God’s original Plan changed in the Garden. This chapter of Sweetwater Journey lays out through Scriptures and quoted references some of the important events that led up to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection and God’s intended impact on us.
“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 31:31-32 NIV
“The disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them’.” Matthew 13:10-11 NIV
Matthew begins to unfold the events surrounding the change Jesus had began making in his teaching style. These events would inevitably lead to the cross. It began with the confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees, one Jewish sect of religious leaders, over the Sabbath.
In Genesis 2:1-3 we find God’s words about the seventh day which later was called the Sabbath: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
Then, in Exodus, the commandment for keeping the seventh day holy is given to the Israelites in the wilderness through the Ten Commandments:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11
God was teaching his creation to honor him with a special day of rest – a day without distraction and unnecessary work for everyone: “neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns”. God sanctified this day for us to rest in him. Anything we seek to do that honors and glorifies God, also honors and glorifies us as we are at our best when we put him first.
By the time Jesus was born, the religious leaders had made so many rules to observe on the seventh day as to make it an “oppressive inconvenience” according to writer John Macarthur in his book “Parables”. Macarthur writes: “The main fight they chose to pick had to do with the proper observance of the Sabbath – the symbol of their legalistic system. The Pharisees fancied themselves specialists and law enforcement officers when it came to strict observance of the Sabbath. They had overlaid the inspired Old Testament statutes with a long list of petty, manmade restrictions. They made this their signature issue and they were militant in their attempts to impose an extremely rigorous brand of Sabbatarianism on the whole nation.”
The following Old Testament references focus on the fact that God’s followers tend to keep the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law- which supplants the reason for the law – to transform us to mature spiritually and become more and more like our Creator. This is what is intended by any commandment God gives us.
“’The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?’ says the Lord. ’I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals ;I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! 16 Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.”
Then, God tells them what he wants them to do:
“17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. 18 ‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ’Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
“13 The Lord says: ’These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.’”
Also read Isaiah 52:5; Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6.
The following examples of the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law are taken from the New Testament during the time of Jesus Christ. Only part of the reference is presented:
“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, ‘Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.’ But He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, . . .’”
“Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.. .’”
“Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table. When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness. . .’”
“It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’ .. .”
From “Parables”: “When God finished his creative work, he rested – not because he needed relief or recovery, but because his work was finished. He then declared the Sabbath holy – as a favor to humanity. Work is drudgery. That is a result of the curse humanity’s sin brought upon all creation. Furthermore, a man left to himself will discover there is no end to all work, and all humanity is urged to enter into the Lord’s rest. This truth was first pictured in the Lord’s own rest on the last day of creation week. But the full glory of the Sabbath was finally unveiled in the finished work of Christ. (John 19:30)” John Macarthur.
It is important that we understand what worship had gradually become, centered in the life of the Temple – a powerful financial and political machine. From the complex specifications God had given them in the wilderness for the creation of the tabernacle they moved around for 40 years, came the temple they would build later in the Promised Land. It was this entrenched institution in the Jewish culture that would be most impacted when Christ came to fulfill the law.
17 “’Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.’” Matthew 5:17-18
During Holy Week, in an act of overflowing rage, Jesus Christ demonstrated his revulsion of what was happening in His House in Matthew 21:12-13:
12 “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.’”
By the end of that week, everything would change. The law and prophecies would be fulfilled. He could then establish the new covenant with His people and set up His church on earth centered in a personal relationship with God through Him. To understand further what is meant by “It Is Finished”, we need to grasp the immensity of this religious institution that had so much power and control that even the Roman Empire protected it.
The first temple built in Jerusalem by King Solomon had been destroyed by the Babylonians around 600BC. It was rebuilt 70 years later by Israel’s descendants of the Babylonian conquest who had been taken into captivity. Then, after hundreds of years and it had fallen into decay, King Herod rebuilt the temple, completing it just before Christ’s coming. The Temple area at that time was increased to a size of about thirty-five acres. Around the Temple were double colonnades, a series of pillars 36’ high set at regular intervals to support a roof. Each pillar was hewn from a single stone of white marble. This created what was called cloisters around the perimeter and were 44’ in breadth. The colonnade that encompassed the Temple was ¾ of mile long.
