The last supper is recorded in the synoptic gospels in the form we all recognise (note Synoptic, meaning ‘see together’, is a collective label for Matthew, Mark and Luke). The taking and breaking of bread and the sharing of the broken bread and the wine is recorded by the synoptics. John does record an account about a meal the disciples had with Jesus and it seems to me that it is a recording of the same meal, but John does not mention the breaking and sharing of bread and wine, he merely records the washing of the disciple’s feet and Jesus’ prediction of Judas’ betrayal, and of Peter’s denial.
Generally speaking, in our services, we use either Luke’s account or Paul’s understanding of what Jesus said and did, so this morning, as we look at the last supper, I’m going to read Matthew’s account:
‘On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’
He replied, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’’ So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.’
They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, ‘Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?’
Jesus replied, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.’
Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, ‘Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?’
Jesus answered, ‘You have said so.’
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.’ (Matthew 26:17-30)
Although neither Matthew nor Mark make no mention of it, both Luke and John talk about servanthood. This is how Luke records it: ‘The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves’ (Luke 22:26-27). The issue/subject of servanthood features very strongly in John’s account: He alone records the washing of the Disciple’s feet.
Servanthood is at the core of what it means to follow Christ. Jesus says as much, He says that if we want to be a leader, we must become a servant. He points out that He Himself came as a servant and as our master, His is the example we must follow. This motif follows throughout the Scripture:
Paul regularly describes himself as a servant of Christ in his letters (Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Titus). Notice that James Peter, Jude and John also describe themselves as servants.
Even masters are to recognise that they are servants. Paul reminds masters in Ephesians 6:9 that although they might own servants (or slaves depending on your translation) they, too, are servants. They have the same master their servants do: God Himself. And this should be reflected in the way they treat their servants. And unlike on earth, Paul reminds them: ‘there is no partiality in heaven’.
In the church, you will find precious few who are truly servants. Even when considering of those who call themselves leaders, we tend to run straight to the lists in Titus and Timothy to measure a leader’s suitability, rather than looking at what Jesus has to say about it.
Jesus says if you want to be first, you must become the servant of all … Mark 9:35, Matthew 20:26, Luke 22:26 He seems unconcerned with stuff like ability to preach or lead
- ‘Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’ Mark 9:35.
- He said that unlike the leaders in the world, ‘whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave’ Matthew 20:26, 27.
- and that ‘the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves’ Luke 22:26.
Thinking about Servant, I thought I’d look at the Bible and see how many times the concept of being a servant of God comes up, and then to think about what that means. Even a cursory look in the Bible throws up 22 OT references and 25 NT ones to servanthood. That’s nearly one for every week of the year!
They range from: Joshua assembling the people of God at Shechem and challenging them to choose who they would serve, to the angel saying to John ‘I am a fellow servant with you’ (Revelation 19:10).
My belief is this: I have made it clear that certainly in this church and to a degree I would argue in the world is that if you are not prepared to serve, and I don’t mean by just playing with words and re-classifying your role as that of a servant – I mean ACTUALLY menially serve, wash up, push a broom, put out chairs (“I don’t do chairs”), do car park duty, then you have NO BUSINESS being a leader. And certainly in this church one of the measures of your suitability as a leader in the church will be in your attitude towards serving.
This second part of my message falls more into the category of ‘teaching’ than preaching. The primary focus of what we call communion is quite clearly the cross, so I am going to look at the cross and some of the ways people understand its significance. There are a number of religious words and terms which we need to understand. This is important because if as I believe, the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundational cornerstone on which our faith stands or falls, and Paul writes:
1 Corinthians 1:23 “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”, and:
1 Corinthians 2:2 “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”,
Then it is important we get our heads around what the cross is all about. That way, if someone preaches the message of the cross wrongly, we are prepared.
as an aside, a lot of Paul’s letters are in this category. They explain the gospel and they point out the various errors of it which were creeping into the church.
Paul actually says it out loud in Galatians:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!”
