Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Blood of Christ in the Bible: A Sermon Preached in Dromore Cathedral on Good Friday, 25th March 2005

1 Peter 1:18-21
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Several mountain climbers were climbing in the Swiss Alps. The lead climber in a descent lost his footing and fell. His momentum dragged the next two climbers after him. The other climbers braced themselves for the jolt. As the three went over a cliff and the rope snapped tight, it suddenly broke in half. The others watched in horror as the three fell to their death four thousand feet below on a glacier. Once the others were safely back, they examined the broken rope. They discovered that there was no red strand running through it. The special type of rope they usually used had an identifying red strand. It had special strength to withstand the extreme tension they had experienced in their accident that day. The current rope, though, was a cheap imitation. It was a substitute and weak. It cost three men their lives.

Just like that special type of rope, the Alpine rope, there is a red strand running through the Bible, which is for our salvation. It is, of course, Jesus’ blood, shed for us, which brings us redemption and salvation. And so tonight, I want to look at the blood of Christ in a journey through the Bible – the crowning moment of which is Calvary, that place of sacrifice which is so much in our thoughts tonight.

Let’s be straight about this – the cross was not a mistake, forced upon Jesus by circumstances going wrong, or by Satan getting the upper hand. Salvation through the cross wasn’t God’s Plan B. 1 Peter 1:20 tells us that ‘he was chosen before the creation of the world’, so even before this world was created, the divine plan was for Christ to die for us. This raises the question why God would create the world, and humans, knowing that we would sin – but that is a question for another time. The important thing for us tonight is that Jesus’ blood being shed for us was intended before the creation of the world.

And then the world was created in perfection. God saw all that he had made, and t was ‘very good’ (Gen 1:31). But as we know, it didn’t stay that way. Sin came into the world, through the actions of Adam and Eve, by wanting to be equal to God, tempted by the serpent. And what did Adam and Eve do? They hid from God, and knowing they were naked, ‘they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves’ (Gen 3:7). They tried to cover up their sin and shame by their own works. And we still try to hide from God

But God found them out, and was putting them out of the Garden. Because sin brings separation from God – who is perfectly holy. Yet even so early on in the Bible, there was the promise of the Messiah, the Christ, the one who would crush the serpent’s head as the serpent stuck his heel (Gen 3:15). But more than this, ‘The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them’ (Gen 3:21). An animal died, its blood was shed, so that Adam and Eve could be clothed and their sin and shame covered. Thus, in Genesis 3, we have two factors pointing forward to Christ’s sacrifice – the prophecy of the Messiah, and the sign that blood had to be shed to be right with God, through having sin dealt with.

In the next generation, Cain and Abel both brought offerings to God, but only one was acceptable to God. Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil, but Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. Abel’s sacrifice contained blood, and was acceptable, but Cain’s wasn’t. Once again, blood was necessary to bring acceptance in God’s sight.

We next come to Abraham. This father of faith had been promised of God to be the father of a great nation, and in his old age, had a son, Isaac. Then God commanded Abraham to take Isaac and go to the region of Moriah, and to ‘sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains’ (Gen 22:2). On the way there, Isaac asked his father where the lamb was for the burnt offering. Already, he knew that an offering of blood was needed to be right with God. And all Abraham could say, his heart probably breaking as he walked with the son that God had promised to build a great nation through, was: ‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering’ (Gen 22:8).

And they came to the region of Moriah, which was the very place that Jerusalem would later be established, and therefore, virtually on the mount of Calvary, and Abraham bound Isaac to the altar. As he reached out to slay Isaac, God called out to him to stop – he had proved his faithfulness and obedience. And then ‘Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it… instead of his son’ (Gen 22:13). [link to Hebrews 11:17-19 on how Abraham reckoned God could raise Isaac from the dead, which he figuratively speaking, did]

God stopped Abraham, and provided a substitute for Isaac. But God did not spare his only son from dying on the cross, and gave him as a substitute for us, dying in our place.

Later, after Abraham’s descendants had become the nation of Israel, and had been enslaved in Egypt, once again God rescued them, through bloodshed. Moses had told Pharoah to let God’s people go, but Pharoah wasn’t for listening, and hardened his heart. Not even the first nine plagues break him. God was going to send a tenth plague, that would ensure that Israel would go free, and bring judgement on Egypt for treating God’s people harshly.

This was the plague of death. In each house, the firstborn son would die, as the Lord went through the land. But the Israelites were warned in advance, and were told how to protect themselves, through the substitutionary death of a lamb. The Israelites were told to slaughter the lamb, and take the blood, and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of their house. Then when God passed through the land to kill the first born: ‘the blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you’ (Exodus 12:13).

