The cross is very popular today. Lot’s of people wear the cross around their neck. In fact, some, when picking out a cross request one “without the little man on it.” They want to wear a cross but they have no idea who the man on it is! The cross has become a symbol of spirituality. It is a popular new age symbol. For some people, wearing a cross at Easter is kind of like putting out your flag on Flag day or putting out flowers on Memorial Day. It is a symbol that has lost it’s meaning to some.
However, the cross of Jesus is far more . . . or at least should be for you and me. For it is at the cross where Jesus made it possible for us to have a new relationship with God. Listen to our text this evening.
- Luke 22:17-22 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.”
A covenant is an agreement. In today’s vernacular it would be similar to a contract. It is where two parties enter into a relationship. The covenant spells out the responsibilities of each party and the consequences should these responsibilities not be carried out.
For example, if you were purchasing a new car and arranging for financing of that vehicle, you would sign a document that would state that you agree to pay so many dollars a month until a certain sum was paid. The contract would also state that the lending party would be entitled to a certain amount of interest as payment for their loan. The contract would state that failure to pay the agreed to amount would result in repossession of the vehicle.
In the Old Testament God several times states His covenant with the children of Israel. He stated his laws and asked the people if they agreed to obey them. The people always responded that they would. These were the terms of the contract: obey the laws and God will bless. If you don’t obey, God would cast the people away.
Time and again Israel failed to keep the terms of the covenant. They would have lofty goals but did not (or could not) keep them. God did not abandon His people, but they were no living up to the agreement. God’s wrath struck several times but the people didn’t change. But God endured with the people and pointed instead to another time . . . to a new covenant. We read about it in Jeremiah 31
31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
So, how does the cross fit in to all of this? Well It is on the cross where this new relationship with God is established.
THE TERMS OF THE NEW COVENANT
In life we have incurred a debt. Every time we sin we default on a payment that we agreed to make to God. Every time we sin we fail to deliver what was due. It should come as no surprise that we would no longer be entitled to blessing from God. It should come as no surprise that salvation would not be extended to us. Our debt is enormous.
On the cross Jesus paid (if we can keep with the financial metaphor), our “loan balance”. You see there are two dimensions to what Jesus did on the cross. First, the penalty for our sin was paid. How is this possible? Someone innocent had to take our place. If you and I were both convicted of a crime and sentenced to death, it would be foolish for me to offer to take your place. Why? Because I already had to die for my own crime.
You and I both have problems. We can’t solve each others problems. Someone else has to step in. That someone else was Jesus. This is why the Bible goes to such extremes to explain that “he was tempted in every way as we are, but was without sin.” Because He was without sin He could be our substitute.
But there is also a second dimension to what Christ did. He not only paid our debt . . . he put into our “account” his rich resources so we would never be in debt again. How was He able to do this? Jesus lived a perfect life and was due the blessings and fellowship of the Father. So basically we traded places. He took our penalty, we took His blessing. Jesus was treated as the sinner we are treated as the saint!
The terms of the new covenant are these: we must receive this offer Christ makes to us. We must take Him as our substitute, claim Him as our Savior, and trust Him as our Lord. If we will do this what God promises to do is to consider our debt paid and to treat us with the respect and honor that belongs to His Son. Admittedly, the offer seems a little weighted in our favor.
THE COST OF THE NEW COVENANT
It is important that we understand the tremendous cost of this “arrangement”. Lee Strobel tells of an interview with a medical examiner in his book, THE CASE FOR CHRIST. From that interview we learn several things.
First, there was the whipping Jesus endured. The solider would use a whip of braided leather thongs with metal balls woven into them. When the whip would strike the flesh these balls would cause deep bruises or contusions, which would break open with additional blows. The whip also contained pieces of sharp bone which would cut the flesh severely.
The back of the victim would be so shredded that the spine was sometimes exposed by the deep, deep cuts. The whipping would go from the shoulders, down the back, the buttocks, and the back of the legs. A third century historian described a flogging by saying, “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of a victim were open to exposure.”
As a result of this beating many would die. Others would experience tremendous pain and go into hypovolemic shock. In other words, the heart would race to try to pump blood that isn’t there; the blood pressure would drop, causing fainting or collapse; the kidneys would stop producing urine to maintain what volume is left; and the person becomes thirsty as the body craves fluids to replace the lost blood volume. This is what was happening when Jesus said, “I thirst.”
Then there is the agony of the cross. We know that Jesus was nailed to the cross. I learned this week that the nail would go through the place where the median nerve runs. It’s the largest nerve going out to the hand, and it would be crushed by the nail that was being pounded in.
What would that be like? Well imagine hitting your “funny bone”. That’s actually another nerve called the ulna nerve. As we know, it is extremely painful when we hit that nerve. Now imagine taking that nerve and squeezing it and twisting it with a pliers. That would be the equivalent of what Jesus was experiencing. In fact, the pain that someone being crucified endured was so bad that they had to invent a word to describe it. It is the word “excruciating” which means literally, “out of the cross”.
