26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
29 But 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.
30 And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
One of the most important statements in all the Bible, and certainly a key to understanding the gospels, was made by Jesus when he said, “This is my blood, which is shed for many.”
The occasion for that statement was the institution of the Lord’s Supper. He had met with his disciples in the Upper Room on the night that he was to be betrayed. And after they had observed the Passover, the celebration of the time when God had delivered the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage, he then broke bread with them. He passed it among them and said, “This is my body, which is broken for you.” The he poured a cup and had them drink from it and said, “This is the blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many.”
There are two words in this statement of Jesus that bear some investigation. First, is the word for. “This is my blood which is shed for many.” It can have two meanings. It can mean “on behalf of” and it can mean “instead of.” And in this instance, it really carried with it both of those meanings. Jesus is saying, “My blood is going to be poured out on behalf of you, and instead of your having to die, I will die for you.” It speaks to us of the vicarious substitutionary death of Jesus Christ upon the cross. Jesus died in our behalf.
The second word is that word many. “This is my blood, the blood of the New Testament which is shed for many.” It literally means “multitudes.” It in no way is intended to limit the scope of the atoning death of Jesus Christ. For when Jesus died, he died for all mankind. He died for you and for me.
There is little doubt that Jesus spoke these words, “My blood shed for many.” He had in mind the 53rd chapter of the book of Isaiah. Isaiah said a long time ago concerning the coming Messiah: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:3-6)
The prophet Isaiah by the power of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was allowed to look into the future to see the time when the Messiah would come. The whole of the chapter speaks to us of the vicarious death of Jesus Christ upon the cross for us. The Messiah would be a suffering Messiah. He would come to die for the sins of the whole world. And there at that Lord’s Supper, Jesus said to his disciples, “My blood, the blood of the New Testament, is going to be shed for multitudes, for all of mankind.”
I have been thinking this week about those many for whom Jesus died. The multitudes that Jesus gave his blood for. And as I have thought about that experience, I’ve been reminded that there were multitudes at the crucifixion of Jesus. Among the multitude of people around the cross, we find a representation of almost every person on the face of the earth. And it reminds us of that very experience of the many for whom Jesus died.
1. Jesus died for his friends.
You know of course that the first group there at the cross were the apostles. They were with Jesus in the Upper Room. They shared in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup. And then as they left that Upper Room and moved toward the Mount of Olives, Jesus told them, “All of you shall be offended at me this very night. They shall smite the shepherd and the sheep shall scatter.” And they understood that Jesus was saying that all of them would fail miserably and deny him this night. Peter spoke up for the group and said, “Oh, no Lord, no Lord. Others may deny you, others may forsake you, but I will be true to you till death itself.” And then Mark gives a very interesting insight into that. It says that all of the other disciples joined in to say the same thing. John said, “Lord, I won’t fail you either.” And James said, “Lord, neither will I fail you.” And Matthew said, “Lord, neither will I fail you.” And one by one, all of those disciples joined in saying, “Lord, we will be true to you unto death.”
Jesus announced to them and in particular to Simon Peter, “Before this night is over, every one of you will fail me.” Those disciples were good men; they were sincere men; they had the best of intentions; they intended to do exactly what they said. But in the hour of trial and tribulation, when the pressures of life came upon them, they all weakened and failed. And every last one of them either deserted the Lord, fled from that Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested, or denied having known the Lord. Every last one of them failed in their loyalty and their devotion to him.
When Jesus said, “This is my blood, shed for many,” he was saying, “I am dying for the weak who so often fail in life.” There are some of you who made promises to God. There are some of you who have made resolutions about your life. You have determined you are going to do this or not do that again and again. You have promised yourself and you have promised God things that you did not do. And if you had to draw the bottom line to your life today, all would have to say, “I am a person who is weak. I am a person who has failed again and again.” I’m here to tell you that when Jesus died on the cross, he died for people just like you.
He died for those apostles and he died for all the weak people in this world who fail themselves and who fail him. While Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane the mob came under the leadership of Judas to arrest him. There was a prearranged signal that Judas had given to identify Jesus by kissing him. That was the customary way of greeting each other in that day. So Judas walked up to Jesus saying, “Master, Master …” and then leaned over and kissed him. The mob recognized that he was the Son of God, and they arrested him and took him away for trial. Judas stands as one of the most tragic characters in all of history. And he stands as a warning to you and to me.
