Jerusalem shone golden in the afternoon sun as 12 men and their Leader made their way from the Mount of Olives to a house in the city. Earlier in the day, Jesus of Nazareth had instructed two of His disciples, Peter and John, to go into Jerusalem and prepare the Passover (Luke 22:7-13). Jesus said they would encounter a man carrying water, who would show them his guest room where they could keep the Passover, a ceremony that involved eating a sacrificed lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs in remembrance of God’s redemption of the Israelites in Egypt.
After finding the man, Peter and John prepared the food and drink for Jesus and the 12 to observe what would culminate in the first New Covenant Passover service.
Here’s a question we might ask ourselves in this Passover season: Do we truly appreciate Christ’s ultimate sacrifice?
Jesus probably said little as they entered the room and surveyed the preparations. To Peter and John, no doubt Jesus appeared introspective, but, beyond this, their Teacher seemed composed and calm. They all began to relax at the table and eat, following the lead of their Master.
It was then that Jesus began to speak to His disciples, explaining that He had waited for this special time so He could eat this Passover with them. “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God,” He told them (Luke 22:15-16).
It was a shocking statement. Jesus spoke of suffering? The apostles found it difficult to believe that their Savior would have to suffer physical pain, let alone die this early in His life. After all, this was the same Man who had turned water into wine, fed 5,000 hungry people on five loaves and two fish and had food left over, and walked on the water of a tempestuous, stormy sea.
Symbols of sacrifice
At this point, the Savior began offering His disciples the symbols of unleavened bread and wine.
The bread, He explained, represented His body. The apostle Peter later defined what this meant, writing that we, as Christians, should follow in the steps of our Savior, who “bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
Christ, as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” would pay the penalty for humanity’s sins “by the sacrifice of Himself” (John 1:29; Hebrews 9:26). The wine, He then explained, represented His blood, shed for the sins of mankind (Luke 22:17-20).
Earlier in the evening, the disciples had quietly watched as Jesus deliberately knelt and washed their feet. Jesus told them to follow His example, explaining that this simple ceremony was symbolic of the humble and unconditional attitude of service to humanity they must have (John 13:1-17).
Unleavened bread and wine at the Passover observance were not new to the religious Jews of that day, but the manner in which Jesus presented them, and their meaning, were. So the disciples listened attentively to Jesus’ words and participated fully as He offered the symbols.
The food and drink Christ offered His disciples had deep meaning for them and us. During the evening, He explained that before long He would offer Himself for the sins of mankind (John 13:31-33). His followers would soon see the meaning of the Passover symbols dramatically demonstrated to them.
Jesus’ sacrifice prophesied
Old Testament prophecies of a coming Savior’s sacrifice abound. The earliest can be found in Genesis. Speaking to Satan, the serpent, God said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15).
This verse speaks symbolically of Satan and Jesus Christ. Satan would “bruise the heel” of Jesus by influencing His execution by crucifixion, with nails driven through His feet. But Christ, on His return to earth, will bruise Satan’s head by imprisoning Satan for a millennium and ultimately getting rid of him for good (Revelation 20:1-10). The prophecy in Genesis 3 is the earliest reference to Jesus’ crucifixion and death.
The prophet Isaiah foretold Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice: “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
God, Isaiah further prophesied, “has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). He was “oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). “He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken” (Isaiah 53:8).
The writers of the Bible recorded many prophecies about this most momentous and critical time, when our holy Savior would pour out His life for you, me and all of humanity. That time came as foretold, in accordance with God’s design: “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Jesus Christ’s sacrificial offering of Himself had long been planned (2 Timothy 1:9-10; 1 Peter 1:18-20).
Throughout His life and ministry, Jesus never once sinned or allowed Himself to entertain thoughts of breaking God’s law. He never broke the letter or spirit of the laws of God. He lived a perfect life. He “committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).
Had He broken God’s law, He would have suffered the death penalty for His own guilt, like the rest of mankind, and would have had no hope of a resurrection. But since He remained sinless, and was the very Creator of humanity on the Father’s behalf (John 1:1-3; John 1:14), His death paid the penalty for our sins, making Him the Savior of mankind (Hebrews 10:12; 1 John 4:14).
Jesus Christ, our Passover
In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul wrote that “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” This statement holds profound meaning for Christians.
Paul wrote these words to the Corinthian church, the members of which were allowing one of their brethren to continue in a sexual sin. This was no ordinary sin, even for the profligate Corinthian society of the time. A man was involved in an immoral relationship with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5:1).
Paul reprimanded the whole congregation and charged the Corinthians to expel the offender, lest the sin spread and contaminate them just as yeast puffs up bread dough (1 Corinthians 5:2-6).
