Those passing near Golgotha on the day that Jesus was crucified would have had little reason to think that this was anything more than a gruesome Roman execution. Yet, we know that Jesus’ death on the cross was the “once and for all” atoning sacrifice. Through this sacrifice and Jesus’ resurrection three days later, humankind could know forgiveness of sin and reparation of that which was lost in the Garden of Eden. But what made this death sentence a sacrifice?
We have noted four attributes of Jesus’ crucifixion that transform it from a judicial action to a sacrifice. Our meditation for Tuesday of Holy Week is focused on the first requirement. Because the cross was so closely tied to the Passover, for it to be the New Passover sacrifice, Jesus had to be a spotless lamb. Yesterday we detailed that Jesus is nothing less than, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). After examining the Scriptures, we also found ample evidence that Jesus is “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Clearly, Jesus fulfilled the requirements to be the sacrificial lamb. But, what about the other requirements? Read on…
Exodus 32:25-26, 29, 2 Chronicles 35:10-14 – Take Me to Your Leader!
Today’s meditation examines the second necessary characteristic. For Jesus’ death to be a sacrifice there had to be a priest presiding over the proceedings. In our Scripture readings today we notice two things. First, after the “Golden Calf” incident at the outset of the Exodus, the tribe of Levi stood out as the only faithful ones. God set them apart that day for special service in the Tabernacle, and later the Temple. Before the people worshiped the idol in the wilderness, the fathers were the priests. Exodus 12 indicates that fathers would lead their families in the Passover sacrifice and meal. After the golden calf, the fathers were stripped of their priestly role. This responsibility was given to the Levites.
After years of neglecting the covenant, 2 Chronicles 30 records the recovery of the Passover feast by King Josiah. Notice the place of the Levites in this passage. “They slaughtered the Passover lamb on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the temple of the Lord. Then they took up their regular positions as prescribed in the Law of Moses the man of God. The priests splashed against the altar the blood handed to them by the Levites” (2 Chronicles 30:15-16). What was performed by fathers previously was given over to the Levites. All of the priests came from the tribe of Levi, but not all of the Levites were priests. Sacrifices were to be carried out by the Levitical priests.
When Jesus was crucified, those who presided did not look like priests. In fact, those carrying out this heinous act were soldiers. To anyone who witnessed the event, they would have been hard pressed to see this as a worshipful act. Without a priest taking charge, this could not be a sacrifice.
Hebrews 6:20 begins to unfold the mystery for us. It says that there was a priest at the cross. His name was Jesus. The writer of Hebrews says that Jesus, “…has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” So, Jesus, though not a Levite, was a priest nonetheless. He was in the order of the mysterious high priest and king of Salem (Jerusalem), Melchizedek. This same Melchizedek came to Abraham offering “bread and wine.”
At the cross, Jesus was not only the Lamb for the sacrifice, He was the presiding priest. But, how could this be? How could the victim also be the priest presiding? John 10:17-18 helps us to see that Jesus was in control the entire time. It says, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” The old Gospel hymn says, “He could have called ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set him free. He could have called ten thousand angels, but he died alone, for you and me.”
Finally, the robe that Jesus wore the day He went to Calvary was like that of a priest. “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom” (John 19:23). Such details are shared for a purpose. This requirement for a priestly robe is found in Exodus 28:31-32 where the requirements for all of the priestly garments are presented. The robe of the priest was to be made of one piece of cloth so as not to tear.
Jesus was referred to as the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. Jesus was in authority at the cross. Jesus was wearing the robe of a priest. Scripture gives clear evidence that Jesus was the Priest who presided at Calvary. This was God’s plan from the beginning. Two of the four requirements for the crucifixion to be a sacrifice have been established.
With each passing day and each step of the way, we approach the Passion of Christ. What God had planned from before the foundation of the world was coming to pass. We must forge ahead. As the old hymn says, “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.”
Tomorrow we will consider the need for sacrifices to be made at the Temple.