Monthly Archives: September 2017

Why God Raises His Voice

We might ask “Why didn’t God speak more softly?” We know that He prefers to. That’s what He does when talking to His friends, as in the still, small voice with Elijah at the mouth of the cave (1 Kings 19:12). But when people are hard of hearing, God will raise His voice. And how grateful we should be that He is willing to raise His voice when we need it! Now did He speak too loudly at Mount Sinai? Did He terrify them too much? I would say not. Forty days after the fire, the earthquake, the lightning and the thunder died away, they were dancing drunk around a golden calf in a fertility cult ritual.

Surely those of us who have taught little ones, or have children of our own, know how difficult it is to gain proper respect so that learning might occur without fear. What a delicate thing it is to accomplish both! Whenever God raised His voice He got reverence, but there would also be some terror. When He talked softly they would despise Him as later generations despised gentle Jesus. So God has had to go back and forth on this through history.

Imagine that you are a grade school teacher with forty years of experience. You have never raised your voice in forty years to your little pupils. It is the last day of fall quarter, and there is a rap on the door. The principal says, “The building is on fire. Please line up the pupils and get them out the door.” So you step back into the room with your usual dignity and in your usual quiet voice, you say, “Students, the building is on fire. Please line up and we will go out that door.” But it is the last day before Christmas vacation, and let’s say it is the period after recess, and there is a tumult in the room. The little ones don’t see you standing there.

Would you say at this point, “Well, I am not going to sully my reputation by shouting for the first time in forty years. I have given them a chance. Let me just go home and save myself.” Or would you, dignified you, be willing to shout to the students for the first time? What if, to your horror, they still don’t notice you? Would you be willing to climb up on the desk, throw the chalk and some erasers, until with terror the children finally see you? Then, once they have slipped into their seats and you have slipped into yours, you say, “Children, don’t go home and tell your mothers I am angry with you. I am not angry with you. I love you and I don’t want you to be hurt. But the school building is on fire. So in this quiet moment while I have your attention, would you quickly line up the way we’ve practiced and go out that door?”

Now which approach shows greater love? Would it be not terrifying them briefly? Would it be not raising your voice? Or would it be better to run the risk of being feared? Wouldn’t it be better to be obeyed for the wrong reason momentarily? It seems to me that God has taken that risk over and over in Scripture. We should be prepared to say, “Thank you God, for raising your voice so many times. It must mean that you really love us.”

There’s More Than One Kind of Fear

What, then, does the Bible mean when it says that we are supposed to “fear” God and be His “God-fearing” people? You can even find that in the first of the Three Angels’ Messages, Revelation 14:7: “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come” (RSV). Not only does this verse tell us to fear God, it even gives us a good reason to fear Him, the Last Judgment. So before we go any further, we need to understand the biblical meaning of the word “fear.” If you will forgive the Greek, it’s pronounced phobos, from which we get the English word “phobia.” But the biblical word doesn’t always mean terror. Sometimes it means respect or reverence. Look at Psalm 128:1-2, for example: “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord. You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you” (KJV). Surely the Psalmist isn’t saying, “Happy is everyone who is scared of God.”

So the biblical word “fear” has another meaning. Blessed is everyone who reveres and respects the Lord. You will be happy if you do and it will be well with you. Note, for example, Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (KJV). Does that mean that being terrified of God is the beginning of wisdom and learning? No, there again the context determines the meaning of the word. So the translation in the Good News Bible is to be preferred: “To be wise you must first have reverence for the Lord.”

Where there is no respect there is no reverence, and very little learning can take place. Think of the lengths to which God has gone through the centuries to gain people’s respect and hold it long enough to tell them more truth about Himself. Perhaps the most famous example is the one provided at Mount Sinai. God came down to speak to His people. Did they all line up quietly to listen? No. They were noisy. They were complaining. They were fussing about the food and the water. There was no respect for God. So God could not speak to them softly that day. Instead, there was thunder and lightning, fire, smoke, and an earthquake. And God said to Moses, “Put a fence around that mountain. Don’t let the people come too close to me” (based on Exod 19:12-13). Today we sing “Nearer, Still Nearer,” but on that day no one wanted to get close:

