Love & Thanks,
Steve St. Clair
Where Did the Cross Go?
Robert L. Millet
BYU Religious Education Faculty
September 16, 2005
“Now the Atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel,” Elder Bruce R. McConkie testified at his last general conference of the Church, “and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths.
“Many of us have a superficial knowledge and rely upon the Lord and his goodness to see us through the trials and perils of life.
“But if we are to have faith like Enoch and Elijah we must believe what they believed, know what they knew, and live as they lived.
“May I invite you to join with me,” he beckoned to the Saints, “in gaining a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement.
“We must cast aside the philosophies of men and the wisdom of the wise and hearken to that Spirit which is given us to guide us into all truth.
“We must search the scriptures, accepting them as the mind and will and voice of the Lord and the very power of God unto salvation.”
In a similar manner, Elder Boyd K. Packer reminded us almost thirty years ago that the message of mediation through Jesus Christ, the deliverance from sin and death made possible by his substitutionary offering, “is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them.” These statements say something about the need for us to be clear and direct and consistent in how we teach the doctrine of Christ, how we declare the gospel.
I do not suppose that Elder McConkie is suggesting that we will ever in this mortal life understand completely the mystery of mysteries—how Jesus of Nazareth could take upon himself the sins of all humanity and how it is that he could rise from the dead and have that literal bodily resurrection pass upon every person who enters mortality. Rather, it seems to me that his plea and yearning invitation is for us to search the scriptures, ponder the revelations, and attune ourselves to the Infinite in order to better understand what we are meant to understand—namely, how salvation centers in and comes only through Christ; how our Lord’s suffering in Gethsemane and on Golgotha work together perfectly to satisfy the demands of divine justice; and how you and I are to remember, focus upon, and appropriate into our personal beings the precious gift made available by an omni-loving Deity. To borrow Elder Packer’s thought, for you and me to spend the majority of our time in the classroom or in our homes discussing only related but peripheral teachings (as true and important as they might be) without erecting the vital bridge to the Central Doctrine is to rob our students and ourselves of the transcendent outpouring that attends a Christ-centered and a Christ-directed presentation.
Whole books have been written on the Atonement, as you know. My intent today is to focus our perspective on one specific dimension of the Atonement—the divine link between the Garden and the Cross. I want to look back at our past, examine where we are now, and look to the future relative to how we teach the Savior’s suffering and how we come across to those within the Church as well as those interested (and sometimes critical) persons of other faiths who may question our commitment to Jesus.
The Bible and the Cross
We walk a fine line when it comes to expressing our views on the merit and value of the Holy Bible. Because of Nephi’s description of the malicious work of the great and abominable church in regard to the Bible (1 Nephi 13:20-40; compare Moses 1:40-41), the statements of the Prophet Joseph Smith about the great value but incompleteness of the Bible, and the eighth article of faith, we and our students are too often prone to look askance at the holy book and question its merit, especially since we have additional scripture and modern revelation. It really is not the case that the Bible has been so corrupted that it cannot be relied upon to teach us sound doctrine and provide an example of how to live. “When I lived in England a few years ago,” said Elder Mark E. Petersen, “I went to the British Museum in London and studied the history of the King James Version of the Bible. I learned that its translators fasted and prayed for inspiration in their work. I am convinced that they received it.” While we do not subscribe to a doctrine of scriptural inerrancy, we do believe that the hand of God has been over the preservation of the biblical materials such that what we have now is what the Almighty would have us possess. In the words of Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “we cannot avoid the conclusion that a divine providence is directing all things as they should be. This means that the Bible, as it now is, contains that portion of the Lord’s word” that the present world is prepared to receive.
The Bible is a remarkable book of scripture, one that inspires, motivates, reproves, corrects, and instructs (2 Timothy 3:16). It is the word of God. Our task, according to President George Q. Cannon, is to engender faith in the Bible. “As our duty is to create faith in the word of God in the mind of the young student, we scarcely think that object is best attained by making the mistakes of translators [or transmitters] the more prominent part of our teachings. Even children have their doubts, but it is not our business to encourage those doubts. Doubts never convert; negations seldom convince. . . . The clause in the Articles of Faith regarding mistakes in the translation of the Bible was never inserted to encourage us to spend our time in searching out and studying those errors, but to emphasize the idea that it is the truth and the truth only that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts, no matter where it is found.”
