I would like us to consider three instances of our Lord Jesus' life which led directly to His death upon the Cross. As the Lord leads we will begin to see just what the cost was to secure our salvation, and what the Lord Jesus went through for our sakes alone.
Firstly we shall take a brief look at the Lord's Supper, and there are three things which we learn from that. Then we will take a look at the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane where we are introduced to what the Lord Jesus calls "the cup". And thirdly we look directly at the Cross and see what actually happened as the Lord Jesus bore our sins upon Himself.
I The Last Supper
The actions and words of the Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread are significant. They throw light on the view that our Lord had of His own death, His death being the primary focus of the Supper. So there are three things that we learn from the Last Supper:
1. The Lord Jesus here shows that His death is the centre of all His work. Here, on the last evening spent with His disciples, He gives instructions for His own memorial service. It is not a single service such as we have today for our loved ones who die, but it is to be a regular service. He simply says, "do this in remembrance of Me." They were to copy all that He had done, namely to take, identify and share the bread and wine. What did the bread and wine signify? Of the bread He said, "This is My body which is given for you." Of the wine He said, "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many, for the remission of sins." Thus both elements speak clearly of His death. The bread did not stand for His living body as He sat there with them but of His body which shortly was to be given for them in death. The wine did not stand for His blood as it flowed in His veins while He spoke to them but it was the blood which would shortly be poured out. The Lord's Supper is the only commemorative act that we have which He has personally given us to do. It was given to us that we would remember, not His birth, not His life, not His words or works, but only His death. It is by His death that He desires above all else to be remembered. Thus the death of our Lord Jesus is the central theme to Christianity and apart from it we are lost.
2. We also learn at the Last Supper the purpose of His death. It is recorded that the cup of wine spoke not alone of His death but of the new covenant associated with it. And Matthew adds that His blood was to be shed for the remission of sins. It is for the forgiveness of sins that the Lord Jesus died. Because of sin man has become alienated from God. It is only through the death of Christ that man could be reconciled back to Him. To receive divine forgiveness from God then the penalty for that sin must be executed. And this penalty was placed upon Christ as the wages of sin is death. And without the shedding of blood there can be no remission. So the Lord Jesus at the Last Supper shows the purpose of His death, that is, by His blood being shed, we can obtain the forgiveness of sins. The Lord Jesus died to bring people into a new relationship with Himself.
3. Thirdly, we learn from the Last Supper that we need to partake of the Lord's death personally, or individually. It was one thing for the Lord to take the bread, bless and break it, but He also gave it to His disciples to eat. Again, He took the cup and blessed it, but also He gave it to them to drink. The Supper involved the disciples as well as the Lord Jesus. It was not enough for the bread to be broken and the wine poured out. They had to eat and drink it. If they didn't partake of the bread and wine, then they were not partakers of the supper. Likewise with sinners today, it is not enough for the Lord to offer His body on the Tree and to pour out His blood, but we also have to do something about it. We have to take the blessings of His death personally. We must accept His death as the death in our place. We must receive Him as Lord and Saviour, as the disciples received the bread and wine. This is the only thing we need to do to secure our salvation. Simply believe and accept Christ as Saviour. There is no other thing we can do . No works we can do, because it has already been done for us. All we must do is believe.
So we learn these three lessons from the Lord's Supper.
1. We learn that His death was the Lord's central mission.
2. It took place in order to produce promised forgiveness.
3. His death is to be received individually if its benefits and blessings are to be enjoyed in the securing of our souls.
II The Agony of Gethsemane
Matthew 26:36-46, Luke 22:39-46
The Last Supper now finished, we find that they all sung a hymn and then went out to the Mount of Olives. From here they entered a garden named Gethsemane, apparently a place where the Lord Jesus often resorted to. It is here that we discover the enormous cost of the Cross to the Lord. As we read in the passage we see on arrival in the garden the Lord Jesus asked the disciples to sit while He took with Him Peter, James and John a little further. Then He shares with them that His "soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death." He also asks them to watch with Him. He then goes a stones throw farther alone and falls upon His face praying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless not as I will, but as You will."
He returns to His disciples and finds them sleeping. He then beseeches Peter with the appeal "could you not watch with Me one hour?" The Lord goes away the second time and prayed the same words, "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done." A second time He returns and finds the disciples sleeping. So He leaves them and prays a third time, saying the same words. And the third time He returns to the disciples, finding them still asleep. Here we realise that the Lord Jesus is to walk this path alone. His disciples could not enter into His suffering; they chose rather to rest than to comfort their Lord. We read the sorry picture in Luke where an angel appeared to strengthen Him. Where were His disciples, His friends at this time when He needed their encouragement and comfort?
