The Dying Christ

As we approach Good Friday, the Cross of Christ is on our hearts and minds. The cross, the great symbol of the Christian faith — the symbol of our hope and assurance — is not embraced by all as an apt expression of one’s faith in and devotion to Christ.

The Mormon Church chooses different symbolism to represent the faith of its members. At lds.org we’re told,

“The cross is used in many Christian churches as a symbol of the Savior’s death and Resurrection and as a sincere expression of faith. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we also remember with reverence the suffering of the Savior. But because the Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith.”

CrucifiedHeel

Heel bone of a crucified man, Israel Museum

Past Mormon President Gordon B. Hinckley explained,

“For us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the living Christ…”

“This was the cross, the instrument of his torture, the terrible device designed to destroy the Man of Peace, the evil recompense for his miraculous work of healing the sick, of causing the blind to see, of raising the dead. This was the cross on which he hung and died on Golgotha’s lonely summit…

“On Calvary he was the dying Jesus. From the tomb he emerged the living Christ. The cross had been the bitter fruit of Judas’ betrayal, the summary of Peter’s denial. The empty tomb now became the testimony of His divinity, the assurance of eternal life…” (“The Symbol of Christ,” Ensign, May 1975)

This thinking has filtered down through the church’s membership to often be expressed something like this:

“Most Mormons find displays of the cross to be distasteful.  On my mission, I remember being asked why Mormons don’t show the cross.  My standard response was that if Christ had been killed by a knife, gun, or electric chair, would we hang one of those weapons around our neck in remembrance. The cross was a very gruesome, tortured way to die.”

Indeed, on the face of it, it does seem incongruous to wear or display an instrument of torture and death as a symbol of eternal hope; but there is good reason for it. Please read on.

The Wondrous Cross

by Keith Mathison

I sometimes wonder how many Christians stop to think about how incredibly odd it is that crucifixes are used as works of art. Crucifixes adorn church architecture, classic paintings, sculpture, and even jewelry. But consider for a moment what a crucifix was originally. It was a means of execution. In fact, it was and is one of the most ghastly means of execution ever devised by man. So horrible was it that it was reserved for the lowest of the low: slaves, pirates, and rebels. Roman citizens were exempt. Cultured Romans considered it unworthy of discussion in polite company. Yet today we wear this symbol of degrading and humiliating death around our necks. The jarring nature of this is not immediately apparent to us because over time, the symbol of the cross has lost many of its original connotations. To get some idea of the oddity, imagine seeing people wearing necklaces with images of a guillotine or an electric chair.

What happened, then, to account for the change? We know Jesus was put to death on a Roman cross, but what was it about His death that transformed this symbol of horror into a symbol of hope? In the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion we read, for the most part, about what any observer on the hill that day would have seen. We do not read as much about the interpretation of what was going on until we get to the book of Acts and the Epistles. In Paul’s preaching, for example, he explained from the Old Testament that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 17:2–3). But where would Paul have gone in the Old Testament to prove that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer? There are a number of texts to which he could have turned (for example, Ps. 16; 22), but one of the most significant was likely Isaiah 52:13–53:12.

Isaiah 52:13–53:12 is one of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs.” In the first Servant Song (42:1–9), Isaiah describes the Servant’s mission to establish justice and a kingdom across the earth. The second Servant Song (49:1–6) describes the Servant’s mission to restore Israel. The third Servant Song (50:4–9) reveals the obedience of the Servant and the suffering he endures as a result. The fourth and final Servant Song then reveals how the Servant will redeem his people. It reveals that his suffering will be the means by which he delivers his people from sin. It reveals that he will take their sin upon himself. Isaiah writes (53:5):

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.

This is what happened on the cross as Jesus was crucified. He was God’s Servant. He was the one whom God revealed to Isaiah eight centuries before His death. On the cross, He took our sins upon Himself and bore God’s wrath. His death was the atonement for all of our sins. We who have placed our faith in Jesus have forgiveness of sins and peace with God because of what was accomplished on the cross. Is it any wonder that Paul declares to the Corinthian church: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).

Think on this. Let it sink in. Christ suffered and died on the cross because of sin. Your sin. My sin. Since the fall, sin has been the problem in the world. We do not think much of sin in our day and age. We are beyond such things. Sin is an “old-fashioned” and outdated concept, or so we think.