The people were afraid and they trembled; And they stood afar off, and said to Moses, `You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.’ But Moses said to the people, `Do not fear; for God has come to prove you, and that the fear of Him may be before your eyes, that you may not sin.’ (Exodus 20:18-20, RSV)

Notice the use of the word “fear” with both meanings in the same sentence. “Do not fear,” at the beginning of the sentence, means the same thing as “There’s no need to be afraid.” But further on, “That the fear of Him may be before you” uses the word with the meaning of “reverence.” So the very same Hebrew word can carry different meanings in the very same sentence. Notice also that Moses could stand in the middle of the earthquake and the fire and say that there is no need to be afraid. Why? Because he knew God, and he knew why God was raising His voice on that occasion.

What Fear Does to Freedom

If God really were the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be, arbitrary, vengeful and severe, there would be no freedom under His government. Any professions of love and trust on our part would be compromised by our fears. How could God be satisfied with expressions of love from children who are afraid? Would you parents be satisfied with such expressions of love from your own children? When you consider Satan’s perversion of the truth in this matter, it’s no wonder millions of people have turned away from God,.

Satan has crafted a picture of God that has made God look even more cruel than old King Nebuchadnezzar and his burning fiery furnace. In the book of Daniel (chapter 3), Nebuchadnezzar built a very large idol and ordered the nation’s leaders to bow down at a given signal and worship his god. Anyone who refused to worship the image was to be thrown into the burning fiery furnace. Readers of the story recoil in horror at how Daniel’s three Hebrew friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, got caught up in such cruel tyranny. In the words of Nebuchadnezzar, “You either submit to my god or I will throw you into the burning fiery furnace” (based on Daniel 3:14-15).

Many, somehow, find it possible to accept a God who is described as doing the very same thing as Nebuchadnezzar. They see God saying to us, “On your knees, worship Me, or I’ll throw you into a burning fiery furnace.” Actually, this portrayal of God makes Him even worse than Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar was willing to settle for a simple act of submission: “On your knees!” God asks for much more, our love and our trust. He is caricatured as saying, “If you will not love and trust Me, I will throw you into the burning fiery furnace. And I won’t burn you as briefly as Nebuchadnezzar did. I will burn you forever and forever.” Does that picture of God make sense? Is it acceptable? I love Ellen White’s words on this. “Such thoughts destroy human reason.”

Of course, gentle Jesus would never say such a thing, would He? So is it the Father who is the fearsome one who would issue such a threat? And if the Father is the fearsome member of the Trinity, is that why the Son came to die? Was it to assuage, appease and propitiate the wrath of the offended member of the Trinity? Is this why Jesus had to go up quickly on resurrection Sunday—to intercede with the fearsome member of the Trinity? Could the Father never find it in His own heart to forgive His rebellious children unless He were begged to do so by the most sympathetic member of the Three? I hope no one reading this chapter believes any of this! But can you see the impact our understanding of the death of the wicked has on our picture of God and our understanding of the plan of salvation? That’s the reason for this chapter, to explain that there is really no need to be afraid of God.

Chapter 9: “There Is No Need to Be Afraid of God”

This blog begins chapter nine of the book in process Conversations About God. It originated as a series of lectures by Graham Maxwell in 1984. After each lecture Maxwell took written questions from the audience mediated through the pastor of the Loma Linda University Church at the time, Lou Venden. This marvelous series has never been put into book form, so I am attempting to do so and sharing the results in progress here with permission from the Maxwell family. I realize today that growing up Seventh-day Adventist, I was rather afraid of God. I wish I had known this then. The words that follow are Maxwell’s oral presentation, edited by me.

This chapter is the ninth of twenty conversations about God; another look at our Heavenly Father in the larger setting of the great controversy over His character and government. This chapter is entitled “There is no Need to be Afraid of God.” I believe that to be afraid of God is to misunderstand, even to deny, the truths that He paid such a price to reveal. Though God is infinite in majesty and power, He values nothing higher than the freedom of His intelligent creatures. He desires that their love, their worship, their trust, their willingness to listen, may be freely given. Not only does God prefer things that way, as any parent would, but He knows that if our love and trust are not freely given, then there is really no freedom in His family. And God would rather die than preside over a universe that is not free.