In a revelation received in February 1831 that embraces “the law of the Church,” the early Saints were instructed: “And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel” (D&C 42:12, emphasis added). In 1982 Elder Bruce R McConkie explained to Church leaders that “Before we can write the gospel in our own book of life we must learn the gospel as it is written in the books of scripture.
The Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price—each of them individually and all of them collectively—contain the fulness of the everlasting gospel.”While Latter-day Saints do not believe that one can derive divine authority to perform the saving ordinances from the scriptures, we do say that the Bible contains the fulness of the gospel in the sense that (1) it teaches of groups of people in the past who enjoyed the full blessings of the everlasting gospel; and (2) it teaches (especially the New Testament) the good news or glad tidings of redemption in Christ through the Atonement (see 3 Nephi 27:13-21; D&C 76:40-42).
For example, while the Old Testament is not as Christ-centered and gospel-centered as the brass plates (see 1 Nephi 13:23; 19:10-13; Alma 33:11, 16), the Christian world is able to read the Old Testament through the lenses of the New Testament and recognize many of the messianic prophecies, types, and shadows for what they are. In addition, of course, Latter-day Saints have available as hermeneutical tools the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, all of which provide additional perspective on salvation history, teach of the Eternal Gospel, and testify that Christian prophets have taught Christian doctrine and administered Christian ordinances since the days of Adam.
A close study of the four Gospels reveals that each of the Gospel writers was intent on affirming that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh, setting forth what he taught, describing how he ministered, and providing detail concerning when and under what circumstances he performed miracles.
More important, each Gospel moves rapidly through the Master’s three-year ministry toward the climactic passion week—his Last Supper, the institution of the Sacrament, the Intercessory Prayer, his sufferings and ordeal in the Garden, his Jewish and Roman trials, his crucifixion and death on Calvary, and his glorious rise on the third day to resurrected immortality.
As we make our way through the Gospels and then move through the next section—what Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has re-named “The Acts of the Resurrected Christ Working through the Holy Spirit in the Lives and Ministries of His Ordained Apostles”—we then proceed into what is for me the most stimulating, perceptive, provocative, profound, and inspiring section of all biblical teachings, the epistles of the Apostle Paul. These in fact contain treasure houses of doctrinal data, specifically insight into such matters as the nature of fallen humanity and the desperate plight of unregenerate man; a variety of approaches to understanding the Atonement (satisfaction, substitution, ransom); the transforming power of the blood of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in renewing and resuscitating the spiritually stillborn; the doctrine of justification by faith and salvation by grace; and the abundant life enjoyed by those who have become new creatures, have been conformed to the image of the Savior and granted the mind of Christ.
Paul tends to use certain key words to denote a greater and grander and broader concept. For example, the word circumcision comes to convey much more than the rite performed on eight-day-old male children, a token of the covenant given to Father Abraham. It comes to denote Jewishness, Judaism, life under the Law of Moses with the harsh and onerous expectations of obedience to the 613 commandments of Torah. Similarly, the word cross in reference to the crucifixion of Jesus comes to mean more than simply the mode of torture and execution invented by the Persians and perfected by the Romans. It was a sign, a token of the Atonement. To say that one believed in and taught the cross was to say that one accepted the reality of the lowly Nazarene’s suffering and death as having divine redemptive power. But this was no easy sell, no message that tickled the ears of those to whom Paul bore witness. Indeed, it was scandalous.
For example, Paul reminds the Corinthian Saints that the risen Lord had sent him “to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. . . . For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:17-18, 22-23). Why so? Why would the Jews and the Greeks have been so put off by the idea of a crucified savior? Well, for one thing, Moses had decreed that any person who is hanged on a tree is cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23). What, then, do we make of the outlandish Christian claim that God had cursed the One who claimed to be God? That is, God had cursed himself! Ridiculous. Irony of ironies: the One who had come into the world as the Tree of Life, the Tree of Blessing, hung and bled and suffered and died on the tree of cursing, the tree of death.
