7.4 The Cross and the Breaking of Bread: Foretaste of Judgment
There are times when for all the Bible reading in the world, the sincere prayer, the attendance of meetings- the flame of a true faith burns dim, the fire of real devotion flickers. And there may not be any particular omission or slip in our spiritual lives which is responsible for it; it simply happens. I would imagine every one of us are bound together by an assent to this. It’s simply so. Reader and reader and reader, from black Africans to the chain of believers strung out through the vastness of Russia, from little Indian congregations to the huge ecclesias of North America, from reader to writer- we’re all bound together in this realisation and admission. We hear words, read articles; and sometimes nothing can really reach us, nothing and nobody shakes us any more. And we are in that state of numb indifference more often and more deeply than we might care to admit. I read recently of how the Church of England interviewed people leaving church on Sunday mornings, asking them what they remembered from the sermon. The results were shocking. And when they were asked what was said the week before, or the month before, or how many sermons they remembered in their lives- it was pathetic. And we shouldn’t be too complacent. People in the world around us don’t remember sermons, and they don’t act on them. And with us, for all our listening to and reading of Christian words, are we really better people? In this lies the limitation, it seems to me, of all platform speaking and article writing. We just don’t remember, we rarely act- although, thankfully, we sometimes do. But it would be wrong to imply that our forgetfulness is of itself sinful. It would be like saying sneezing was a sin. It’s just how we are. But all the same, realising this, we need something to shake us, right to the bone. Thankfully, there is just such a thing, something far beyond human words.
7-4-1 The Voice Of The Cross
The blood of Christ is personified as a voice that speaks to us, a better word than the voice of Abel’s blood which cried out it’s message (Heb. 12:24 NIV; Gen. 4:10). This is after the pattern of how the commanding voice of Yahweh was heard above the blood sprinkled on “the atonement cover of the ark of the Testimony" (Num. 7:89 NIV). The ark was made of shittim wood- from a root meaning ‘to flog, scourge or pierce’, all replete with reference to the cross. And it was there on that wooden box that Yahweh was declared in the blood sprinkled upon it. Note how there is an association between the blood of atonement and the throne of judgment in 2 Sam. 6:2 and Is. 37:16, as if we see a foretaste of our judgment in the way we respond to the Lord’s outpoured blood for us. The Lord Jesus in His time of death is the “propitiation", or rather ‘the place of propitiation’ for our sins, the blood-sprinkled mercy seat. “There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat...of all things which I will give thee in commandment" (Ex. 25:20-22). The blood of Christ is therefore to be associated with the commanding voice of God, such is the imperative within it. Rev. 19:13 draws a connection between Christ’s title as “the word of God" and the fact His clothing is characterised by the blood of His cross. His blood is His word. The blood of both old and new covenants enjoined the obedience of God’s word upon those sprinkled with it (Heb. 9:19,20). The blood and God’s word were linked. Rev. 19:13 draws a connection between Christ’s title as “the word of God" and the fact His clothing is characterised by the blood of His cross(1).
Hebrews 12:25-29 goes on to draw a parallel between the voice of the Lord’s blood and the sound of the earthquake and voice of God when the Old Covenant was inaugurated, a noise that made even Moses exceedingly fear and quake (Ex. 19:18 LXX). The voice of the Lord’s blood shakes all things, the only thing unshaken by it is the Hope of the Kingdom. It shews forth, as a voice, God’s righteousness (Rom. 3:25,26 RV). There is a real and living power in the blood of Christ. We have come “unto a palpable and kindled fire… unto the voice of words… unto the blood of sprinkling" (Heb. 12:18 RVmg., 19, 24). The blood of Christ is as palpable as fire, and as real and actually demanding as words booming from Sinai. When 1 Cor. 1:18 speaks of “the preaching (Gk. ‘the word’) of the cross", we have the same idea; the word of the cross, the word which is the cross, preaches to us of itself, as we behold it. Paul declared unto Corinth “the testimony of God", i.e. “Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1,2). This message was “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power", “the wisdom of God", “Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:17,23,24; 2:4,5). Indeed, “the cross of Christ" is put for ‘the preaching of His cross’ (1:17). All these things are parallel. The cross is in itself the testimony and witness of God. This is why, Paul reasons, the power of the cross itself means that it doesn’t matter how poorly that message is presented in human words; indeed, such is its excellence and power that we even shouldn’t seek to present it with a layer of human ‘culture’ and verbiage shrouding it. In the context of commenting on His impending death, the Saviour said that He came to bear witness unto the Truth; for this cause He came into the world (Jn. 18:37 cp. 12:27, where the cross is again “this cause" why He came). His death was therefore a witness, a testimony, to the finest and ultimate Truth of God. “The work that the Father gave me to finish...testifies" (Jn. 5:36 NIV); and thus when “it[was] finished" in the death of the cross, the full testimony / witness was spoken and made. When He was lifted up in crucifixion, the beholding Jews knew that His words were truly those of the Father; they saw in the cross God’s word spoken through Christ, they saw there the epitome of all the words the Lord spoke throughout His ministry (Jn. 8:28). The Lord’s blood was thus a spoken testimony to all men (1 Tim. 2:6 AVmg.). Beholding the cross and the water and blood that flowed from it, John struggled with the inadequacy of human language: “He that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true" (Jn. 19:35). Years later he described himself, in allusion to this, as he “who bare record [in the past tense] of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev. 1:2). He had earlier commented that the Spirit, water and blood of the cross bore witness (1 Jn. 5:8). John seems to be saying that the Lord’s final death which he had witnessed was the word of God, the testimony of Jesus Christ. And as he had been a faithful witness to this, so now he would be of that further revelation he had now seen in the Apocalypse.
