which enshrouded the Father. . . . Three times He was shut in by the glorious light about the Father, and the third time He came from the Father, His person could be seen. . . . He then made known to the angelic host that a way of escape had been made for lost man. He told them that He had been pleading with His Father, and had offered to give His life a ransom, to take the sentence of death upon Himself, that through Him man might find pardon; that through the merits of His blood, and obedience to the law of God, they could have the favor of God, and be brought into the beautiful garden, and eat of the fruit of the tree of life.”2

“The instant man accepted the temptations of Satan, and did the very things God had said he should not do, Christ, the Son of God, stood between the living and the dead, saying, ‘Let the punishment fall on Me. I will stand in man’s place. He shall have another chance.’ ”3

During their first probation, Adam and Eve chose death by choosing to sin. But Christ volunteered to be their Saviour and promised to take their punishment. On the strength of Christ’s promise, the human race was spared and given a second chance—another period of probation to choose life over death. Yet Jesus had to fulfill His promise to die for the sins of humanity.

So, “when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4, 5). When the time came for Christ to fulfill His promise to die for the sins of lost humanity, He took the nature of fallen man (John 1:14; Philippians 2:6–8), “for the suffering of death . . .

that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9).

Human history could have ended in A.D. 31

While Jesus was hanging on the cross, the devil used human agents to tempt Him, saying: “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40).

Imagine the scenario. The sentence of death pronounced in Eden was not carried out because Christ promised to take this penalty upon Himself at some future time. In order to die, He first took upon Himself mortal nature as the Son of man, since God could not die. But now, just as He was about to undergo the death penalty, the devil tempted Him to use His divine power to abort His mission.

Had Jesus yielded to the temptation and come down from the cross, the entire human race would have been annihilated under divine judgment that same day. There and then the history of humanity would have ended and we would not have the opportunity to be born in a sinful world.

Even before the cross, Christ had made a decision in the garden of Gethsemane. The fate of humanity was at stake. If He would die for the sins of the world, the second chance granted after the fall in Eden would be confirmed and prolonged to give humanity the opportunity to choose between life and death. But if Jesus would abort His mission and refuse to let the punishment fall on Him, death would fall on the sinful family of Adam.

Even the fate of Enoch and Elijah who were translated to heaven without seeing death, and of Moses who was resurrected to life would have been affected. These men were honored with eternal life through faith in Christ, their Redeemer. But if Jesus had backed out from His appointed work of dying for the sins of the world, the gift of eternal life granted them would have been cancelled and they would have been pulled out from heaven in order to pay for their own sins. They would perish with the rest of humanity.

The fate of humanity trembled in the balance

Under such tremendous pressure, Christ had prayed, “saying, my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39).

“The humanity of the Son of God trembled in that trying hour. He prayed not now for His disciples that their faith might not fail, but for His own tempted, agonized soul. The awful moment had come—that moment which was to decide the destiny of the world. The fate of humanity trembled in the balance. Christ might even now refuse to drink the cup apportioned to guilty man. It was not yet too late. He might wipe the bloody sweat from His brow, and leave man to perish in his iniquity. He might say, Let the transgressor receive the penalty of his sin, and I will go back to My Father. Will the Son of God drink the bitter cup of humiliation and agony? Will the innocent suffer the consequences of the curse of sin, to save the guilty? The words fall tremblingly from the pale lips of Jesus, ‘O My Father, if this cup may not pass away from Me, except I drink it, Thy will be done’ (Matthew 26:42).”4

The decision of Christ in our favor

“The history of the human race comes up before the world’s Redeemer. He sees that the transgressors of the law, if left to themselves, must perish. He sees the helplessness of man. He sees the power of sin. The woes and lamentations of a doomed world rise before Him. He beholds its impending fate, and His decision is made. He will save man at any cost to Himself. He accepts His baptism of blood, that through Him perishing millions may gain everlasting life. He has left the courts of heaven, where all is purity, happiness, and glory, to save the one lost sheep, the one world that has fallen by transgression. And He will not turn from His mission. He will become the propitiation of a race that has willed to sin.”5

“Wherefore, as by one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. . . . Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:12, 18, 19). Christ “died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15).

Divine justice demands that “the soul that sinneth, it shall die,” for “the wages of sin is death” (Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23). And the law of pardon states: “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22, RSV).

For divine justice to be upheld and one pardoned, the person’s blood must either be shed directly or through a representative. Divine justice was upheld when Christ volunteered to die for the sins of the whole world. Christ was the “Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

“A full, complete ransom has been paid by Jesus, by virtue of which the sinner is pardoned, and the justice of the law is maintained.”6

The Father “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13, 14).

