The 'Last Pesach'
Returning to the Seder service, the next item on the agenda is the third cup of wine. This is known as the 'cup of redemption', which is a most apt description in the light of the second major surprise of the evening.
Jesus lifted the cup and said the customary blessing. Then he spoke these words, 'this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you'.
This one sentence contains three awesome concepts that are absolutely central to the understanding of Jesus and his mission.
Luckily for us you are familiar with two of them, so I'll recap.
Firstly, he mentioned the new covenant. We have covered the passage in Jeremiah twice now so, no doubt, you can recite it by heart. If you can't, it basically said that God is going to deal with his people in a new way, by which he will write the law on people's hearts. It will be a way 'of the heart', where one's actions would be dictated by love, rather than people's opinions. Jesus and his teachings was to usher in this new covenant.
Secondly, he sealed the covenant in his own blood. This spoke of his coming death (the following day, in fact), which will result in the shedding of his blood. As mentioned earlier, blood is a mystery, it was the only way that God ordained us to be reconciled to him, through the sacrificial system. But this is his blood, the blood of the Messiah, the 'Son of God', not some lamb, or goat. Paul expounds on this in his first letter to the Church at Corinth when he says, "For Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed."
The first interesting thing here is that Jesus is being identified with the Passover lamb. This is interesting .... and crucial. As you'll remember back to the time of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt, the passover lamb supplied the means of redemption of the firstborn. By sprinkling the blood on the front door of the Jewish households, the angel of death was kept at bay.
They were saved by the blood of the lamb. Christians make a lot of use of this same phrase, 'saved by the blood of the lamb'. But what does it mean, why are we saved by Jesus' death?
This brings us to the third point of Jesus' pronouncement, ' ... poured out for you'.
Here he was saying that his death, his shed blood, was, in same way, for our benefit. Jesus died .... for us! You've heard that phrase a few times, haven't you? So why should the death of the Messiah, a sinless man (spotless and without blemish, just like the Passover lamb), the Son of God, be for our benefit?
At the heart of this is a mystery, one of the greatest mysteries of all. I can explain it to you by reference to the concept of the substitutionary atonement, redemption in relation to sin, reconciliation in relation to the world and propitiation in relation to God .... but that probably wouldn't satisfy you (shame!)
The gist of it is that, by willingly offering himself as a sacrifice, Jesus, the God-man, took on the sins not just of the people who killed him, but for every sin committed by everyone, from that day onwards. The man without sin died for every man and woman, so that they could be reconciled with God.
Through that one act, Jesus did away with the entire sacrificial system which had, as we saw, by then, become ritualistic and meaningless. From that day onwards, man did not need to shed the blood of an animal to be reconciled with God.
Jesus has done all that work, he had provided the perfect atonement, through that one act.