The Afflictions of Christ

“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” —Matthew 26:26-28

IT IS the great joy and blessing of the Lord’s people regularly to meet together to consider the beauties and instruction of God’s Word, and to be refreshed and encouraged in the Christian way. But it is their special privilege once a year to commemorate, with grateful hearts, the death of our Lord as the antitypical Passover Lamb—the Lamb of God which truly taketh away the sins of the whole world. All who love the Lord, and who trust in the merit of that sacrifice, will ever rejoice in the privilege and blessing of following his suggestion, “This do in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19,20) The date this year will be Thursday evening, April 8.

As we read again the account of that perplexed little gathering in the upper room, our minds inevitably go back, as probably did the Lord’s, to an event which occurred some sixteen hundred years earlier in the life of the young nation of Israel—a hope-inspiring shadow of better things to come. This was the inauguration of the Passover, which was so directly related to the release of Israel from bondage in Egypt. We recall the gathering on that fateful night of each little household of Israelites; the slaying of the already prepared lamb without blemish, the head and members to be roasted together and entirely consumed during the night; the bitter herbs and the unleavened bread; the sandals and staff; the blood that was sprinkled on the doorposts of the houses for the protection of the firstborn within; and the long-awaited, long-hoped for deliverance from the hosts of Egypt in the morning.

So important was this event, from both a literal and a symbolic standpoint, that the Lord instructed them, “This day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance forever.” (Exod. 12:14) But the central figure in this picture of the deliverance of a nation from bondage was the lamb—the lamb that had to be slain, and whose blood had to be shed—everything depended on that.

Important as it was in the life of the nation of Israel, that event merely foreshadowed another deliverance from bondage—a deliverance on a vastly grander scale. And an appreciation of the significance of that earlier deliverance increases our faith and deepens our understanding of the events surrounding that solemn ceremony in the upper room. As Jews born under the Law, it was incumbent upon the Lord and his disciples to celebrate the type, to keep the feast of the Passover; but after having kept the Passover Supper according to the Law, our Lord introduced a new memorial.

Long before, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Jesus had recognized his place in God’s plan of salvation for the release of mankind from bondage to sin and death. He had recognized himself as the central figure in that plan—as the Lamb without blemish, the antitypical Passover Lamb who now was about to be slain, that all mankind might have life. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” (I Cor. 5:7) Since the type was about to be fulfilled, it would no longer be proper for believing Jews to observe it. It would no longer be proper to slay a lamb without blemish, to roast and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, to sprinkle their doorposts with the blood. Henceforth the proper course for all believers in Jesus as the true Passover Lamb, as the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the whole world, would be the sprinkling of their hearts, and by faith feeding on the merit of his sacrifice. What the Lord here instituted in place of the Passover Supper was a memorial of the antitype—a memorial of his own sacrifice as the antitypical Passover Lamb. And he instructed his followers that they were to keep this memorial: “This do in remembrance of me.”

In the new memorial, however, the symbol is changed from that of the slain lamb which effected the deliverance of the nation of Israel, to bread which cometh down from heaven and giveth life to the whole world. We recall that, earlier, the people chided Jesus, asking for a sign, that they might see, and believe; reminding him that, in the desert, Moses had given them bread from heaven to eat. Jesus replied, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:32-33,47-51) And now, in the upper room, “he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you.”—Luke 22:19

And then there was the cup. “Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:20) Or, as our text puts it, “This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Like the broken bread, the cup pictured a life which must be poured out for the propitiation of the sins of the world.

How clearly, and yet how beautifully, in this simple ceremony, the Master impressed upon their minds the fact of his messiahship—that he must give his flesh, his body; must pour out his life as a ransom sacrifice for the sins of the world. Thus in simple fashion, and in simple words, the Lord pictured for that little gathering that great sacrificial transaction whereby those who are dead might live. And his followers were to partake of the bread and the cup with which he illustrated that sacrifice, as a memorial. This they were to do in remembrance of him.

There is, of course, no merit in the literal bread whereof we eat, the literal cup whereof we drink. These are but symbols. The merit is in him who gave his flesh, and shed his blood, that all who in their hearts believe and trust in him might have everlasting life.

It is truly wonderful merely to know that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him might not perish, but have everlasting life. The hope of life, however dimly understood, has ever been a blessing to mankind. But to those who are privileged by God’s abounding grace to enter into the Holy, feeding on the Word of life, and who are enlightened by the Holy Spirit of truth, there is yet another and important lesson to be drawn from the illustration.

Jesus was indeed that true bread which came down from heaven, that a man might eat thereof and not die. But Jesus died on Calvary’s cross almost two thousand years ago as man’s Redeemer. The antitypical Passover Lamb which taketh away the sins of the world has long ago been slain. And yet sin reigns, and man continues to go down into death. To many earnest souls who have not fully understood God’s plan of salvation this fact has been a severe test of faith. But to those who have been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, the long period of time ensuing since Christ’s death on the cross is but another evidence of God’s unlimited grace. For these long years have been given over to the accomplishment of another portion of God’s plan of salvation—to the selection of a little flock whose privilege it will be, when the kingdom is finally established in glory and power, to be associated with their Lord in bestowing the promised blessings of the kingdom on all mankind.