Now as we approach this scene, let us look briefly at a few words which the Lord Jesus and the Gospel writers use. We have in Luke 22:44 that the Lord Jesus was in agony. Matthew records that He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed, and Mark says that He was troubled. And in both Matthew and Mark the Lord Jesus Himself relays to us that His soul was exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Put together, these words dictate to us that the Lord Jesus was feeling an acute emotional pain. This pain we read in Luke caused His sweat to become "like great drops of blood" as He looked toward His future ordeal. The ordeal which is causing our Saviour so much grief is that which He mentions in His prayers, namely the "cup".
And what is this "cup"? Firstly, we shall see what the cup was not. Then we shall discover what the cup is.
1. Firstly, what the cup was not. Some will suggest that the cup which the Lord Jesus shrank from was His physical suffering. That is, the whippings and crucifixion, together with mental anguish and betrayal, denial and desertion by His friends, and the mockery and abuse of His enemies. Truly, none of these things were a welcome thought to any person, especially that of crucifixion. To be nailed to a cross, and then to have it stood upright in plain view of all. The victim would then hang for some time, often days in the cold of night and the heat of day until finally death overcomes. Crucifixion was apparently one of the most horrendous of deaths; yet was it the thought of this that the Lord so agonised over?
The Lord's physical and mental courage throughout His ministry had been unfailing. Why would He now be afraid of pain and death? We take note of many brethren down through the centuries who have been faced with similar circumstances of sufferings and death in the name of Christ. The Lord Jesus Himself told His followers that when insulted, persecuted or slandered, they were to 'rejoice and be glad'. Did not the Lord practice what he preached? We find that His apostles did. Leaving the Sanhedrin from a merciless flogging, they were actually 'rejoicing because they had been counted worthy for the Name'. Pain and suffering were to them a joy and a privilege, not an ordeal to be shrunk from in dismay.
Then there were other Christian martyrs. Those who sang praises to God as they were being burned at the stake. Those who refused to disown Christ, regardless of the tortures they were partakers of. Many godly men and women have withstood the physical anguish and torment of their persecutors without fear or repentance. Can we say that our Lord lacked the courage to go to the Cross? Was the cup which our Lord so agonisingly shrank from His physical suffering? You know, I certainly believe it wasn't. Many a martyr has boldly stood up to such tortures, and I believe our Lord Jesus did the same.
So then, what was the cup? We've seen that the cup was neither physical pain or mental distress, but rather it was the spiritual agony of first bearing the sins of the world and secondly enduring the judgement of those sins. We find in the Old Testament that the Lord's "cup" was a symbol of wrath. In Ezekiel the Lord warns His people that they would shortly suffer the same fate as Samaria. He uses these words in chapter 23:32-33, "Thus says the Lord God: You shall drink of your sisters cup, the deep and wide one; you shall be laughed to scorn and held in derision; it contains much. You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, the cup of horror and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria."
And in Isaiah 51:17, "Awake, Awake! Stand up, O Jerusalem, You have drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of His fury; You have drunk the dregs of the cup of trembling, and drained it out." This Old Testament imagery of the "cup" would have been well known to the Lord Jesus. And it is the cup of the wrath of God against sin from which the Lord Jesus shrank. In His own death He was to become so identified with sinners in the bearing of their judgement that His sinless soul recoiled from this contact with human sin and He shrank from the experience of alienation from God which was the Judgement of that sin.
But do we see Him walk away? Did He turn His back on His Fathers will? Assuredly not. We see that as He emerges from this agonising scene there becomes a sereneness and a confidence. This is made evident in the instance when the soldiers came to take Him and arrest Him. Peter, we read in John's Gospel, drew his sword and cut off the right ear of the high priests servant. Yet the Lord Jesus was able to say without reluctance, "Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?"
The Father has given the Son the cup of His wrath and He obediently drank of it for our sake alone. Someone once said, "The agony of the garden opens a window on the greater agony of the Cross. If to bear man's sin and God's wrath was so terrible in anticipation, what must the reality have been like?"
"We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains He had to bear;
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there."