“From both the Greek and Roman points of view, the stigma of crucifixion made the whole notion of the gospel claiming Jesus as the Messiah an absolute absurdity,” John MacArthur has written. “A glance at the history of crucifixion in first-century Rome reveals what Paul’s contemporaries thought about it. It was a horrific form of capital punishment, originating, most likely, in the Persian Empire, but other barbarians used it as well. The condemned died and agonizingly slow death by suffocation, gradually becoming too exhausted and traumatized to pull himself up on the nails in his hands, or push himself up on the nail through his feet, enough to take a deep breath of air. King Darius crucified three thousand Babylonians. Alexander the Great crucified two thousand from the city of Tyre. Alexander Janius crucified eight hundred Pharisees, while they watched soldiers slaughter their wives and children at their feet.
“This sealed the horror of the crucifixion in the Jewish mind. Romans came to power in Israel in 63 B.C. and used crucifixion extensively. Some writers say authorities crucified as many as thirty thousand people around that time. Titus Vespasian crucified so many Jews in A.D. 70 that the soldiers had no room for the crosses and not enough crosses for the bodies. It wasn’t until 337, when Constantine abolished crucifixion, that it disappeared after a millennium of cruelty in the world.”
Martin Hengel pointed out that “To believe that . . . the mediator at creation and the redeemer of the world, had appeared in very recent times in out-of-the-way Galilee as a member of the obscure people of the Jews, and even worse, had died the death of a common criminal on the cross, could only be regarded as a sign of madness. The real gods of Greece and Rome could be distinguished from mortal men by the very fact that they were immortal—they had absolutely nothing in common with the cross as a sign of shame. . . and thus of the one who was ‘bound in the most ignominious fashion’ and executed in a shameful way.’” Nevertheless, when Paul came to the Corinthians he “came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you,” he wrote, “save Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
Note Paul’s use of the words cross and crucify in some of his epistles:
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized [literally immersed, changed identity] into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death [that is, united with him in a death like his], we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed [that is, rendered powerless], that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Romans 6:3-6).
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
“For he is our peace, who hath made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; . . . and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
“Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. . . .)” (Philippians 3:17-18).
“And [Christ] is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things to himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:18-20).
“And ye are complete in [Christ], which is the head of all principality and power. . . . And you, being dead in your sins. . . hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us”—that is, the Law pointed out the myriad of ways one could sin— “and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Colossians 2:10, 13-14).
Finally, let me point up one of my favorite New Testament passages, one that is part of a verse in the beautiful hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”:
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14, emphasis added).
Clearly, the doctrine of the cross, meaning the doctrine of the Atonement, was right where it needed to be—at the heart and core of Paul’s teachings. Neither the scandal of the cross—a word that was not even acceptable in polite Roman company—nor the absurdity of a dying Messiah could hinder the Apostle to the Gentiles from delivering his witness of the Christ to the ends of the known world. He was not ashamed of the gospel, which included Christ’s sufferings and death on the cross (Romans 1:16).
Historically we should note that in the first few Christian centuries the cross was not considered a virtuous or admirable symbol but rather a terrifying reminder of what Jesus and many thousands of others had ignominiously suffered. In fact, some scholars report that the cross did not appear in churches as a symbol of veneration until A.D. 431. Crosses on steeples did not appear until 586, and it was not until that sixth century that crucifixes were sanctioned by the Roman church.
Latter-day Saint Scripture and the Cross
The Bible does not stand alone in testifying of the significance of the cross. Very often I am asked why the Latter-day Saints do not believe in the saving efficacy of the cross. Obviously we do. We proclaim, just as the Apostle Paul did, “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). As many of you know, our belief in the power of the cross is not well known among traditional Christians. One woman in Canada asked my friend, Pastor Greg Johnson, how he could stand to have close association with me and other Latter-day Saints.
“Why do you ask that?” he inquired. She responded: “Mormons don’t even believe that Jesus died on the cross.” Greg shook his head and came back with a question: “Where do you suppose the Latter-day Saints think Jesus died?” “Oh, I don’t mean that,” she said. “They don’t believe he died for our sins on the cross.”
Not true. Nephi foresaw the time, some six hundred years ahead, when Jesus would be “lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” (1 Nephi 11:33, emphasis added). Much like Paul, Jacob called upon the followers of the Redeemer to experience for themselves the power of the cross: “Wherefore, we would to God that we could persuade all men not to rebel against God, to provoke him to anger, but that all men would believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world” (Jacob 1:8, emphasis added; compare Moroni 9:25). Notice the language of the risen Lord to the people of the Book of Mormon: “Behold, I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me. And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil” (3 Nephi 27:13-14, emphasis added).
