This year, 2018, April begins with our celebration of the Resurrection. March ends with the remembrance of the Last Supper on Thursday evening, Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday and his burial in the tomb.
In these columns, over the past several weeks, we have been looking at God’s covenants with mankind and the signs of those covenants. We have seen that every covenant comes with its own Sign. On that special Thursday night, when Jesus and His disciples were gathered in the Upper Room, He spoke of His blood as the blood of a new covenant between God and mankind. Let us look more closely at the meaning behind those words.
To begin with, we go back, once again, to Israel in the Wilderness having come out of Egypt. As we discussed last month, the Israelites came out of bondage at the cost of the death of the first born of Egypt. We saw that protection was guaranteed by the shedding of the blood of a lamb and the placing of its blood on the doorposts and lintels of the Israelite homes. Whoever believed in this blood’s protection and went under it into the house was saved. These are the ones who left Egypt through the Red Sea. We read that it was a mixed multitude that come out—mixed, probably, because there were non-Israelites who believed Moses’ words and sought for themselves the salvation being offered by the blood of the Passover lamb.
The next important event in Israel’s sojourn was their gathering at Mt. Sinai. Let us turn to the Scriptures.
In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD. (Exodus 19:1-7)
God is establishing another covenant with Israel. This time the requirement on Israel’s part is obedience to the voice of the Lord. In exchange for Israel’s obedience, God promises that they will be His own possession, that He will make them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. After making this initial statement and the people responding to it with their, “…we will do!”, the Lord goes on to make his will known. We will come back to this passage next month. For now it is enough to mention that God manifested Himself mightily and in so doing gave the Law to Israel.
We now turn to Exodus 24:
Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!” Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!”
So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:3-8)
At this point, with promises given and received, this new covenant between Israel and Jehovah is ratified with shed blood—blood on both parties. Up to now, the blood had always been on one party and not the other. Adam and Eve were under the blood that God shed for their sake. Noah and his family obtained their life over the blood of those lost in the Flood. God alone went between the halves in His first covenant with Abram (Genesis 15). In Genesis 17, God institutes the covenant of circumcision—a shedding of blood by those in covenant with God. The Angel of Death, God’s representative passes over the houses wherein believing Israelites and others went under the blood. Here, for the first time, the blood is on both parties. Half of the blood is splashed on the Altar, the symbol of God’s presence, and half on the people themselves. This is the blood of the covenant, a covenant, not with individuals nor individual families, but with the people as a whole, the new nation that God is establishing. No longer is it simply a covenant with the descendents of Jacob, with a family. Now it is a covenant that will establish a kingdom, a new people who are made priests and made holy as a people. This is not an individual covenant but a communal one. And this people, who are they? They are the Children of Israel and will forever go by that name, but they are more than that. This people, this priestly nation includes all who came out of Egypt, that mixed multitude and who now, together, pledge their obedience to God and their agreement with this covenant. This covenant is now sealed with the blood of the sacrifice, the blood covering both parties—God and Israel.
This great Covenant presages the one to come. Let us now jump forward many centuries to the time of our Lord and Savior, Jesus, the Messiah, Jesus who is God. This Jesus is our Passover Lamb whose blood on the upright and cross piece of the Cross is the blood that, if we go under it, will save us from death. His is also the blood of the sin offering that cleanses us from our sin and makes us right with God.
Jesus gathered his closest followers together for a celebration of a special Passover. (Whether that Thursday was an actual celebration of Passover at Passover or whether it was a prefigurement of the Passover being celebrated a day later is not important to us at this point. Both are possible from our understanding of the history and various Jewish groups in Jerusalem at the time.) What is very clear, however, especially from the Gospel of John, is that Jesus died on the Cross as the Passover sacrifices were being offered in the Temple. Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” (John 19:14); Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (John 19:31); Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:42). Three times, John points out that Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation for the Passover. Three times, he makes the connection of Jesus with the Passover lamb. He had already begun his Gospel by having John the Baptist declare this truth: The next day [John] saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Yes, Jesus is our Passover sacrifice but there is more still…
At that last supper together, Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to His disciples stating that it is His own flesh. He takes the cup of wine, blesses it and gives it to His disciples to drink saying, “This is My blood of the New Covenant… for the forgiveness of sins.” These words are recorded four times in Scripture, in each of the Synoptic Gospels and again, by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11. What does this mean? Jesus is giving to us His flesh and blood which will be sacrificed on the Cross the next day ratifying the New Covenant. This new covenant is made between God and all mankind—any who will take it to themselves, who will believe in Him—men and women from all nations. This new covenant supersedes the covenant at Sinai that created one People of God out of that mixed multitude. It accomplishes our complete salvation which the Covenant of Sinai could not do. In this case, it was Jesus who is God whose blood was shed, our part is to come under that blood, to take it to ourselves. Remember that all signs of the covenants are to remind God. In this case, the sign of the new and eternal covenant (Heb. 13:20) is the blood of Jesus shed for us and so He says, “Do it as my remembrance…” For this reason, in the ancient Church and in much of the Church still today, the one celebrating the Holy Communion raises up the bread and the cup, the signs of the Covenant, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to show to God, to remind Him, that we take this sign to ourselves, we are under the Blood; therefore, grant us that promised salvation and all it encompasses. And, we know that we receive this salvation because of the glorious resurrection of our Lord that is His might victory over death that sets us free. Hallelujah!