Understanding the Cross

A study of the cross of Jesus teaches many things. In the following study, we will consider just seven of the things that the diligent student can learn. These are not in any order of importance, either ascending or descending.

  1. The exalted character of the Law of God.

The Bible says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

There is so much lawlessness in the world today because the people of this world do not understand the meaning of the cross.

Ellen White wrote, “Jesus suffered the severest temptation, and finally died upon Calvary’s cross, thus demonstrating to the human family that the law of God is immutable, [unchangeable] not one jot or one tittle can be changed; but Satan has deceived the Christian world with the story that Christ died to abolish the law. It was the cross of Calvary that exalted the law of God and made it honorable, and showed its immutable character, and thus it is demonstrated before all the worlds God has created, and before the heavenly angels, that the law is changeless. If God could have changed one iota of His law, Jesus need not have come to our world and died. But our Saviour, who was equal with God Himself, came into our world and suffered the death upon the cross, to give man another probation.” The Review and Herald, June 10, 1890.

Although sin caused separation from God. “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3) so that you and I would not have to pay the price ourselves.

Again, regarding the atoning sacrifice and what it accomplishes, “It testifies to the world, to angels, and to men, the immutability of the divine law. The death of God’s only begotten Son upon the cross in the sinner’s behalf is the unanswerable argument as to the changeless character of the law of Jehovah.” The Review and Herald, May 23, 1899.

Another statement says, “The need for the service of sacrifices and offerings ceased when type met anti-type in the death of Christ. In Him the shadow reached the substance. The Lamb of God was a complete and perfect offering. Types and shadows, offerings and sacrifices, had no virtue after Christ’s death on the cross; but God’s law was not crucified with the Saviour. Had it been, Satan would have gained all that he attempted to gain in heaven. For this attempt he was expelled from the heavenly courts, and today he is deceiving human beings in regard to the law of God. But this law will maintain its exalted character as long as the throne of Jehovah endures.” Ibid., October 10, 1899.

The cross shows that neither God’s law nor the penalty for breaking it could be changed. In mercy for lost sinners, Jesus stepped in and paid that penalty for all who would accept Him as Lord. Those who refuse the gift of salvation and are lost will pay the penalty for their own sins and experience the separation from the Father, which is the second death that Jesus tasted when He suffered and died alone on the cross of Calvary.

  1. The character of sin.

“Christ bore our sins in His own body on the tree. … What must sin be, if no finite being could make atonement? What must its curse be if Deity alone could exhaust it?” Our High Calling, 44.

That only One who was equal with the Father could make atonement for sin should help us to realize how terrible sin is and give us an overwhelming desire to have nothing to do with it. However, society has become so decrepit today that we barely comprehend the magnitude of sin.

“The cross of Christ testifies to every man that the penalty of sin is death. … Oh, must there be some strong bewitching power which holds the moral senses, steeling them against the impressions of the Spirit of God? I entreat of you, as Christ’s ambassador, … to be diligent in securing the grace of God. You need it every day, that you make no mistake in your life. …” Ibid., 44.

In another statement, it says: “He bore the sin of the world, endured the penalty, yielded up His life as a sacrifice, that man should not eternally die. Contrast His suffering and humiliation with the riches of His glory, with the wealth of praise pouring forth from immortal tongues, with the anthems of adoration, with the homage of millions of holy angels in the heights of the sanctuary, and seek to comprehend what manner of love inspired the heart of Jesus.” The Signs of the Times, February 27, 1893.

In that same article she wrote, “How much has God loved the race of men?—Look to Calvary. As you behold Jesus upon the cross, does not the heinous character of sin appear? It was sin that caused the death of God’s dear Son, and sin is the transgression of the law.” Ibid.

Jesus did not die from being scourged and nailed to a cross. He died because of the weight of your sins and my sins that were placed on Him. All past, present, and future sins were placed on God’s dear Son, so that He could pay the ransom so that you and I would not have to die. (See Isaiah 53:10.)

It was our sins that killed Jesus on the cross. It was not the nails. It was not the Roman spear, for He was already dead when the soldier pierced His side, causing blood and water to pour forth.

