Wednesday, April 17, 2019

What Jesus Said About His Death

The night before he died, Jesus taught his disciples the meaning of his coming death. While his disciples did not know what would happen, Jesus did. He had come for this purpose. Long before, he had told them that he "came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). His death would do something for them – it would ransom them. On that night before his crucifixion, he instructed them for quite some time, but a key part of this instruction incorporated the meal itself. He used the elements of the Passover meal to refer to himself and his coming death. Not only would this set up a new ritual for his disciples (the "Lord's Supper") that replaced Passover, but it also interpreted his death in terms of the Passover and Israel's exodus from Egypt. His death, like those events, would be redemptive – it would deliver from God's judgment.
"Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins'" (Matthew 26:26-28).
It did not take long after Jesus' death and resurrection for his disciples to repeat this ritual as he had told them to do. Two months later it is described as a common practice of theirs (Acts 2:42). As the company of disciples grew, they would continue to gather on the first day of the week to practice it together (Acts 20:7). The Apostle Paul would quote the words of Jesus, passed down to him within a few years of Jesus' death, in what even skeptical scholars admit to be one of Paul's earliest letters (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

In our culture today, there are many who would want to interpret Jesus's death in ways contrary to his own words. And yet, Jesus' own interpretation of his death was well-taught to his disciples and incorporated by Him into a ritual that was practiced early, often, and across the whole church. He died to satisfy the demands of justice, ransoming us from its claim, so that we might be forgiven and reconciled to our Creator. This death is effective only to those who are united to Jesus by faith, who participate in the sacrifice. Unless one has taken refuge under the blood of this sacrificial lamb, he or she is still subject to the sentence of eternal death demanded by justice. God has provided a way of peace and reconciliation. Let us claim this death as our own, done on our behalf. Let us eat the bread and drink the wine. "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival" (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). Thanks be to God!

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