Besides these considerations, He also knows that the obedience that springs from fear will actually turn His children into rebels. Rebelliousness is the very essence of sin. God sent His Son to do away with sin, you recall, in Romans 8:3. But in order to do away with rebelliousness and distrust, He must first do away with fear. Because it is fear that has turned so many away from God. It is fear that has inspired rebelliousness even in the hearts of those who seek to obey Him, but do not know Him well. And God gave His life to make it eternally clear that there is no need for His children to be afraid of Him. While He is infinite in power, He is also infinitely gracious, so there is no need for us to be afraid. Surely such a God is worthy of our love, our reverence, our worship, and our willingness to listen and obey.

Questions and Answers (8:4)

Lou: All right. Here’s another question: “If death is not the penalty for sin, how can we understand the text that says, ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin’ (Heb 9:22)? Why then does Jesus say to His Father, ‘My blood, My blood,’ when our name comes up for review?”
Graham: In Hebrews, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin,” is a reference to the Old Testament ceremonial system, where blood was constantly shed and appropriately applied. But one has to read on in Hebrews (10:3): “You see, the purpose was to be a constant reminder of sin.” Hebrews is clear that all that blood did not lead to forgiveness of sin (Heb 10:4), and it didn’t handle the problem of distrust. The many sacrifices were all pointing forward to the day when Christ would come to do it once and for all (Heb 10:10-14). Without His death there would be no answer. What is the use of being forgiven if you are going to live in a chaotic universe of continual war and distrust?
Lou: What about the words of Jesus, “My blood, My blood?”
Graham: Jesus is saying, “Remember why I died. Remember the meaning. Remember the answers that I gave. Remember how I made it possible and safe to forgive and heal sinners and let them into the Kingdom.”
Lou: But the implication here, if I heard you correctly, is that Jesus isn’t trying to talk the Father into feeling differently.
Graham: We’ll take a look at that in the next chapter. We will note Jesus saying, “There is no need for me to plead with the Father, for the Father Himself loves you.”

Lou: The Bible says things like “vengeance is Mine.” It also speaks about the wrath of God and the destruction of the wicked. What do you say about those kinds of expressions when speaking about our Lord?
Graham: Those questions will fit very well into the next chapter, “There Is No Need to Be Afraid of God.” But let’s take up the idea of “vengeance” briefly right here. In a couple of places the Bible says, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay” (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19). In the first part of Romans 12:19 Paul says, “Leave room for the wrath of God. Don’t avenge yourself. Let Him do it.” God is saying to us, “Look, let Me take vengeance on My children because I love them all. But if I take vengeance on this enemy of yours, it might win him. Would you mind?” And you say, “Wait a minute. I’m not going to let You take vengeance, if vengeance means You are going to win my enemy over.” You see, the beauty of that is God saying, “Let Me discipline My own children. I might win some of them.” No wonder many of us don’t really want God to do the avenging. When He does, there’s the hazard that I might turn up in the Kingdom and meet my worst enemy there, because God has won him through the discipline of “vengeance.”
Lou: That means God is using the word “vengeance” in a quite different way than we might be capable of doing on our own.
Graham: I see God saying, “Let Me give your enemy what I think he needs.” And for us, that is hazardous. God might win your enemy and you’ll end up neighbors in heaven.

Lou: Someone else writes: “It is wonderful to know that God is a merciful, kind, loving, fair and just God. John 17:3 says, `This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the Father, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou has sent.’ Now here’s my question: How can a person really know Him and be sure that he knows Him?”
Graham: That’s beautiful. First of all you have to know about Him. If that doesn’t happen, how would you know Whom you are knowing? Then you need to understand the Biblical meaning of the word “know,” as we have discussed before. It’s even used for the relationship between a husband and his wife. Adam knew Eve his wife, and they didn’t just become acquainted; they had a baby. In the biblical sense, to know God is to love Him, to become friends. By way of contrast, when God says, “Go away; I never knew you” (Matt 7:21-23), He means, “We never were friends.” So to claim that one knows God means that one really loves and admires God for His wise and gracious ways. It means that one would really like to be regarded as God’s friend. It means being proud to be a friend of God. When you know God, I think it will show. It will show in the friendly feelings we have toward God. It will show in the jealousy we have for God’s reputation. We will want Him to be seen as He really is.