Therefore, death was coming to every house in Egypt that night, but the Israelite firstborns were saved, through the death of the Passover lamb in their place. In the same way, we all face death, at the judgement, but we can escape through the death of God’s Passover Lamb, even Jesus Christ, who died for us! So therefore, let us apply the blood of Christ to our hearts, and thus find salvation. He has already bore the punishment due to us for our sins, and thus we can be saved through him.

Next, God made a covenant with Israel in the desert, the basis of which was the 10 Commandments. This covenant was ratified, or sealed by Moses’ sprinkling blood on the altar, and on the people, saying ‘This is the blood of the Covenant that the LORD has made with you’ (Exodus 24:8). This is to us a glorious picture of Jesus, who shed his blood of the new covenant for us – at once dealing with our sins, and satisfying God’s justice

Later, after Israel walked in the desert for forty years, they came to the Promised Land, to take it. The first city they came to was Jericho, which two spies entered, to spy out the land. They entered the house of Rahab, a prostitute, who hid them. She was full of the fear of the Lord, having heard what God had done for the Israelites thus far, and asked that she might be saved when they took the city, because she had hid the spies. Her method of safety was to tie the scarlet cord (by which she let the spies down out of the city wall) in her window, as a sign to the spies, when they would conquer the city to spare her life.

Now, the commentators agree that when scarlet is mentioned, it is a sign of symbol of blood, so once again, the blood is seen to be the salvation for Rahab. Salvation came to mean so much more than her life spared for Rahab, as she came to marry Salmon, and thus was included in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:5), where she is one of only four women to be mentioned, and is recalled in the heroes of faith chapter in Hebrews 11, where she is one of only two women named.

We next come to the prophecy of Isaiah 53. Oh, how much there is contained in these verses, and how little time we have to deal with them! Suffice to say that we find there the prophecy, quite clearly, that Christ’s blood would be shed in our place, and for our sake.

Isaiah 53:4-6
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
5But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

If we can move (in the Bible) through to the New Testament, we find that the blood of Christ can still be found. Jesus himself said at the Last Supper that ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matthew 26:28). And didn’t John say of Jesus: ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). Thus the concept of Christ’s blood, and of Jesus being a substitute for us can be found in the gospels.

It is also carried over into the Epistles, where Paul, Peter, John and the writer to the Hebrews all write on the blood of Jesus, and it’s power to cleanse from sin.

Ephes. 1:7
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace

Hebrews 9:14
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

1 John 1:7
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

The New Testament explains the importance of the blood, because it tells us in Hebrews 9:22 ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.’ This is because ‘the life of a creature is in the blood… it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life’ (Leviticus 17:11).

But if we may be allowed to move on, through the Bible to the very end, we come to the book of Revelation, where we also encounter Christ. In chapter 5, John sees ‘a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne’ (Rev 5:6), whom the elders worship: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’ (Rev 5:9).

So we see quite plainly, that this red strand, the blood of Christ, runs right through the whole Bible, from first to last. It is the only means of our salvation, because Jesus died in our place, and has removed our sin. Like the covering provided in Genesis 3, he has covered our sin with his blood. Like Abel’s sacrifice, Jesus’ sacrifice was of blood, which proved acceptable to God. Like in the case of Isaac, God provided the lamb for the sacrifice, his own son. Like the Passover Lamb, Jesus died in the place of the one who would die (the firstborn son). Like Rahab, the scarlet was the sign of safety and salvation. Jesus fulfilled the prophecies to the last detail about his sacrifice, and so remains forever more the Lamb of God, who bears the ‘wounds of love’.

There’s a story of a village, in which a cottage went on fire. On seeing the danger, a young man rushed into the house, and found the two young children of the family, and brought them out to safety, at great risk to himself, suffering tremendous burns in the process. Immediately after, the roof collapsed, and the parents of the children perished. The elders or council of the village then met to decide who should raise the children, given that they were now orphans. There were two candidates – one a wealthy man, and the other, the young man. The advantages of giving the children to the wealthy man were obvious to all to see. He could provide them with a fresh start, and a comfortable home. But the elders asked the young man what his credentials were. With that, he showed them his bandaged, burned hands – scarred for the children. So it is with Jesus. He still bears the marks of the cross.

Crown him the Lord of love; behold his hands and side,
those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified:
no angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
but downward bends his wondering eye at mysteries so bright.

Another old hymn challenges us tonight:

Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb,
Are your garments spotless, are they white as snow,
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Maybe you are struggling with your sin, and guilt and shame. You’ve tried to get rid of it yourself, maybe by trying to be better, or by coming to church, or whatever. But no matter what you try, it’s still there; like a dirty great mark on your clothes. The stain of sin is present on your heart. There is only one way to be cleansed and released – come to Christ. Come tonight. Don’t leave it a day longer. As the old hymn says: ‘What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus’

‘To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve hid God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever! Amen.

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