The Lord in Jn. 6 taught parallels between belief in Him leading to eternal life, and His words, blood and body having the same effect. The word of Christ is in that sense His body and blood; it speaks to us in “the preaching (word) of the cross". There are parallels between the manna and the word of Christ; yet also between the manna and His death. His words give life as the manna did (:63), and yet the manna is specifically defined as His flesh, which He gave to bring life (:51). In this context He speaks of gaining life by eating His bread and drinking His blood, in evident anticipation of the memorial meal He was to institute (compare ‘the bread which I give is my flesh’ with ‘this is my body, given for you’). Eating / absorbing His manna, the sacrifice of the cross, is vital to the experience of eternal life now and the future physical receipt of it. Assimilating the spirit and life of His cross into our lives is the vital essence of eternal life; and He foresaw that one of the ways of doing this would be through remembering that cross in the breaking of bread service. And yet notice how the Lord took that bread of life and gave it to the disciples as His guests at the last supper. To take the bread is to show our acceptance of the gift of life which is in Jesus. The Lord stated that when He had been lifted up on the cross, then the Jews would realize the truth and integrity of the words that He had spoken (Jn. 8:28). Again, the cross is presented as a confirmation of all the words / verbal teaching of the Lord.
The Lord was “the word made flesh"; having spoken to us through the words of the prophets, God now speaks to us in His Son (Heb. 1:1,2 RV). His revelation in that sense hasn’t finished; it is ongoing. Right now, the Lord Jesus speaks with a voice like many waters and a sword of flame- according to John’s vision of the Lord’s post-resurrection glory. John exalts in the fact they touched and saw “the word of life"; the Lord Jesus personally was and is the voice of God’s word. When John writes that “that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you" (1 Jn. 1:3), he doesn’t mean to say that he is simply giving a transcript of the Lord’s spoken words. He is telling men about the person of Jesus, the man he personally knew, and in doing this he was declaring God’s word to them. If the very being of the Lord Jesus was the expression of God’s word, it is little to be marvelled at that the cross, being as it is the crystallisation of all He was and is, should be in an even more intense sense the voice of God to us. And the same process of the word becoming flesh must be seen in us too. We have the witness within ourselves; for the witness is the word and life of Christ, His eternal life, which lives in us (1 Jn. 4:10,11). The Lord Jesus didn’t witness to His word by giving out bits of paper or teaching a catechism; He was, in person, the constant exhibition of the word He witnessed to. And with us too. I’m not saying don’t write books, give out literature, speak words from platforms...but the more essential witness to men is that of our lives, that witness which wells up from the word and life of Christ within us. The way God’s word is made flesh can be seen in Hosea. His going and marrying a worthless woman is prefaced with the statement that this was the beginning of the word of the Lord (Hos. 1:2). The command to go and marry her was not so much “the word of the Lord" to Israel as his marriage and example of true love to his wife. Hosea’s example in his marriage was the word of the Lord to Israel. He made the word flesh. The Lord did this to perfection, and yet like Hosea we in principle must do the same.
When the Jews lifted up Christ in crucifixion, then they would know that the words He spoke were the words of God, that the Father had not left Him at all, and that Jesus had done “always those things that please Him" (Jn. 8:28,29). Surely this implies that His death, His dead body motionless there, was in fact some sort of word of testimony, a voice from God. Note too that when He looked as if He was forsaken by God, it was apparent that He was not. The Jews had jeered at Him as He still clung on to life, implying that God and the prophet Elijah had now abandoned Him- clearly, they mocked, He was not the Son of God. But when He was lifted up by them- i.e. in death- the lifeless body must have spoken to them of something. Somehow [and the earthquake and darkness doubtless confirmed this], there was the very real presence of God evident in the scene once He had died. The Centurion realized that “truly, this was the Son of God"- and from these prophetic words of the Lord, it appears that the Jews generally had to face the same conviction. This is the sort of paradox God delights to use- the humanly hopeless and God forsaken, the lost cause, becomes the very convicting proof of just the opposite- that we are not forsaken. In all this there was the word of the cross.
(1) This whole theme is developed, albeit from a different perspective, in J.D. Crossan, The Cross That Spoke (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988).