“There were eight gates leading into the temple. There were the two Huldah Gates or “mole” Gates from the south, which passed underneath the Royal Porch. To the east was the Gate of Susa, still visible as the Golden Gate which was walled up by the Byzantines. In the western wall was the main gate named the Gate of Coponius after the first procurator; it was decorated with the golden eagle as a sign that the Temple had been placed under the protection of Rome. Anyone was allowed to enter the outer area, which was therefore called the Court of the Gentiles. The actual Temple was enclosed by a balustrade, and at the entrances to it were warning notices, one of them is now in a museum in Istanbul. It says that foreigners have freedom of access provided they do not go beyond the balustrade which went all around the central edifice and which no uncircumcised could cross without incurring the death penalty. Fourteen steps led through the Beautiful Gate to the Court of the women where the poor boxes were, into one of which the poor widow cast her two mites (Luke 21:1-4). Another fifteen steps led up to the famous Gate of Nicanor, to which Mary had brought the child (Jesus) at the time of his presentation; this led through the Court of the Men to that of the priests, which had in its center the altar for the burnt offerings and to the left of it a large basin called the Brazen Sea resting upon twelve bulls cast in bronze. Further steps led up to the actual temple, a comparatively small building. (Sources stated that it was around 60 feet high with a 4” thick curtain or veil from top to bottom that divided it. RLF) A priceless curtain, embroidered with a map of the known world, concealed from view what lay beyond, and none except the priest on duty was allowed to go farther. It contained the golden altar at which incense was offered and next to it the seven-branched candelabrum and the table with the twelve loaves of shewbread, which were replaced by fresh ones every Sabbath. Beyond it, behind another large curtain, lay the Holy of Holies, which none except the high priest was allowed to enter, and then only on the Day of Atonement. (Another source stated that a rope was tied to the ankle of the High Priest that entered the Holy of Holies on that day in case he was not worthy to stand in the presence of God. They could then pull his body out with the rope. RLF) A stone designated the place where once the Ark of the Covenant had stood. Jesus came to the Temple at a very young age and in Solomon’s Porch the boy argued with the rabbis, astonishing them with his questions and with his answers. He remained behind when his parents left, and when his worried mother at last found him he said to her enigmatically: ‘Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ (Luke 2:49). It is one of the most original sayings of Jesus, in which he speaks of God for the first time as ‘avi’ (My Father) which was an expression reserved for the Son of God. Today the Western Wall, the so-called Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the ancient walls of Herod’s Temple;” Taken from “The Jewish Temple in the First Century A.D.”
It was the Jewish belief that this temple replicated the Temple in Heaven so it is easy to understand why it held such deep spiritual ties to their one true living God. This was the majestic yet looming edifice that was at the center of the Jewish culture in Jerusalem.
A day at the Temple began at daybreak. A priest on the highest pinnacle was on watch and gave the signal for beginning of services. A three-fold blast from silver trumpets by the priests awakened the city. The priests were required to be Levites from the tribe of Levi- descendants of Levi, one of Jacob’s twelve sons. The Jews kept strict lineage records over hundreds of years. The patriarch of the family was expected to memorize their lineage from Abraham.
