From Gethsemane To Golgotha:
5 Truths That Drew Me To The Cross
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but 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.”
1 Corinthians 1:17-18 KJV
I remember driving past a church sporting a playground on the way to our ward one Sunday morning. I pressed my face against the back seat window. “Mom,” I called out. “That church has a playground, can we go there?”
“Please Mommy?” My younger sister chimed in next to me.
My child’s mind quickly did the calculations. This church was half the distance of our ward, which was a win for Mom, and we would get a playground to enjoy.
She dismissed our pleas, saying a church like that might be fun, but it wouldn’t teach us what we needed to know. I shot my sister a sympathetic look as she pouted in the seat beside me.
I should have known better. It was the Sabbath after all, and playing outside was forbidden in my family. A church that tempted us to break the Sabbath was bad news.
As the weeks went by I tried to spot other bad churches. We passed a number of them each week, but there were no obvious signs of their infernal nature. They did, however, have one thing in common that was missing at my church: the cross.
I asked my mother one day why our church didn’t have crosses. She replied that the cross was a murder weapon. It was what they used to kill Jesus, that’s why we didn’t use it at our church.
I understood then that bad churches had playgrounds, but the really bad ones displayed the cross. Whenever we drove by one, I would feel a sense of distress for Jesus. How bad He must feel knowing that people were flaunting the worst moment of His life for the whole world to see!
When I went on my two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Evangelical Christianity continued to flummox me. They claimed to love Jesus, but they were obsessed with His blood. I was certain they would have killed Him themselves if they’d lived during New Testament times.
There was so much they weren’t privy to. They didn’t know how important the resurrection was or that Jesus actually took our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane. The cross was just one puzzle piece, but it was all apostate Christianity had.
A decade passed and something unusual happened. I abandoned my beliefs and became an Evangelical. My friends and family speculated about what happened to my testimony. Some thought I chose an easier path or intellectualized my way out of the faith.
However, there’s only one reason I left the faith that captivated seven generations of my family, and it has everything to do with the cross.
The Bible revealed five truths about the cross I’d never heard before and it became beautiful to me. I no longer cared about priesthood authority, temples, or eternal families. I was like the man in Christ’s parable who found treasure buried in a field and sold all he had to obtain it.
Here are the five facts I never understood about the cross as a Latter-day Saint:
1. The cross wasn’t a murder weapon
The cross was certainly meant to be a murder weapon, but things were different when it came to Jesus. You see, His life wasn’t taken, it was given.
In John 10:17-18 (KJV) Jesus says:
“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”
Clearly, Jesus was not murdered. He went to the cross of his own volition, and when the Roman soldiers tempted him to free Himself, He chose to showcase His love by staying and dying.
In fact, two separate attempts by Peter to have Jesus forgo the ordeal were met with resistance.
In Matthew 16 Jesus explains to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed. Peter takes him aside and argues with Him, saying this will not happen.
In verse 23 Jesus rebukes him, saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” He immediately transitions into preaching that the taking up of our cross is the means by which we find life.
Later when Jesus is captured, Peter takes his sword and cuts off the high priest’s ear. Surprisingly, Jesus calls off the attack saying, “Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11 KJV)
It appears that the bitter cup had not yet been consumed in the garden. And what was this cup Jesus asked to be excused from, but later drank on the cross?
It was God’s wrath.
Consider Isaiah 51:17 (KJV):
Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his fury; thou hast drunken the dregs of the cup of trembling, and wrung them out.
This leads to my second point: that on the cross Jesus absorbed the wrath that was meant for us.
2. Jesus became our propitiation on the cross
Propitiation is a word I never heard as a Latter-day Saint. It is defined as an action that appeases someone and the Biblical narrative uses it to show Jesus appeasing God’s anger for our sins.
In order for God to be righteous, He must be just. If He were to forgive us without punishing sin, He would be unholy and therefore undeserving of worship.
Romans 3:23-26 goes into detail about why this propitiation is important:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath vicariously for us on the cross. His suffering culminated in separation from the Father.
