Rev. Norman C. Hoeflinger
“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:14)
Blood! What are the images it brings to mind? Readers of the Reformed Herald, being Christians reading a Christian periodical, no doubt do think of the blood of Jesus at this point. But what about after an evening of TV? Blood means war, accidents, murder, death; whether it is on the evening news or in the latest TV movie. Violence on TV is very graphic, and we sometimes actually see the shedding of blood. Well, let’s keep blood on the screens and out of our homes and off our streets, and certainly out of church. A refined, spiritual religion would have no place for blood. But that isn’t the case at all! True, people have shed, and still are shedding, much blood over religion. But that’s not what I mean. Religion, to be of any value, does deal with matters of life and death. “The life is in the blood.” “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission” of sins. And it is “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, that cleanses us from all sin.”
Well, we all know that. In fact, it is one of the first things we have learned. “I belong to Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins.” Good, but what does it mean? From TV we know that blood means suffering and death. That’s true in life and it is so in the Bible. Jesus’ blood means His suffering and death. And speaking of violence, there never was a more violent death than the death of the cross. But surely all the blood of all the martyrs of the world would make a mighty river. Why single out the blood of Jesus? Because we have “redemption through His blood.” Saved by the blood!
THE VALUE OF THE BLOOD OF JESUS
The gospel song puts it this way: “There’s power in the blood.” And that reflects what the writer of Hebrews says in 9:14: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” “How much more?” How much more valuable is Jesus’ blood! Paul says God purchased the Church with His own blood; or as some have translated it, the blood of His own (Son) in Acts 20:28. That gives us some idea of the value of Jesus’ blood. But how much more than what? Your blood? My blood? The blood of the whole human race? No doubt. But that’s not what the writer of Hebrews is talking about. He’s talking about the blood of bulls and of goats. That doesn’t seem very significant; in fact it seems more blasphemous than trivial. Why the comparison then? Because since the world began men have been offering the blood of bulls and of goats to God to make themselves acceptable to Him. In fact, God Himself commanded it through Moses 1,500 years before Jesus ever lived on earth. Thousands upon thousands of sheep, calves and goats were sacrificed on the altars of the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple at Jerusalem. Many a sinful, but sincerely believing Israelite, placed his hands on the head of that offering to be slain in his place before the Lord so that its blood would cover his sins before God. And once a year the high priest himself went into the very presence of God in the holy of holies with blood to offer for himself and the people.
But let’s face it. We know the blood of bulls and goats can’t take away sins; these sacrifices were only pictures. Jesus is the real thing. God has finally spoken through Him, His Son, Who came into the world in a body of our flesh and blood, tempted like as we are yet without sin, “that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.”
Yes, there’s power in the blood of Jesus. Ceremonies can take care of ceremonial uncleanliness, but the blood of Jesus cleanses us from real sin. All the sacrifices and ceremonies of the law need a reference point to which they must point to give them meaning. If the types and patterns for Jesus’ work are the Old Testament ceremonial system of priesthood and sacrifices, the reality after which they are patterned is Jesus Himself and His finished work! They are the shadows of which He is the reality. He is our high priest and the One who offered Himself as our sacrifice. So the writer of Hebrews stresses the once-for-allness of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as that which really saves.
Furthermore, the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins because God will not punish any other creature for the sin which man has committed (H. C. 14). When we were naughty, Mom and Dad didn’t punish our pet dog or kitty! We had to face up to it. But we must admit all our efforts fail in trying to make ourselves right with God. We seem to dig the hole even deeper (H. C. 13). We need a man who is not himself a sinner to bring us to God. That’s not just the kind of priest we have in Jesus but also the kind of sacrifice. He is unblemished – without spot. Just like those Old Testament bulls and goats had to be without a blemish, so our Lord Jesus Christ had to be the perfect man, identified with our flesh and blood, yet without sin. Jesus’ question is a necessary one to the fulfillment of His task, “Who of you convinces me of sin?” John the Baptist called Him, “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And as Peter puts it, we are redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (I Pet. 1:19)
Obviously, killing some animal is not going to take away our sins. But even if a perfect man could be found, how could he bear our sins? God is eternal, and so is His wrath and the punishment for sin. No mere man can bear that and save us from our sins (H. C. 14). But while Jesus is a true and sinless man, He is not a mere man. He is the eternal Word made flesh, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. He is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person. He is God the Son; the eternal begotten Son who took a body of our flesh and blood to offer Himself for us by the eternal Spirit. Going back to Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:28), he spoke of God purchasing His Church with His own blood – the blood of God the Son. After witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus, the Roman soldier in charge could say not only, “Surely this was a righteous man” (without blemish or spot), but also confess Him to be the Son of God (the eternal Spirit).
