7-4-2 The Cross and Self-examination
As a man or woman seriously contemplates the cross, they are inevitably led to a self-knowledge and self-examination which shakes them to the bone. We are to “purge out" the old leaven from us at the memorial meeting (1 Cor. 5:7). But the same Greek word for “purge" is found in passages which speak of how the blood of Christ purges us: Jn. 15:2; Heb. 10:2. We purge ourselves because Christ has purged us. This is the connection between His death for us, and our self-examination. 1 Cor. 11:23 associates the themes of betrayal and the breaking of bread- and John quotes the prophecy that “He who feeds on bread with me has raised his heel against me" in the context of Judas breaking bread with Jesus. “Is it I?" must be a dominant part of the breaking of bread experience. A number of passages shed light on the way the cross leads to self-examination.
As Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms, he saw in that beautiful little boy something terrible; for he looked ahead to how His soul would one day be pierced in crucifixion, “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Lk. 2:35). The same word is used for how thoughts will be revealed at the judgment (Mt. 10:26; 1 Cor. 3:13; 4:5). In the piercing of the Son of God, the thoughts of hearts would be revealed. But the question arises: revealed to whom? We may (rightly) assume: to ourselves. But Luke’s Gospel emphasises the ability of the Lord Jesus to know human hearts (5:22; 6:8; 9:2,6,47; 24:38). Could it not be that the cross is used by the Father and Son to know the minds of men? They see in our response to it the real you and the real me. “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts" (Prov. 20:27); our self-examination is what reveals us to the Lord. What we think about at the memorial meeting, as we are faced with the memory of the crucified Saviour, is therefore an epitome of what we really are. If all we are thinking of is the taste of the wine, the cover over the bread, the music, what we didn’t agree with in the sermon, all the external things of our Christianity; or if we are sitting there taking bread and wine as a conscience salver, doing our little religious ritual to make us feel psychologically safe- then we simply don’t know Him. We are surface level believers only. And this is the message we give Him. Our spirit / attitude is the candle of the Lord, with which He searches us. Our thoughts when confronted by the cross reveal us to Him who died on it. Likewise Joseph (one of the most detailed types of the Lord) knew / discerned his brethren by his cup (Gen. 44:5). 1 Cor. 11:31,32 further suggests that our self-judgment at the breaking of bread is in fact the lord’s judgment of us: “If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord". We expect Paul to say: ‘But when we judged ourselves, we are chastened...’. But he doesn’t; our judgment is what reveals us to the Lord, and is therefore the basis of His judgment of us. Even if we flunk conscious self-examination from an underlying disbelief that we will attain the Kingdom, then this of itself reveals our hearts to Him. Because of this connection between the breaking of bread and judgment, it would seem that the first century church experienced the physical chastising of the Lord in terms of being struck with sickness and even death at the memorial meeting (1 Cor. 11:29,30). Thus at ecclesial meetings- particularly the breaking of bread- the early church confessed their sins and prayed for healing from the afflictions some were smitten with as a result of their sins (James 5:14-16).
Those who beheld the cross “beat their breasts", Luke records (23:48). The only other occurrence of this phrase is again in Luke, concerning how the desperate, sin-convicted publican likewise beat his breast before God in contrition (18:13). Does this not suggest that those breast-beaters were doing so because “that sight" convicted them of their own sinfulness? Their “return" to their homes uses the Greek word usually translated ‘to repent’. The cross inspired their repentance. The records of the crucifixion are framed to focus upon the response of individuals to the cross. The response of those who beat their breasts is very similar to that of the Centurion:
Returned / repented
The parallel is between his glorifying God, and their returning / repenting. The need for repentance is a strong theme in Luke (10:13; 11:32; 13:3,5; 15:7,10; 16:30; 17:3,4)- as if he perceived that the ultimate motivation to repentance was in the cross. The apocryphal Acts of Pilate 4.5 claims that “all the crowds who were gathered together for the observation of this…returned striking their breasts and weeping awful tears". And yet the record of the cross also leads to faith, not only conviction of our desperation (Jn. 19:35, “these things" = the record of the cross). The humble man “smote his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me a sinner". “Be merciful" translates the word elsewhere translated “make propitiation", in describing the atoning death of Jesus on the cross (Heb. 2:17). The man’s sinfulness drove him to plead for the cross: ‘Please God, make a propitiation for me’ was his plea. He realized his need for the cross. And we should look back at the cross and feel and know the same need.
