Have you ever watched a new movie, where you started 10 minutes before the end?
Many years ago, when big hair was still in style, I was introduced to Back to the Future in this way. My friends were watching this movie and I joined them at point where Doc Brown crashed through garbage cans, warned Marty and his girlfriend about their future children, and drove to a place where “we don’t need roads.”
If you only know the last ten minutes of Back to the Future, however, you won’t understand the significance of the DeLorean, the date (November 5, 1955), the speed (88 miles per hour), or the electricity (1.21 Gigawatts) that makes time travel possible. Nor will you understand the flux capacitor and its cruciform power to rewrite history. All of these details are revealed over the course of the movie and only in watching the movie from beginning to end, can you make sense of its ending.
Something similar happens when we open our Bibles and behold the man hung upon a Roman cross. While many well-intentioned evangelists point to Christ’s cross as the center piece of our Christian faith and the way of our salvation, it is an event in history that only makes sense when you begin in the beginning. That Christ was buried in a garden tomb does more than give us an historical referent; it tells the significance of Christ’s death as the way of God’s new creation, because after all it was in a garden where Adam sinned and brought death to the world. Now, raised from a garden tomb, Jesus as the new Adam has introduced a new way of life.
In this vein, the biblical storyline is necessary for understanding why the Son of God had to die on a tree, be buried in a tomb, and raised to life on the third day. Indeed, even if we know that Christ did not stay dead—that he rose from the grave, walked the earth teaching his disciples for forty days, and ascended to heaven, where he now sits in glory—we cannot make sense of the cross. Or at least, our interest in Christ’s death and resurrection leads us to ask: But what does it mean?
Indeed, the way to understand Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is to place those events in the timeline of God’s redemptive history. That timeline begins in creation, proceeds through the fall of mankind into sin, and picks up countless promises of grace and types of salvation throughout the Old Testament. In fact, to be most precise, God’s plan for Christ’s cross did not begin in space and time; it began before God spoke light into the darkness (Gen. 1:3). As Peter says in his first sermon (Acts 2:23) and his first epistle (1 Peter 1:20), the cross of Christ was the centerpiece of God’s eternal plan for the salvation of his people.
In Scripture, therefore, the cross is the climactic work of God to redeem sinners and rescue the dying. Indeed, while Jesus now reigns in glory, and his victorious resurrection gives assurance that all those who trust in him will have eternal life, it is vital to understand what Christ did on the cross and what it means when Christ said on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
To that end our church is beginning a sermon series this Sunday which will look at the cross and all the ways that John shows Christ’s death as fulfilling Scripture. In fact, in his record of Christ’s crucifixion, the beloved apostle goes out of his way to show how Christ’s death fulfilled what was written in the Old Testament. In order, he says of the soldiers dividing his clothes, this fulfills Scripture (19:24; see Ps. 22:18). Next, with respect to Jesus’s own purpose for dying, John says that he requested sour wine in order to fulfill Scripture (19:28; see Ps. 69:21). And finally, after he breathed his last, John reports that Jesus bones were unbroken and his side was speared in order to fulfill Scripture. By these acts, John shows us that Jesus was the true Passover lamb and the pierced messiah from whom streams of mercy would flow. Indeed, John 19:36–37 even quotes Exodus 12:46 and Zechariah 12:10 to show how Jesus fulfilled these Old Testament scriptures.
For our sake today, if we want to know Christ and the meaning of his cross, it is necessary to spend time understanding how the apostles made sense of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Certainly, Paul until his conversion struggled to understand how a crucified man could be Israel’s messiah. Deuteronomy 21:22–23 says that anyone hung on a tree was accursed by God. So how could Jesus be the One?
As Paul looked at Christ according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16), he saw Jesus as an imposter and a blasphemer. Little did he know that he was the blasphemer who opposed Christ by persecuting Christ’s church (1 Tim. 1:13). In God’s mercy, however, the risen Christ confronted and converted Paul on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9). Thereafter, Paul spent fourteen years discerning how the Old Testament (cf. Gal. 2:1), which he had probably memorized as a Pharisee, could be reconciled with the death of Christ on the cross.
The result of Paul’s cogitation on Scripture, along with Jesus’s revelation to Paul, was the glorious news that on the cross Jesus did not die for his own sins, but ours! Or as Paul puts it in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” Such was the way the Spirit worked in Paul and in the minds of the other apostles.
As one Old Testament scholar has put it, “I like the New Testament, because it reminds me a lot of the Old Testament.” Indeed, the New Testament should remind us of the Old Testament, because every page of the New Testament (and often every paragraph) is filled with quotations, allusions, and echoes from the Old Testament.
Such is the way that the Spirit has unified the Bible and the way in which the Spirit has born witness to Christ. Every word in the Old Testament comes from God. And Jesus, the Word made flesh (John 1:14), is known to us as we compare and contrast his life, death, and resurrection with all that came before him.
Indeed, this is the way we come to know Jesus. Or to say better, this is the way that God makes himself know to us. Those who have been made alive by the Spirit not only come to understand how Jesus fulfills all Scripture, but they also delight to know more of God’s Word, so that they can have a truer picture of their Savior and King.
To that end, our church will look at how the Old Testament promised the cross of Christ, how the Gospels present the cross of Christ, and how the Epistles explain the cross of Christ. To know fully what Jesus did, and how he finished his work of salvation on the cross, we need to look at the whole Bible. And to that end we will begin with a look at John 19 and all the ways that John connects the cross to the Old Testament. From there we will consider the following passages: Genesis 22, Exodus 12, Leviticus 16, Isaiah 53; Mark 10:44–45; Matthew 26:28; Romans 3:23–26; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:11–22; Colossians 1:20–2:15; Hebrews 9; 1 John 3–4; and Revelation 5:9–10.
Certainly, there are more passages we could consider, but this is a start. So, come join us for this journey through the Scriptures, so that together we might see and savor Jesus Christ and all he finished on the cross. Truly, Christ is worthy of consideration from all of Scripture, and only by looking at all of Scripture will we begin to know him as he truly is.
That is our goal. May God be pleased to help us start this sermon series about what Jesus finished!
Soli Deo Gloria, ds