If you want to know the true perspective on the seriousness of sin, however, look to the cross. Look at the extreme nature of the solution to this problem. If sin were “no big deal,” would God have sent His only begotten Son to die a shameful death on a cross to deal with it? And what kind of love is this? What kind of love is displayed when God sends His only begotten Son to die for the sins we commit against Him? This is love of a kind and degree that we can hardly fathom. This is what changed the cross from a symbol of fear to a symbol of faith. This is what led Isaac Watts to write:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: [email protected] Toll free: 1-800-435-4343.

 

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Jesus Christ, LDS Church, Mormon Culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

161 Responses to The Dying Christ

  1. shematwater says:

    Brewed

    You have given the first logical explanation I have heard. My only contention with it is that it would indicate that the entire Atonement took place in just a few short hours. While I understand that it is perfectly possible, it seems to make all the preceding suffering rather pointless, and actually doesn’t fully fulfill prophecy.

    Isaiah Wrote: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
    All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
    He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53: 5-7)
    Most of this was fulfilled days before the actual crucifixion. His stripes were the scourging from the Romans. He was oppressed and afflicted by the Jews, to whom he said basically nothing. This prophecy seems to speak to the time of his arrest through the Crucifixion, and places the taking of our iniquities as being at the beginning of the afflictions, not the end.

    Now, I am not trying to convince you that I am right. I am merely asking you to understand what I say and why I believe what I believe. It was in the Garden that pleaded “let this cup pass” and suffered such great torment that an Angel was sent to strengthen him as he sweat blood. It was from that moment that he began to be oppressed and afflicted. Throughout all his ministry he gave answer to the Jews when they questioned and ridiculed him. But after the Garden he was like a dumb sheep going to the slaughter.

    In all honesty, I just don’t understand why people are so vehement on this issue. I might understand it if we denied the cross had any part, but we don’t, and we never have. Why is it so horrible for us to see his suffering in the garden as part of the atonement, and to see the cross as the finishing of that suffering that atoned for sin?

    Old Man

    [Text snipped by moderators] I don’t think I am going to be responding to your posts anymore.

  2. Brewed says:

    The problem I have with this is that the church and most LDS people place too much emphasis on the garden.
    Just as an example most of my friends are LDS and during the easter season EVERYONE posted on social media that song about gethsemane, they talked about christ suffering at gethsemane, they spoke of the resurrection, but absolutely no one mentioned the cross. To me this is problematic because it is unlikely that the atonement even took place in the garden.
    Not to minimize the suffering of Christ there but it is not as important as what he did on the cross…. The atonement could not happen until he took up our sins and though we cannot be positive when that started for sure, That doesn’t mean his suffering was pointless prior to that.
    Personally, I think he went through all of that just to show how far he would go for us and to fulfill prophecy..
    Have you ever heard what happened on the cross discussed within your church in detail? Have you ever had a conversation with fellow members about the cross? Is it ever referred to as anything more then the atonement?
    It’s important that what happened on the cross is remembered and that we feel it and understand what was done for us. That can’t be done when we censor the cross to make it more palpable. That really can’t be done when we focus on the garden.

  3. shematwater says:

    Brewed

    I don’t think you understand us very well. I am not trying to insult you, merely giving my perception.

    Q. “Have you ever heard what happened on the cross discussed within your church in detail?”
    A. Yes. In fact I have heard a detailed description of the pain involved. I have also heard detailed discussion as to the significance of the vinegar, the casting of lots for his raiment, the commissioning of John to care for his mother, and the conversation with the Thief. All aspects of the event are known and discussed. Actually, it is discussed in great detail in our Institute classes. I have also heard people describe it in Sacrament Meetings and in General Conference.

    Q. “Have you ever had a conversation with fellow members about the cross?”
    A. “Please clarify your meaning. If you speak to the event of crucifixion, then yes, many times. If you are talking about the Symbol of the Cross, then no, because we do not use it.

    Q. “Is it ever referred to as anything more then the atonement?”
    A. “It is referred to frequently as the crucifixion. Sometimes it is referred to as the suffering of Golgotha or Calvary. These terms are descriptors of the actual event. Generally if the term Atonement is used it is referencing all aspects of the atonement, from the Garden to the Resurrection.

