To identify the central event in all of human history is not difficult. Indeed, the same event is not only at the center of human history, but is central in the universe and even in eternity. this event is, of course, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of Jesus’ death on the cross. It is impossible to do too much to keep Jesus’ death central in our thinking, in our daily living, in our conversation and relationship with others, in our service to and worship of God.
And if it is impossible to make too much of Jesus’ death in our individual living, how much more so is it impossible to make too much of his death in our corporate life together as the people of God. Without Jesus’ death, there would be no church. There would be no worship. There would be no sermons on family life, or money management, or dealing with conflicts, or any of the manifold things we talk about in church.
I believe we have a sinful tendency to marginalize the death of Christ. Because of the sin that still indwells us, we tend to drift away from the gospel. When we first come to Christ, the gospel is right in the forefront of our minds. We see Jesus crucified in our place, as our substitute, taking upon himself the punishment that we deserve. We see him as our wonderful Savior and we overflow with love to him.
But as time goes on, our tendency is to treat Jesus and what he did for us at the cross like a movie ticket stub. When you go to the movies, you pay to get in and they give you a paper ticket stub. Without that stub, you can’t get past the usher into the theatre to see the movie you want to see. That stub is your ticket in. But once you show it to the usher and go into the movie theatre, what do you do with it? You put it in your pocket and you forget about it.
That can be a picture of how we think about the death of Christ. It is our “ticket in”. We understand that without what Jesus did for us on the cross, we will not be admitted into heaven. We understand that without his death, we can not be adopted as God’s children and enjoy the privileges of belonging to his family, but the more distant we get from that date when we first entered the family of God, the easier it is to forget the centrality of Jesus’ death on the cross to everything that we do.
Our Lord, knowing our tendency to drift from what should be at the center, gave us, his people, two sacraments to help us keep Jesus’ death constantly before us. The first sacrament, baptism, is meant to be performed only once. It pictures for us our entry into the family of God. Through our identification with Christ through faith, we are united with him in his death and resurrection. But the second sacrament, the Lord’s Supper, Jesus told us to repeat. He said, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:26).
The reason for two sacraments is that the cross of Jesus is not just our “ticket in”. It IS that, but it is so much more. Jesus’ death on the cross that atoned for our sins and propitiated the wrath of God is the source of every single good thing that God has ever given us or the world. It is the foundation upon which a sinful world and sinful people have any basis for relating to God at all. As I said before, it is at the center of everything.
For this reason, we gather together often to remember Jesus’ death on the cross. We come together to pause and think about what he did. If we only think of Jesus’ death as our “ticket in” we will very soon drift back to a dependence on our own righteousness to earn us a right standing with God. But when we look often to the cross and what Jesus did there, we will mature in our faith and grow in our relationship to God. There is a powerful, sanctifying effect that comes from meditating on the cross of Jesus Christ. That is what we come together at the Lord’s table for.
I believe that every time we come to the Lord’s table, we should focus on some aspect of what Jesus did for us there. We can never exhaust the tremendous store of meaning that there is in Jesus’ cross. Every time we come together to eat the Lord’s Supper together, it should be looking at another facet of the beautiful diamond that is the work of Jesus on our behalf at the cross. Here are just a few of those facets that come to mind.
When we meditate on the cross, we can consider the SERVANT-NATURE of our Savior. Jesus himself said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:28). Isn’t it amazing that the God whom we had rebelled against and scorned would stoop to serve us, his enemies?
When we meditate on the cross, we can consider the OBEDIENCE of our Savior. Jesus saved us by obeying in our place. When we were disobedient to the Creator’s commands, Jesus came in our place and said, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God…” and the author of Hebrews goes on to say that “…by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
When we meditate on the cross, we can consider the FORGIVENESS that Jesus provides through his death. We can put ourselves in the place of the repentant thief and know that we will be in Paradise because we have repented and looked to the Savior. We can hear him say to US: “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
When we meditate on the cross, we can consider the REDEMPTION that Jesus purchased with his death. We were enslaved to sin, but we were ransomed, not with perishable things like silver and gold, “…but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Pet. 2:19).
When we meditate on the cross, we can see the SERIOUSNESS OF OUR SIN. Nowhere do we more fully grasp what we are guilty of than when we look at the cross of Jesus. It is there that we see our sin, because “God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) We see our sin at the cross because as Isaiah 53:6 says, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
When we meditate on the cross, we can see the JUSTICE of God. As God himself declared to Moses when he revealed to him his holy name: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…”
But God, who does not clear the guilty, is able to say in 1 John 1:9 that “he is faithful and JUST to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He is JUST to forgive us our sins–because he has already judged our sins in Christ, and therefore it is right and just for him to forgive us.
And finally, when we meditate on the cross of Christ, we can see the LOVE OF GOD for us. This facet is worth quoting several scriptures…
John 15:12-13 “…love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
And 1 John 3:16, and 4:9-10 show us HOW God, in his love, gave his only Son… not just in the incarnation, but at the cross: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us…” “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
For those of us who are married, our unions are meant to display the love that Jesus showed us when he died for us. Ephesians 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Unless we meditate on the cross and Jesus’ death there as our substitute, we will not be able to comprehend the depths of his love for us, his children. We were, Ephesians 2 says, “dead in our transgressions and sins… following the course of this world…following the prince of the power of the air… we were by nature children of wrath…. BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the GREAT LOVE with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. TOGETHER with Christ, he says, pointing to the fact that Jesus shared our death, so that we might together with him, be made alive.
And perhaps the most incredible passage displaying the love that Christ showed us at the cross is Romans 5: 6-8: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
These are just a few of the many facets of this beautiful diamond which is the death of Christ on our behalf. So every time you eat the bread, which represents his body given for us, and every time you drink the cup, which represents his life-blood which flowed out of his body for us, remember that the cross of Jesus isn’t just your “ticket in” to the Family of God, to be shoved into your pocket and forgotten. It is the spring from which flows your entire relationship with God. Meditate on it often, and not just on Communion Sunday!