1st John 2:2 – “Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
As I told you a few months back, this year I’m reading the Chronological Bible—which is the entire Bible in 365 daily readings, arranged in the order that it happened. The first thing I do every morning is read that particular day’s assignment. Then I send an e-mail to some fellow Chronological Bible Readers who have agreed to read and share along with me. I plan to keep doing this every year until God calls me home because I see the need to constantly strive to grow in my understanding of God’s Word.
One thing I’ve seen emphasized in my daily reading over the past few weeks is God’s repeated admonition that the Hebrew people must not eat “rare” meat—blood-filled meat. For example we see this in His command to Noah in Genesis 9:4 where God says, “You must not eat meat that still has its lifeblood in it.” In Leviticus and Deuteronomy God spoke to the Hebrew people and reiterated His prohibition against this blood in the meat deal…as “a lasting ordinance for the generation to come.” God even gave the same rationale to them that He had given to their forefather, Noah, saying: “for the life of a creature is in its blood.” (Leviticus 3:17; 7:26-7; 17:11, 14; Deuteronomy 12:23)
Over the centuries the Hebrews faithfully obeyed this rule. As part of her meal preparation every Jewish housewife would always check her meat very carefully to see that no blood remained. Kosher cuisine developed around this law which called for elaborate techniques to assure that no blood contaminated the pot roast, so to speak. In fact this law was so ingrained in their customs that when Christianity began to spread into Gentile people groups only four rules were given to these new believers and two of them had to do with this prohibition to not eat blood. I mean, the apostles were flexible on long-held practices like circumcision, but they forbade drinking blood and eating meat that was improperly butchered.
With this in mind, think how you would feel if you were a Hebrew in the multitude we talked about in last week’s sermon—those 15,000 people Jesus had miraculously fed from the lunch of that small boy—think how you would feel as you heard Jesus say: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and DRINK HIS BLOOD, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me.” (John 6:53-57)
Can you imagine how JOLTED those people felt that day? Actually, we don’t have to IMAGINE because the Bible tells us they became so confused—and even OUTRAGED—that a crowd of many thousands—people who had walked nine miles around the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee in order to be with Jesus—people who had both seen and experienced His miracles—people who had then wanted to crown Jesus king forcibly—when Jesus said these things about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, well these same people left Him. In fact, many of Jesus’ closest disciples deserted Him at this point; His own brothers judged Him to be insane; plots to kill Him suddenly sprang up. In people’s minds, this time Jesus had simply gone too far.
Well, why did Jesus say this? Why not make a more REASONABLE parallel to Jewish sacrifice? Why not say, “Eat My flesh and POUR OUT My blood?”
This morning I’m relying heavily on a section of one of my favorite books to answer this question. The book I’m referring to is entitled: IN HIS IMAGE—and it’s written by the late Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. These two authors point out that Jesus didn’t say this to OFFEND but rather to effect a radical TRANSFORMATION of the symbolism of sacrifice. Dr. Brand was a world-renowned surgeon—and using his firsthand knowledge of blood, he shares insights that help us better understand exactly what Jesus was saying that day when so many turned from following Him. Brand suggests—and I agree—that Our Lord was FULFILLING the law He had given His chosen people by TRANSFORMING it into a powerful teaching SYMBOL—a SYMBOL that would help both them AND us better understand His death on the cross—that SUPREME sacrifice that all the Old Testament’s sacrificial laws pointed to.
I felt led to focus on this section of Brand’s book today because we are about to partake of communion, an ordinance that we observe to remember Christ’s death, a ceremony centered on His blood. So—what transformational truth was Jesus proclaiming with His radical words that day?
(1) One thing Jesus was saying is that we can’t face LIFE without His help.
We need Jesus living in us in order for us to be able to live right. We need HIS life in ours in order for us to be empowered to live our days with purpose and meaning and joy.
I would remind you that, as we read a moment ago the Old Testament tells us that the life of an animal is in the blood—and when Jesus poured our His life by shedding His blood on the cross He made it possible for that life—HIS life—to be in us empowering us to say NO to sin—guiding our decisions—steering us toward an abundant caliber of life. Dr. Brand writes, “Spiritual life is not ethereal and outside us, something that we must work hard to obtain; [as Christians] it is in us, pervading us, as blood is in every living being.”