When Jesus hung from the cross several things happened. First Jesus’ arms would have been stretched probably six inches in length and his shoulders would have become dislocated. The only way to breath on the cross would have been to push up with your feet (imagine the pain) and this would scrape the open wounds of your back against the rough wood of the cross. You wouldn’t do this until you absolutely had to.
Eventually exhaustion would occur. Breathing would slow down and the Savior would have gone into respiratory acidosis– that when the carbon dioxide in the blood is dissolved as carbonic acid, causing the acidity of the blood to increase. Which would lead to an erratic heartbeat.
If you combine this with the hypovolemic shock would have led to heart failure, resulting in the collection of fluid in the membrane around the heart called pericardial effusion as well as around the lungs which is called, pleural effusion.
When the soldier put a spear in Jesus’ side we read about water and blood coming out of his side. This is why: it was the fluid from around the heart, and the blood that was in the heart. [The Case for Christ p. 195-199]
Yes this is a gruesome account. But you and I need to hear it. We need to understand the horror of our sin and the degree our Savior went to to save us. And the fact is, we haven’t even talked about the worst part of the experience of the cross. It was the abandonment and wrath of God that was experienced. This is a horror none of us can fathom and hopefully none of us will have to experience.
Now the real question we should ask is this: Why would anyone do this for us? There is only one reason . . . that reason is love. But even this is difficult to grasp because we have never been loved like this before.
If you were buying a house, you would talk to the owner and eventually agree on a fair price. Once you had agreed, the house still was not yours. The pivotal day you look forward to is the “closing”. This is the day when all the paperwork is in order. The moneys are approved. The terms of the sale are set out. When the document is signed at the closing then the house is yours.
Let me share the words of another Pastor
- The new agreement, the transaction between god and man was made complete on the cross. John 19:30 says, “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.“It is finished!” (tetelastai) is a market term, that means, “PAID IN FULL”. No longer was there a debt, an outstanding balance against man for his sin. It was paid in full by Jesus in the new agreement on the cross.
I believe that as Jesus spoke these last words, the halls of heaven sounded with TETELASTAI!! it is finished, paid in full. The Old Testament saints shouted, as they heard of the completion of man’s salvation and restored relationship with God. (Bob Aubuchon http://scan.Missouri.org/~aubuchon/e1.html )
THE BENEFITS OF THE NEW COVENANT
What are the benefits of this new covenant? Quite frankly, God gains nothing except the pleasure of extending His mercy to us. But we on the other hand . . . . we gain much,
- We are forgiven and allowed to be friends of God
- We are given the Holy Spirit the guarantee of eternal life
- We are made a part of the Christian Community with a specific role to play in that community
- We are given unlimited access to God in prayer
- We are given the promise that God will guide and direct our lives and circumstances
- We are made “new creatures”
- We are promised that all our needs will be provided
What we are asked to do is trust Him. We are asked to not only believe IN Christ, we are asked to BELIEVE CHRIST. We are asked to believe Him when He says He will lead us to Heaven. We are asked to believe Him when He tells us that His sacrifice is sufficient for our sin. We are asked to believe Him when He says that His way is perfect.
The Bible calls us to place our life in the nail scarred hands of Jesus. And if we do, He promises that He will give us His Spirit and will begin a process of transformation in us.
There are a couple of things we need to see here. First, we need to realize that God loves us. We sometimes wonder about God’s love when things are not going well. When people we love die, we wonder where God is. When trial assault us, we wonder if God cares. At those times we need to see the man on the cross. At those times we need to remember what He did for us. It was love that sent Him there and kept Him there.
This fact should inspire us to gratitude. It should lead us to a desire to honor God in our living. When we think about the Savior’s love we should have the motivation we need to live a holy life. If God so loves us, we should love Him and each other.
Second, we need to remember that in order to know the benefit of the new covenant we need to respond to it. When you get a bid from a contractor that bid is only good for 30-60 days. If the bid is not accepted in that time the bid must be re-figured. If you want the good price you have to “lock it in”. God has presented us a contract of sorts. The date of expiration is not listed . . . but there is one. It may be the day you suddenly die. It may be when the trumpet sounds to announce the coming of the Lord . . . but there is a deadline. If you want eternal life you must agree to God’s offer before that time.
So tonight, in the quiet of this place, will you look at your heart? The contract is on the table. You know what it says. You know what it promises. You know what it cost. Now will you sign it? Will you agree to the terms of the covenant by giving your life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Will you receive His offer? Will you take that step today?
What are you waiting for? It’s a great offer. It’s an astounding offer. You’d be a fool not to accept it. And you’d be even more foolish not to appreciate it.