Judas knew a great deal about Jesus. He ‘had watched his miracles and he had listened to his parable and his sermons. He had had the joy of accompanying Jesus during all of his earthly ministry. He had a knowledge and an understanding of Jesus that few other people would ever have. And at the same time Judas had accompanied those apostles. He had been among Christian people all of the past three years. But in spite of the fact that he knew so much about Jesus, and in spite of the fact that he was surrounded by Christian friends, Judas had never made a heart commitment to Jesus Christ.
Friend, it is not enough that you know the story of Jesus. It is not enough that you be able to quote scripture. It is not enough that you be surrounded by Christian friends. Have you ever made a heart commitment to Jesus Christ? Has there come a time when you have bowed before him as Lord and Master and Savior? If not, watch out—the Judas spirit may very well be in you.
2. Jesus died for his enemies.
But let me tell you, when Jesus died on the cross, he died not only for the apostles who denied him but also for Judas who would betray him. And those who have betrayed the Lord in days gone by can find forgiveness and cleansing in him if they will come to him in repentance and faith. For his blood was shed for many.
They took him from the garden to the house of the high priest, Caiaphas. He was the spiritual leader of Israel. He was the man who directed the Sanhedrin, the ecclesiastical power of all of Israel. For a long time Caiaphas had been watching Jesus. For a long time he had been threatened by the growing popularity of Jesus. And now Caiaphas was afraid of Jesus. He was afraid that the masses would leave his ecclesiastical structure and begin to follow the new prophet of Nazareth. And so he engineered a plot to have Jesus betrayed. He arranged to have Jesus go through the mockery of a trial, to have Jesus eventually put to death. The fact that the high priest was a part of all of those activities is symbolic to me of that redneck religious person who has all the answers to all the questions of life, and you are okay only if your answers agree with him.
But if you do not match up line for line and word for word with what he believes and what he conceives to be the truth, then there is no place for you in life. And so, he missed the basic truth of all of life: that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and he is Lord. The religious leader who knew all of the scripture and was so involved in all of the religious trappings of Israel missed the basic truth of Israel’s history. And that is that Jesus died for the sins of the world.
Even if you are like Caiaphas, bigoted and prejudiced to the point that you think your opinion and your concept is the only one around, there is hope. If you can come to the place where you realize the error of your way, if you can bow in humility before Jesus Christ the Son of God, then know this: Jesus shed his blood for you, as well as for Judas, and for the other apostles.
Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, though they were the ruling authorities in Israel’s religion, had no power of capital punishment. And so it was necessary that they take Jesus to Pilate who was the governor, the procurator who ruled on behalf of Rome. They accused him of disloyalty to Rome, of claiming to be the king of the Jews. The gospels make it very clear that Pilate was greatly impressed with Jesus, with the way he conducted himself and the answers that he gave. And he was convinced after that mockery of a religious trial that Jesus had done nothing worthy of death and that this man should not be crucified. But Pilate, like so many people, lacked the courage of his convictions. Pilate was the kind of man who went along to get along. And so, compromising everything he knew to be right and true, yielding to the pressure of the high priest and the Sanhedrin and all the others around him, he consented that Jesus should be put to death … although he knew that Jesus did not deserve to die.
The Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” That’s not true. Jesus suffered for Pilate, for here was a man who went through agony and turmoil in those moments trying to decide between right and wrong, truth and error. For the cowardly who do not have the courage of convictions, for the weak and the timid who go along to get along, Jesus died also for you.
Pilate remembered a Jewish custom during the Passover season that said one criminal should be set free. He thought maybe he could engineer things in such a way that Jesus would not have to be crucified. And so he called attention to the fact that there was a man in jail named Barabbas who was a zealot and an insurrectionist. Barabbas hated Rome with a passion, and in the pursuit of nationalism he had even killed people. Barabbas was scheduled to die on a cross. Pilate said to the multitudes, “The Jew that I release unto you, should it be the king of the Jews or Barabbas?” And the multitudes being whipped up by the high priest and the other religious leaders of the country began to say, “Release unto us Barabbas! Release unto us Barabbas!” And Pilate said, “Well, what shall I do with Jesus, who is called the Christ?” And they shouted out the more, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Barabbas deserved to die. But Jesus went to the cross in his place and the criminal was set free. In the experience of Barabbas we come close to the meaning of the cross, for in a literal sense Barabbas could say that Jesus died in his pIace. He could have thought, “He died for my sins, for my wrongs. I should have been on that cross and he should be free. But now I am free and he has died.” What happened to Barabbas happened in a very real sense for every one of us. For when Jesus died on that cross, he died in your place and in my place. He did not die for his own sins. He died for our sins, and in him and through him, there is forgiveness. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “This is the blood of the New Testament that is shed for many. It was shed for my apostles and shed for the man who betrayed me. Yes, it was shed for the high priest who hated me. Yes, it was shed for Pilate, who did not have the courage to stand up for me. And, yes, it was shed for Barabbas who deserved to die on the cross.”