Lou: Last question. “I have always been concerned about people who wake up in the wrong resurrection and are truly surprised to find themselves there. They had worked in God’s name or Jesus’s name and done many wonderful works (Matt 7:21-23). If I were to die tonight, how would I know which resurrection I would come up in?”
Graham: It seems to me that the people described in Matthew 7 were involved in legalism. They were serving God for the wrong reason. From our perspective today, these would be individuals who are surprised to find they are lost because they think of all the tithe they have paid, and all the Sabbaths they have endured when they could have gone to the ball game. But they have never been God’s friends. So He says, “Go away; I never knew you.” Friendship is the very essence of the relationship God desires to have with His children.
One more thing. Friends are not afraid of each other, so the next chapter is entitled, “There Is No Need To Be Afraid of God.”

Questions and Answers (8:3)

Lou: Could you say something about the idea of “substitutionary?”
Graham: It’s true that He died in our stead. He died as a substitution. After all, either He dies or we die. However, that’s where the comparison ends, because if God let you and me and all other sinners die, all it would have proved is the truthfulness of His warning, “If you sin, you will die.” And God could say to the universe, “Was I right? I said sinners would die, and look, they’re dead.” But the universe would not have had answers to questions two and three. But when Jesus died, there was no doubt in the minds of the universe that God was not killing His Son. They were clear about that. And they also saw clearly the horrible consequences of a punitive picture of God. The death of Christ answers all three questions. It’s more than just us or Him. His death is infinitely more significant than ours. But had He not died, we would have been left to reap the consequences and we all would have died. So in that sense, yes, He died in our stead. But beyond that there’s no comparison. His death is infinitely more significant than the death of every sinful man or angel who has ever lived. The death of angels and men would not have answered the questions.
Lou: What you’re saying, then, is that the “satisfaction” idea doesn’t encompass everything that’s involved in the atonement, does it?
Graham: Oh, I think it makes it much too small. I think it puts God in a very bad light. And on top of that, it doesn’t answer the questions of the great controversy. Many folk who prefer other understandings of the plan of salvation do not understand that there has been a universe-wide great controversy over the character and government of God. As I mentioned in Chapter One, even Luther, hero of the Christian world that he is, could not conceive of these larger issues because he didn’t appreciate the book of Revelation. Not many through the years have seen the sixty-sixth book picture of a universe-wide controversy over the character and government of God. And so they have seen the death of Christ as primarily a plan just to save you and me, for which we are very grateful. It’s just that the larger view makes the cross much more significant.
Lou: I guess it comes back to this. What one understands the problem to be has everything to do with what the answer to that problem is.

Here’s an important question. “Are you suggesting that how Jesus died is the way the wicked will die at the end of the thousand years, that God will give them up as He gave up His Son?”
Graham: As far as the giving up is concerned, I believe that’s the meaning of the third angel’s message. He will “pour out His wrath without mixture” (Rev 14:10). This is the last time God’s wrath is expressed and, as a result, all the wicked will die.
Lou: Is that God becoming furious then?
Graham: My understanding would be that if we should look up and see Christ looking at the death of the wicked, He would be crying, “Why will you die? How can I give you up? How can I let you go?” But we still would die.
Lou: Does that mean you share the view that God doesn’t kill anyone? Is that what you are saying, that God never has and never will?
Graham: Well I honor anybody who wants to put God in a good light, but I think some have gone too far, and that raises its own problems. It seems clear to me that many, many times in the Scriptures God has put His children to sleep. Take the firstborn in Egypt. They didn’t die because they were bad. They died because they were the firstborn. Someone suggested that the devil does God’s killing for Him. But the devil is not that cooperative, you can be sure. No, the firstborn in Egypt died because the angel of the Lord put them to sleep. And it’s possible some of them may arise in the resurrection of the righteous. Who is to say they were all bad boys? In the Flood, with the 185,000 Assyrians, and on many other occasions, I see God Himself putting His own children to sleep. But as Jesus said, it’s only sleep. He resurrects them too. Those boys in Egypt who went to bed that night, they are awake the next morning, as far as they are aware, without any consciousness of the time between.