So, what is the cross all about? It’s about God dealing with sin of course, but how? The theological word for what Jesus did on the cross is ‘atonement’. What is Atonement? The Collins Dictionary gives this definition: ‘the reconciliation of man with God through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ’. Atonement is about the relationship between God and man. Specifically it deals with how the severed relationship between man and God can be repaired. I have heard it said that atonement is the process by which man is reconciled with and becomes once again ‘at one’ with God. It is quite literally ‘at–one–ment’ (in fact that is the etymology of the word itself). This is in essence the background to the Doctrine of the Atonement.
But why do we need to be at one again with God? It stems from the fall of course where the Adam and Eve’s sin severed our fellowship with God. Our God is a holy God whose nature is so completely without sin that He abhors it and will not even look upon it. Psalm 24 tells us that the only people who can approach God are those who have ‘clean hands and a pure heart’(Psalm 24:5). The prophet, Jeremiah tells us that ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure’. (Jeremiah 17:9). We are left in a quandary, we need to approach God. but we cannot, because He is repulsed by our sin, and we cannot cure it. Our Sin demands punishment, and that punishment is death. Note that God killed an animal in Eden to cover man’s nakedness. This is real foreshadowing of the death of the lamb of God who clothes us with his righteousness. It points to the ultimate sacrifice which will cover our sins. So just as He God, covered Adam and Eve’s shame and nakedness, He, God. In His mercy provides us with a way by which we can approach Him, the death we deserve for our Sins can be transferred to another.
Many Christians see God in the Old Testament differently to the way they see Him in the New. They believe that how we get straight with God has fundamentally changed. I don’t believe that. The method has not changed: Salvation requires sacrifice.
Old Testament Teaching
The bulk of references for the atonement in the Old Testament lie in the Pentateuch, or the books of the law, and particularly in the book of Leviticus. Salvation and atonement is rooted in the law, it lays in God’s electing grace Through Abram (Genesis 12:1f), and calls for a response of faith. Leviticus lays out a ritual of sacrifices and offerings designed to let the people approach God. These were:
- Burnt offerings (Leviticus3 & 6:8-13) for the worshipper’s personal sins, though they later became used for thanksgiving as well.
- Grain offerings (Leviticus 2 & 6:14-18) which were a response to God’s kindness.
- Fellowship offerings (Leviticus 3 & 7:11-36) seen as a way of restoring relationship with God, and an expression of gratitude to Him.
- Sin and Guilt offerings (Leviticus 4:1-6:7 & 6:24-7:10) for sins committed in ignorance or unintentionally.
Leviticus also lays out rules for the Day of Atonement (ch 16), which was a special day set aside for a blood sacrifice by the high priest (Aaron) for all the sins committed by all Israel (Leviticus 16:15-17 and v34). All of the sacrifices involved an awareness of God’s holiness and taught that the death of a ritually clean substitute will bring back reconciliation with God. We must note, however that the sacrifices of themselves were unable to atone for the sins; Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:6-8 amongst other verses tell us this:
Hosea 6:6 “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings”.
1 Samuel 15:22 describe Samuel saying to king Saul:
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD?
To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams”.
Micah 6:6-8 takes both of these concepts and puts them together in a much quoted couple of verses.
“With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”.
Atonement is God’s free grace given to us in response to our repentance before Him (Psalm 51).
New Testament Teaching.
God is unchanging—we all believe that, don’t we?
Even the Old Testament says this. Malachi 3:6 declares “I, The Lord, do not change”.
James 1:17 tells us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows”.
So, since God doesn’t change, He doesn’t change between the testaments: the same grace is described in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament. In fact the Old Testament is pregnant with prophecies about the Messiah. Jesus believed that His coming was a fulfilment of those prophecies. Christ knew that His purpose for coming to earth was to atone for the sins of man, and He knew that would include His death. The gospels record this:
Matthew 1:20-21 (about Joseph): ‘after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’
Luke 19:10: ‘the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’
John 1:29: ‘The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’
John 12:47: ‘I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world’.
John 3:17: ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him’.
Mark 8:31: ‘He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again’.
Matthew 16:21: ‘From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life’.
John also says it plainly in his first letter. 1 John 4:10 says this: ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’.
So the work of calvary is a work of atonement and reaches through time to us today.
There are 4 aspects to the atonement:
1. Redemption (Or ransom).
The first motif is that of ransom or redemption.