Paul, in supporting his reasons for removing the sinner, made the reference to Christ as our sacrificed Passover Lamb.
What did Paul mean by his statement? He meant that Jesus’ sacrifice was not made in vain. He meant that the Corinthians should not take lightly what Jesus went through in that sacrifice.
Reflect Christ’s sacrifice
Up to that point the Corinthians had not comprehended the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice. They didn’t fully understand that once their sins were repented of and covered by Jesus’ shed blood, their lives had to reflect a new commitment. They were no longer to give in to their former sinful habits.
Paul made this very clear to them: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Writing to the Romans on the same subject, Paul asked: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? [That is, our old life should end in our accepting His death for our sins.]
“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-4).
Not to be taken lightly
Paul made it plain to the Corinthians that they must not take Christ’s sacrifice lightly. Accepting that sacrifice must result in a changed life, with a new outlook and approach that will not tolerate sin. It must be purged from our own lives and from Christian fellowship. Paul further wrote: “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner . . . Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person’” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13).
Since the Corinthian members apparently didn’t fully understand the implications of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and the enormous pain and suffering He endured, is it possible that we could make the same error? Do we fully grasp what He went through to become a sacrifice for us?
None of us were there to witness the Roman soldiers brutally whip, beat and ridicule Jesus Christ. But we do have the written Word of God that tells us that it happened. The prophet Isaiah, King David in the Psalms and the Gospel writers all bear witness to the cruel punishment inflicted on Jesus Christ. From these biblical accounts, plus contemporary descriptions of such punishments, we can gain some understanding of the extent of the suffering our Savior endured for us.
When the authorities led Jesus before the high priest, Caiaphas, and in front of the scribes and elders, He was falsely declared guilty of blasphemy. The religious authorities spat in His face, slapping and pounding Him with their fists while they ridiculed Him (Matthew 26:67-68). When they turned Jesus over to the Romans for scourging (Matthew 27:26), He was bruised and battered.
The halfway death
The scourging of our Savior by the Romans was barbaric. They called this type of punishment “the halfway death” because it stopped just short of killing its victim. A trained man, called a lictor, used a wooden grip to which several strips of leather had been attached. At the end of each strip, fragments of bone or iron had been sewn in. This was called a flagellum. There was no specific number of stripes to be administered, and the lictor could whip the prisoner on any part of his body.
Typically, guards tied a condemned criminal to a stone or wooden pillar, facing the pillar with one arm on each side. To further humiliate the prisoner, he was stripped of all clothing, affording him no protection from the cruel instrument.
Then the brutal procedure began. The prisoner suffered blow after blow, leaving his flesh lacerated and his bloody skin hanging like ragged strips of cloth. An officer supervised the punishment to see that the captive wasn’t inadvertently beaten to death. The Romans knew from experience that a man undergoing scourging could die quickly.
When the scourging was over, the guards untied the prisoner, who would slump to the floor in shock. They would pour cold water on him to clean off some of the blood, torn flesh and filth. The rough scrubbing of the victim’s battered body would often shock him back to gasping consciousness.
In Jesus’ case, some of the soldiers gathered thorns and plaited them into a crown, which they jammed onto His head. They wrapped a robe around Him, placed a reed scepter in His hand and mockingly paid homage to Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Matthew 27:29).
“Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified” (Matthew 27:30-31).
What His sacrifice means for us
This is only a cursory portrayal of the agony our Savior had to suffer in our place so the penalty for sin could be removed from you and me. Without Jesus’ sacrifice, we would be consigned to everlasting death. The only life we could live would be the physical existence we are struggling through now.
We would have no hope of reconciliation to God our Father. We would have no prospects of His accepting our lives through the life of Jesus Christ, by His living in us and interceding for us at the right hand of God. We could have no reason to hope to receive the Holy Spirit, understand the truth of God, and serve Christ as His followers on earth.
We would not understand the plan of God for mankind to become the children of God. And we would not enjoy the privilege of becoming a part of His Church, fellowshipping and growing with others of like mind.
No wonder Paul used the words he did to bring the Corinthians back to spiritual reality. Either they did not hold to an understanding of the profundity of Jesus’ sacrifice, or they once comprehended it but had grown careless of it. Whatever the situation, they needed to be reminded of what their Savior went through for them, including the pain and agony He endured. They needed to repent of their shortsightedness and acknowledge the great extent of His incredible sacrifice.
Here’s a question we might ask ourselves in this Passover season: Do we truly appreciate Christ’s ultimate sacrifice?
Let’s pray that we do.
The Passover season is upon us. We should feel the conviction of our brother, the apostle Paul, whom God inspired to remind us, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” That sacrifice was real, and it should affect our lives every day!
(This article first appeared in the March/April 1996 issue of The Good News magazine.)