    Now, I don’t know what song you are referencing, but as far as I know there are only two Hymns in our Hymnal that mention Gethsemane, and both are only in passing. One is titled “In Memory of the Crucified.”
    In this last conference I don’t recall anyone ever mentioning Gethsemane without also mentioning Calvary, placing the two as equally important.

    “To me this is problematic because it is unlikely that the atonement even took place in the garden.”

    But this is personal belief that is not directly supported by the Bible, as you yourself have admitted. You have your reasoning based on the Bible, and we have ours. The question I was asking is this: Does it matter when we believe it started (or when he took on him the sins of the world) if we are in agreement that it was on the cross that it was finished? If we can’t be sure when it started, then why is a disagreement on this detail so horrible?

    “It’s important that what happened on the cross is remembered and that we feel it and understand what was done for us. That can’t be done when we censor the cross to make it more palpable. That really can’t be done when we focus on the garden.”

    But no one is censoring the cross. As to the garden, all this can be done if it all started in the Garden, as we believe. People seem to think that believing that things started in the garden some how diminishes what happened on the cross. This is not the case, and never has been. I have always felt that in recognizing the events of the garden the cross has taken on a much greater significance.

    I think the real problem in all this has very little to do with our doctrine, and more to do with Utah Culture. People seem to confuse the to things frequently. You can’t conclude that a cultural tradition of Utah is the doctrine of the church, or the culture of all the members. Just remember that in our Sacrament Hymns and the ordinance itself, it is the Cross that we are remembering, not the Garden. The cross is where his body was broken and his blood shed, and that is where our thoughts turn every Sunday when we sing and partake of that sacred ordinance.

  4. Brewed says:

    Well forgive me,
    All I can truly base my opinions on (as far as the cross goes) is personal experience.
    I lived in Utah and I married a Mormon.
    I have a huge Mormon family and 90% of my friends are Mormon.
    Ive had long, personal discussions with many of them.
    Never, have they described anything that you have said. Only the opposite.
    I am familiar with Mormon doctrine. My inlays have huge libraries of LDS literature and history. My husbands grandfather has an original Book Of Mormon that we’ve had the privilege of looking through.
    I don’t see much admiration for what was done on the cross.
    Especially in comparison to many other key tenants of Mormon faith, IE the temple.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uSGSvKy6Io&list=PLACD668B9F06FB8BD Here is the song, I was talking about.

  5. shematwater says:

    Brewed

    I understand the need to base ideas on personal experience. I have to do this same thing in many ways, and the limitation of it gets annoying at times. I am just asking that we both try to avoid using culture to define doctrine.

    Now, as to literature, it has been my experience that it talks of the event of the Crucifixion with much greater frequency than the garden.
    Oh, and I have never heard that song before, but its not bad. I don’t think it diminishes the crucifixion, though.

  6. Old man says:

    Shem

    “Oh, and I have never heard that song before, but its not bad. I don’t think it diminishes the crucifixion, though.”

    As the crucifixion isn’t mentioned then of course it can’t directly diminish it but the song clearly implies that the Atonement took place in the garden & thereby indirectly diminishes the Crucifixion. If there is no mention of the cross then the cross isn’t really important. I believe that was the point being made by Brewed.
    I find it really sad that children singing that song will probably grow up believing that the Cross is nothing more than a sideshow to the ‘real event’ that occurred in Gethsemane. That to me is a clear indication of the great emphasis placed on the garden to the detriment of the Atonement that took place on the Cross.

  7. Brewed says:

    Shem,
    Speaking to the whole culture thing. My husband was raised LDS in Colorado. Most but not all of his friends were LDS. He was offended by talk of the cross and felt that the atonement truly took place in the garden. He went through seminary, and was basically Peter Preisthood until he turned 18 and walked away from the church because something about it didn’t sit well and he didn’t want to go on a mission until he knew it was the true church. My point is, he made a point to truly understand the church and it’s teachings before leaving. He understood fully. And yet he felt the crucifixion had no place in the Easter story because it was too gruesome. Maybe he was wrong but not because of ignorance. That was what he had been taught. So it wasn’t cultural because he wasn’t in Utah. It was doctrinal (or at least the absence of). His family doesn’t talk about the crucifixion and they weren’t allowed to watch The Passion Of The Christ while growing up. There was a purposeful avoidance of the Cross. This is norm amongst the LDS families I know.
    While discussing this subject with my Brother in Law who is a MM from Washington State attending BYU he said “I don’t want to focus on the crucifixion, I want to focus on the good life Jesus lived”.
    I wish he was the only one to say something like this to me but sadly he isn’t.
    That song paints a rosy picture of Christ atoning for sin in Gethsemane. If I heard it without understanding the Atonement I would think it had taken place in the Garden. I can’t imagine why a song like that would even need to be written except to draw attention AWAY from the cross and put it in a less offensive garden.

