The Cross and Resurrection
Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to paint a picture of the story in which we live as followers of Jesus. It’s a story that goes back to creation itself, and will take us through to the advent of the new creation. We’ve now come to the point where we move into the New Testament to see where the story goes from the end of the OT. Given our proximity to Easter, I’m mostly focusing on the cross and resurrection with brief reference to Jesus’ ministry as that sets the context for our understanding of the cross. One of the things that excites me is the way in which the whole story ties together and we’ll hopefully see that today.
(The bulk of what follows is adapted from Tom Wright, The Day the Revolution Began, Chapter 9.)
In considering the context of Jesus’ death and resurrection, there are two things we have to hold onto at the same time: the event happening at the time of Passover, and the kingdom of God. In our contemporary understanding of the gospel and telling it, both these things are often overlooked—and hence we get things out of whack. Let’s briefly consider both.
The passage we read from Mark this morning gives us a concise summary of Jesus’ message:
Mark 1:14-15 (NRSV) 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
His primary message, and therefore his primary focus, was the kingdom of God. Everything in his ministry backed up what he said:
- stilling storms
- resisting temptation
- freeing from oppression
- relating to the down and outs
All of these things were signs that the kingdom had come near because they were all signs of the coming new heaven and new earth. Wouldn’t it be strange if—given all that—the cross and resurrection were ultimately about something other than the kingdom i.e. me and how my sins could be forgiven and I get to heaven? So, however we understand the cross and resurrection, it must be something to do with the kingdom of God.
The more immediate context was the Passover, and surely that was no accident or coincidence. The Jews had celebrated the Passover and its surrounding events for centuries. The unleavened bread symbolised their quick exit from Egypt. The cup was symbolic of the lamb’s blood that was placed on the doors of the Israelites houses so that the angel of death would bypass their house. But even more than that, when they celebrated the Passover they were celebrating God’s deliverance of the people from slavery in Egypt, his giving them the law, and climaxing in establishing his presence with them in the Tabernacle. In other words, their celebration encapsulated the whole event surrounding the original Passover.
That’s what we should also understand Jesus had in view—not just the actual supper itself, but the big picture of the Passover.
Kingdom and Passover
Here’s how the two fit together.
To announce the coming of God’s kingdom, is to say that God is again going to reign, to again gather his people and be present with them. Go back to the passage we read from Isaiah.
- The messenger announces good news: Your God reigns! .
- Further, God has returned to Zion, to his rightful place, and everything is once again hunky dory .
- All the ends of the earth will see his salvation and power .
That’s a description of the state that prevails when God’s kingdom is in place.
The events of the original exodus, as rehearsed year by year in the celebration of the Passover, showed God’s power and reign in freeing his people from slavery in Egypt. That’s what all the Jews were celebrating at the time of the cross and resurrection, and would also have been praying that God would act once again and do the same thing. All of this was encapsulated in the last supper at Passover, and as such points us to the significance and Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus was pointing to the fact that what he was going to do would once again defeat the powers enslaving people, winning a decisive victory and establishing his reign. Not just Israel, but the whole world would be liberated. God will once again deal with the dark powers that enslave and will establish his reign, liberating his people so that once again they will be his people and he will be their God.
The Passover says Freedom—now! and Kingdom—now! Wright 181
How was that going to happen? How would this victory be won?
Let’s for a moment go back to the sermon of 3 weeks ago. Back then we spoke about God’s presence leaving the temple and the people of Israel being sent into exile as a direct result of their sinful behaviour. For that exile to end, it has to be possible for their sin to be forgiven. And that’s how God brought about the victory over the powers: through dealing with sin and offering forgiveness.
This is My Body and Blood
Here we come again to the Passover and this time the actual words Jesus said. As we said before, the unleavened bread symbolised the people’s hasty escape from Egypt, and the blood symbolised the blood of the lamb that was put on the doorways so the people were protected from the angel of death. But Jesus wasn’t just pointing back; he was also pointing forward to what would happen the next day. Jesus wanted them to understand that in eating this meal, God was about to once again enact the exodus, a new freedom from slavery to the powers having hold on the world. Eating the bread, symbolic of Jesus’ body, said the liberation was going to come about through Jesus himself. Drinking the cup wasn’t just symbolic of Jesus’ blood being shed, specifically it was the cup of the new covenant—a covenant that was for the forgiveness of sins.
Jeremiah 31:34 (NRSV) 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Matthew 26:28 (NRSV) 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
In Jesus’ death was freedom from slavery to the powers holding the world and sins were forgiven. And everything he did in his ministry pointed to that very fact.
Finally, let’s for a moment go back to last week’s sermon on suffering. Isaiah 53 makes it clear that redemption would come through God’s servant, but that it would also come through suffering. It wouldn’t just involve suffering, but suffering itself would be the means. Remember how Israel failed miserably in fulfilling its calling to be a blessing to all the nations of the world? God would do that through the suffering servant.
Mark 10:45 (NRSV) 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus would go ahead of his people and take upon himself that suffering that would otherwise fall on them. 188.
How did the new Passover, the new exodus happen? Because God came back to deliver his people.
God was once again present with and to his people—though now in a strange and haunting form, the likeness of a battered and crushed human being. Wright 194
I just love how everything ties together. What Jesus did wasn’t in its own little bubble; it was the next step in the big story of God’s dealing with the world. Yes, his dying for my sins so I can be forgiven and go to heaven and have eternal life is in there, but the MUCH bigger picture is of God’s kingdom and the new exodus of which we are part.