If I be Lifted up
Even in His darkest hour Jesus’ first thought was not for His own welfare but that His Father’s plan would be accomplished: "Father, glorify thy name" (John 12:28). God immediately assured Him that He had fulfilled His commission perfectly: "Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, an angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes." (John 12:28‑30) His words to His disciples, that the voice came for their sakes, shows that they were His primary concern—He knew they would be dismayed, their confidence shattered, because they trusted that it was He who would redeem Israel (Luke 24:21). But now He would be dead. He knew also that they did not comprehend many of the words which He had spoken to them—it was not until after His resurrection that "...beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." (Luke 24:27)
The judgment of the world
The record in John continues: "Now is the judgment (Greek: krisis) of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out." (John 12:31) Now was a crisis time for the world; now was the great turning point of the world’s history. His sacrifice was crucial—if He successfully completed His work, the prince of this present evil world would be defeated. However if He failed, the whole world of mankind would continue to suffer the fruits of unrighteousness—there would not be any hope of them being restored to their original perfection on the earth which He and His Father had created for them.
For the joy set before Him
The record is that one of the factors which enabled Jesus to complete His sacrifice is the hope held out for Him: "for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb.12:2)
It might be difficult to understand how any promise He had received could be an adequate reward for the sacrifice He made: leaving His heavenly home, being despised on earth and then being faced with the prospect of suffering the pain and ignominy of the cross.
It might be difficult to understand how there was any joy set before Him which could adequately compensate Him for the sacrifice He would make. It is difficult to imagine how that prospect was joyful. Additionally there is no explicit record in the Scriptures that God had promised Him anything, perhaps the most direct reference is Psalm 2:7‑8: "I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession."
From a human perspective, an inheritance of the heathen might not be very appealing, and certainly not one that could be deemed to adequately reward Him for the sacrifice He had made, and less so to qualify as a "joy". Such an assessment is supported by the fact that in a majority of occasions the reference to the heathen means the Gentile nations, in contrast to the sons of Jacob who were Jehovah’s own (Isa.43:1). Nevertheless that was a promise that God had given Him and He did not shrink from declaring that decree; He rejoiced in it and had total confidence that God would honour it. Thus is exemplified, yet again, the great love He had for mankind. It was the prospect of inheriting them (owning them; they being His own possession)—wayward and sinners though they may be—that was a joy to Him.
A principal feature of Jesus’ inheritance was that He "would draw all men unto Him", not the sick and dying race that was now crucifying Him but the promise that He would draw them just as Moses’ serpent, in earlier times, had drawn the Israelites: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." (John 3:14‑19)
Moses and the serpent
The record of Moses lifting up the serpent is in Numbers 21:4‑9: "And they (the Israelites) journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, we have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived."
The Israelites had sinned and God punished them by sending deadly serpents amongst them. However when the people repented God involved the serpent in the strategy by which He healed them. In this incident there are several parallels and several contrasts with the plight of mankind. One parallel is that God used a serpent as the agent by which mankind was caused to suffer pain and death, with which the disobedient human race has been plagued ever since: "And...that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." (Rev.12:9)
On the other hand one contrast between Moses’ serpent and the Devil is that Moses’ serpent was the agent by which God offered healing to the people—the Devil is not, and never will be the agent by which God will heal the human race. In God’s due time the Devil will be destroyed: "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are...And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." (Rev.20:10.14)
A concise summary
Consequently the lesson to be learned is that, because He was lifted up on the cross, Jesus will yet draw all men unto Him, and when they look upon Him they will be healed. The Apostle Paul summarised God’s plan for mankind in a few words: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil.2:5‑11)
Paul’s concise summary lists Jesus’ coming down to earth, taking human form, dying on the cross and the promise that eventually every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess His lordship. Paul captured the scenario prophesied by Isaiah: "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea." (Isa.11:9)
This do in remembrance of me
Consistent with His devotion to His Father and denial of Himself, Jesus asked His followers to do no more than remember Him in a simple ceremony, the first of which was held on the anniversary of the Jewish Passover: "And he said unto them, with desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table. And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined..." (Luke 22:15‑22).
The Apostle Paul, after chastising the Corinthian believers for not attributing due reverence to the occasion, wrote: "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup." (1 Cor.11:23‑28)
And so once more we take our places at that table of the Lord. At such times of feasting, at the Passover especially, there would be a strange mingling of jubilation with a pensive remembrance of the blood of a lamb by which the moment of deliverance came. From slavery to blessed liberty–a nation is born. But this occasion was unusual. A strange atmosphere pervaded of apprehension and solemn self‑searching.