Crucifixion was a cruel death, with many lingering up to even four days, but Jesus died within six hours, crushed by the weight of this world’s sin and His separation from His Father.

  1. The union of justice and mercy.

God is both just and merciful. This fact the devil has challenged, claiming to all creation that God cannot be both just and merciful at the same time.

Ellen White said that challenge baffled the whole universe. “This problem, How could God be just and yet the justifier of sinners? baffled all finite intelligence.” The Youth’s Instructor, August 31, 1887. There was no intelligence in the universe that could answer that question.

At the cross the challenge was answered. In mercy, the penalty for sin was paid. Justice had been met. In mercy, the sinner can be forgiven, for the penalty was paid. Forgiveness is offered freely to all who believe and accept the Lifegiver.

Paul said that Christ came into the world to forgive sinners, of whom he believed he was chief. No matter what sin you have committed, God can forgive you, for He is proven to be both just and merciful.

“It had been Satan’s purpose to divorce mercy from truth and justice. He sought to prove that the righteousness of God’s law is an enemy to peace. But Christ shows that in God’s plan they are indissolubly joined together; the one cannot exist without the other. ‘Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other’ (Psalm 85:10 KJV).

“By His life and His death, Christ proved that God’s justice did not destroy His mercy, but that sin could be forgiven, and that the law is righteous, and can be perfectly obeyed. Satan’s charges were refuted. God had given man unmistakable evidence of His love.

“Another deception was now to be brought forward. Satan declared that mercy destroyed justice, …” The Desire of Ages, 762.

Today, the devil’s challenge has changed. Where he once claimed that God could not forgive the sinner and be just, he now claims God’s mercy destroys justice. The Christian world today believes that God is so merciful that He will save them in their sins.

“Another deception was now to be brought forward. Satan declared that mercy destroyed justice, that the death of Christ abrogated the Father’s Law. Had it been possible for the law to be changed or abrogated, then Christ need not have died. But to abrogate the law would be to immortalize transgression, and to place the world under Satan’s control. It was because the law was changeless, because man could be saved only through obedience to its precepts, that Jesus was lifted up on the cross. Yet the very means by which Christ established the law Satan represented as destroying it. Here will come the last conflict of the great controversy between Christ and Satan.” Ibid., 762, 763.

On the cross of Calvary, infinite justice, infinite mercy, infinite wisdom, and infinite love are all seen at the same time. Under the devil’s government there is no justice or mercy, but when you are a child of God and belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, you belong to a government that has both justice and mercy.

“While men are sleeping, Satan is actively arranging matters so that the Lord’s people may not have mercy or justice.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 452. Know that the devil is diligently working now to get things lined up so that there will be neither mercy or justice.

“The Sunday movement is now making its way in darkness. The leaders are concealing the true issue, and many who unite in the movement do not themselves see whither the undercurrent is tending. Its professions are mild and apparently Christian, but when it shall speak it will reveal the spirit of the dragon.” Ibid.

  1. The fatal mistake of self-exaltation.

This one we must learn if we are going to be in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus said in Matthew 23:12, literal translation, “… whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” There are no ifs, ands or buts about this.

The devil accused God of self-exaltation and of not being willing to deny Himself. That accusation has been leveled by the devil against God for thousands of years. Ellen White wrote, “Satan’s lying charges against the divine character and government appeared in their true light. He had accused God of seeking merely the exaltation of Himself in requiring submission and obedience from His creatures, and had declared that, while the Creator exacted self-denial from all others, He Himself practiced no self-denial and made no sacrifice. Now it was seen that for the salvation of a fallen and sinful race, the Ruler of the universe had made the greatest sacrifice which love could make; for God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19). It was seen, also, that while Lucifer had opened the door for the entrance of sin by his desire for honor and supremacy Christ had, in order to destroy sin, humbled Himself and become obedient unto death.” The Great Controversy, 502.

The fatal mistake of self-exaltation is pride which is often undetected, like a cancer that is not painful until it affects other organs and nerves, but is indeed lethal. A person can be full of cancer and within weeks of their death and still not know that they are sick. That is the way pride is. It is lethal and will kill you. The time is coming when all the proud will burn up (Malachi 4:1).