Lou: But now you are making a distinction that is biblical, that is, a distinction between the first and second death. What about the death of Jesus? Did He die the first or the second death?
Graham: The first death is the death we all die if we live long enough. It is a death that is followed by a resurrection, whether righteous or unrighteous. It is the consequence of living in a world of sin. Even relative saints like Isaiah and Elisha died. The second death is the one the Bible warns us of, the death from which there is no resurrection.
Which death did Jesus die? Had He died of crucifixion alone, He would have died the first death. But He died to demonstrate that awful second death. How come, then, did He rise on Sunday, if there is no resurrection after the second death? I don’t think Jesus came to show that in the second death you die and stay dead forever. How could you demonstrate that anyway? We would have to live forever to see it. There’s no way you could really answer that. Rather, He came to demonstrate how His Father is involved in that death. And even before He was dead, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Then on Resurrection Sunday He went up to Heaven to see if the heavenly council agreed. And He heard them say, “Yes, it’s finished. You’ve cleared up all our questions.” So I think He answered all the questions that needed to be answered in the only way that they could be answered, and we don’t need to ask more of the cross.
One more point, if Jesus died to pay the legal penalty, and the legal penalty is the second death, you have a real problem. The crucial feature of the second death is that you never rise again. So if the cross is all about a legal system, if He died to pay the legal penalty, then He should still be in the grave. In that case, since He went up to heaven on Easter Sunday, none of us is paid up and we are in serious legal trouble.
Lou: So the resurrection is one of the most significant reasons why the strictly legal model would not be adequate.
Graham: When He went to heaven, the angels didn’t say, “Wait a minute. You are supposed to stay dead for eternity to pay the price for sin. Hurry back to earth, we won’t tell anybody we saw you out of the grave.” Instead they said, “It’s more than enough. You could have come up on Friday!”

Questions and Answers (8:2)

Lou: So then “power in the blood” is a shorthand way of saying, “There is power in the death of Christ. The meaning of His death has the power to change my life.” It’s much more than just the image of being washed in blood.
Graham: That’s right. I remember when I was baptized up at Pacific Union College, the a capella choir stood out there and sang, “There is a fountain filled with blood,” and you could probably sing the rest of it.
Lou: “Drawn from Emanuel’s veins.” I love that song.
Graham: That’s right. I like it. I’ve sung it many times myself. But the older I get, the more I think of the meaning of it. In fact, sometimes when we’re singing it, I have to stop and think about it. There’s no power in just repeating the words. But there’s power in the meaning; why Jesus had to die, how the cross is the most costly and convincing evidence, and how the cross will provide security throughout eternity. I’m definitely not going to make light of the blood. But it’s a symbol. We have to ask what the meaning behind that is.
The same is true with “paying the price.” That can be interpreted in various ways. Some have wondered if maybe God paid a price to the devil to buy us back, for example. But no, I just think it’s a way of saying, “This is what it cost to do away with sin. This is what it cost to handle the breakdown of trust and trustworthiness.” For example, when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, he paid a heavy price to do that. He used to fall to the ground unconscious as he crossed the finish line. He left just enough energy to make it to the finish, he had nothing left. But the price he paid to run a four-minute mile was not paid to anybody else. That language is a metaphor of all the effort it took to break the four-minute mile. Similarly, Jesus did die to pay the price of sin, but let’s not over-read the metaphor. As always, let’s let the rest of Scripture guide us as to the meaning we should read into those words.