It is clear that Jesus viewed His death as a ransom through which many would be saved. Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45 say ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many’. The word Ransom in the N.T. has the same meaning as redemption and speaks to a release from some kind of bondage or danger of a close kinsman – a stranger never has the right to redeem (which, incidentally, is why Boaz had to redeem Ruth). Christ came to redeem us from an ‘empty way of life handed down to us by our forefathers’ (1 Peter 1:18-19), and from wickedness (Titus 2:14). Ransom or redemption is from Sin’s bondage which can only be broken through Christ’s blood.
Secondly we have the motif of substitution. I other words, Christ stood in our place.
John 15:13 records Jesus saying: ‘Greater love have no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’. Although at this point, Jesus is talking about love, as this was the eve of His crucifixion, there is little doubt as to what was on His mind. In Romans 8:32, Paul says that God gave Christ up for us all, and Ephesians 5:2 affirms this and says that Christ gave Himself up for us. Some theologians say there is a distinction between Christ dying on our behalf (FOR us), and dying as a substitute (in our PLACE). Isaiah 53 is very clear that our Sins were ‘laid upon’ Christ, and various New Testament characters are very clear on this point, John the Baptist (John 1:29), Paul (2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13), Peter (1 Peter 2:24), the writer to the Hebrews (Hebrews 9:28). All are very clear that Christ bore our Sins, and that because He became ‘sin’ or ‘a curse’ for us we are no longer sinners.
We cannot escape a motif of sacrifice
It is clear that Paul thought of Christ’s death in sacrificial terms, Ephesians 5:2 describes Jesus as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God, 1Corinthians 5:7 describes Him as our Passover lamb that has been sacrificed. Other passages imply His sacrifice, for example: Romans 3:25, 5:9 and Ephesians 1:7 by referring to the blood of Christ. Jesus did not actually die through bloodshed, so the reference to His blood must have had a sacrificial implication. The writer to the Hebrews likens the death of Christ to a number of Old Testament sacrificial ceremonies, Hebrews 9:6-15 likens His death to the Day of Atonement, and Hebrews 9:11 compares Him to the high priest, and Hebrews 9:12 equates His blood to the blood of the sacrifice. Further parallels are given in Hebrews 10:5-18 where He is likened to the Burnt Offering, and ch 13, where He is likened to the Sin offering. This shows us there is a direct connection or parallel between what Jesus did on the cross and the sacrifices presented at the by the priests.
In fact the writer to the Hebrews points out that supremely, Jesus is BOTH priest and sacrifice. He IS our high priest, but he is also the sacrifice. And Jesus’ priesthood and sacrifice is permanent:
“Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever”. (Hebrews 7:23-28).
The New Testament consistently presents the Cross in terms of sacrifice – the ultimate sacrifice.
The fourth motif uses an obscure religious word: Propitiation. In a nutshell, propitiation is a process by which favour is gained. Usually from God.
So, the idea behind propitiation is that Christ’s death on the cross turns away God’s wrath against Sin, and by implication our favour is restored. We have already noted that God is a Holy God who hates sin. We read of His wrath against it in numerous passages, Romans 1:18, and 2:5 and 8 are just three:
Romans 1:18 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness”
Romans 2:5 “because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed”.
Romans 2:8 “for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger”.
In Romans 3:23-26, we have the solution to God’s wrath: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus”.
Paul describes Christ as a propitiation. In doing this, he is showing that God’s wrath requires sacrifice. and that God Himself provided it in Christ. Propitiation shows that Christ’s atoning death does not only ‘cover’ our sin, it is also a sacrifice that appeases God.
How we see the death of Christ makes a significant difference to how we live our lives. Here are a few ways that we can see who this works out. There are some dangers of taking them to extremes …
Love: Taking God’s love to an extreme can lead us into heresy. In a nutshell the heresy can be voiced in the slogan “a loving God wouldn’t send anyone to hell, would he?!”
IF the primary reason for the cross is God’s love, Jesus’ death on the cross is not a punishment for sin. It is merely as a DEMONSTRATION of God’s love, and we have no need to fear the justice or punishment of God.