Serious meditation upon the Lord's work ought to have this effect upon us. Can we really see his agony, his bloody sweat, without a thought for our response to it? It's impossible to passively behold it all. There is something practically compelling about it, almost in a mystical way. Because “Christ died for the ungodly", because in the cross “the love of God" was commended to us, therefore “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Rom. 5:5,6,8). As the smitten rock gave out water, so the smitten Saviour gave out the water of the Spirit. This link between the shedding of the Lord’s blood and the shedding of love in our hearts is surely because an understanding and relation to His sacrifice brings forth in the believer a response of love and spirituality. As the love of God was shown in the cross, so it will be reflected in the heart of he who truly knows and believes it.
1 Cor. 11:29 invites us to discern the Lord’s body at the memorial meeting. The same word occurs in v.28: “let a man examine himself". It’s too bad that the translations mask this connection. We are to examine / discern the Lord’s body, and to do the same to ourselves (1). The two are inextricably related. Meditation upon and analysis of His body will lead to self examination and discernment. In this lies the answer to the frequent question: ‘What should we examine at the breaking of bread? Our own sins, or the facts of the crucifixion / resurrection?’. If we think about the latter, we will inevitably be led to think of the former.
In Isaiah 6:1-4 we have a vision of “the Lord high and lifted up", enthroned in the temple, with an earthquake, the temple filled with smoke, the doorposts that held up the veil being shaken (with the implication that the veil falls; 6:4). Note how Rev. 15:5-8, building on this passage, has the veil being removed, the Most Holy opened, and the temple filled with smoke. This sends the mind straight to the rending of the temple veil at the crucifixion and the earthquake (Mt. 27:51). The Lord “high and lifted up" (6:1) is a phrase that occurs later in Isaiah (52:13), concerning the crucified Lord, lifted up and exalted “very high" by the cross. John 12:37-41 tells us that Isaiah 6 is a vision of the Lord Jesus in glory; and in this passage John quotes both Isaiah 6 and 53 together, reflecting their connection and application to the same event, namely the Lord’s crucifixion. So it is established that Is. 6 is a vision of the crucified Lord Jesus, high and lifted up in glory in God’s sight, whilst covered in blood and spittle, with no beauty that man should desire Him. The point is, when Isaiah saw this vision he was convicted of his sinfulness: “Woe is me, for I am undone...". And yet the same vision comforted him with the reality of forgiveness, and inspired him to offer to go forth and witness to Israel of God’s grace. So once again, the vision of the cross convicts men of their sin, and yet inspires them to go forward in service. In passing, it should be noted that the vision of Isaiah 6 has evident similarities with those of Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4. These likewise show something of the glory of God in the crucified Christ, and they likewise inspired men like Ezekiel and John in their work of witness and living the life of the spirit in the midst of apostasy. The only other time the phrase “high and lifted up" occurs in Isaiah is in 57:15, where we read that He who is the exalted and lofty one (AV- the same words as ‘high and lifted up’) dwells with those who are crushed (Heb. Dakka- cp. Is. 53:5,10), i.e. those who share in the Lord’s crucifixion in their lives. This passage is talking about God Himself in the first instance- just as Yahweh is spoken of as walking on the waters, and yet the Lord Jesus did this in manifestation of the Father. Likewise many NT passages appropriate words true only of God Himself to the Lord Jesus, in that He manifested the Father. And so it seems the same principle operates here. The one “high and lifted up" was the Lord Jesus in Isaiah chapters 6 and 52. Here in chapter 57 it is God Himself, and yet in that the Lord Jesus knew the depths of the cross, so He came to manifest the heights of His Father. And through this God through Him is able to dwell with the crushed. In a sense, the suffering servant has been exalted to the throne of God and yet is able to know the feelings of those who are still the suffering servants. The same idea is found in Rev. 4- the one who sits enthroned is as it were a slain lamb. There is a connection between His present glory and His previous suffering on the cross.