“When Satan was triumphing as the prince of the world, God had sent His messenger from heaven, even His only begotten Son, to proclaim to all the inhabitants of the world, “I have found a ransom. I have made a way of escape for all the perishing. I have your emancipation papers provided for you, sealed by the Lord of heaven and earth.”7

Christ alone procured our justification from sin when He “gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6). We did not contribute anything towards the procurement of our legal justification from sin. The Bible calls this transaction at the cross justification by grace.

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23, 24).

Provision sufficient for all

Some professed teachers of the Bible teach that Christ died only for believers. We are not to restrict the word “all” to mean only the believers on the ground that Christ purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28) because the Bible clearly teaches that Christ died for the sins of all, whether or not they accept the provision.

“Jesus Christ . . . is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours (believers’) only, but also for the sins of the whole world (unbelievers)” (1 John 2:2, parenthesis added).

“The Saviour has purchased the fallen race with His own blood.”8

It should further be understood that Christ also suffered once for every sin that the human race has committed from the time of Adam until the end of the world (Mark 16:15, 16; Revelation 14:6, 7).

If Christ died only for the members of His church, it follows that His death is good news only for them and not for the whole world. Even those who hold this doctrine today would have no hope of being saved because they were not part of Christ’s church when Christ died. But Christ tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9). The plan of salvation made provision for Him to die for sin only once (1 Peter 3:18) for all time. Therefore there is no need for Him to “offer himself often” as an offering for sin (Hebrews 9:25–28), for His “one time” offering was all-sufficient.

“All things are God’s, not only by creation, but by redemption. All the blessings of this life and of the life to come are delivered to us stamped with the cross of Calvary.”9

Placed on vantage ground

“As Adam’s transgression had brought wretchedness and death, so the sacrifice of Christ would bring life and immortality.”10

“It is at an immense cost that we have been placed on the high vantage ground where we can be liberated from the bondage of sin, which has been wrought by the fall of Adam. . . . A second probation has been granted by the sacrifice of the Son of God. We have a battle to fight, but we can come off victor through the merits of Christ’s blood.”11

Can a justified person end up being lost?

The Saviour paid the redemption price for every soul. We as sinners are thus placed on vantage ground to choose our own destiny. If everyone would receive Christ as Lord and Saviour, everyone would receive eternal life and enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:5-17) without any legal impediment.

But God will not take any to heaven against their will. Those who do not appreciate the love and sacrifice of Christ for their redemption but will continue in their rebellion against God, hardening their hearts in stubborn unbelief, will still be lost.

“He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Those who do not believe the gospel have actually made their choice. They have chosen death rather than life. We are free to choose. (See Deuteronomy 30:17–29.)

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:7, 8).

We kindly ask our dear readers: Why would you be eternally lost when you can choose to receive eternal life and be saved in God’s everlasting Kingdom? Your sins are not actually a hindrance to your salvation because Christ has paid them already. All you have to do is to respond positively to Christ’s loving invitation:

“Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).

Sin is not a hindrance to salvation

Don’t entertain the idea that your sins are a hindrance to your going to Christ. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

The Lord “hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10–12).

The Bible teaches that if a sinner will turn away from wickedness in sincere repentance and surrender to Jesus Christ as Saviour, “he shall surely live. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 33:15, 16). This wonderful privilege is granted to all because Christ has already paid all their sins at the cross of Calvary.

Aren’t you glad that God has paid for your sins through the sacrifice of His Son? I am very happy, and I hope and pray that you share the same joy. God has promised full and complete pardon of sin to all who believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

If as a prodigal son you humble yourself, choose to go to our heavenly Father and say to Him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no longer worthy to be called thy son”(Luke 15:18, 19), there will be great joy in the presence of God and the angels in heaven over your repentance, your turning away from your sinful life to a new life in Christ (Luke 15:7, 10).

Dear reader, if you have not made this kind of decision in your whole life, will you make that choice now? You have nothing to lose but everything to gain if you make up your mind to believe the gospel and receive Jesus as your Lord and Saviour!

1 Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 60.
2 Early Writings, pp. 148, 149.
3 The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White Comments], vol. 1, p. 1085.
4 The Desire of Ages, p. 690.
5 Ibid., pp. 692, 693.
6 Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 363.
7 Our Father Cares, p. 92.
8 The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White Comments], vol. 5, p. 1113.
9 Christ Object Lessons, p. 362.
10 Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 66, 67.
11 Christ Triumphant, p. 215.