Wednesday, December 03, 2008

“Atonement at the Cross”

God would rather die for us than live without us.

“... For in the day that you eat from it, you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17, emphasis added).

Misunderstanding this instruction God gave to Adam and Eve makes it impossible to appreciate how much created beings depend on their Creator to sustain life. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the human race and the systems needed to sustain life were started by God at creation, but He then left us to function on a kind of autopilot. There are many who consciously or otherwise believe they are doing fairly well with God out there somewhere, and if they don’t ask Him for much, He shouldn’t require too much of them.

This thinking ignores the phrase emphasized above: “in the day.” Why didn’t Adam and Eve die that day? The plan of salvation God announced to our first parents centered on the cross, which didn’t happen for 4,000 years in the future, but the Lamb that was slain is described as having been slain from the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20).

Ellen G. White writes: “He was the Redeemer before as after His incarnation. As soon as there was sin, there was a Saviour” (The Desire of Ages, p. 210).

“As soon as Adam sinned, the Son of God presented Himself as surety for the human race, with just as much power to avert the doom pronounced upon the guilty as when He died upon the cross of Calvary” (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 21, 1901).

Another problem with this “autopilot” thinking, is that it makes it impossible to understand the cross, and it’s precursor, Gethsemane. Christ never sinned during His earthly life after assuming the likeness of sinful flesh because of an intense, direct connection with His heavenly Father. Approaching Gethsemane, He knew that connection was soon to be broken. If He had believed that His life could exist in an autopilot limbo-land, this separation would have meant little.

Sunday’s lesson interprets the Greek word translated “overwhelmed with sorrow” “to designate a high level of emotional distress, sadness, and anxiety.” This sorrow is measureless in intensity and depth, and the intensity was bringing Jesus to the second death—ultimate separation from God.

Christ’s separation from God was caused by His being made sin for us. His human nature shrank from the prospect: “Father, if it be possible, take this cup ... ” That cup contained the wrath of God (Rev. 14:10). Paul defines this wrath as God finally giving the persistently rebellious ones over to their own choices (Rom. 1:18-32).

While struggling with His Gethsemane decision, “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” (ibid., p. 690). He makes His decision to save the rebellious world. He chooses to believe His sacrifice will be acceptable and looks forward to the day when the promises of the everlasting covenant will restore unity to the universe.

His prayer, recorded in John 17, reveals the triumph of His faith: “I glorified Thee on the earth, having accomplished [finished or consummated] the work which Thou hast given Me to do” (John 17:4, NAS). That prayer will actually be fulfilled when the Holy City is brought to earth.

“Christ presents to the Father the purchase of His blood, declaring: ‘Here am I, and the children who Thou hast given Me ... With unutterable love, Jesus welcomes His faithful ones to the joy of their Lord. The Saviour’s joy is in seeing, in the kingdom of glory, the souls that have been saved by His agony and humiliation. ... As the ransomed ones are welcomed to the City of God, ... the two Adams are about to meet. The Son of God is standing with outstretched arms to receive the father of our race—the being whom He created, who sinned against his Maker, and for whose sin the marks of the crucifixion are borne upon the Saviour’s form. As Adam discerns the prints of the cruel nails, he does not fall upon the bosom of his Lord, but in humiliation casts himself at His feet, crying: ‘Worthy, worthy is the Lamb that was slain!’ Tenderly the Saviour lifts him up and bids him look once more upon the Eden home from which he has so long been exiled ... The son of God redeemed man’s failure and fall; and now, through the work of the atonement, Adam is reinstated in his first dominion” (The Great Controversy, pp. 646-648).

This is Christ’s reward. This is the culmination of the atonement. The human race was taken into sin by the first Adam, but the Second Adam reversed that history and took all mankind “in Him” to the cross to die the second death penalty for sin, and “in Christ,” rewrote the condemnation into life for all. That all will not be ultimately saved will be the result of their persistent rebellious choice. Like Esau, they spurn the at-one-ment birthright secured at infinite cost. Truly, Christ could say, “It is finished.” Only our choice is yet to be accomplished. May we all be willing to accept our position in the Second Adam Who has done everything for us.

Arlene Hill