The massive Temple gates began to slowly swing open. “At some time previously, unknown to those who waited for the morning – whether at cockcrowing, or a little earlier or later, the superintending Priest had summoned to their sacred functions those who had ‘washed,’ according to the ordinance. There must have been each day about fifty priests on duty. Such of them as were ready now divided into two parties, to make inspection of the Temple courts by torchlight. . . It was scarcely daybreak, when a second time they met for the ‘lot’, (casting lots- RLF) which designated those who were to take part in the sacrifice itself, and who were to trim the golden candlestick, and make ready the altar incense with the Holy Place. And now morn had broken, and nothing remained before the admission of worshippers but to bring out the lamb, once again to make sure of its fitness for sacrifice, to water it from a golden bowl, and then to lay it in mystic fashion – as tradition described the binding of Isaac – on the north side of the altar, with its face to the west. All, priests and laity, were present as the Priest, standing on the east side of the altar, from a golden bowl sprinkled with sacrificial blood two sides of the altar, below the red line which marked the difference between ordinary sacrifices and those that were to be wholly consumed. While the sacrifice was prepared for the altar, the priest, whose lot it was, had made ready all within the Holy Place, where the most solemn part of the day’s service was to take place – that of offering the incense, which symbolized Israel’s accepted prayers. Again, was the lot (the third) cast to indicate him who was to be honored with this highest mediatorial act. Only once in a lifetime might any one enjoy that privilege. Henceforth he was called ‘rich’ and must leave to his brethren the hope of the distinction which had been granted him. It was fitting that, as the custom was, such lot should be preceded by prayer and confession of their faith on the part of the assembled priests.” Taken from The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah” written by Alfred Edersheim
This culture was all-consuming in the way it wrapped the people into its layers of strict rules and hierarchal levels. To stand against this institution meant being ex-communicated. This was unthinkable at that time. The following is a quote to help us understand how humiliating and devastating it was:
“Excommunication was commonly referred to in the Torah as ‘herem’. The Biblical form of excommunicating indicates any person or thing that was removed from the community, because it was made sacred by God perceived as a disgrace before God . . . The Talmud forbids coming within six feet of a person who has been excommunicated. During medieval times the laws of excommunication could be extended to the family of the person who was convicted of a crime. Additionally, there existed a weaker form of excommunication, called ‘niddui’ that was applied for only thirty days. Even the threat of being excommunicated was employed to guarantee the acceptance and submission of the laws. The rituals surrounding the excommunication of an individual were quite astounding. The act was first announced by the blowing of the shofar in front of an open ark. The community would lament, holding black candles as if in mourning. The congregational leader would proceed to shout Biblical curses at the person being sentenced to ‘herem’ or excommunication. Finally, a public warning was decreed forbidding all to associate with the convict as the community symbolically smothered the candles.” Taken from “Jewish Virtual Library” website.
A perfect example dealing with this issue is found in John 9:1-41 where the man blind at birth was healed and what happened next when his healing came to the knowledge of the Jewish leaders.
“13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. ‘He put mud on my eyes’, the man replied, ‘and I washed, and now I see’
16 Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.’
But others asked, ‘How can a sinner perform such signs?’ So they were divided.
17 Then they turned again to the blind man, ‘What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’
The man replied, ‘He is a prophet.’
18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 ‘Is this your son?’ they asked. ‘Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?’
20 ‘We know he is our son,’ the parents answered, ‘and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.’ 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. ‘Give glory to God by telling the truth,’ they said. ‘We know this man is a sinner.’
25 He replied, ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!’
26 Then they asked him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’
27 He answered, ‘I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?’
28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, ‘You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.’
30 The man answered, ‘Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’
36 ‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’
37 Jesus said, ‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.’
38 Then the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him.
39 Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’
41 Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’”
One morning as I was writing this chapter, I was brought to tears seeing in my mind Jesus walking into Jerusalem and upon catching sight of the grand Temple glistening in the sun, how in His human heart and stomach, He felt that sinking feeling of going up against this symbol of human pride and arrogance and how it was going to play out for Him. I knew with a surety that only God alone as the Son of God could have gone through what was required to rescue us.
The Mosaic Law
In the wilderness, when God gave the first law to Moses on the mount, Deuteronomy 9, that law may have been much closer to what we had in Eden where we walked and talked to God face to face. But when Moses came down the mountain and found the Israelites worshiping the golden calf, everything changed. The first stone tablets were smashed against the rocks. The law had to be more of a strict schoolmaster version. He tells us in Jeremiah 31 what his eventual plan would be when we are ready: “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them”.
