Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Cross and the Faith of Jesus: Implications for the Cleansing of the Sanctuary - Part One

by Lyndi Schwartz

“For God so loved the world.” John the Apostle of love—whose gospel alone details Jesus’ act of washing the disciples’ feet, an act of humility that bored a hole deep in his heart and mind—strangely gives us very little of the events in Gethsemane. John, who throughout his gospel never mentions his own name, who refuses to speak of himself in reference to himself, who never paints himself in the foreground as a hero, but rather uses every reference to himself to honor Christ, refers to himself simply as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He is in awe of the marvel that Christ loved him and in a unique way, gripped the reality and was humbled and transformed by it. In 1 John 1:1, he says “That which was from the beginning . . . that which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon . . . that which we have seen and heard we declare to you.”[1]

At first glance it seems redundant to say “he saw it and he looked upon it.” However, there are two different Greek words used. The first “seen” is optanomai, which is to gaze with wide open eyes as at something remarkable! It is not simple voluntary observation or mechanical, passive, casual vision. Even more emphatic is the second word theaomai, translated “looked upon.” This word signifies an earnest, continued inspection. John, moved by what he saw, asks us to look not with mechanical, passive, casual vision, but to inspect with earnestness the agape of Jesus Christ. So let us with earnestness do what John has asked us to do.

In John 12, Jesus was standing in the shadow of the cross, and the Greeks came to see Him. His response to the visitants seemed strange. He said, “Most assuredly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (v. 24). After a period of silence that seemed to carry Him far away, He cried out in v. 27, “Now My soul is troubled and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour.” Ellen White says of this expression of dread, “The message of the Greeks, foreshadowing as it did the gathering of the Gentiles, brought to the mind of Jesus His entire mission. The work of redemption passed before Him from the time when in heaven the plan was laid, to the death that was now so near at hand. A mysterious cloud seemed to enshroud the Son of God.”[2]

Five days later having eaten the final Passover supper with His disciples, we see Him in Matthew 26 with them in Gethsemane. He takes His three closest friends, Peter and the two “sons of thunder,” and began to be exceedingly sorrowful and deeply distressed. In fact, He told them flat out in v. 38 that His soul was exceedingly sorrowful even to death. Then He asks for intercessory prayer. Why would the Son of God need intercessory prayer? Before Christ came to our world, He understood the facts of all that would be required of Him to redeem mankind. He knew that He would experience terrible feelings, terrible emotional distress, and terrible pain. He knew the fact that He would die of a broken heart, that He would drink the cup of the Father’s wrath, and that He would die the death of the cross by becoming a curse for us. And knowing all this, He went to the Father and willingly volunteered to save mankind. Ellen White tells us in The Story of Redemption that He went to the Father in heaven three times and pled with Him for the right to die for fallen humanity.

Now an amazing contrast takes shape in the Garden of Gethsemane as He pleads with His three closest companions to pray for Him and His sweat becomes like great drops of blood. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He would again go to the Father three times, only this time, He pleads not for the right to die for mankind, but He pleads to be released from the responsibility of dying for mankind. As He stood in the shadow of the cross, He was no longer eager to enter into the steps required for the redemption of mankind. He was distressed and perplexed. As Ellen White describes,

A mysterious cloud seemed to enshroud the Son of God. His humanity shrank from the hour of abandonment, when to all appearance He would be deserted even by God, when all would see Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. He shrank from public exposure, from being treated as the worst of criminals, from a shameful and dishonored death. A foreboding of His conflict with the powers of darkness, a sense of the awful burden of human transgression, and the Father’s wrath because of sin caused the spirit of Jesus to faint, and the pallor of death to overspread His countenance.[3]

Later when He was on the cross, the Psalmist gives us a glimpse into the state of His mind when Christ cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) This statement, bland in English, is infused with emotion as we look at the original languages. Christ no doubt knew several languages, including Latin, Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew. Even though Christ knew beforehand of this experience, He is perplexed, troubled, distressed by the strangeness of it, and under the strain, He cries out in two languages, “Eli, Eli lama [Hebrew] Sabachthani [Syriac, an ancient Aramaic language].” Jesus Christ is experiencing the veiled promise in Genesis 15, given to Abraham in his deep sleep—may God be ripped from God, like these two animals have been ripped apart, if We are not faithful to the covenant. In this passage the emphasis is on the smoking gun and the burning torch that passed between the pieces, signifying God the Father and God the Son and their covenant to save mankind at any cost to themselves. Christ was experiencing this on the cross.

What kept Him on the cross? What sustained Him in Gethsemane? A model put forth by A.J. Greimas has been helpful in elucidating the tremendous conflict enveloping the mind of Christ on the cross.[4]

Sender Object Receiver

Helper Subject Opponent

The top line is called the “axis of communication” because it represents the sender’s act of communicating the message (object) to the receiver. The bottom line is called the “axis of power.” The “axis of power” represents the story’s conflict played out in which the success or failure of the subject is determined by the relative power of the helper vs. the opponent. If the opponent is too strong, the subject will fail to carry out the mission, and the communication of the object to the receiver will not occur. If, on the other hand, the helper is stronger than the opponent, the subject will succeed in his task of communicating the sender’s message.

As we apply these facts to the cross, it is helpful to recall our opening text. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Galatians 4:4, 5 also says: “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His son born of a woman made under law to redeem those who were under law that we might receive the adoption of sons.”



God Reconciliation Those under law—mankind


New creation

( ) → Jesus Christ Curse/eternal separation

Jesus vs. Father’s will

Putting the “axis of power” under the microscope, Ellen White makes some poignant statements in The Desire of Ages.

All His life, Christ had been publishing to a fallen world the good news of the Father’s mercy and pardoning love. . . . But now with the terrible weight of guilt He bears, He cannot see the Father’s reconciling face. Satan with his fierce temptations wrung the heart of Jesus. The Savior could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that their separation was to be eternal.[5]

Psalm 22 describes for us this dark struggle and, hence, the two languages He spoke on Calvary. It also tells us what we must do when the darkness of doubt and the lack of faith threaten to undo us. He reviewed how the Father had been with Him during His sojourn on earth. Ellen White says, “In those dreadful hours, He relied upon the evidence of His Father’s acceptance heretofore given Him. . . . By faith He rested in Him Whom it had ever been His joy to obey.”[6] Going back to the model we fill in the helper.



Reconciliation Mankind

God Adoption

New Creation

Faith Jesus Christ Curse

In the axis of power we see Jesus struggling with the opponent of the curse, the feelings of God’s abandonment and hopelessness, the struggle to say not My will, but Yours be done. And in the end, faith was the victory. Faith was the power that enabled Him to carry out the heavenly errand. Jesus Christ, by the power of faith, has performed the act of redemption which allows mankind to choose to accept the Gift. “Saving faith is the faith of Jesus,” Gerald Finneman writes, “This is the faith that not only believes in the absence of feelings, but against them.”[7]

All heaven was risked at Calvary. It was possible for Him to fail, and had He failed, it would have been a failure of cosmic proportions. Finneman adds: “When Jesus was driven to the edge of insanity, when He got to the end of His rope of faith, it held!”[8]

“For God so loved the world.”

[1] All texts are from the New King James Version unless otherwise specified.

[2] Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1940), 624.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Referenced in Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002), 91-106.

[5] White, 753.

[6] Ibid., 756.

[7] Gerald L. Finneman, Christ in the Psalms (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Glad Tidings Publishers, 2004), 32.

[8] Ibid., 39.

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