As Judas departs there remain around the Master none but His true friends. The Passover meal is drawing to a close. As the traitor leaves, we may suppose that the cloud of utmost sadness will gradually pass from Jesus’ brow. Yet even now the heaviness remains, the Shepherd’s mind bewailing one lost sheep. God’s word is thus fulfilled, but this no comfort brings to His sad heart who knows what depth of woe awaits that blinded soul.
He turns from that sad prospect to His own. He sees indeed the horror of the Cross, a death abhorrent to that holy perfect frame, and yet beyond that scene of deepest grief a vision of such blessedness now grows, a joy unspeakable is set before His eyes; in view of which He can with heart‑felt praise appoint for our remembrance of that awesome day a feast to keep, a new memorial, that we may ever share that same sweet joy for us secured at so great a cost.
The new feast with the old would intertwine. It is "as they are eating" of that feast that He takes bread, and then the cup of wine. For those who have been feasting on a lamb; the time has come–a blinding hour of truth–that Jesus was the One God had in mind before the earth was formed to bear the immeasurable burden of man’s sin, whose broken body is to be our Bread of Life. Thus with fresh meaning do we view that loaf unleavened which He breaks, and offering it now to me, I hear afresh my Master’s words, so deeply meaningful and personal: "Take, eat; this is My body," given for your sake. (Matt.26:26; Luke 22:19)
The bread–unleavened–from this hour will be the symbol of His sinless flesh. Of the out‑poured wine He says, "This is My blood of the covenant". The Revised Version (Matt.26:28) here omits ‘new’ that added word of doubtful source, but ‘new’ it is, to yet achieve what Sinai’s Law could not through man’s weak flesh; "My blood–now shed for many–to release from sin."
The Love of God in Christ is here exposed, though far beyond our powers to comprehend. Such simple tokens what great volumes speak!–The breaking of a loaf and poured out wine. Oh could we now just penetrate that mind of Jesus as He breaks to us this bread and pours this wine and calls us to this feast of uttermost love.
Consider first how extraordinary it is that at such an hour He should take pains to concentrate the thoughts of His disciples in all time to come upon His death. Even the bravest of those who had been with Him in all His trials could never bear that dreadful prospect He portrayed. Nor could that death be other than repulsive to His own pure soul. And from that sight, that agony of flesh and mind, involuntarily we still avert our eyes. Too painful is that scene to contemplate. To His disciples then, and to the world, it seems defeat; yet calmly He provides that which we forever celebrate–its victory!
The Passover feast was a memorial of the death of a lamb. Yet it was more, for on that death and through that blood the nation came to life and were from bondage freed. Now Jesus’ blood is shed–the means of life for all mankind. Think then what fills the Saviour’s mind as He now says, "Take, this My body–eat." How enlarged His soul as again He says, "My blood–now drink–for many is it shed." Simple words, easily spoken; yet as they came from these sacred lips there must rise before His mind the vision of countless multitudes from every age, who would eventually feed on the strangest food of which man ever dreamed. Yet ‘meat indeed’; and ‘drink indeed’; to each instructed soul.
How marvellously the horizon widens round Him as the feast proceeds! The blessing of all people–in one loaf. But first His thought is centred in the little circle He has called "My friends." "Of yourselves shall one betray Me." The dipping of the sop, its offering to the very one whose mission, though then hidden from their eyes, was so urgently charged. "What thou doest, do quickly." What searching of each heart ensued.
The Man of Sorrows; that He was indeed, but when He takes the bread and then the cup His vision reaches through the endless ages that yet will be. Beyond the cross He sees the glory that shall follow; sees men of all nations and climes coming to the feast He is preparing for them all, the blessed consummation in the heavenly kingdom fills His mind: "I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom." (Matt.26:29)
Now hear the Master singing to conclude. How bewildered the disciples, how rapt the Master! What a scene for the mind–what a study! What mixture of serene calm and human agitation!
Now how could we ever forget! The blessings of eternity will ever point back to this hour when Jesus gave Himself–His all–to purchase peace with God and endless joys for every trusting soul.
"The Son of God...loved me, and gave Himself for me." (Gal.2:20) The very wonder of this truth will ever grow, the bonds and claims of love untold can never loosen hold upon our inmost mind and dearest thoughts.
Such was the price my Saviour paid for me, who evermore My precious Lord will be.
May we who love our Saviour, keep this life‑long feast...with grateful hearts, and "unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Cor.5:8)