Rev. 4:9 alludes to the Isaiah 6 vision, and applies it to the future judgment. Yet silhouetted within the vision of the judgment throne is a slain lamb (Rev. 5:6), as if before the judgment, all will be aware of the Lord’s sacrifice. The accepted will utter praise immediately after realising the wonderful verdict pronounced for them- in terms of praising the Lord Jesus for his sacrifice, and recognising their eternal debt to the blood of His cross (Rev. 5:9). The cross and the judgment and reward are connected. This is why the Sephardim called the Day of Atonement, with all its typology of the cross, “the day of judgment".
The whole structure of the records of the crucifixion are to emphasize how the cross is essentially about human response to it; nothing else elicits from humanity a response like the cross does. Mark’s account, for example, has 5 component parts. The third part, the centrepiece as it were, is the account of the actual death of the Lord; but it is surrounded by cameos of human response to it (consider Mk. 15:22-27; 28-32; the actual death of Jesus, 15:33-37; then 15:38-41; 15:42-47). John’s record shows a similar pattern, based around 7 component parts: 19:16-18; 19-22; 23,24; then the centrepiece of 25-27; followed by 19:28-30; 31-37; 38-42. But for John the centrepiece is Jesus addressing His mother, and giving her over to John’s charge. This for John was the quintessence of it all; that a man should leave His mother, that Mary loved Jesus to the end…and that he, John, was honoured to have been there and seen it all.
The gruesome record of the Levite cutting up his wife’s body and sending parts of the body throughout all Israel has much to teach us of the power of the memorial service. It was done so that all who received the parts of that broken body would “take advice and speak [their] minds" (Jud. 19:30). It was designed to elicit the declaration of their hearts, and above all to provoke to concrete action. Splitting up a body and sharing it with all Israel was clearly a type of the breaking of bread, where in symbol, the same happens. Consider some background, all of which points forward to the Lord’s sufferings:
- The person whose body was divided up was from Bethlehem, and of the tribe of Judah (Jud. 19:1)
- They were ‘slain’ by permission of a priest
- They were dragged to death by a wicked Jewish mob
- They were “brought forth" to the people just as the Lord was to the crowd (Jud. 19:25)
- “Do what seemeth good unto you" (Jud. 19:24) is very much Pilate language
- A man sought to dissuade the crowd from their purpose- again, as Pilate.
There should be a like effect upon us as we receive the emblems of the Lord’s ‘broken body’- the inner thoughts of our hearts are elicited, and we are provoked to action.
(1) In the Corinthian context, the body of Christ is to be understood as the ecclesia. 1 Cor. 12 is full of this figure. The need to discern the Lord’s body at the breaking of bread means that we must go beyond reflection upon His physical body. We must recognise / discern His ecclesia too. The immediate context of 1 Cor. 11 is of unbrotherly behaviour at the memorial meeting. If we fail to recognise / appreciate / discern the Lord’s physical body, we will fail to recognise His brethren. And if we do this, we have made ourselves guilty of His body and blood, we have crucified Him again. This is why I plead with those who use the breaking of bread as a weapon for division within the Lord’s body to think again. The body which we must discern at the breaking of bread evidently has some reference to the ecclesia. We thereby place ourselves in a dangerous position by refusing to share the emblems with others in the body, and disfellowshipping those who do so.