The implication of this belief is that our Sin doesn’t actually keep us from God, and as I’ve said, that means the cross is not a payment for sin. In short, we undermine the seriousness of our sin. And haven’t we seen the outworking of that in the church in recent years?
This teaching says that all we need to do is to repent and turn to God in trust and faith and He will forgive us, indeed there is nothing in His nature which demands satisfaction for our sins. The belief that Jesus death was not the reason for His coming is in direct contradiction to Biblical teaching, Mark 8:31. This fails to see the abhorrence God has for Sin. It diminishes Christ’s death from something that is essential for our salvation to the place of an “extra” in our faith. We cannot, we must not see the cross as simply a demonstration of God’s love.
Justice. The opposite end of that pendulum is the concept of Justice. If God is our king, our ruler and our judge (which He is, by the way), when we sin, we violate His Holy Laws as our ruler.
So, as our ruler, He has the right to demand punishment for sin. The cross is the way God chose which has a twofold purpose: Firstly, it satisfies the demands of justice, and secondly, it shows the gravity of sin and acts as a deterrent against it.
But … if Christ’s death was merely a punishment and nothing more, then surely a loving God can exercise leniency and forgive sin can’t he? A judge is the one to determine and to rule on the punishment required. Even if it was to demonstrate the seriousness of sin, what it did was show God’s view of it and it could be argued that it simply shows God to harsh and vindictive but giving a punishment which was, ultimately, not necessary but a choice.
But Christ’s death was necessary for that very reason. There was no other way our sins could be forgiven. Jesus himself prays ‘if there’s another way, take this cup from me’ in Gethsemane. The cross of Calvary is the ultimate example of God’s justice and his clemency. His justice is seen in Christ’s death, his clemency is seen in our sins being taken on Christ, so we are no longer condemned for them.
Ransom. Not to be confused with what I said earlier about redemption, this belief uses such scriptures as Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28, where it says that Jesus came to offer His life as a ransom for many, and 1 Corinthians 6:20 where Paul says we have been bought with a price. The thinking is that if we have been bought by Christ, then who have we been bought from? Not God, He wouldn’t need to buy us from Himself: the ‘logical’ conclusion is that God bought us from Satan, who demanded the blood of Christ as payment for our souls. If Satan set the price it would mean that the death of Christ which liberated man achieved was not determined by God, but by Satan. I can’t think of anything more repulsive.
Satisfaction (or Compensation). Christ died to satisfy God’s nature. The theory developed to answer the Ransom theory (above), but as usual, it misses the point. It argues that God doesn’t need to ‘buy’ man from Satan, as man belongs to God, not Satan. Sin is essentially failing to render God His due, which dishonours Him. As He has been dishonoured we are obliged not only to restore His honour, but to add some additional ‘compensation’ for the injury we have done to him. As man, not even by our own death, can we do that. This is put right by the ‘satisfaction’ being made on our behalf by Christ (hence the label ’satisfaction theory’). His satisfaction is far greater than any we can possibly give. Only God could accomplish this, but to benefit man, a man had to give satisfaction. Therefore Jesus had to be both Man and God, this was the only way satisfaction could be gained. Furthermore, because He was both God and a sinless human, He did not deserve death, and His death was of infinite value and went far beyond what was required of Him.
As I hope I’ve shown, there are all sorts of distorted views of the atonement. I’ve only mentioned a few, but they all have something in common. They all carry an element of truth in them, and we need to see the importance of each facet.
- Christ was an example to us in His death of obedience to, and love for, God.
- His death was (and still is) the supreme demonstration of God’s love
- It is also the supreme example of God’s Justice.
- Christ’s death did satisfy God’s wrath against sin, and He did free us from sin by paying the price of sin.
The cross of Christ is central to our faith. Our understanding of His death will colour both our view of God, and of ourselves. We are so valuable to God that He was willing to sacrifice His only Son for us, in the words of one of my lecturers in Bible college: ‘God cares for us so much that He was prepared to risk even His eternal triune nature to save us’.
The bottom line is there is no sin so wrong or so bad that it’s price hasn’t been paid for by the cross.
HALLELUJAH! What a saviour.