God then gave them the specifications to build the Tabernacle where he could reside with them. The Tabernacle was built with strict rules and observances for them to follow in worship so there were clear guidelines set for them to follow like children. Of course, the detailed rituals that God established were shadows and types of the coming of the Messiah that would at last bring salvation through the shedding of His blood.
The Holy of Holies in the tabernacle/temple interior had a distinct purpose of humbling them and keeping before them the knowledge that God’s holiness was pure and separate, unlike their best efforts to be holy or worthy. Entering the Holy of Holies was entering the very presence of God. The veil represented the barrier between humanity and God, showing us that the holiness of God could not be trivialized or trifled with and that his eyes were too pure to look upon evil or tolerate sin. The veil represented that divide that separated us from God since Eden. It also represented God’s love for us and how he protected us from coming into his presence until we had been redeemed by his Son. What the veil symbolized is very important to the story of our salvation.
If Jesus had not begun changing his manner of teaching by using parables, He might have been killed long before His mission was accomplished. To fulfill the Mosaic Law, He needed to go through Holy Week and the events of the Passover.
These events were unfolding into the final action being taken by the Creator whose hopes for his creation had been totally waylaid by sin. To us, it would feel a little like the prodigal son’s father who had lost his son temporarily to the world and all of its distractions that could have ended up destroying the child and later, weeping with joy, took his son into his arms and welcomed him home.
Jesus’ act of sacrifice was the first step of restoring Eden. Let us revisit what happened there in Genesis to understand:
“15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’
18 And the Lord God said,’It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him’.
19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.” Gen 2 KJV
According to the Scriptural timeline, then, Eve was created. After Adam and Eve broke the one commandment that God gave them, God, who could see the big picture, in his infinite wisdom, which few of us understand, forced them out of Eden before they ate of the Tree of Life and lived forever in their fallen state shut out from his presence. What a wonderful loving Father he is! After they left the garden, he placed a curse on them that would extend up until Jesus Christ made the ultimate sacrifice to wipe away the curse, free us and bring us back into God’s presence.
Genesis 3:13-19 KJV
13 “And the Lord God said unto the woman, ‘What is this that thou hast done?’ And the woman said, ‘The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat’.
14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent, ‘Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel’.
16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee’.
17 And unto Adam he said, ‘Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.’”
Richard T. Ritenbaugh writes: “The Bible’s first prophecy contains three major curses, one each upon Satan, women, and men. Or does it? The answer depends on one’s perspective and time reference. Certainly, the curse on Satan seems a mixed bag! Men have either been subject to his deceptions or fiercely waging war with him for six thousand years. Yet it is the struggle of the fight that prepares our character to inherit eternal life. We live in hope and faith that God will see the curse through to its end, the total humiliation and imprisonment of the Adversary. To a woman in labor or to a man sweating out in a field under the sun, God’s pronouncements surely feel like curses. Yet, maybe only moments later, the satisfaction and joy in seeing a healthy baby or a job well done can make it all seem worthwhile. We feel grateful that God has given us such blessings. If nothing else, this should make us think about the “curses” and “blessings” in our lives. Could something terrible turn out for the best? Could seeing “our ship come in” prove our ruin? There is much more to God’s gifts and judgments than meets the eye.” Bible Tools
It Is Finished
25 “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ 27 and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” John 19:25-27 NIV
“33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).Mark 15:33-34 NIV
It is these disturbing last words that give us pause now to really know our amazing Savior. Some say that Christ said these words because He felt His Father had abandoned Him as He was being shut out from His father’s presence because He had become the world’s sin in order that it might be destroyed. The Scriptures counter this observation.
According to Adam Hamilton in his video-talk series titled “Final Words From the Cross” Jesus was actually in prayer, worshipping God with a well-known hymn – especially well known to all the Jews who were standing within earshot of Him on the cross. Jesus was lifting this catastrophe, His impending death, from a place of darkness into a place of light through prayer and worship.
These words are found in Psalm 22 which actually is an Israelite hymn written by the psalmist David. It is presented here in part. I hope you will look it up and read it in its entirety.
