Because our gathering this evening intends to remember the events of the cross and discuss its significance, I thought we’d begin by looking at the final moments leading up to Jesus’ death by harmonizing the four accounts contained within the Gospel record.
“Beginning with the sixth hour darkness covered over the whole land. And when the ninth hour approached Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Some of those who stood there, when they heard that, said, “This Man is calling for Elijah!”
“But Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink. The rest said, “Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to save Him.”
“So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last and yielded up His spirit.”
I’d like to pose a question that at first might seem easy to answer… Why is the crucifixion of Jesus such a significant event that even 2000 years after the fact millions of people around the globe still gather in its recognition?
And while all of these perspectives might be true, we understand what took place on that cross represented much, much more… On the cross, as the Sinless Lamb of God, we believe Jesus died to pay for the sins of the world!
Though Christians will universally agree this is the most significant aspect of the crucifixion, few take the time to consider the particulars of how this was even possible.
For starters… The Bible teaches that Jesus’ death was only able to satisfy the righteous requirements for the sins of the world because, while hanging upon the cross, He took upon Himself the sins of the world.
Not only did Paul write in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” but this reality seems to explain some of the things Jesus experienced in His final hours.
Notice we’re told “darkness” covered over the land for a period of three hours. Webster not only defines “darkness” as “being devoid of light,” but also as “arising from or showing evil traits or desires.” As a literary technique “darkness” indicates the existence of “evil and wickedness.” Metaphorically, “darkness,” in the Biblical context, refers to both “the human condition of sinfulness” as well as “the wrath of God as a consequence for these things.” It would seem the physical darkness that engulfed the land was an outward representation of the spiritual experience Jesus was enduring. For three hours on the cross Jesus took upon Himself the full weight of human sin.
Which then explains why, from out of the darkness, “Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” This Aramaic phrase “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” was included because it signified an intense cry of terror. The translation then explains why Jesus was so terrified. “My God, My God why have Your forsaken Me…” As Jesus took upon Himself sin, for the first time, He was experiencing sins most basic consequence... Separation from God. Note: Though Jesus positionally remained God, in this singular instance He found Himself practically separated from His Father personally bearing the stench of sin!
“After this (the people mistaking “Eloi” for “Elijah”), Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Aside from the fact Jesus wanted something to drink so He could speak with clarity, the spiritual implications of these words “I thirst” coming from the mouth of Christ continue to present the idea that Jesus has been separated from His Father by sin.
Jesus not only experienced the shame of sin (darkness) and separation from God, but for the first time He experienced the full effects sin presents to the human soul. Note: This is the only time in the Gospels that you will read that Jesus “thirst.”
While most Christians comprehend the reality that His crucifixion death is only significant if Jesus first took upon Himself the sins of the world, few understand the mechanism for how any of this is even possible in a legal sense.
The answer is found in what I’m going to call the Doctrine of Transference… Defined as the act of transferring sin from a person to a sacrificial offering. Note: In the Levitical Law the idea of transference was central to the entire sacrificial system established by God.
In a general sense, aside from identification, the act of laying your hands upon an innocent sacrifice was all about transferring your sin to the sacrifice. It was then, as a result of this transference, the death of the sacrifice was accepted by God as the payment for your sin.
Furthermore, with the debt of sin now being satisfied by the offering, blood from the sacrifice could now be used as a cleansing agent. Understand… Whatever the blood from the accepted sacrifice was sprinkled upon was declared ceremonially clean in the eyes of God.
And yet, the problem with the Levitical model of transference was twofold…
First, the process of transferring sin from a human to an innocent animal only afforded a person temporary payment and provisional cleansing because the sacrifice itself was simply inadequate. As the author of Hebrews (10:4) correctly observed, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” Atonement, in the Levitical perspective, was at best seen as a covering over of sin, not the full removing of sin.
The frustrating reality when it came to transference was that the only way to permanently satisfy the debt of sin in order to bring about a complete cleansing from sin by the blood was for human sin to be transferred to a sinless, human sacrifice.
But this led to another significant problem… Even if such a sacrifice existed no man (including the priests) could make this offering with the act remaining just.
To this point the only legal way transference could occur in this dynamic would be if (A). The sinless sacrifice willingly chose to take your sin upon Himself (meaning transference occurs because He touches you), and (B). The sacrifice, acting as a de facto High Priest, willingly offers Himself to die in your place.