You may remember that the same night that Jesus first shared communion with the twelve—the same night He told them the Passover wine represented His blood—the same night He invited them to drink that “blood”—Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) And, of course with all the vineyard covered hillsides surrounding Jerusalem that night the disciples would have understood this metaphor. They knew that a grape branch disconnected from the nutrients of the vine becomes withered, dry, and dead, useless for anything except kindling. Only when CONNECTED to the vine can it grow, prosper, and bear fruit.
The same principle is seen in our bodies. If a part of our body like a leg for example does not have proper blood flow that leg will wither and die and have to be amputated. This shows that the life of a person really is in their blood—and to further help us see this Brand and Yancey suggest we imagine an enormous tube. Quoting from their book,
“This giant tube or pipeline snakes southward from Canada through the Amazon delta, plunging into oceans only to surface on every inhabited island, shooting out eastward through every jungle, plain, and desert in Africa, forking near Egypt to join all of Europe and Russia as well as the entire Middle East and Asia. It’s a pipeline so global and pervasive that it links every person worldwide. Inside that tube an endless plenitude of treasures floats along on rafts: mangoes, coconuts, asparagus, and produce from every continent; watches, calculators, and cameras, gems and minerals; forty-nine brands of cereals; all styles and sizes of clothing; the contents of entire shopping centers. Seven billion people have access: at a moment of need or want, they simply reach into the tube an seize whatever product suits them. Then, somewhere far down the pipeline a replacement is manufactured and inserted.”
That’s an illustration of the “pipeline” that exists in each one of us, our circulatory system, that services not seven billion but ONE HUNDRED TRILLION cells in the human body. Within that “pipeline” an endless supply of oxygen, amino acids, nitrogen, sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sugars, lipids, cholesterols, and hormones—surges past our cells, carried on blood cell rafts or suspended in the fluid. Each cell has special withdrawal privileges to gather the resources needed to fuel a tiny engine for its complex chemical reactions. In addition that same “pipeline” ferries away refuse, exhaust gasses, and worn-out chemicals. Five or six quarts of this all-purpose fluid suffice for our body’s hundred trillion cells. To give you a better picture of this amazing fluid—a speck of blood the size of the flat top of a small nail contains five million red cells, three hundred thousand platelets, and seven thousand white cells. If the red cells alone were removed from a single person and laid side by side, they would carpet an area of 3,500 square yards, roughly the size of 1.5 football fields. Sixty thousand miles of blood vessels form this pipeline—linking every single living cell in your body. Even the blood vessels themselves are fed by blood vessels. The pipeline highway narrows down to “one-lane roads, then bike paths, then footpaths, until finally the red cell must bow sideways and edge through a capillary one-tenth the diameter of a human hair. With this system—this pipeline—our blood nourishes each living cell in our bodies. We would be dead without it. The life is indeed in the blood.
So, Jesus was saying that through the shedding of His blood He could vitalize His followers, bringing us life and strength—guidance and comfort.
But before we leave this point, look with me one more time at the blood in our bodies. As I said, our blood has white cells in it—amazing cells that form antibodies to attack and destroy invaders like bacteria and viruses. A couple hundred years ago doctors learned that the blood of a person who had survived a disease had antibodies for that disease—and that antibody-filled blood could be used to make a vaccine to help others. This is how diseases like smallpox were defeated—by using the blood of someone who OVERCAME the illness. Here’s my point. Jesus was tempted—exposed to sin—but He did not yield—He OVERCAME and so with His help—with Him living in our hearts—we can OVERCOME. With Jesus in us, we can say NO to temptation and fear.
Do you remember Jesus’ words in John 16:33? He said, “In the world you will have trouble—temptation—fear—hardship—but take heart! I have overcome the world!” He has! So, as Revelation 12:11 says, we “overcome by the blood of the Lamb.”