Lou: So some of the illustrations that we have used can give the wrong impression.
Graham: All illustrations are hazardous, so the Bible way is to give us many illustrations. One illustration can cover the shortcomings of another.
Lou: But what about such metaphors as the “satisfying of justice” and “the demands of the law?”
Graham: He died to satisfy the demands of the law. But that raises the question, what does the law demand? Paul says, “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:10). Jesus (Matt 22:37-39) and Moses (Deut 6:4-5; Lev 19:18) said the same. So the law would seem to demand our love, but love can’t be demanded. If love has to be commanded, it’s not real love. So what does the law say? “You have to love God and love each other, or you will be executed in the most painful way known to our Heavenly Father?”
Some of our good Christian friends live under the awful weight of believing that God has said, “You either love and obey Me, or you will be tortured in sulphurous flames for eternity.” That such good folk can still love God is a real tribute to them, but it is not a tribute to God. Because they truly love Jesus and are faithful, I believe they will be in the Kingdom. But what an awful burden to live under! Yet I think Jesus will love to introduce such people to the Father. He’ll say, “Would you like to meet the Father?” And they’ll say, “Well, if You will go with us.” And He’ll respond, “There’s no need, but I’ll go with you anyway.” What a marvelous surprise it will be to millions of these people to meet the Father in the Kingdom and discover that He is just as loving and gracious as the Son. We will cover this topic in the next chapter, “There Is No Need To Be Afraid of God.”
Speaking about “the demands of law” belongs to a very legal conception of what has gone wrong in the universe, which we discussed in Chapter Two. In that view, what has gone wrong is that we have “broken the rules,” and the law demands that God execute us for breaking the rules. Jesus died so that somehow God could justly forgive us even though we have broken the rules. I’m not sure we have been able to make too much sense out of that. But it goes along with the other one, “satisfying justice.” Whose justice? I have friends who say, “If God does not give (Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, etc.) several days in the fire, I will not regard Him as a just God.” They have that strong a feeling about the satisfaction of justice. I think they really mean it, and I respect them for that. But I would also love to relieve them of that burden. If I want to know why Jesus died, I should go to the cross, see how the Father is involved, and then fit what I see back into Scripture. I don’t see God fulfilling the requirements of a legal model.

Questions and Answers (8:1)

In the original lecture series done in 1984 at the Loma Linda University Church, Graham Maxwell spoke for about a half hour each Friday night followed by written questions and answers from Lou Venden and also from the audience. The next several posts contain questions and answers from the eighth presentation, “The Most Costly and Convincing Evidence.”

Lou: If I hear you correctly Graham, you’re saying that Jesus died primarily to say something about God, to make the truth about God clear to us. But what about the moving appeal that Jesus died for you? That Jesus died for me? Isn’t it a wonderful thought that if I had been the only one who had responded, Jesus would still have come and gone through it all just for me! How do you bring that together?
Graham: I still believe in that, and I think God would want us to rejoice in that. I think it’s understandable that as beginners, perhaps, we tend to be preoccupied with our own salvation and what God has done for me, and you, and those we love. But as one learns to read the Bible as a whole and get this larger view of the whole great controversy, one realizes that the all important thing is not what happens to me personally, but the settling of these issues in the great controversy. What counts is the establishing of the truth that confirms the peace of the universe for all eternity.
Lou: Are you saying, then, that I need to “get over” this? Is it childish for me to feel so moved about Jesus dying for me?
Graham: Fortunately, what God says about Himself is what makes it worthwhile being saved. Until God has established the fact that He is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be, there will be no security. We’ll be saved, but in a universe of conflict. So first this must be settled. And, fortunately, that settlement includes you and me as well. It’s not one or the other. The good news about what Jesus has done for me comes in this larger setting. The way He has sought to win you and me is also the way in which He has won the war. It’s the same task, the same mission.

Lou: I think that’s helpful. But now listen—there are many words and terms associated with the cross that I didn’t hear in your presentation this evening.
Graham: A few score, at least.
Lou: For instance, I was just reading a book on the substitutionary atonement, the idea that Jesus died in my place. Another one is that Jesus died to satisfy the demands of the law, to “satisfy justice.” You haven’t used that kind of language. And what about paying the price of sin? And there’s this emphasis upon the blood, right in Scripture. What about that kind of language, which is familiar to all of us. What do you do with that?
Graham: The Bible is full of that kind of language. Let’s take the word “blood” first. Sometimes we, with all reverence, act as if the blood has some magical power. We sing, “There’s power in the blood.” We even sing, “There’s power in the Word,” and almost treat the Bible as if it had magical power. I remember Jesus’s words, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life” (John 5:39). But there’s no life in the Book as such. It is just ink on paper or words on a screen. The Book has power because it witnesses to the truth about the One who has the power. Only God saves. The Bible doesn’t save.
I would very reverently want to say the same thing about the blood. Blood simply represents the death of Christ. It represents His life given in death. Apart from the meaning of His death, the blood has no power. But the blood has great power in its meaning. When we come to understand why Jesus had to die, that’s going to secure the universe against apostasy and defection for eternity. In that context I can sing, “There’s power in the blood.” But as I am singing, in my mind I’m saying, “It means the following.”
Lou: All right. So you can still use the words.
Graham: Indeed. It’s very biblical to use the words.