Many do not know they are sick. It may be a minister, an elder, or a deacon, or someone working for the Lord and not know they have a problem. Notice what Ellen White says about this: “It is because men and women lack the spirit of self-denial and self-sacrifice that they cannot comprehend the sacrifice made by Heaven in giving Christ to the world. Their religious experience is mingled with selfishness and self-exaltation.” To Be Like Jesus, 219.

A really scary statement is found in The Review and Herald, February 14, 1899: “All desire for self-exaltation places the human agent where the Holy Spirit can not work with him.”

It continues, “It is not for any to seek to be great preachers, wonderful evangelists.” Ibid. Just hide in Christ. In His life incarnate, Christ demonstrated the truth of what He meant when He said that everyone who wants to exalt himself will be abased. Everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.

In The Signs of the Times, February 20, 1893, Ellen White discussed this subject in some detail. She said, “Christ was God, but He did not appear as God. He veiled the tokens of divinity, which had commanded the homage of angels and called forth the adoration of the universe of God. He made himself of no reputation, took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of sinful flesh. For our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich.

“He humbled Himself to pass through man’s experiences, and He would not turn aside from the plan by which salvation could come to man. Knowing all the steps in the path of His humiliation, He refused not to descend step by step to the depths of man’s woe, that He might make expiation for the sins of the condemned, perishing world. What humility was this! It amazed the angels. Tongue can never describe it. Pen can never portray it. The imagination cannot take it in.

“Sinless and exalted by nature, the Son of God consented to take the habiliments of humanity, to become one with the fallen race. The eternal Word consented to be made flesh. God became man.

“But He stepped still lower; He humbled Himself to bear insult, reproach, accusation, and shameful abuse. In the world which he had made, which was sustained by the word of His power, there seemed to be no room for Him. He had to flee from one place to another until His life work was accomplished. He was betrayed by one of His followers, and denied by another. He was mocked and taunted. He was crowned with thorns, and forced to bear the burden of the cross. He was not insensible to ignominy and contempt; He submitted to it, but He felt its bitterness as no other being could feel it. Pure, holy, and undefiled, He was yet arraigned as criminal before the eyes of the world. From the highest exaltation the adorable Redeemer took step after step in the path of humiliation. He consented to die in the sinner’s stead, that by a life of obedience man might escape the penalty of the law. He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death. And what a death! It was the most shameful, the most cruel—the death upon the cross as a malefactor. He died not as a hero in the eyes of men, loaded with honors; he died as a condemned criminal, suspended between the heavens and the earth—died a lingering death, exposed to the tauntings and revilings of a debased and profligate mob. ‘All they that see Me laugh Me to scorn; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head’ (Psalm 22:7). He was numbered with the transgressors, and even His kinsmen according to the flesh disowned him. He was forced to see the sword pierce the heart of his mother—he beheld her sorrow. He expired amidst derision. But all his sufferings were counted as of small account in consideration of the result He was working out in behalf of man, and for the good of the whole universe. He expired on the cross exclaiming, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30), and that cry rang through every world, and through heaven itself. The great contest between Christ, the Prince of Life, and Satan, the prince of darkness, was practically over, and Christ was Conqueror. His death answered the question as to whether there was self-denial with the Father and the Son.” Ibid. Self-exaltation is fatal.

  1. A deeper understanding of the love of God.

When Jesus was suffering the most intense agony of mind and body, He thought only of others. Ellen White describes it: “O pitiful, loving Saviour; amid all His physical pain, and mental anguish, He had a tender, thoughtful care for His mother! …

“Christ was not upheld by triumphant joy. All was oppressive gloom. It was not the dread of death that weighed upon Him. It was not the pain and ignominy of the cross that caused His inexpressible agony. Christ was the prince of sufferers; but His suffering was from a sense of the malignity of sin, a knowledge that through familiarity with evil, man had become blinded to its enormity.” The Desire of Ages, 752, 753.

His suffering was caused by “… a knowledge that through familiarity with evil, man had become blinded to its enormity.” When you become familiar with sin, after a while it doesn’t shock you anymore. By familiarity with evil, you become blinded to its enormity. That’s what caused the suffering of Jesus on the cross. You need to think that through.