The testimony of the Doctrine and Covenants is that “Jesus was crucified by sinful men for the sins of the world, yea, for the remission of sins unto the contrite heart” (D&C 21:9, emphasis added). “I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as will believe on my name, that they may become the [children] of God, even one in me as I am one in the Father, as the Father is one in me, that we may be one” (D&C 35:2). In beginning a brief passage on various spiritual gifts, a revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants affirms: “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.” (D&C 46:13-14, emphasis added.) Elsewhere: “Behold, I, the Lord, who was crucified for the sins of the world, give unto you a commandment that you shall forsake the world” (D&C 53:2). President Joseph F. Smith was taught in his Vision of the Redemption of the Dead that salvation has been “wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross” (D&C 138:35).
I have not even begun to take the time to list or read the scores of passages in the Book of Mormon and modern scripture that speak of the vital need for Christ’s suffering and death. That is to say, it was not just his suffering but also his death—on the cruel cross of Calvary—that was an indispensable element of the atoning sacrifice. As Mormon explained: “Now Aaron began to open the scriptures unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and that there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood” (Alma 21:9; compare 22:14). In short, “he surely must die that salvation may come” (Helaman 14:15). This doctrine was taught from the very beginning. Some three millennia before the coming of Jesus to earth, Enoch saw in vision “the day of the coming of the Son of Man, even in the flesh; and his soul rejoiced, saying: The Righteous is lifted up, and the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world.” Enoch looked “and beheld the Son of Man lifted up on the cross, after the manner of men” (Moses 7:47, 55).
We have no quarrel with those who speak reverently of the cross, for so did those whose writings compose a significant portion of the New Testament and those who spoke or wrote what is contained in our own scriptural records. The cross is a symbol. We are not opposed to symbols, for our people erect statues of the angel Moroni atop our most sacred edifices and wear CTR rings on their hand. On a number of occasions when I have been asked why the Latter-day Saints do not believe in the saving efficacy of the cross, and when I have corrected the false impression by referring to passages like those cited above, a follow-up question comes: “Well then, if you people really do claim to be Christian, why do you not have crosses on your buildings, your vestments, or your literature?” After consulting with a few LDS cultural historians, it appears that crosses were seldom if ever placed on our meetinghouses. Inasmuch as many of our early converts came from a Puritan background, they, like the Puritans, were essentially anti-ceremonial, including the non-use of crosses. For that matter, early Baptists did not have crosses on their churches for a long time, at least until they began to move into mainstream Protestantism.
In short, the key is not to become obsessed with the symbol, but to allow the symbol to point beyond itself toward that which is of deepest significance.
Thus we do not worship Moroni; we look upon those statues and are reminded that through the instrumentality of Moroni and a whole host of divine messengers the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth (Revelation 14:6-7). When we see a CTR ring, we are reminded that the followers of the Good Shepherd must do more than talk the talk; they must walk the walk, must conform their lives to the pattern He has shown and live a life befitting a true disciple.
In that spirit, President Joseph F. Smith reminded us that “having been born anew, which is the putting away of the old man sin, and putting on of the man Christ Jesus, we have become soldiers of the Cross, having enlisted under the banner of Jehovah for time and for eternity.” As one writer has explained powerfully, although Jesus was “Crushed by the ruthless power of Rome, he was himself crushing the serpent’s head (as was predicted in Genesis 3:15). The victim was the victor, and the cross is still the throne from which he rules the world.”
The Garden of Gethsemane and the Cross
“We, the Latter-day Saints, take the liberty of believing more than our Christian brethren: We not only believe . . . the Bible, but . . . the whole of the plan of salvation that Jesus has given to us. Do we differ from others who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? No, only in believing more.” These words, uttered by President Brigham Young, have come to mean more and more to me as I have worked closely with noble men and women of other Christian faiths. I have come to perceive that while there are, to be sure, major doctrinal differences between us, there are a striking number of similarities once those involved in discussion are able to put away arrogance and pettiness and defensiveness, once the participants are more concerned with coming to a deeper understanding of the truth than they are with proving the other to be wrongheaded.
