Ellen White tells us that we are going to spend all eternity studying the meaning of the cross; it is the focal point of everything else. (Review and Herald, June 3, 1890.) My freshman composition teacher used to say that when you are writing a paper, you need to limit your subject so that you can cover it adequately; but the cross is a subject that we can never fully cover. We still need, however, to understand all that our minds can grasp.
Fear of the Romans
There was a theory going around in the days of Jesus that the soul, or the spirit, hovered over the dead body for three days after death. Jesus, however, waited and did not arrive at Lazarus’ home until he had been dead four days. Thus, even according to the false theories of the Jews, he was really dead. Because Lazarus was raised in the presence of a large group of people, there was no way to deny what had taken place. Some of those present related to the Pharisees what had taken place. A meeting of the Pharisees and chief priests was quickly called. The record of that meeting begins in John 11:45 and continues to the end of the chapter.
“If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” John 11:48. They were afraid of the Romans. Are people afraid of the Romans today? Yes, they are. God’s true church is afraid of the Roman power today just as the people in Jesus’ day were afraid of the Romans. Interestingly, the very thing that they believed would bring the Roman power to destroy them was the thing that would have delivered them from its power. It is an amazing thing.
On this occasion, the church leaders decided they were going to have to kill Jesus to prevent the Romans from destroying them. Ironically, by that very act, they brought destruction on themselves by the Romans. As we continue our study, keep in mind that something similar could happen again.
“And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people and not that the whole nation should perish.’ Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.” John 11:49–52. What is the reason that the apostle John gives for the cross? The children of God were scattered all over the world, but John said that Jesus was going to die so that all of the people of God who were scattered abroad could be brought together into one. What a wonderful thought.
God’s people are still scattered all over the world; and they are going to continue to be so for a little while. But when Jesus comes again, they are going to be gathered together into one church. I love to think about it.
Have you noticed that people sometimes do not like it at one church, so they go to another one? It is not usually because they did not like the building but because they did not get along with some of the people. Have you ever seen that happen? I have never seen anybody decide to go to another church because something was wrong with themselves; but I have seen a lot of people want to go to another church because they said that something was wrong with someone else. Well, now, here is my question: What if this were to take place in heaven? This has to do, friends, with the meaning of the cross. You see, as a result of sin, people are alienated from one another. According to the apostle John, God’s children will be gathered into one.
The Bible is a spiritual book, and when it says that God’s children will be gathered into one, it is not speaking of them being gathered into one building. “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” 1 Corinthians 6:17. “For He Himself is our peace, Who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation.” Ephesians 2:14.
I have always had a fascination to understand the American Civil War. It was the most disastrous war the United States has ever fought. As I was in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the whole matter became crystal clear in my mind. At the time of the war, our whole country was separated into two armed camps that were totally alienated from one another. All wars are the result of alienation. By the way, there is a great deal of alienation in the world today. There is even alienation among the professed people of God.
Is the cross just a story, or are we experiencing its spiritual meaning? Let me tell you something—this is something very serious—if there is one other person in this world from whom you are alienated, at least one of you is not going to heaven unless that problem is solved. It is just that simple. Now, it could be both of you, but it might only be one. You might have somebody who is alienated from you, and you might not be at fault at all; but if there are two people who are alienated, there is something wrong with at least one of them, and they cannot go to heaven unless that situation is taken care of. The purpose of the cross is to destroy this alienation and bring reconciliation.
Today, with many Christians, the cross is just like the law was for the Jewish nation. The Jewish nation taught the law, talked the law, and yet Jesus said to them, “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law?” John 7:19. Today, wherever I travel, I see crosses on churches; I see crosses around people’s necks; but people fail to understand what it means. If the cross has not destroyed the enmity in your heart, it has not done the work in your heart that must be done if you are to be saved.
“For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled.” Colossians 1:19–21.
Why did Jesus have to go to the cross? “Christ died for our sins.” 1 Corinthians 15:3. Now, when I understand that, if I choose to sin, what have I chosen to do? I have chosen to do the very thing that sent Jesus to the cross. By wicked works I am alienated, expressing hatred for the Son of God. You cannot love sin and love Jesus. “You who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” Colossians 1:21, 22. When we come to the cross and we see the spiritual meaning of it, the sin that we used to love we learn to hate. Everyone who has that experience, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is going to be reconciled into one.