III The Cross
So leaving Gethsemane's garden let us place our thoughts on our Lord's death. None of the Gospel writers goes into the details of how the Lord Jesus was crucified and neither shall we. However, when He hung there, we hear a number of words spoken. We hear those merciful words of the Lord Jesus when He prays the Father to forgive those who had crucified Him. Here He made intercession for the transgressors. Then we read of His words to the penitent thief who became the last Old Testament saint. After this He commends His mother into the care of His disciple. Our Lord is not the only one speaking.
The chief priests sneered those words "He saved others; Himself He cannot save." Though these words were an insult, we discover that they were quite true. You see. He could not save Himself and others simultaneously. He chose to die in order that we might be saved. And then we come to the verses we have read. We find that darkness fell over all the land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour. Or in our language, from midday to 3 pm. A writer once said that "At the birth of the Son of God there was brightness at midnight; at the death of the Son of God there was darkness at noon."
Since the time God created man upon the earth there was never such a dark and awful time as this. This darkness signified that dark cloud which the soul of our Lord Jesus was under. It was an outer sign of what passed over Him. It was then that Christ became the sinners substitute before a holy and righteous God. As this 3 hour period of darkness came to an end we hear the cry of our Lord Jesus, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
What happened in those hours of darkness which caused Him to cry these terrible words of dereliction? A few Scripture passages express the scene. Isaiah 53:5, "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." and vs. 6, "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."
Then we have 2 all important and clear verses.
II Corinthians 5:21
"For He (that is God) made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
"Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us......"
Christ had become a curse for us, and furthermore He was made to be sin for us. He who is holy and righteous and pure, He who knew no sin was made to be sin. But what does this mean? It is that our sins were taken from our shoulders and were imputed to Christ, they were charged to His account. The transferring of sin from us sinners to Christ does not imply that the moral quality or nature of our sin was placed upon Him.
Our moral standing at present cannot change. We are sinners. In the same manner, Christ's moral standing can never change. He is sinless and always will be. So our moral nature was not transferred to Christ, however the legal consequences of that nature were. When Christ died he accepted liability for our sins; He took our curse and our guilt upon Himself and paid the price which was deserving only of us. Our charge was thereby put to His account and He paid the price in full.
And because of this the Lord Jesus cried "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" The Father forsook the Son. He turned His back on Him and left Him. Thus the darkness signified separation from God. In this darkness He was absolutely alone, being now God-forsaken. The righteous wrath of God against sin was instead upon Him. It was here that Christ took the place of a doomed, hell deserving sinner, with the sins of the whole world placed upon Him. God forsook Him as a vile sinner dying in his sins ought to be forsaken.
This was the "cup" which He shrank from in Gethsemane. Whilst we are here we will never know the full cost to make reconciliation for us, but we know that the great work was done. The Just has died for the unjust. The Just has died for you and I, enduring on the Cross an eternity of anguish and suffering for each of us. In this cry a question was left without an answer. "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Surely every believer can reply "it was that I might never be forsaken." Our sin will now no longer be held against us, for He has paid the price in full.
"My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole
Is nailed to His Cross, and I bear it no more;
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!"
So we saw firstly that the Last Supper indicated a threefold message. Firstly, that the death of Christ was His central mission; secondly we saw the purpose of His death, that through the shedding of His blood we might receive the forgiveness of sins and thirdly, we must be partakers of His death for it to have any effect upon our lives.
Then we saw the scene in Gethsemane where we were introduced to the "cup" which spoke of the Lord's suffering and then in going to the Cross itself we discovered the terrible price our Lord Jesus paid to secure our souls; and that price being alienation from God as He bore the sin of the world upon His shoulders.
But what does all this mean to us?
If you are a believer, if you have accepted Christ as Saviour, then are you giving Him back the life you owe in service for Him? Or are you indifferent to what the Lord Jesus has done for you and are happy to be quite content in living your own life?
What if you're not a believer? Are you happy to stay in your destitute state of a lost sinner with an eternity of damnation just around the corner? Will you harden your heart and turn your back upon the Lord Jesus and reject this offer that he has for you? Or are you willing to surrender your soul to Him and to seek His forgiveness for the vile sinner that you are? You know, it is such a great offer that He has for us in that He died in our place so that we may have eternal life if only we simply believe. Believe that Jesus Christ has died for us, that He rose again victorious and that He is coming again.
If you have not accepted Christ as your Saviour then why not now? The Bible says that "behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." If you're a lost sinner, will you accept Him as your Saviour? And if you're a backslidden Christian, will you accept Him as your Lord?
J Ayoub 19/10/97