Friday, July 4, 2008

Why Did Jesus Die? (04) To Release us From Death

To be our Sin Offering, Releasing us From Death

Sin wears two masks; sin is death and sin is guilt. In the West, people tend to emphasize the deeds of sin, making it virtually synonymous with guilt. In the East, we tend to emphasize the condition of sin, making it virtually synonymous with death. Both points of view are valid, although only when held together. To undo sin, both guilt and death must be overcome. The next post in this series will discuss how Christ’s death deals with our guilt. In this post, let’s examine how the flesh and blood of the new Passover Lamb take away the sin of the world viewed as death. We’ve already mentioned how Christ’s dying itself undoes death, simply by bringing Life to the death's nothingness; but how is it His Body takes away the deadly effect of sin, and His Blood infuses immortal life into us?

There are numerous places in the Old Testament in which God teaches Israel that the life of a person or an animal is in its blood. (And of course in a way, that’s literally true, since blood cells, like any of our cells, carry DNA; yet it is not the literal, but the typological meaning of blood that interests us for purposes of this discussion.) That is why animals had to be butchered, not strangled: because their blood, being the seat of life, was sacred to God. If you killed an animal, you must pour out its blood onto the ground and cover it up, and not eat or drink it; or if it were a sacrificial animal, you must consecrate its blood to the Lord.

And what did the Lord want with it? Does He delight in blood? Does blood give Him any kind of satisfaction, whether emotional or legal or moral? That is not what the Lord Himself says. Listen:

And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell among you, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul. Therefore I said to the children of Israel, 'No one among you shall eat blood, nor shall any stranger who dwells among you eat blood.' (Leviticus 17:10-12)

“And I have given it to you upon the altar,” says God, “to make atonement for your souls.” The Hebrew word we translate “souls” is nephesh, which means soul or self or life. The blood atones for, makes up for, the sinner’s lack of life. It gives life. Ultimately, the blood is God’s offering to us. He has no other use for it. He is not bloodthirsty. He is not some Jewish variant of the volcano god. Blood is not the prerequisite for His forgiveness, as if divine forgiveness had a price; instead, blood, like the bronze serpent, or as with the healing of the paralytic, is the form His forgiveness takes: giving us healing and Life. Wherever in the Bible you see "blood," think, "Life."

This is why the animals were sacrificed, not to punish them (although they themselves might disagree!) but to offer their flesh to God and to obtain their life-giving blood for us; and blood's life-giving property is why it was used in the Old Testament for ritual purification of all sorts of things:

19. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20. saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you." 21. Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. 22. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. (Hebrews 9:19-22)

The Greek word should be translated "remission" here, not "forgiveness," since books, tabernacles, and vessels of ministry do not have guilt and need no forgiveness -- although it is also true that God's forgiveness comes in and through blood, as we shall see. Yet these inanimate things, too, although having no sin or guilt, needed to be purified with blood. In Exodus 29:36-27, atonement is even made for the altar. They are sprinkled with blood to purify them from the taint of death because they are all part of the fallen world, part of the order of sin and death. They must be purified to be fit for use in the Lord’s worship. We, too, must be purified of the death in us to be compatible with the immortal God.

What? Isn’t all this more than a litle superstitious? Can animal blood really cure death?

No, of course not. We must constantly remember that all these things are types, that is teaching tools, of the reality to come. They only receive their full truth in Christ. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4) These sacrifices only made one ritually clean. (Hebrews 9:13) They did not give eternal life. They didn’t particularly please God, either, even though He had ordained them. “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.” That’s Psalm 40:6, and quoting it, Hebrews 10:6: “In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.”

“It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” This was not because the price was too low, as most of the non-Orthodox preach (a mere irrational animal in exchange for a reason-endowed human being). Neither does it mean God’s promise to forgive in these rituals was false. Instead, it means that God forgave without the need of any compensation or payback or punishment! God's forgiveness is pure gift; it cannot be bought - for any price, by anyone, not even by Jesus. This is what true forgiveness is, of course: to revoke the penalty, cancel the debt, give up the right to be compensated, to decide not to take revenge. Anything involving payback is not forgiveness at all, but the opposite. Forgiveness and payback are mutually exclusive. So God did not require any price for His forgiveness. Or rather, the price He required, blood, was not for Himself, but strictly as a teaching device for us.

Yet all those whom God truly forgave in the sacrificial rituals died, went to Hades. God’s forgiveness alone, although sufficient to remove guilt, does not remove death. This is because guilt is an interpersonal affair or else a legal one; therefore personal forgiveness or a legal declaration is enough to remit it. Death, however, is far more than an interpersonal or legal matter. It is a state of being, or rather, lack of being. It can be removed neither by forgiveness alone, nor by the blood of animals.

Rather, the removal, indeed, the reversal of death must await the coming of Him, of whom these sacrifices are the foreshadowings. In Christ, human flesh and blood are united to divinity. In His flesh and blood He grappled with death and conquered it ("bore our sins on the tree"). In His flesh and blood He rose from the grave, was glorified, and was taken up into heaven; and in His flesh and blood He sits upon His heavenly throne. Christ’s flesh and blood, unlike those of animals, really are immortal. His flesh nourishes a whole new order of life in us, namely, His very own, divine, eternal life; and His blood is our true Fountain of Immortality. That is why Jesus offered up His flesh and blood, and how by feeding us upon these medicines, He takes away the sin of the world, considered as death. This is one sense in which Jesus died to be our sin offering, and also how He can be our Passover Lamb, whose flesh nourished Israel for the journey to freedom and whose blood fended off the Angel of Death.

Jesus said, “Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)

You have redeemed us from the curse of the Law by Your precious Blood. By being nailed to the Cross and pierced with the Spear, You have poured forth immortality on mankind. O our Saviour, glory to You.



William Weedon said...

By and large, again, Amen! Especially to the crucial insight that the sacrifices were not first our gifts to God, but first and foremost HIS gifts to us, means of imparting His forgiveness, His remission (I'm really not sure about separating the two terms).

Because of the strong prohibition against consuming blood, one can only imagine the utter shock when our Lord reached the chalice and told them what was in it and what they were to do with it!!!

Anastasia Theodoridis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anastasia Theodoridis said...

It always gives me great pleasure to pass the Weedon Test! Thanks.

Thanks also for your comment re wrath. The question is, whose wrath? That provoked a whole new post. It'll be ready in the morning.

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