BY ARMANDO JUÁREZ
gainst all the predictions of Hollywood's moviemakers, Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ had a huge impact on our secularized society. In spite of the controversies it provoked, it led many people to think seriously about Christ's sacrifice. Millions saw the movie in theaters, as well as on DVDs or videos at home. Christ's sacrifice on the cross always has an impact on the human heart. Jesus maintained, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32, NRSV).*
The Centrality of the Cross
Ellen G. White affirmed: "As we behold the Lamb of God upon the cross of Calvary, the mystery of redemption begins to unfold to our minds and the goodness of God leads us to repentance. In dying for sinners, Christ manifested a love that is incomprehensible; and as the sinner beholds this love, it softens the heart, impresses the mind, and inspires contrition in the soul."1
In his book Christ Our Substitute Norman Gulley writes that Christ's death "exposed in utter detail the depths to which God was willing to go to save man. . . . Calvary constitutes the most expensive price ever paid for anything. All heaven was poured out in that gift."2
This is why Mrs. White could write, "the cross stands alone, a great center in the world. It does not find friends, but it makes them. It creates its own agencies."3
But why the cross?
The Problem of Sin
The sin of Adam and Eve not only alienated humanity from God but ruptured the oneness and unity that God had created. The great controversy caused by their transgression separated them from God, and their whole nature was corrupted. All of their descendants born since then have inherited the result of their sin: separation from God. Humans are born self-centered, not God-centered. The beginning point of all sin is a life apart from God, in which self is king rather than God. Sin has perverted and disorganized human nature, bringing not only disease and bondage but divine condemnation and judgment.
God chose to solve the problem of sin not by force, but by love, by giving Himself in the person of His Son to redeem humankind. The cross became a symbol of Christ's work of redemption. The cross stands seared against the sky, its two arms reaching out in opposite directions, with one arm reaching symbolically back toward eternity past, the other toward eternity future. It encompasses the entire range of salvation history, from the inception of sin until its final eradication.
Redemption has three main purposes: first, to win humanity back to fellowship with God and restore it to God's image; second, to destroy sin that ruptured the oneness and unity of the universe; and third, to vindicate God's character before the universe.
The death of God's Son is the central and fundamental truth of the plan of redemption. The cross not only made redemption available to every human being; it also made possible the destruction of sin's power. Forgiven sinners have a new status (Rom. 8:16, 17), new life (Heb. 10:10), and eternal life (John 3:15, 16; Heb. 9:28). This is why Mrs. White wrote, "The church history upon the earth, and the church redeemed in heaven, all center around the cross of Calvary."4
The Message of the Cross
According to Mrs. White, our message should always be: "Christ crucified for our sins, Christ risen from the dead, Christ our intercessor before God; and closely connected with these is the office work of the Holy Spirit, the representative of Christ, sent forth with divine power and gifts for men."5
This has been Christianity's message from its beginning, as Paul declared: "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4).
God's plan was to keep alive the powerful influence of the message of the cross. His divine purpose was that the two sacraments of the church, baptism and the Lord's Supper, should point to the work of redemption: Christ's death, resurrection, priestly mediation, and second coming.
Paul, talking about baptism, wrote: "Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection" (Rom. 6:3-5).
The same thing happens with the sacrament of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-26); the wine and the bread are symbols of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Jesus himself said, "Do this in remembrance of me" (1 Cor. 11:24). The Lord's Supper was ordained to keep fresh in the believer's mind the memory of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. The message of the cross is the gospel that Christ commanded to be preached to all (Matt. 28:19), the truth as it is in Jesus.
But what else does God expect from us?
The Cross's Influence on Believers
Before His sacrifice Jesus prayed to His Father: "I pray . . . that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:20, 21). God's purpose was to restore a harmonious relationship between Him and His creatures. Paul wrote: "For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us" so that "he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it" (Eph. 2:14-16, NRSV). Christ wants to break the human barriers that separate us from Him and from one another.
At Pentecost, as the gospel was preached, all language barriers disappeared, and people were able to hear and understand (Acts 2:7-11). In the house of Cornelius, Peter recognized God's intention to remove racial and social barriers: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:34, 35, NRSV). Finally, Paul emphatically wrote: "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:27, 28). Unity among believers is the greatest evidence of the transforming power of the truth of Jesus. Unity among God's people shows the world that Jesus' ministry was God-ordained (John 17:21).
Questions for Sharing
1. How is the Adventist church in your community primarily known? Is that how you want it to be known? What would you do to change that perception (if it needs changing)?
2. Give some examples of unity (at least three) in your congregation. Come up with three examples of disunity. How does Christ's death and resurrection impact your local congregation's unity?
3. Given that Jesus' life and ministry were inclusive (He embraced everyone--even society's outcasts), how do you explain the fact that so much of modern religion seems to be based on exclusivity?
And unity leads to mission. Christ "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28); and also "to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). The cross of Christ is a power that "compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again" (2 Cor. 5:14, 15). This is why, before leaving this earth, Jesus commanded his disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" (Mark 16:15). He expects us to be his "witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8), to tell of God's desire for reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20).
We have a wonderful Savior and Redeemer. He died on the cross to save us, and gave us the privilege to become children of God (1 John 3:1) and to "participate in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). Peter wrote: "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3).
At His second coming, Jesus wants to find a united and loving people who have proclaimed His truth to the entire world and finished the mission entrusted to them.
I pray that then we will hear these words from Him: "Well done, good and faithful servant! . . . Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matt. 25:21).
Armando Juárez is pastor of the Maranatha Spanish Adventist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Hispanic coordinator of the Nevada-Utah Conference.