In Numbers 9:1-14 Israel was called to celebrate the Passover and remember the act of rescue where she was made God’s own, special people. This was essential to help them exalt God’s glory and greatness. It was also very beneficial to the people themselves. As they commemorated this event year after year it helped her in countless ways. In the same way today, we are called to commemorate and recall the act of our rescue in the cross as well (“Do this in remembrance of me” ~ Luke 22:19). And just as remembering their rescue benefited Israel, so too remembering our rescue at the cross benefits the church today.
There are many benefits this brings us: It breeds humility as we recall our desperate and needy situation; it encourages trust and courage as we recall his grace, love and faithfulness to deliver us from our hopeless state of sin; it reinforces that we are owned by God and thus it reminds us of our identity as children of God. And finally, it reminds and challenges us to become what God has rescued us to become: pure children in His sight.
As I have thought much about the importance of remembering the cross, it leads me to consider two important thoughts that may help us.
The Need for Faith
First, if remembrance of the Passover was supposed to fuel their faith and produce more godly and humble people, how come Israel never seemed to become those things? Just read Numbers and you see that reality. So what went wrong?
The simple answer is that it should have, but we must conclude that many did not personally believe in the Lord. Because of this they did not connect the past event with their present reality and draw a line from that past event to their present lives. Maybe it was reduced to a traditional event with the meaning lost—much like national holidays today such as Memorial Day or July 4th. They observed the ritual of the Passover and said the words and observed the rules, but they did not personally trust in God. They viewed that rescue as a fact about their nation and their past, but not a reality that affects the present and the future. And more than this, they did not view those facts as personally related to their situation. Because they failed to trust they did not gain the benefits from remembering. So instead of God’s gracious and powerful past rescue fueling their personal trust that God will help and rescue today, they merely repeated the details of the event. Instead of the rescue humbling them in the present as they remember the true condition of their needy lives, they repeated the facts of the event with nothing that impacts their current view of self. Instead of commemorating this event as the clearest proof of His love for them and then reassuring them of His love for them today, it seems they went through the motions.
The point of all of this is to remind us that merely recalling the facts of the cross will do nothing for us. Hearing sermons about the cross, singing about Christ’s work, participating in the Lord’s Table as an act of remembrance, will not in and of itself bring spiritual benefits and present help for us unless it is remembered in faith. We must commemorate this event from the standpoint and heart of faith. As we personally trust in the Lord, we connect the past rescue with our present situation. So that remembering the past act becomes present truths that fuel and guide my life. May we follow the lead of the apostle Paul who demonstrated this attitude in Galatians when he, by faith connected the work of Christ with his present reality: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). May we in faith remember the past event of the cross and connect its encouraging truths with our lives and be changed!
Damage when we Fail to Remember
The second implication is that if the benefits of doing this are so vital for our godliness and faith, then failing to make the remembrance of this event a central focus of the church will prove dangerous to us. Perhaps the reason why many Christians and churches today lack courageous faith and are straying from the Lord is because of this failure to make it the central thing we commemorate as we gather. Could this be the reason why many who profess faith end up walking away? I am certain there are many reasons, but I suggest that if churches do not make the cross the central thing that they remember and focus on, but instead make the central point other things like politics, social issues, programs, personal experiences, spiritual self-help talks or some mesmerizing pastor or talented music team, spiritual decline is inevitable. If church gatherings and sermons are built like this then the real, historical events of the cross, His burial and His resurrection are pushed to the side. And the concern is not just losing sight of the facts of that work of Christ, but also losing the sheer magnificence of that event and all that it teaches us: the depraved and hopeless condition of sinners is forgotten; the wonder of God’s mercy; the harsh judgment on my sin; the triumphant resurrection of the Son of God in my place. All becomes a faint memory. Eventually in those settings it is wholly unsurprising that people would walk away and leave. If the cross is not routinely and boldly commemorated and celebrated, then there is nothing firm left for our souls to cling to except man-made rituals and vacuous talks. And these silly, human-centered things don’t keep one’s soul solid in faith. They certainly do not supply bold, fresh courage to fight on till heaven. After all, how can these self-centered thoughts possibly ground a soul after a bad diagnosis? How can these vapid things stabilize the anxious soul after some tragic loss?
For a disciple of Jesus, recalling Jesus’s rescue of us is like water and bread for our famished souls. It is the only thing that can renew our courage in His promises. It is the only thing that can give us zeal and perseverance in dark times. It is the only thing that smashes our pride and breeds humility. It is what churches need to keep walking with the Lord all the way through this trying life. May we avoid this danger by always remembering His death until He comes (1 Cor 11:26).
In what ways have you personally seen the failure to remember the sacrifice of Christ create a spiritual decline in your life?
What practical steps will you take to remember and commemorate the work of Christ on your behalf?