Doctors refer to the blood of someone who has been exposed to a disease and then recovered as “wise blood” because it has the precise antibodies to deal with that disease. Well, in a sense Jesus’ blood is “wise blood.” It is as if He went out of His way to expose Himself to temptation, to encounter the stress and strain you and I will meet—to gain “wise blood” for our benefit. When we ask Him into our hearts and lives our LIVING LORD comes in and gives us the same strength He exerted against temptations and trials so that we too can resist. I’m saying Jesus came, not to just give us an example as to how to life but to give us life itself. Whenever we share communion we should let it remind us that Jesus is not dead and removed from us…but alive and present IN us. That is our only hope for glory in this life—our only hope for victory—meaning—abundance. We cannot face LIFE without Jesus’ help.
(2) But, another thing our Lord was saying with His controversial words that day is that we can’t face DEATH without His help.
I say this because sin is deadly. As the Bible tells us all people are born dead in their trespasses and sins—and their behavior proves it. The only cure for this “living death” is the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood. Now—this word picture may be hard for us to grasp because we don’t think of blood as a CLEANSING agent. We use soap and water to CLEAN—and in contrast blood is something that SOILS or STAINS. In fact, it’s very hard to get blood out of a piece of clothing. I mean, blood tends to be something we try to scrub OFF, not scrub WITH. But the Bible says the opposite. From the very beginning blood is held up as a cleansing agent. For example in Leviticus 14 a priest sprinkled CLEANSING BLOOD on a person with an infectious skin disease. BLOOD was also sprinkled on the mildewed walls of a house to cleanse it. Flipping to the END of the Bible, the book of Revelation describes a multitude who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14) Well, we begin to understand these verses when we learn that this is what REAL blood does in our bodies. It cleanses. Of course the writers of the Bible did not know this but our Creator did and so He chose a theological symbol with an exact analogy in the medical world. The fact is one of the main functions of our blood cells is to cleanse our bodies from impurities.
If you doubt that then try this. Get a blood pressure cuff and pump it up as high as you can—high enough to stop the blood flow into your arm. At first your arm will feel an uncomfortable tightness beneath the cuff but soon comes the revealing part of the experiment. Perform any easy task with your cuffed arm. Merely flex your fingers and make a fist about ten times in succession, or cut paper with scissors or drive a nail into wood with a hammer. The first few movements will seem quite normal as the muscles obediently contract and relax. But then you will feel a slight weakness. Almost without warning, after perhaps ten movements, a hot flash of pain will strike. Your muscles will cramp violently. If you force yourself to continue the simple task, you will likely cry out in absolute agony. Finally you will not be able to force yourself to continue. The pain will overwhelm you. But, when you release the tourniquet, blood will rush into your aching arm and a wonderfully soothing sense of relief will flood your muscles.
Dr. Brand says that the pain of this experiment is worth enduring just to experience that acute relief. Your muscles will move freely, soreness will vanish. Physiologically, you will have just experienced the cleansing power of the blood. The change came because you forced your muscles to keep working while the blood supply to your arm was shut off. As muscles converted oxygen into energy, they produced certain waste products that normally would have been flushed away instantly in the bloodstream. But because of the constructed blood flow, these metabolites accumulated in your cells. They were not cleansed by the swirling stream of blood, and therefore in a few minutes you felt the agony of retained toxins. Blood sustains life by carrying away the chemical by-products that would interfere with it—in short by CLEANSING.
I am sure you can see the symbolism here.
Just as blood cleanses the body of harmful metabolites, the forgiveness that is made available through Christ’s blood shed on that cross cleanses away “waste products” sins that impede true health. Pride, egotism, lust, covetousness—they are all simply poisons that kill our relationship with God and other people. Communion reminds us that through the shedding of His blood, Jesus carries away all the accumulated waste and refuse of our sin. By His blood we are forgiven, and made clean in God’s eyes. Hebrews 9:11-14 says:
“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here,He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 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!”
As I said, this cleansing forgiveness made possible by the blood of Jesus is the only antidote to the disease of sin. Death itself need not cause us fear—because of Jesus’ sacrifice. As Paul says, “He became sin for us.” He took our sin on Himself—our death—and rose victoriously. You could say that Jesus’ blood is like a vaccination against sin death itself.
My prayer is that after our focus on this principle we are better prepared to share communion—better equipped to understand its symbolism. As we partake I invite all Christians present to partake with us. Even if you are not a member of this church—If you are a Christian—if you are His, this is Yours.