Professor Douglas Davies of Durham University in England has written: “Christians have paid relatively little attention to what befell Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane compared to what happened to him at the Last Supper and on Calvary. This is as true for artists as it is for theologians. There are innumerable paintings of the Crucifixion but relatively few dealing with Christ’s Passion in the garden. So, too, with theology: there is much written about the Eucharist and Christ’s death but much less on his personal trial in the garden.” Davies goes on to describe the master’s anguish in Gethsemane as a betrayal of sorts, one instance among many during the long hours of atonement, in which Jesus was left alone, this time by the Father himself.
In fact, one of the distinctive teachings of Mormonism is the central role of Gethsemane—that our Lord’s suffering there was not simply an awful anticipation of Calvary, that it was redemptive in nature. Luke is the only Gospel writer who mentions that the Savior’s agony in the Garden was of such magnitude that it caused him to sweat blood. And, as many of you know, this passage is disputed by some biblical scholars who identify it as of later origin and one that could have been utilized or omitted by those involved in the centuries-long controversy over the humanity/divinity of Jesus. We know from King Benjamin (Mosiah 3:7) as well as from a revelation to Joseph Smith (D&C 19:18) that the sobering incident of the bloody sweat was historical, real, and meaningful. We know further from President Brigham Young that the withdrawal of the Father’s Spirit from his Son—a direct result of Jesus becoming, in Paul’s language, “sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21; compare Galatians 3:13) and thereby assuming the burden and effects of our temptations, sins, pains, afflictions, infirmities, and sicknesses—is what caused the only perfect being to bleed from every pore.
It is inevitable that over time individuals and whole faith communities begin to define themselves, at least to some extent, over against what others believe and thus to emphasize most strongly those doctrinal distinctives that make them who they are. And so it was with the hours of atonement. Because we had come to know, through the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, concerning the purposes for the Master’s pains in the Garden, we seem to have begun to place a greater stress upon Gethsemane than upon the cross. It is difficult to define exactly when this began to occur, although President Joseph Fielding Smith seems to have formalized this emphasis more than anyone.
That it did occur is obvious to most of us who were raised in the Church; we were taught that Gethsemane, not the cross, was where Jesus suffered for our sins and that as horrendous as would have been the pain of Golgotha, yet the suffering in Gethsemane was greater and more far-reaching. As time has passed, however, the leaders of the Church have begun to speak of the importance of both Gethsemane and the cross and to emphasize that what began in Gethsemane was completed on Golgotha. Note, for example, some of the following teachings of Church leaders:
From John Taylor: “The plan, the arrangement, the agreement, the covenant was made, entered into, and accepted before the foundation of the world; it was prefigured by sacrifices, and was carried out and consummated on the cross.”
In June 1888 the General Superintendency of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association (Wilford Woodruff, Joseph F. Smith, and Moses Thatcher) wrote: “Alone, while treading the wine-press of the wrath of devils and men, gained [Christ] the keys of death, hell and the grave. They were forged in the crucible of intense hate, not in the lap of luxurious ease.
Ingratitude heaped upon Him the sins of the world, and heavy-eyed watchmen slept while He prayed and sweat great gouts of blood. Malice spat in His face; jealousy and mockery crowned Him with thorns; envy mantled Him with a cast-off robe; cruelty nailed Him to the cross, then cried: ‘Come down, save thyself.’ Son of God, Prince of Power, commander of heavenly legions though He was, the anguish of accumulated woes, caused Him, as death’s agony bathed his brow, to exclaim: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
From President George Q. Cannon in 1899: “So effectually and permanently does the Lord wish to impress the remembrance of that great sacrifice at Calvary on our memories that He permits us all to partake of the emblems—the bread and wine.”
President Rudger Clawson declared that “the atonement made upon Mount Calvary was the supreme sacrifice ever made in all the world.”
Elder George F. Richards stated in 1914: “We read in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 3:7), a prediction of the coming of the Lord in the meridian of time, and how he would suffer for the sins of the people: ‘For behold blood cometh from every pore so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and abominations of his people.’ It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that this prophecy was fulfilled. Our Father in heaven and His Son, the Savior, sorrow for the sins we commit and rejoice in our righteousness. To obey the Lord is a pleasing way of serving Him.”