The Cross is Good News

To some of us, nevertheless, the cross is great good news. Yes, it is true that sinners will die, but that doesn’t mean we need to be afraid of God; in fact, He died to prove that we don’t need to be afraid. And this message has great power to win all who will listen to repentance and to trust. Paul was so proud of this good news. Notice what he says in 1 Corinthians 1:17, 18:

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel. And not with eloquent wisdom lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (RSV).

The gospel is the powerful good news about the cross, which is the clearest revelation of the truth about God and His government. Now compare 1 Corinthians 1 with Romans 1, where you find that very famous verse about righteousness by faith:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith . . . for in it the righteousness of God is revealed” (Rom 1:16-17, RSV).

This text tells us that the gospel (good news) is powerful for those who trust in God, and that power is in the revelation of God’s righteousness. The good news is that God is not the unrighteous kind of person his enemies have made him out to be. Even in the Old Testament, before the clarity of the cross, it’s wonderful to see that God had good friends who trusted Him to always do the right thing. They were proud to know Him and proud to speak about Him to others. Look at Jeremiah 9:24:

Let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight, declares the Lord (NIV).

Jeremiah was able to repeat those words with feeling long before the cross. But now such confidence in God has been confirmed by the way Jesus suffered and died. And among God’s friends, whether angels or men, this meaning of the cross will have power to hold God’s great family together in loyalty and in peace forever.

The Importance of Our Picture of God

But there was a third question that needed to be answered. Gethsemane by itself would not have been enough. The third question is this: Why is it so important to understand that God does not execute his sinful children? This question had to be answered, too. And so an angel came to strengthen Jesus in Gethsemane so he could continue on out to Calvary. And there, once again, He answered the first two questions. But He was also this time tortured and crucified. By whom? By the Father? Or by most devout group of Sabbath-keeping, tithe-paying, health-reforming, Bible-quoting “Adventists” the world has ever known? Before they tortured him to death, they even said He had a devil (John 8:44). They obeyed God out of fear because they did not really know God. Look at John 19:31:

Then the Jewish authorities asked Pilate to allow them to break the legs of the men who had been crucified, and to take the bodies down from the crosses. They requested this because it was Friday, and they did not want the bodies to stay on the crosses on the Sabbath, since the coming Sabbath was especially holy (GNB).

You see, they nailed their Savior to the cross and then rushed home to keep that Sabbath especially holy. They did it to prove they were God’s true people. That’s the awful result of serving God from fear because you do not know the truth about God. Now the three questions were fully answered. Does sin result in death? Indeed, it does! But is it torture and execution at the hands of our gracious God? Indeed, it is not! What’s so dangerous about misunderstanding this and serving God from fear? The service of fear produces the character of a rebel. Fear turns people who are dedicated to obedience into harsh rebels, and they become God’s worst enemies!

Jesus did not die to win over His Father. Paul is extremely clear about this. 2 Corinthians 5:19: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (RSV). Nowhere does the Bible suggest that God had to be reconciled to us. Never once! Instead God paid the price to reconcile us to Himself! Jesus did not die to pay a mere legal penalty. He died to reveal the truth about God and the falsity of Satan’s charges. And even the angels had to learn this. Look at Colossians 1:20: “. . . And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (RSV).

John 12:32 agrees with this: “When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw everyone to me” (GNB). The “everyone” here is not limited to the human race, it is everyone in the whole family of the universe. These texts point us to the larger setting of the Great Controversy in order to understand the cross. The way in which Jesus suffered and died is the greatest revelation of the truth about God and His government that the universe will ever see or ever need. Correctly understood, the message of the cross is final defeat for the adversary. No wonder Satan has worked so hard to obscure, misrepresent, and even pervert the meaning of the cross.