Peter speaks of these in Acts 15:14-17, where he tells us that “God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up; that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things.”

In carefully studying his Word we find that God, in his wisdom and grace, has purposed that there should be associated with the Lord Jesus in the heavenly phase of the kingdom, on the divine plane, those who would assist in bringing the glorious life-giving blessings of the kingdom to dying humanity. These, because of their high station, and because of the high standard required of them, would be a relatively little flock, and are referred to by the Revelator as the bride, the Lamb’s wife. They are also spoken of in the Scriptures as the “seed of Abraham.” We recall God’s promise to Abraham that “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 22:18) This promise clearly indicates that there would be those who would be blessed, and those who would do the blessing. This latter class is identified by the apostle in his letter to the Galatians, third chapter, where, speaking to the consecrated footstep followers of the Lord, he tells us first that Christ is that seed of blessing, and then, that those who are Christ’s are also part of that seed. “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. … And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

This oneness of his faithful followers with Christ is also illustrated by the apostle in the 12th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian brethren, where he tells them, and us, that “as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. … Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”

Thus we find our Lord, in that Gethsemane prayer to his Father, praying not “for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gayest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory.” (John 17:21-24) Whereas this will be a oneness in glory with the Lord in his kingdom, the prospective sharers of that glory and oneness must prove their worthiness by their willingness to share his sacrifice in this present life—prove it by a oneness in his sufferings.

Those who entertain this hope find here no continuing city. They surrender all earthly hopes and ambitions, and find themselves as pilgrims, with staff in hand, sandals on their feet, partaking of the antitypical Lamb, trusting in the merit of his blood, while awaiting their final passing over.

These, because of their love for righteousness, because of their desire to be made in the image of their Lord, find themselves out of harmony with the world, although, like their Lord, they lay down their lives in sacrifice. “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20) Thus spake the One who laid down his life for the world. And the apostle tells us that we will be joint-heirs with Christ “if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Rom. 8:17) What a glorious hope is ours!

So the apostle, referring to that gathering in the upper room, explains the matter to us when he says: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers [partners] of that one bread.” (I Cor. 10:16,17) The word which is here translated “communion” carries the thought of common union, common participation, or sharing; and the apostle points out that the Lord’s people, as the wheat class (through whom, in association with our Lord, all the restitution blessings shall flow) are counted in as parts of that sacrificial loaf. And the Apostle Peter encourages us, saying it is well, if the will of God be so, that we “suffer for well-doing, for Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust; … rejoice, therefore, inasmuch as ye are partakers [or sharers] of Christ’s sufferings; that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”—I Pet. 3:17,18; 4:13

In speaking of our privilege of sharing in Christ’s sacrificial sufferings, Peter writes in his first epistle that “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” (I Pet. 2:21) Our Lord’s love for the Father, and his faith in Him, and his compassion for fallen humanity led him into death, even the death of the cross. And although it was death most painful and ignominious, yet was he obedient; for such he knew to be the will of the Father in the accomplishment of his plan of salvation. “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart. I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest. I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy loving-kindness and thy truth from the great congregation.” (Ps. 40:7-10) In the Father’s plan, our Lord must needs lay down his life as a ransom sacrifice; but he was delivered to the cross because he preached the truth. He hid it not within his heart. It was, as the Prophet Jeremiah said of himself, like a burning fire within his bones. And this, the apostle tells us, is our example, that we should follow his steps.

Few of the Lord’s people, today, die as martyrs, as did our Lord, as did Stephen, Paul, and others. But none the less, all who would walk in the Master’s steps must prove their loyalty and love for the Lord, the brethren, and the truth. Our Lord explains that this is a matter of daily laying down our lives in sacrifice. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”—Luke 9:23

To take up one’s cross daily is to renew daily our consecration; to embrace daily the opportunities which come to us, to serve the Lord and tell out the glad tidings; to endure with patience the trials which may come to us; to grow a little more, each day, in the image of our Lord. This requires of each follower of the Lord that he deny himself, using in the Lord’s service, as a faithful steward, all that the Lord has entrusted to him of time, talents, strength. We should own that same love, that same zeal and devotion; that same spirit of unwavering consecration that possessed the hearts of those earlier faithful servants of the Lord: so much so that, if it were required of us, we too would be ready to lay down our lives, as they did. As with the bullock, so also must the sacrifice of the Lord’s goat class be entirely consumed. “Be thou faithful till death, and I will give to thee the crown of life.”—Rev. 2:10, Diaglott

Thus, while the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup are recognized primarily as symbolizing our Lord’s death on behalf of all the world, of which sacrifice we are again reminded, yet it also represents the sacrificial suffering and death of his body members, the church, in “filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ.” And we are reminded, once more, of our covenant to be dead with him, that it might be our glorious privilege of living and reigning with him, for the blessing of all the families of the earth.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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