Paul explains that this showcases the righteousness of God. No sin is left unpunished, leaving God the freedom to forgive anyone who believes in Christ. Thus the cross renders God both just and justifier.
3. The cross initiates the new covenant
Hebrews 9:16 tells us:
For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
A synonym for testament that Latter-day Saints might be more familiar with is covenant. Verse 17 goes on to explain that a covenant has no power as long as the testator is alive.
In other words, if Jesus had lived an immortal life after Gethsemane, there wouldn’t be an atonement. This makes the cross the instrument by which we gain access to the covenant of grace.
4. We are made perfect through the cross
Colossians 2:13-14 (KJV) states:
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, 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, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.
According to the Bible our sins are permanently forgiven through the cross. Romans 5:10 says we are reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Hebrews 10:14 says that by one offering Christ has perfected forever those that are sanctified.
However, Christ’s offering on the cross doesn’t just pardon our sins, it also makes us righteous.
Consider Romans 5:19:
For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
This is why Romans 5:10 associates our salvation with Jesus’ life and death. Jesus kept God’s law to the last iota, and on the cross His life of perfect obedience was accredited to our spiritual ledgers.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says that Jesus became sin for us so we could be made righteous. Colossians 2:20-22 (KJV) expounds further on this teaching:
And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
5. The cross constitutes the entire atonement
Romans 5:8-11 (KJV) says:
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
This passage confirms that Christ’s death justifies us and equates the atonement with the cross. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul says, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”
This statement always bothered me as a Latter-day Saint. Why put so much emphasis on the crucifixion when Gethsemane and the resurrection were just as important?
Let’s take a closer look at both events to find out why.
In the LDS church I was repeatedly told that Jesus bled from every pore in the garden of Gethsemane as He took our sin, pain, and sorrows. This event is described in Luke 22:44.
However, the Biblical text doesn’t say Jesus bled at all. What it actually says is: “…His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”
The subject in the sentence isn’t blood, it’s sweat. The phrase “as it were” means that the sweat was like blood in some regard. Perhaps it was discolored or thicker than usual. Anxiety and stress can cause sweat to thicken, and Jesus certainly felt that in Gethsemane as he prepared for the coming crucifixion.
If Jesus really had bled from every pore, I’m sure Luke would have said so. The absence of this detail leaves me to conclude that the LDS narrative about Gethsemane is false.
What about the resurrection? Didn’t Paul teach that if Jesus was not raised we were yet in our sins? Indeed, he did (1 Corinthians 15:17). And he spoke the truth. If there was no resurrection, we would remain condemned.
However, this isn’t because the cross was insufficient to secure eternal life for us. The reason the resurrection is so important is because Jesus said he would return from the dead (John 10:18). It was proof that He truly was the Son of God.
Imagine that Jesus had come boasting that He was divine and would prove it by taking our sins on the cross and resurrecting three days later. But in this scenario, Jesus never came back to life. What would that mean? It would mean he was a fraud and his atonement was a hoax.
But since He did return to life, we can trust that He is the promised Messiah and rest in the assurance that we’ve been perfected through the cross.
I pray that any Latter-day Saints reading this won’t be offended by my analysis. You’re probably wondering why I’m so determined to undermine what you believe.
I think it’s the older brother in me. I want you to know the truth, even if it hurts a little.
I want you to be free. I want you to know you can have assurance in Christ’s merits instead of stressing about your own. Because of the cross, you never have to worry if you’re good enough. The only thing you have to do is believe in Jesus. Trust that He is enough. There is nothing you can add to what He’s done because His work was perfect. He will never disappoint or let you down. Of that I am certain.
To summarize, the five points are as follows:
- Jesus was not murdered, His death was a gift.
- Jesus became our propitiation on the cross.
- The cross initiates the new covenant.
- We are perfected through the cross.
- The cross constitutes the entire atonement.
I invite you to prayerfully read 1 Corinthians 1:22-31 (KJV) with humility and an open mind. Consider whether the things I’ve written are true and let the Spirit be your guide.
“For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
That no flesh should glory in his presence.
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”