Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
I John 2:2
We have just come through that time of year when a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ struggles, sweats, prays, and hopes in order to communicate clearly what the cross of Christ means. That is because the cross of Christ stands at the very center of our faith. Hopefully we follow in the Apostle Paul’s footsteps when he declared, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). All Christians rightly struggle and agonize over how to make clear the meaning of the cross.
The Latin word for cross is crux. When we say in debate that “this is the crux of my argument”, or “this is the crux of the matter”, we are saying that as the cross (crux) is central to the Christian faith, so this point is central or crux to what I am saying. We do well to work hard, and to struggle to make the crux of the faith known to others.
There was a great man five hundred years ago who struggled and bled to communicate the crux of the faith, the message of the cross. The great man’s name was William Tyndale (1494-1536), the father of the English Bible. He was the first to translate the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament into English. Tyndale was stalwart in his faith and fluent in seven languages. His life’s passion was to serve up the Word of God in the language of the people so that an English ploughboy or charwoman could read and understand. For providing the Word of God in the language of the people Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake. His dying words were the prayer: “Lord, open the eyes of the King of England!”
Tyndale’s translation lived on to become the basis of another translation of the Bible commissioned by England’s future king, King James. Nine-tenths of the King James Bible was drawn from Tyndale’s translation. Scholars suggest that along with Shakespeare and the King James Bible, William Tyndale gave us modern English as we speak it today. Tyndale introduced to our speech such phrases as:
- The salt of the earth
- Twinkling of an eye
- The signs of the times
- My brother’s keeper
- Let there be light
- Seek and you will find
- and many, many more English phrases.
But Tyndale worked hard to find just the right English word to encompass all that Christ accomplished on the cross. He could find no direct translation into English for words having to do with propitiation, expiation, ransom, remission, and reconciliation. Tyndale knew of no English word that could adequately communicate the finished work of Christ on the cross.
So Tyndale coined a word. He summed up Christ’s work in his new word: “at-one-ment”. We say simply say it today as “atonement”, but Tyndale meant it as God’s work in bringing sinners into “at-one-ment” with Him. Tyndale understood the great message of the Bible to be about God through His Son bringing us into “atoneness” with Him. An article in An Etymological Dictionary of the English Langauge cites Tydale’s very words: “One God, one Mediatour, that is to say aduocate, intercessor, or an atonemaker, between God and man”.
To this day theologians debate, sometimes quite hotly, what the cross of Christ means. Almost daily they blog about how my understanding of the cross is better than yours! I for one, believe it a mystery beyond our comprehension to know how Christ’ death on the cross saves us! I cannot understand the cross, but I stand under it. I adore and worship our crucified Savior! And I think Tyndale had it right! There is no English word, or words, that can adequately express the mystery and glory of the cross! But I do know this: through His cross Christ makes us “at-one”! Our broken, estranged relationship is restored. We are brought into harmony with God.
As we look at the cross, the vertical dimension speaks to us of being “at-one” with God. The horizontal dimension speaks of being made “at-one” with all who name the name of Jesus. On the night before Jesus laid down His life on the cross he prayed to Abba Father:
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one. (John 17:20-22)
I will leave to scribes the nuances and the finer points of the grand doctrine of salvation. But I do know this, that, our salvation has something to do with our living at-one with God, and our living at-one with each other. This is why Jesus died, and that is why we live.
Grace and peace,