Over the last few meditations we have pondered the questions, “If we had been walking by the cross on that Friday, what would we have thought of Jesus’ crucifixion?” Would we have seen a sacrifice or a common execution? For most people, no doubt, the cross of Christ looked like another sad example of capital punishment. Of course, we know that Jesus is the “once and for all sacrifice.” But, what is it that makes the cross a sacrifice? Any Jewish person knows that a proper Passover sacrifice required a spotless lamb, had to be at the Temple, presided over by a priest, and had to be part of a liturgy. We have established that Jesus is the spotless Lamb of God. We have determined that Jesus is a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. And, we have seen that Jesus’ body was the Temple. The first three requirements for a sacrifice are met in Jesus. What about the third prerequisite for a sacrifice? Was the crucifixion of Jesus part of a liturgy?
Read Luke 22:7-8, 15-20, 39-42 Mark 14:25-26, John 19:28-30 – It is Finished
As Jesus and His disciples gathered in the upper room to celebrate the Passover, everyone knew that change was coming. After saying repeatedly that His hour had not yet come, now Jesus was declaring that the hour had arrived. An ominous air of danger hung in the room like smoke. On that Thursday night, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. It was there and then that it all began to unfold. In the flickering candle light, Jesus presided over the Passover meal.
Jesus spoke of eating the Passover, but this was not the traditional Passover that He was sharing. In the past, the Seder Meal focused on the Exodus of the Children of Israel out of Egypt so that everyone would remember God’s deliverance. But Jesus did not speak of Moses. Rather, he told them about a new Exodus that would begin soon. He took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them, claiming that it was His body. Then, he took the cup and claimed it was His blood – and that the New Covenant was in His blood.
Alterations to the Passover narrative must have been jarring to these Hebrew men. Everything was changing. During the evening, Jesus taught about loving one another. He even washed their feet. Also, when the meal unfolded, the four cups of the traditional meal were presented differently. Jesus offered them the first three cups of the meal, but stopped at the third cup. The Scriptures tell us that they sang a hymn and went out. The Great “Hallel” Psalms (Psalms 114-118) were always followed by the fourth cup. Had Jesus forgotten the fourth cup? As the disciples left the upper room to go to the Garden, Jesus’ message of love must have rung in their ears. And the mystery of the missing fourth cup had to confound them.
From the upper room, Jesus and His followers went to the Mount of Olives to pray. Imagine their private discussions as they walked along. Jesus’ revisions to the Seder meal and the exclusion of the fourth cup were surely among their considerations. Their minds must have raced back to Jesus’ answer to the mother of the sons of Zebedee when she asked which of them would sit at His right and left hand in the Kingdom. “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
When they arrived at the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him to pray. “On reaching the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’ He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
The drops of blood which formed on Jesus’ head foreshadowed His immediate future. Soon, where the drops appeared, thorns would pierce His brow. Jesus, aware of what lay ahead, prayed that God might spare Him from the cup of consummation He was about to drink. Father, if it be Your will, let this cup pass from me. Soon, the suffering Savior would go forth, and the drops of blood would become a fountain of grace flowing from His wounded side.
Soon, Judas and a detachment of guards would enter the garden. Jesus would be arrested. After a series of trials, beatings and finally an undeserved condemnation, Jesus was led by the soldiers to Golgotha. There, Jesus was nailed to the cross and lifted up like the snake in the wilderness. In the final moments of His life, in order that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When He had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, He bowed His head and gave up his spirit.
In order for this scene to be a sacrifice, Jesus’ crucifixion had to be within a liturgy or service of worship. Given what we know, just how is it that this is part of a liturgy? To find the answer we must look back to the upper room. On Thursday night, Jesus shared the third cup with His disciples. Then they sang a hymn and went out. He did not drink the fourth cup. In the garden He prayed, “If it be your will, let this cup pass from me.” As he carried the cross to Calvary, Jesus was offered wine, but declined to drink. It was not time for the final cup. After hours on the cross, with His life ebbing away…in His final few seconds, a hyssop branch (the same kind of branch used to paint blood over the doorposts in Egypt) with a sponge of sour wine was lifted to His lips. This was the nothing less than the fourth cup of the Passover Seder. Jesus drank the wine and declared, “It is finished.” Then He bowed His head and died.
So, what was finished? The Passover liturgy started on Thursday had been completed at the cross. By deferring the fourth cup, the Passover was expanded to include the cross. It is precisely this extension of Thursday’s liturgy that transformed Jesus’ execution into the greatest sacrifice of all time!
Some maintain that when Jesus said, “It is finished,” He was speaking exclusively of His saving work on man’s behalf. Paul claims that Jesus’ mission of redemption and salvation was not completed until Sunday. Romans 4:5 states, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Jesus’ work of justifying humanity would not be completed until the resurrection. So, on the cross, Jesus’ final words seem inextricably linked to the completion of the Passover.
To summarize, the crucifixion of Jesus is indeed the “once and for all” sacrifice. As we have discovered, all four of the requirements for a sacrifice are satisfied in Christ and His crucifixion. He is the Lamb of God. He is the High Priest. He is the Temple. And, by taking the fourth cup of the Passover on the cross, Jesus’ execution became the conclusion of the Passover liturgy. Of Jesus’ crucifixion the author of Hebrews wrote, “But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God… For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:12,14). Let there be no confusion. Jesus’ crucifixion was the ultimate SACRIFICE – once and for all time.
Our journey has led us to Thursday and the institution of the Lord’s Supper. The “liturgy” of the Passover begins tonight. When will this service end? It will end when, “It is finished.”