“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry [or service] of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us; we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 11 Corinthians 5:18–21.
Oh, friend, is the story of the cross just a story to you, or have you had this experience? Have you been reconciled to God so that you are no longer at enmity with Him, so that you can be taken to heaven and will feel perfectly at home there because you are in harmony with the whole system? We are living in a time when we need to get down on our knees and say, “Lord, I am choosing to surrender, to submit to the cross of Jesus Christ.”
When you are no longer alienated from God, you are in a position to be reconciled, not only to God, but to your fellow man. You will no longer live for self but for Him who died for you.
Too Many Chiefs
“Satan is the originator of sin. In heaven he resolved to live to himself. He resolved to be leader. He determined to make himself a center of influence. . . . Head he would be, to control, not to be controlled.” Review and Herald, April 14, 1901. It is this character trait, or desire, in people that splits up churches. When I was a young man, they used to have a popular song in which the words went something like this: There are too many chiefs and not enough Indians around this place. This is the root cause of all manner of troubles.
It is said that Julius Caesar was once walking along a mountain road when, in the distance, he saw a small village. He is said to have remarked, “I would rather be number one in that village than to be number two in Rome.” This is why Julius Caesar was willing to kill millions of people—he wanted to be number one.
If space permitted, we could go through the gospels and see that this was the same problem that the disciples had. They never got over it until Jesus was crucified. After that, you never again find them contending as to who would be the greatest. Though they had been alienated, they were reconciled by the blood of His cross.
If you have a desire in your heart to control other people, you have the same problem. It is possible for you to be the most respected person in town and still have this problem. If you have this desire to control other people, you have not yet been reconciled. The person who lives for himself is not a Christian because he has never experienced the cross.
“No one can live for himself and at the same time be united with Christ. Conformity to the world, attachment to the world, manifests a decided denial of Christ.” The Signs of the Times, June 13, 1892.
When His disciples were struggling and quarreling over who would be next to Him in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus said: “The princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister.” Matthew 20:25, 26.
In the English-speaking countries, we are not used to having servants, so we have only one or two words to express the concept. We talk about servants and slaves and that is about all; but in the Roman Empire, they had many servants of various categories and used a number of different words to denote a servant. There were some servants who were what we would call managers. It was one of these, by the way, who struck Jesus when He was being tried before Caiaphas. This was a high-class servant, someone who had some authority. There was, however, a lower level of servant. The Greek word for these servants is deakenos. This is where we get the word deacon. Jesus said, “He that will be great among you, let him be a deakenos.”
In the Roman Empire, there was one category that was the lowest of all servants. They would be what we would call slaves. In the old King James Version, this word is usually translated servant, and in modern translations, it is translated as bond servant or slave. It is the lowest category of servanthood. The Greek word is doulos. Jesus said, “He that will be great among you, let him be a deakenos [that is a middle level of servant], but the one that will be first among you, let him be a doulos [that is the lowest level of servant], even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26–28.
Philippians tells us how Jesus followed this principle. He started out as the highest, “but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:7, 8. I say this reverently, friend; He went lower for you and for me than we will ever be able to go for Him. You will never be able to go as low for Jesus as He has already gone for you. And I want to tell you, once the Holy Spirit drives that thought home into our consciousness, we will never be the same again. We cannot go on in this alienated form of life, fighting and bickering, with all that is going on among professed Christians today. We cannot do it!
The apostles did not all think the same on every matter after the cross. The cross did not take away their ability to think, but they were no longer alienated from one another.
Friends, there is going to be a people when Jesus comes who are no longer alienated. They are no longer going to be fighting. The 144,000 will be perfectly unified, in harmony. It is going to happen, all right. The question is, Who is going to experience the experience of the cross so that they can be part of it?
He died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and rose again. Oh, friend, is this your experience? The cross must be an experience, no longer just a story. It must change the inner wellspring of the life so that we no longer live for ourselves. This is such a big problem in human nature that our daily prayer to God needs to be that He will divest us of selfishness. (See Our High Calling, 242.)
The servant of the Lord would not tell us to pray that every day if we did not need to do so. We are talking about a big problem. This is why we need to go to the cross over and over and over again, until the message soaks in. I want to invite you, just now, to kneel down and pray that through the power of the Holy Spirit, this will be your experience.
Pastor John Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by e-mail at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.