The Promise and the Provision [reflections on the cross]

Why did the disciples have such a hard time understanding Christ’s mission on earth? To us it seems so obvious. Where did this confusion come from?

Throughout the entirety of the Old Testament, there were two lines of salvific hope — two lines of redemption. One begins in Genesis 3:15, with the promise of the seed of the woman, who would destroy the tempter, and rescue mankind from the curse brought upon them (and the whole universe). The other line begins in Genesis 3:21, with the provision of the animal skins — the shed blood, of an innocent victim, of God’s provision, to cover the guilt and shame of man’s sin.

The first line is a promise of a deliverer, and the second is of a covering — of an atonement. These two themes of redemptive hope, the promise, and the provision, run parallel throughout the entire Old Testament. And as time goes on through progressive revelation, the revelatory content of these two truths expands, but they are still two separate promises, and you can trace these all the way through. The Old Testament saints were looking forward to both the promise of a Messiah — a king who would conquer the enemy and rescue mankind — and the provision of a covering for their sins.

Now, we know, because we’re looking back, that that all was really one promise. We know that the deliverer, was also the covering. But those two lines of hope run parallel to each other, and they don’t explicitly meet… until the cross.

And when Jesus comes offering Himself as Messiah, those who believe Him understand that that means genesis 3:15. But when He starts telling His disciples, who have accepted Him as Messiah, that He is going to suffer and die, they’re horrified! Because He’s the Messiah, He’s going to be King, and they’re going to help Him get there!

And then, on Thursday night, April 2nd, 33 AD, soldiers come to arrest Jesus. And Peter proves his loyalty to Christ when he draws his sword to fight. And I think when Peter said, to Jesus, “I will never abandon you,” he meant it, and in the garden he shows that he meant it. So why did he deny Christ later that night? I think it’s because he thought that he proved his loyalty in Gethsemane, but Jesus rebuked him for it, and gave Himself up to the soldiers to be crucified. And Peter is so completely disillusioned, and he doesn’t understand what’s going on, because this is not supposed to happen to the coming king.

You see, Jesus was expected, to establish His kingdom in 33 AD, but what actually happened was that this man, who so many had come to believe was God come in the flesh and who was going to set up His messianic Kingdom… This man was arrested by the Romans and Jews, subjected to illegitimate trials through the night, beaten and scourged, and crucified on a Roman cross — the most impeccably excruciating, and humiliating form of execution known to man. And then He died, at 3:00 on Friday afternoon. And the hope of His followers, who had believed that he was the Messiah to come to conquer the enemy and rescue mankind, was dead, because their King was dead.

Well, see what happened was that the disciples didn’t connect those two lines of redemptive hope, the promise and the provision. And they couldn’t grasp that the messiah, the coming king, was first going to be Himself the ultimate provision — the perfect sacrifice given once and for all, to remove the condemnation of sin from humanity.

Hebrews 10:11 says, “Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God…” (emphasis added)

See, in the tabernacle (and then later in the temple), with all its splendor and accoutrements and precise careful instructions, there was one piece of furniture that was conspicuously absent — and that was a bench or a chair or something on which to sit down. This was to avoid the possibility of a priest ever running the risk of getting tired and thinking he could sit down for a moment, because that could give the impression that in some way his work was done; but the priest’s work was never done — there were always sacrifices to be made. But when Christ offered Himself as the sacrificial lamb, Hebrews 10:12 makes a big deal of the fact that Christ sat down — His work is finished. There are no more sacrifices to be made! The work is complete!

Then the next verse says that Christ is now waiting until his enemies are made His footstool. Because Jesus is coming back as a conquering king, and He is going to establish His kingdom here on earth (and we’re looking forward to that day)! But that’s not what He did the first time He came. He came to offer himself as a substitutionary sacrifice to take the penalty for sin that we deserve — to die the death that you and I deserved to die… to cleanse us of all our unrighteousness and to qualify us to be adopted into the family of the King!

And on that cross, when the weight of His body was putting such excruciating pressure on His lungs that even to take one breath he had to push Himself up — He had to stand up on the nails in His feet and scrape his raw, ribboned back against that rough wood — just to breathe. In the last moments, before He gave up His spirit, He whispered, “I thirst.” And we know now that crucifixion saps every last ounce of moisture out of the body, and Christ’s mouth and throat and tongue would have been so swollen and caked with dust and blood, that He would have struggled to get anything more than a whisper out. And so He asks for a drink, and He’s given a sip of sour wine to wet his throat. Because there is something He desperately wants to say; and the whole universe has been groaning for 4000 years, longing to hear Him say these words… and He lifts Himself up on the nails, and cries out: “It is finished.

Our debt was paid in full! And if we believe Him, and trust in His work on the cross, sin’s curse no longer has a hold on us — we are saved from the penalty of sin, we are freed from the bondage of sin, we are bought out of the slavemarket of sin, we are delivered from the power of sin, and we belong to the One who saves us from our sin!

When the Jews would lay their hands on their lambs to sacrifice them, they wouldn’t just touch them with their hands, they would lean all of their weight on that animal as if to say, I am identifying with this animal, and this lamb is dying the death that I should be dying… and if we lean all of ourselves on Christ, if we are willing to identify with Christ, if we rely wholly on Him to take the penalty of sin for us, He welcomes us into His arms — forgiven! That is the wonder and glory and love of Christ — that He would die to purchase you and me, so that we may have communion with Christ forever!


2 thoughts on “The Promise and the Provision [reflections on the cross]

  1. Pingback: The Gospel of the Kingdom [The mystery form in Luke 17:21] | The Cross-Current

  2. Pingback: The Gospel of the Kingdom [Conclusion] | The Cross-Current

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