Psalm 22:1-8 For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. 4 In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.5 To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.8 ‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say, ‘let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’ I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.5 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me.18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.”
Some of the Jews within earshot of Jesus speaking these words must have been taken aback when they remember the rest of this hymn and how closely it fit what was taking place before their own eyes.
Further on in verse 22-25 we read that the Father would not turn his face from us in our time of dire need: “’I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows’.”
Our Savior was glorifying God in His tribulation just as He inspired Apostle Paul to write later in Romans 5:3-5: “ Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
28 “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:28-30
The Curse on us for the original sin had finally been broken. The 4-inch thick veil that hung in the temple in the doorway of the Holy of Holies where only a single worthy High Priest was allowed to go annually upon the Day of Atonement for the forgiveness of sins, instantaneously at the time of His death, split from top to bottom. This was symbolic of God’s work that was finished. Once more God’s creation had been restored into his presence as the price had been paid. We could return to God ourselves in the new covenant relationship that had been restored to earth through his Son, Jesus Christ. The long dark night of the curse was over. All aspects of the curse from God’s point of view were erased and the Mosaic Law fulfilled. And when Jesus arose from the grave the first day of the week, the act of redemption was complete. Death no longer had a grip on us.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” Gal 3:13
Jesus became a curse for us so we could escape the curse of the law, which is death. He became something he was not, so that we could become something we were not. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Galatians 3:13 “He became sin for us, so that we might be declared righteous through him. Because he suffered what we deserved, he redeemed us from the curse of the law. “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him.” I Cor 5:21 Because he suffered death, we can enjoy peace with God.
Restoring Eden through the New Covenant
This was the dawning of a new era on earth. What God had planned in the very beginning had been restored – walking with us in the Garden and sharing our everyday life with him. Walking in the new covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people,34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
In the upper room, the night before His death, He instituted the New Covenant: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’.” Luke 22:19-20
Because Jesus had fulfilled the Mosaic Law, the blood offerings of the Temple rituals were no longer necessary. No more need for massive doors swinging open at daybreak and a veil that takes 300 workers to move around. Jesus Christ is the High Priest who advocates for us now. No more need for a Holy of Holies. His new covenant can be summed up in this quote: “We are on the threshold of a dispensation to which faith is the only entrance.” (Alfred Edersheim)
The Church that Jesus Christ established during His ministry and is still available to us today, has no walls and has all the aspects of a restored Garden of Eden. The Early Church reflected this New Covenant:
“32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”
Walking with God in the Garden once more, there would be no more worries because Jesus had overcome the world. Trouble would come but because we have an overcoming Savior, He will be there to help us through it, helping us become more like Him every day. The Scriptures are full of guidance on how He will help us if we just trust Him.
The apostles of the new covenant wrote inspired guidance so that we can transform our lives through the Holy Spirit who is “God with us”. The column of fire by night and the cloud by day that went before God’s people now lives within us.
4 “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
Romans 8:1-11 NIV
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”
1”3 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants’. 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
If you have read the Genesis description of the original curse, you will see that it still exists today, woven throughout the fabric of our culture in spite of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to do away with it. This is because God cannot force us to change because we have our own agency.
“The fact that there is a judgment means that God has respect for us and our decisions. The act of judgment tells us about the character of God and what he expects of us. It means that our lives, the decisions we make are truly meaningful.” Richard Rupe “Their Ears Were Dull of Hearing” sermon
“17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. 18 ‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ’Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.’ For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 1:17-20
We can live in the spiritually restored Eden today. God offers that to us. Isaiah 1:17-20 tells us how. Jesus told us that we have the Kingdom within us. We are called to live our faith journey in a way that we are declaring to the world that “It Is Finished”. If we have ears to hear and eyes to see we can find the way back to the Garden. Imagine yourself running up the Garden lane returning home and you see your Father in the distance with his arms open to you and joyful tears running down his face. He’s waiting for you and “yes,” there will be a celebration.
“He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever—
holy and awesome is his name.” Psalm 111:9