We continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).
In this post, we begin looking at the major images and themes of how the Bible talks about the cross. First is The Passover and the Exodus.
Rutledge’s main stated concern in these chapters is ‘Will it preach?’ Will it help and guide Christians who wish to deepen their understanding, teaching, social action and personal faith.
As discussed earlier, Rutledge is operating with two broad categories for understanding what the cross achieves:
- There is sin and guilt for which atonement needs to be made
- There is slavery, bondage and oppression from which humanity needs deliverance
And it is the second of these most in view when it comes to The Passover and Exodus.
I think one of the first essays I wrote at Bible College many years ago was on how the Exodus was remembered throughout the Old Testament. I am sure it was terrible but I remember learning how foundational that event was for Israel’s identity and worship.
Rutledge talks of the Exodus as a ‘living event’ – an old story that becomes a new story for every generation (217). The Passover memorial meal is far more than mere ‘remembering’ – it is ‘an appropriation of that same saving power in the present.’ (218)
Passover and Lord’s Supper
Similarly, when we come to the Lord’s Supper, Christians are not merely ‘remembering’ Jesus but believe that he is actively present in power (218).
All the four gospels – with John doing it slightly differently – place the passion narrative in a Passover setting.
Paul talks of Jesus as
‘Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth’ (1 Cor. 5:7-8).
Rutledge draws out a number of parallels but also stresses that, in the death of Christ, God has done something radically new. The cross as a ‘novum’ is the dividing line between Old and New Testaments, it marks the distinguishing event between Judaism and Christianity.
Exodus: God intervenes from ‘on high’.
Cross: God intervenes ‘from within God’s own life, in the form of his Son’s self-offering’.
Exodus: Israel is delivered physically from bondage under Pharaoh to (eventual) freedom in their own land.
Cross: Jesus delivers believers from bondage into freedom, from sin into righteousness.
Passover / Exodus: deliverance from death.
Cross: in John’s Gospel Jesus is the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). But he is also the Passover lamb whose blood saves from death (p.220).
In 1 Peter, the Passover lamb is linked with the Suffering Servant is Isaiah 53;
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:23-24).
We should not miss how utterly remarkable this is. The first Christians are reinterpreting the foundational event of Israel’s election and salvation by the one true God and seeing in Jesus’ death and resurrection a new exodus, a new liberation, a new act of God’s mighty love and saving power.
This is not at all to invalidate the Old Testament. We will come back to this and how the Exodus acts as an Easter Liturgy in the next post.