From a Christmas epistle of the First Presidency on 17 December 1921: “We rejoice both in the occasion and in the opportunity; for we do know and do testify that He whose mortal birth in the Manger of Bethlehem the world celebrates at this festive season, is indeed the Son of God and the Savior of mankind through the atonement wrought out on the Cross of Calvary.”
President B. H. Roberts: “If it be true, and it is, that men value things in proportion to what they cost, then how dear to them must be the Atonement, since it cost the Christ so much in suffering that he may be said to have been baptized by blood-sweat in Gethsemane, before he reached the climax of his passion, on Calvary.”
Bishop Joseph Wirthlin in 1952: “To take upon one the name of Jesus Christ, to me, means that we will accept the Son of God as the Redeemer of the world, that we will accept his plan of salvation and live it as he has commanded us, and then to remember the great sacrifice that he made upon Calvary’s hill.”
Elder Bruce R. McConkie: Jesus “carried his cross until he collapsed from the weight and pain and mounting agony of it all.
Finally, on a hill called Calvary—it was outside Jerusalem’s walls—while helpless disciples looked on and felt the agonies of near death in their own bodies, the Roman soldiers laid him upon the cross. With great mallets they drove spikes of iron through his feet and hands and wrists. Truly he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.
Then the cross was raised that all might see and gape and curse and deride. This they did, with evil venom, for three hours from 9:00 A.M. to noon. Then the heavens grew black. Darkness covered the land for the space of three hours. . . . There was a mighty storm, as though the very God of Nature was in agony. And truly he was, for
while he was hanging on the cross for another three hours, from noon to 3:00 P.M., all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane recurred.
And, finally, when the atoning agonies had taken their toll—when the victory had been won, when the Son of God had fulfilled the will of the Father in all things—then he said, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30), and he voluntarily gave up the ghost.
President Ezra Taft Benson: “In Gethsemane and on Calvary, He [Christ] worked out the infinite and eternal atonement. It was the greatest single act of love in recorded history. Thus He became our Redeemer.”
At a First Presidency Christmas devotional, President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that
We honor His birth. But without His death that birth would have been but one more birth. It was the redemption which He worked out in the Garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross of Calvary which made His gift immortal, universal, and everlasting.
More recently, President Hinckley observed that the way we live our lives—patterned after the only sinless being to walk the earth—is the great symbol of our Christianity. He went on to add that
No member of this Church must ever forget the terrible price paid by our Redeemer, who gave His life that all men might live—the agony of Gethsemane, the bitter mockery of His trial, the vicious crown of thorns tearing at His flesh, the blood cry of the mob before Pilate, the lonely burden of His heavy walk along the way to Calvary, the terrifying pain as great nails pierced His hands and feet. . . .
We cannot forget that. We must never forget it, for here our Savior, our Redeemer, the Son of God, gave Himself, a vicarious sacrifice
for each of us.
“Do you have a testimony of the Savior of the world?” President Hinckley has asked. “Do you know that He was the first Begotten of the Father? Do you know that actually He was the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh? Do you know that He left His royal courts on high and came to earth, born under the humblest of circumstances? He walked the dusty roads of Palestine, and gave His life on the cross of Calvary for you and me.”
We Sing What We Believe
For those who may still wonder what we believe relative to Gethsemane and Golgotha, I would invite you to undertake a fascinating journey—a study and search of the 1985 edition of the LDS hymnal. There are some 341 hymns and anthems within this volume. In the “First Presidency Preface” are found these words: “Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings. The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.” Now note these words: “Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.” Later in the Preface the Brethren add: “We hope the hymnbook will take a prominent place among the scriptures and other religious books in our homes.”
Many of the hymns are written by devoted Protestant or Catholic Christians, and a surprising number are written by Latter-day Saints. All of them have been approved by the leadership of the Church, the Church Music department, and the Correlation department. There are literally scores of hymns that give voice to our desire to submit and surrender to the Almighty, praise him for his goodness and grace, and petition for forgiveness, renewal, comfort, peace, strength, and eternal life. Of especial importance are those hymns to be sung prior to the administration of the Sacrament, for they focus specifically on our Lord’s suffering and death. For example, consider these inspiring words:
As now we take the sacrament, our thoughts are turned to thee,
Thou Son of God, who lived for us, then died on Calvary.
We contemplate thy lasting grace, thy boundless charity;
To us the gift of life was giv’n for all eternity.