Which brings us back to the cross… The great reality of this event is that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for the sins of the world because He was willing to act as both the sacrifice (He willingly transferred upon Himself the sins of the world) and the priest (He willing offered His own life to incur the wrath of God so that the debt of sin might be satisfied).
But it get’s even better… Because sin was transferred to Jesus on the cross not only is it by His death the debt for sin is permanently satisfied, but now for the first time a complete cleansing from sin is made available by His blood.
The Old Covenant of the Law demanded we make continual sacrifices because the blood of an inadequate sacrifice only provided a temporary covering of sin. However, because Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient and lasting, the New Covenant no longer requires we make any sacrifice at all because His blood permanently cleanses us of all unrighteousness.
Do you see the implications and why Jesus’ work on the cross was so revolutionary?
Don’t forget the goal of transference in both the Levitical Law and the New Covenant were the same (righteousness with God brought about by the cleansing of the blood of the sacrifice), however the way transference works in each instance is radically different.
In the Levitical Law transference required of the guilty to make continual sacrifices to atone for sin in order to be right with God. All a man had were his ineffective sacrifices.
However, in the New Covenant transference requires nothing at all of the guilty because a sacrifice was made by Jesus to atone for sin making me now right with God. In this New Covenant all a man needs is Jesus because He’s proven to be an able sacrifice!
In one (the Law) transference is all about me laying my hands upon the sacrifice to achieve a right standing before God. In the other (New Covenant) transference is all about the sacrifice laying down His life in order to make me right with God.
In one (the Law) my faith looks upon my sacrifice to earn the forgiveness of God. In the other (New Covenant) my faith looks upon the Sacrifice who gives me the forgiveness of God.
This is why the Old Covenant was an agreement with God based in works while the New Covenant is an agreement founded in grace! Because of the insufficiency of the Levitical sacrifice and the effectiveness of Jesus’ work on the cross, satisfying of debt (atonement) and the cleansing of sin (justification and sanctification) cannot be earned though my sacrifices, instead these things are given to me by Jesus and received by me in faith!
With this complete understanding of the crucifixion in mind, I want to examine Jesus’ own words communicated through the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 concerning His death… “For that which I received from the Lord I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”
In this passage where Jesus institutes the “Lord’s Supper” He does something interesting… Jesus specifically ties Himself and His crucifixion with two elements of the traditional Passover Seder in order to illustrate the work He accomplished on the cross.
First, we’re told Jesus “took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
While the Seder dinner had 15 different parts, “bread” played a significant role in three of them. First, was the 5th step known as “Yachatz” (ya-ha-tz) meaning “Breaking the Matzah.” Early in the dinner three pieces of stacked matzah bread (unleavened, flat bread) were presented to the father of the home. The middle piece (afikoman) was removed from the other two and broken before being carefully wrapped in linen and hidden for later in the meal.
The next time “bread” comes into play was directly before the main course when the 8th step known as the “Motzi Matzah” (moht-zi) or the “Eating of the Matzah” occurred. At this point in the Seder the two remaining pieces of “unbroken” matzah bread are passed around, dipped into the same dish, and consumed. Note: This is when Jesus identified His betrayer Judas.
Once the main course has been finished and the Seder is nearing completion the 12th step known as the “Tzafun” (za-fu-nun) or the “Eating of the Afikoman” finally took place. At this point the host would ask for the the hidden afikoman to be retrieved and presented. Then, before distributing the broken pieces, the host would explain its significance.
For 2000 years of Jewish tradition the three pieces of matzah represented Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As the middle piece, the afikoman represented Isaac who willing surrendered himself to be sacrificed in obedience to the will of his father.
Literally, before consuming the bread, the host would declare concerning the afikoman, “This is the bread of affliction which our father’s ate in the land of Egypt. Let everyone who hungers come and eat; let everyone who is needy come and eat the Passover meal.”
And yet, when Jesus and His disciples reached this moment in the Seder, instead of making this common statement, we’re told Jesus “took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Note: It’s likely Jesus had left the afikoman whole planning to break it in this moment.
Understand, Jesus is crystal clear the afikomen no longer represented Isaac, but instead “His body which is broken for you.” You see, on the cross, the Son willingly offered His own body to bring about “sacrificial atonement for sin.”
This was a work He didn’t need to do for Himself as He was sinless, but was instead a work He did specifically “for you.” Instead of incurring the wrath of God on account of the debt your sin demanded on your own, Jesus willingly offered Himself in your place!