“Christ saw how deep is the hold of sin upon the human heart, how few would be willing to break from its power. He knew that without help from God, humanity must perish, and He saw multitudes perishing within reach of abundant help. …”

“It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God.

“With amazement angels witnessed the Saviour’s despairing agony. The hosts of heaven veiled their faces from the fearful sight.” Ibid., 753.

His flesh was lacerated with stripes. His hands that had so often been held out in blessing, were nailed to the wooden bars. The feet, tireless in ministry of love, were spiked to the tree. The royal head was pierced with a crown of thorns. And His quivering lips were shaped to the cry of woe and distress. And all that, He endured. The blood drops that flowed from His head, His hands, His feet, the agony that racked His whole body, the unutterable anguish that filled His soul at the hiding of His Father’s face, all that says to you and to me, it’s for you. It’s for you that the Son of God consents to do this, to bear this burden of death. This burden of guilt He consents to bear for you, to spoil the domain of death, and to open up for you the gates of paradise.

The same person who stilled the angry waves on the sea of Galilee, who walked the foam-capped billows, who made devils tremble and made disease flee, and who opened the eyes of the blind, and raised the dead to life, the same person offered Himself as a sacrifice on the cross to open up for you the gates of Paradise to give you everlasting life.

When you begin to see that, then you will immediately see that there is no second probation after the Lord comes, because the Lord has already done everything that can be done to provide for your salvation. And if what He has done for you doesn’t impress you to serve and follow Him, there is nothing more He can do. You are lost.

  1. The necessity of doing your best.

If we understand the cross, we should understand that only the best effort is acceptable. Remember when Mary poured the ointment on Jesus’ head and on His feet and anointed Him and Judas said, What purpose was this waste? Why wasn’t this ointment sold for 300 denari and given to the poor?

Jesus thought differently. “ ‘To what purpose is this waste?’ brought vividly before Christ the greatest sacrifice ever made—the gift of Himself as the propitiation for a lost world. The Lord would be so bountiful to His human family that it could not be said of Him that He could do more.” The Desire of Ages, 565. It cannot be said of God that He could have done more.

“In the gift of Jesus, God gave all heaven.” Ibid. In The Home Missionary, December 1, 1894, it says, “He has given us the greatest gift He could possibly make, a gift of infinite value, so that it could not be said He could give a greater gift.” He has done everything that can be done so that you can be saved.

“He gave to our world so abundantly that it could not be said that He could love us more.” The Ellen White 1888 Materials, 712. It cannot be said that He could have loved more or given more. All of heaven was given in this one gift. Nothing better could have been given.

Should I do the best I can for Him? Ellen White wrote: “I am constantly holding up the necessity of every man doing his best as a Christian, training himself to realize the growth, the expansion, the nobility of character which it is possible for us to have.” A Place Called Oakwood, 108.

Are you doing the best you can do for Jesus? If not, do you really love Him? If you are not giving Him your best, how can you claim to be a Christian? Love requires a response. God has given everything, given all heaven in the gift of His Son.

  1. On time.

The hour for the coming of Christ had been determined in heaven’s council thousands of years beforehand. Prophecy foretold exactly when Jesus would come, His birth place, when His ministry would begin and the exact time and even the hour of day that He would offer His life for the sins of the world.

God operates on time. The Bible says that when the fullness of the time came, God sent His Son. “The Saviour knew what awaited Him at Jerusalem, He knew that the malice of the Jews would soon bring about His death, and it was not His place to hasten that event by prematurely exposing Himself to their unscrupulous hatred. He was to patiently await His appointed time.” The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, 338.

He was not early, nor was He late, but when it was the right time, He was there. When met with opposition He would say to His disciples, Let us go to another place, for the time is not yet come. “By this He meant that the time of His final suffering and the closing of His earthly work had not yet come.” The Review and Herald, April 8, 1909.

To be like Jesus means also to learn to be on time. On time has to do with both the beginning of something and the ending of something else.

What a price has been paid. What an opportunity has been given us to accept this great truth of salvation and put our lives in order to be part of the true and faithful that are waiting for the return of their Redeemer.

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: historic@stepstolife.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.