Help me remember, I implore,
Thou gav’st thy life on Calvary,
That I might live forever more
And grow, dear Lord, to be like thee.
In humility, our Savior, grant thy Spirit here, we pray,
As we bless the bread and water in thy name this holy day.
Let me not forget, O Savior, thou didst bleed and die for me
When thy heart was stilled and broken on the cross at Calvary.
For us the blood of Christ was shed;
For us on Calvary’s cross he bled,
And thus dispelled the awful gloom
That else were this creation’s doom.
‘Tis sweet to sing the matchless love
Of Him who left His home above
And came to earth—oh, wondrous plan—
To suffer, bleed, and die for man.
For Jesus died on Calvary,
That all through him might ransomed be.
Then sing hosannas to his name;
Let heav’n and earth his love proclaim.
While of this broken bread humbly we eat,
Our thoughts to thee are led in rev’rence sweet.
Bruised, broken, torn for us on Calvary’s hill—
Thy suffering borne for us lives with us still.
Rev’rently and meekly now,
Let thy head most humbly bow.
Think of me, thou ransomed one,
Think what I for thee have done.
With my blood that dripped like rain,
Sweat in agony of pain,
With my body on the tree
I have ransomed even thee.
Our Savior, in Gethsemane,
Shrank not to drink the bitter cup,
And then, for us, on Calvary,
Upon the cross was lifted up.
Come, Saints, and drop a tear or two
For him who groaned beneath your load;
He shed a thousand drops for you,
A thousand drops of precious blood.
I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.
How great the wisdom and the love
That filled the courts on high
And sent the savior from above
To suffer, bleed, and die.
How great, how glorious, how complete,
Redemption’s grand design,
Where justice, love, and mercy meet
In harmony divine!
Most of the above hymns were written by Latter-day Saints. Please notice the repeated reference in our sacred musical literature to the Savior’s suffering on the cross, as well as an occasional reference to his agony in the Garden. This helps to highlight what we have said again and again—that we must tell the whole story, the rest of the story of “redemption’s grand design,” to quote Eliza R. Snow. The hours of atonement—the hours wherein He who had come to earth in the name and by the authority of the Father to ransom fallen men and women and to open the gate to glorified immortality—were spent in incomprehensible agony, in awful alienation, in a struggle against the forces of death and hell, first among the olive trees and then on an accursed tree between two thieves. We cannot understate the price Jesus paid. We must not forget what the Messiah went through.
You know and I know that no doctrine is more important than the doctrine of Christ—the good news or glad tidings that He came into the world to teach, testify, inspire, lift, heal, suffer, bleed, die, and rise from the tomb (see 3 Nephi 27:13-14; D&C 76:40-42). We must strive to teach these truths with passion, with plainness, with simplicity, and with consistency, knowing that only in this way will those who hear the word come to know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins (2 Nephi 25:26). In addition, those outside the faith will come to appreciate more fully who we are and Whom we represent. They may not choose to join our Church, but at least they will know that Latter-day Saint Christians have their souls stirred by the same message that fanned the flame in the bosoms of the Former-day Saint Christians, even the message of mediation, the herald of hope, the declaration of deliverance. “As I grow in age and experience,” Elder Boyd K. Packer stated, “I grow ever less concerned over whether others agree with us. I grow ever more concerned that they understand us.”
Yes, we do know something, something consummately precious, about what went on in the Garden, something few people on earth comprehend, relatively speaking, and we are under a mandate to declare it as a part of the restored gospel. At the same time, scripture and the prophetic word affirm the following from President Brigham Young: “I would say to my young friends. . . that if you go on a mission to preach the gospel with lightness and frivolity in your hearts . . . , and not having your minds riveted—yes, I may say riveted—on the cross of Christ, you will go and return in vain. . . . Let your minds be centered on your missions, and labor earnestly to bring souls to Christ.” Our Heavenly Father “foreordained the fall of man,” the Prophet Joseph declared; “but all merciful as He is, He foreordained at the same time, a plan of redemption for all mankind. I believe in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and that He died for the sins of all men, who in Adam had fallen.” Such is the message of Mormonism, the foundation of saving faith, the fundamental principles of our religion.
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One response to “What Happened to the Cross? / Robert Millet”
Thanks for the article. I found it very illuminating regarding the Scripture. Yours truly, Jude