3. Jesus died for the multitudes.
There is also in this whole experience the multitude, the great crowd who is shouting out, “Crucify him, crucify him.” Just a few days earlier, they had lined the streets of Jerusalem during what is called the Triumphal Entry of Jesus. And they had shouted hosannas to the name of Jesus and said, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” But the crowd is so often fickle. They vacillate back and forth—for Christ one day, against him the next. Their opinions and their allegiance are often determined by the person who is in control, the person who is giving leadership. At the trial of Jesus, the high priest is having his day. He whips the crowd into a frenzy, the crowd vacillating back and forth before they began to join in the chant, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Some of you are like that crowd. You vacillate from time to time in your faith so much that one hardly knows whether you are on Christ’s side or against him. One day you are shouting hosannas to his name, and the next day you are willing to join in the group that will crucify him afresh and anew by your sins and by your denials. Let me tell you, even if you are like the crowd, he died for you. His blood was shed for many, for multitudes.
And Jesus died for the Roman soldiers to whom Pilate turned him over to scourge and whip him. Pilate charged the soldiers that they should whip him. And then crucify him. But the soldiers went far beyond the command. The Bible says that they placed a crown of thorns on Christ’s head. They put a robe on his shoulders, hit him upside the head with sticks, spit on him, and kneeled before him in mockery—calling him the king of the Jews. I wonder what happens in the hearts of people like this. So much pent-up anger, so much bitterness and hatred. And when the opportunity comes to express itself to one who is defenseless and innocent, it pours out like venom. Nobody ever told the soldiers to hit Jesus in the head with sticks, to spit on him, or to bow down and mock him. They just said, “Whip him and take him to the cross.”
That kind of anger, that kind of bitterness, that kind of resentment is in the hearts of some of you. We are hearing more about child abuse and wife abuse than ever in the history of the world. It is not a new thing at all; it goes all the way back to the beginning, back to man’s rebellion against God. And you can see it here at the trial of Jesus, these soldiers expressing such resentment and anger and pent-up hostility at the Son of God. Let me tell you that even for those who cursed him, and who beat him and who spit upon him, Jesus shed his blood. “My blood,” he said, “is shed for many.” For the multitudes, for all who will believe, and for all who will trust.
After they had sufficiently whipped him and ridiculed him, they gave him a cross to take to the hill of Calvary where he would die. So weakened from being up all night and by the beatings, he couldn’t carry his own cross. The soldiers then reached out and conscripted a man by the name of Simon from Cyrene and compelled him to carry the cross of Jesus. What did Simon have to do with all of this? Nothing. Just an innocent bystander. He was a man who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, having heard about all of these activities and deciding to watch from a distance. Just a disinterested observer. Simon, who could not have cared less one way or the other, who knew little or nothing about Jesus at that point. For that great multitude of people like Simon who are just on the sidelines of life—not committed to Jesus, not actively working against Jesus—just there, watching and listening. For the vast multitude of indifferent people, the uncommitted, Jesus also shed his blood.
The soldiers took Jesus to the cross on top of the hill of Calvary and they crucified Jesus there. The Bible tells us that he was crucified between two thieves so that the scriptures might be fulfilled. Those words, those prophecies of Isaiah came true where even on the cross, one of the thieves mocked him, although one believed in him. When Jesus died there, he died also for the thieves—for the criminal element of society that receives the punishment due to them.
You know, of course, that these two thieves were not the only criminals around the cross that day. In a sense Judas was, the high priest was, Pilate was—there were many lawbreakers. There were many guilty. There were many who deserve the same kind of punishment those thieves received. And we understand that in life oftentimes there is little or no justice. But I tell you this: Jesus died as much for those thieves on the cross as he did for Peter and James, and Andrew and John, and for you and for me.
Even while he died, the crowd wagged their heads and mocked him saying, “He saved others. Himself he could not save.” Little did they know how prophetic they were that day. If Jesus was going to be the Savior of the world, if Jesus was going to give us new hope, new life, and forgiveness, if Jesus was going to reconcile us to God, then he could not save himself. Little did they know that what they intended to be mockery to the Son of God turned out to be one of the great acclamations of scripture. He saved others; himself he could not save. That’s what Jesus meant when he said at the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper, “This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many.”
Jesus gives this great invitation in scripture: “He that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” The appeal is to come to him. The assurance is that he will in no wise cast you out. The alternative? To be cast out.