This is why every time you come to the table and take up that little piece of unleavened bread (the afikomen) you’ve been commanded to remember the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross on your behalf. You’re to remember that He willingly chose to bear your sin… That He willingly took your place… That He willingly offered Himself as a sacrifice so that you might be spared the judgment of God. The “bread” serves to remind us that He who was whole was broken so that we who are broken might be made whole!
But that was not all… Then, we’re told Jesus “took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’”
Throughout the Passover Seder four cups of wine are drunk in order to remember each of the four promises God gave to Moses in Exodus 6:6-7. (1) Cup of Sanctification… “I will bring you out from under the burdens.” (2) Cup of Deliverance… “I will rescue you from your bondage.” (3) Cup of Redemption… “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm.” (4) Cup of Restoration… “I will take you as my own people.”
While all four cups are significant in there own right, following the “Eating of the Afikoman” the “Barekh” (ba-raa-kh) or the 3rd cup of wine symbolizing the “Cup of Redemption” would be presented. This cup of wine symbolically represented the shed blood of the sacrificial lamb that was applied to the doorposts in Egypt causing the plague of death to “passover.”
Please notice the emphasis of Jesus’ words in the moment focused on “the cup” and not its contents. Whereas the bread had always been symbolic of His body, the actual wine contained in the “Cup of Redemption” represented blood of an insufficient offering.
When Jesus said, “this cup is the new covenant in My blood” He was saying that while the “cup” that had always represented His “redemption” of the people would remain the same the vessel itself would now be filled with something sufficient. He replaced the contents!
In this moment with His disciples Jesus is telling them “Redemption” will no longer rely on an Old Covenant filled with the blood of an inadequate sacrifice… “Redemption” would now rely on a “New Covenant” filled with the blood of the sufficient sacrifice… “My blood.”
This is why every time you come to the table and take up the “Cup of Redemption” you’re to remember the result of the sacrifice Jesus made for you on the cross.
Yes, His body was broken as the sacrifice to satisfy a debt you could not pay, but it’s by His blood that you are now cleansed once and for all of sin being permanently made right with God. My sin may have been transferred to Jesus on the cross, but it was the spilling of His blood that now transfers to me His righteousness.
Finally, I’m struck by the reality that in regards to both the bread and the cup Jesus commanded us to partake “in remembrance of Him.” The phrase “do this” was not a suggestive term! It’s strong and directive illustrating the importance of remembering.
Friend, it’s critical we never forget that our salvation from sin and favor with God is found not in a Levitical model founded upon the sacrifices I offer to God, but in a New Covenant built on nothing more than the sacrifice Jesus made for me! As the hymnist wrote and we often sing, “My hope is built on nothing less; than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' name.”
“Jesus took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me…”
And in the same manner Jesus also took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
It’s Friday. Jesus is praying. Peter’s a sleeping. Judas is betraying. But Sunday’s comin’.
It’s Friday. Pilate’s struggling. The council is conspiring. The crowd is vilifying.
They don’t even know that Sunday’s comin’.
It’s Friday. The disciples are running - Like sheep without a shepherd. Mary’s crying.
Peter is denying. But they don’t know - That Sunday’s a comin’.
It’s Friday. The Romans beat my Jesus. They robe Him in scarlet.
They crown Him with thorns. But they don’t know - That Sunday’s comin’.
It’s Friday. See Jesus walking to Calvary. His blood dripping. His body stumbling.
And his spirit’s burdened. But you see, it’s only Friday. Sunday’s comin’.
It’s Friday. The world’s winning. People are sinning. And evil’s grinning.
It’s Friday. The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands to the cross.
They nail my Savior’s feet to the cross. And then they raise Him up - Next to criminals.
It’s Friday. But let me tell you something Sunday’s comin’.
It’s Friday. The disciples are questioning. What has happened to their King.
And the Pharisees are celebrating - That their scheming Has been achieved.
But they don’t know It’s only Friday. Sunday’s comin’.
It’s Friday. He’s hanging on the cross. Feeling forsaken by His Father.
Left alone and dying - Can nobody save him? Ooooh It’s Friday. But Sunday’s comin’.
It’s Friday. The earth trembles. The sky grows dark. My King yields His spirit.
It’s Friday. Hope is lost. Death has won. Sin has conquered. And Satan’s just a laughin’.
It’s Friday. Jesus is buried. A soldier stands guard. And a rock is rolled into place.
But it’s Friday. It is only Friday. Sunday is a comin’!
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