THE APPLICATION BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
Yet this Jesus who said, “It is finished,” indicating that He had made the complete and final sacrifice for our sins forever, was identified by Pilate before the crucifixion as, “Behold, the man!” And Jesus on the cross took care of His mother, and also expressed His anguish of body when He said, “I thirst.” This death of the cross was no mere show of God’s plan and power. It was the suffering and death (blood) of the man Christ Jesus! But for this He was qualified and equipped with the Holy Spirit. At His baptism, when He undertook the mediatorial and redemptive task, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a dove as the Father’s voice said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The same Spirit drove Him into the desert to be tempted of the devil (“If you are the Son of God.. . “) , and it was in the power of the Holy Spirit that He healed the sick, cast out the demons and taught as no other man ever taught. Surely it was in the same power of the Spirit, the eternal Spirit, that He offered Himself on the cross for our sins. The Servant of the Lord (Isa. 53) who “was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.. . and with whose stripes we are healed,” is the Servant upon whom God put His Spirit (Isa. 42:l; cf. 61:l and Lk. 4:18,21); the One upon whom the Spirit abode (permanently, Jn. 1:32) beyond measure. Our great high priest with the power of an endless life offered the perfect sacrifice through the eternal Spirit, the blood of Jesus. Surely then there is power in the blood.
But if there is power in the blood, what is it? What does it do? The author of Hebrews says it purges our “conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” That deals with our guilt and alienation. Even with all the psychiatry, psychology, sociology, and religion of our day, human relationships are suffering more than ever. They are tattered and shattered. We are alienated from one another in families and communities (loneness and loneliness), and we have an innate and ingrained sense of guilt about it. Murders, suicides, divorces, runaways are all indications of this alienation and all bring irremediable guilt. Most of these we read about or see on our TV screens, though too often these days they are touching our families and our lives.
But many of us were brought up in strict moral surroundings, even Christian homes. And we have tried all our lives to live up to these standards. And we have never succeeded! We try to tell others we’re OK. Notice how often you are on the defensive around other people. And we try to convince ourselves that we’re OK. Notice how often you are rationalizing and excusing yourself to yourself. “Self-esteem” is the name of the game today. But self defense and self-esteem are only defenses against alienation and guilt. We have to face the real issue. Since the fall of our first parents Adam and Eve we are alienated from God and guilty before Him. We are dead in trespasses and sins before the living God. “The wages of sin is death.” And we have all sinned. What’s more, the letter of God’s law only kills us the more we try to establish our own righteousness before God. Either way we are trapped – steeped in sin we stand condemned with the filth of the world, Striving for righteousness we stand condemned in the filth of our own self-righteousness (Isa. 64:6). We are losers. Whether good or bad our works are dead, and so are we!
You know what we need? We need a priest. “Now wait a minute,” you say, “I can go to God myself. I don’t need a priest.” Yes, you do. It’s a priest’s job to bring you to God (Heb. 5:1). But there is only one priest who can do it: Jesus Christ, the priest of the power of an endless life who offered Himself to God for our sins through the eternal Spirit. In Jesus Christ alone we can come to God and stand before Him with our sins forgiven and with a perfect righteousness, just as if we had never sinned. Guilt. Where is it? “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” Alienation. Where is it? “We are reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” By His blood we have entered into a new and everlasting covenant of fellowship with our God.
It has been well said that we are saved to serve. But not in the oldness merely of the letter of the law; rather, in the newness of the Spirit we serve the living God because we are now alive to God in Jesus Christ. We have been brought again to God by Jesus Christ through the sacrifice of His blood. And now we too offer sacrifices to God: the praises and thanksgivings of our lips, doing good and submitting to one another in the Lord, praying for one another and doing the will of God in Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:15ff).
Blood! There’s life in the blood. From the deadness of our sins we have been brought into the power of the life of God. “There’s power in the blood.” The blood of Jesus.
Jesus, thy blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress;
‘Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, With joy shall I lift up my head..
Bold shall I stand in thy great day; For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.
Jesus, be endless praise to thee, Whose boundless mercy hath for me –
For me a full atonement made, An everlasting ransom paid.
0 let the dead now hear thy voice; Now bid thy banished ones rejoice ;
Their beauty this, their glorious dress, Jesus, thy blood and righteousness.
(Reprinted from the Reformed Herald, March 1986)