  8. shematwater says:

    Brewed

    It is still cultural. What is referred to as “Utah Culture” is not restricted by the state boundary. That culture is in Idaho, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming; in short, in all the area that was settled by the saints back in the 1800’s; that area of the rocky mountains. It is called Utah culture because Utah is the center of it.
    I am from the East Coast, mainly New England (Maine) and the culture is vastly different.

    As to the Crucifixion, in Seminary there is a great video that was produced for the specific purpose of teaching the events of the atonement. It is just over 27 minutes long, and only one of those minutes is taken to portray the garden. In fact, I know of no literature or media produced by the church in which the Garden gets a greater focus than the Crucifixion.

    Now, the song you sight I will actually concede a few things. I did not listen carefully to the lyrics before, but I have now. There is one line that I think is not appropriate, as it is not accurate to the truth. To clarify, it appears to be inaccurate, given the focus of the song, and thus is inappropriate. That line is when it states “The greatest battle ever won was won by Jesus.” While this is true, because the song focuses on the Garden it does give the impression that the battle was won in the Garden, and that is not true. However, I will also say that for one who understands the doctrine this song should not diminish the crucifixion in any way.
    I would also point out that, although the song was written by a member, it is not, nor has it even been in the children’s song book printed by the church (as far as I know). This means that it is not approved by the leadership, for whatever reason, and thus is not a good source for teaching or learning doctrine.

    Just to clarify things, this is how I understand that doctrine, and I have yet to read or hear anyone in authority teach otherwise.
    It was in the Garden that Christ felt the weight of all suffering. Not only were the sins of the world placed on him, but he felt every physical, mental, and emotional pain that anyone can feel. He felt the pains of a broken leg as well as child birth (and don’t ask me to explain this). He felt the pain of memory less, as well as split personality and schizophrenia. He felt the pain of guilt for sins, as well as pain of loosing a loved one. To top it all off, he felt the pain that all of us would be required to suffer to pay for sin if he did not do it himself, and thus he felt the torment of a damned soul.
    After his arrest he felt personally the pain of having friends turn from him, as his disciples all went away. He felt more physical suffering as the Romans tortured him through scourging and thorns. Finally, while hanging on the cross, he felt the final suffering of being separated from God.
    Once his body was broken by the nails and his blood spilled he had paid the price for all of us, and thus gave up his spirit into the hands of his Father, for then, and only then, was the atonement complete.
    Sorry if this just rehashes what has already been said, but I thought it needed to be said again.

  9. shematwater says:

    Oh, and here is the video I mentioned, called “To This End Was I Born.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juQfnSdq6vs

  10. Old man says:

    Shem

    “It was in the Garden that Christ felt the weight of all suffering. Not only were the sins of the world placed on him, but he felt every physical, mental, and emotional pain that anyone can feel…….Finally, while hanging on the cross, he felt the final suffering of being separated from God.”

    Sorry Shem but you still don’t understand. It was NOT in the garden that Christ felt the weight of all suffering. It could NOT have been in the garden. The sins of the world were NOT placed on Him at that time. Why can’t you see that it was sin that separated Him from the Father? If the weight of sin had been placed on Him in the garden God would not have heard His prayer & would not have sent an Angel to strengthen Him.
    It was on the Cross that Christ was separated from the Father for the first & only time & what was it that caused that separation? It was OUR sin; Christ bore our sins & became sin for us. That is what the Atonement is about, Christ becoming sin for us & that happened on the cross.
    You’re an intelligent man Shem, surely you can see that all those things you say were placed on Christ in the garden could not have been because it was those very things that caused Him to cry out on the Cross ‘Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani’ My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.

  11. shematwater says:

    Old Man

    I understand what you are saying perfectly. I just disagree.

Leave a Reply