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The way of the blood

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Archives / 1978 / July

 

 

The way of the blood

Desmond Ford
Desmond Ford, Ph.D., is currently serving as a professor of religion at Pacific Union College, Angwin, California.

 

 

 

The greatest problem in the world is sin and guilt. Even death finds in guilt the chief cause of its terrors. A host of lesser ills including unhappiness, uncertainty, irresoluteness, failure, and disease are intimately related to this universal phenomenon. In the parable of the ancient Jewish tabernacle we find symbolized Heaven's answer to man's greatest need—an answer traced in crimson by a divine finger dipped in blood.

"'For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life' " (Lev. 17:11, R.S.V.). This key word, "atonement," said to be pro cured by the blood, occurs almost eighty times in the books of the tabernacle—Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. The term literally means "to cover," thus indicating that the record of sin is covered before God through life poured out by a substitute.

A Jewish priest saw the blood on every hand. It was on the veil, the altar, the hangings, and the floor of the tabernacle, as well as being sprinkled on the mercy seat on the great Day of Atonement. The New Testament apostles likewise seemed to live surrounded by blood. Continually they glory in the blood of the antitypical Sacrifice. They describe salvation with all its facets in such terms as redemption (1 Peter 1:18, 19), forgiveness (Eph. 1:7), justification (Rom. 5:9), peace (Col. 1:20), cleansing (1 John 1:7), sanctification (Heb. 13:12), access (Eph. 3:12), victory (Rev. 12:11), and everlasting glory in the presence of the Lamb (chap. 7:14, 15). But all these facets are the fruit of the atoning blood of Christ. Even the song of heaven it self is and ever will be: "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood" (chap. 5:9).

Some in our day have endeavored to find a bloodless gospel in the New Testament. They speak of the blood as merely the symbol of a life lived in service, and our Lord's death is made a subordinate affair. The In carnation rather than the cross be comes central, and salvation is set forth as the result of humanistic effort rather than as the fruit of substitution and imputation. The result of all such religion was clearly shown when Cain, who refused to apply the blood of a lamb, polluted the earth with the blood of his brother.

Neither Testament can fit the mold of such religion. The Hebrew word for blood occurs in 362 places, and, of these, 203 apply to death with violence. C. H. Spurgeon rightly claimed that no one could read Isaiah 53 with an open mind and fail to recognize the penal and atoning nature of the sufferings of Christ. For in that chapter we find such statement as: "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. . . . The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. . . . They made his grave with the wicked . . . although he had done no violence, and {here was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief ... he makes him self an offering for sin. ... he shall bear their iniquities. . . . He bore the sin of many" (verses 5-12).

In the New Testament one third of Matthew's Gospel is devoted to the Passion Week; more than one third of Mark; one quarter of Luke; and more than one third of John. The Gospels, as has long been recognized, are Passion narratives with extended introductions. Their nature explains the almost complete silence on our Lord's early years, and the fact that only forty-four days of His ministry find specific mention.

In Acts and the Epistles the emphasis is the same. The burden of apostolic preaching is, "Redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:14), conveying, through the simple act of faith, a present cleansing to the con science, as the necessary qualification for the glory that is to follow.

"We should naturally have expected in apostolic teaching an abundant reference to the words and acts of our Lord Jesus, as the prolific sources of instruction. But we do not find such reference, nor any thing like it. ... The great doctor of the Church [Paul] had no such remembrances. ... If the others were the Apostles of the manifestation of Christ, he was the Apostle of its results . . . the redemption, the reconciliation, the salvation." Thus T. D. Bernard in The Progress of Doctrine in the New Testament (pp. 163, 164) has summarized the truth recognized by all evangelical and other Bible scholars, that the central proclamation of the apostles in Acts, and Paul in the Epistles, was the sacrifice of Christ and the redemption thus accomplished.

Even the Gospel accounts prior to Passion Week are replete with allusions to Calvary. Our Lord was laid in a manger at birth, reminding us that salvation from ancient times with its sacrificial victims such as the heifer, came out of the stable. The blood that attended His symbolic circumcision, the massacre of Bethlehem, the piercing sword predicted for Mary, the death and resurrection of the baptism at the Jordan, the turning of water into the wine (which prefigured His blood), the breaking of the loaves symbolizing His bro ken body, the reference to the uplifted serpent on the cross of the banner staff, the plain predictions of His sufferings found in Matthew 16 and elsewhere, the pervasive fragrance of the broken alabaster box—all these and more were fingers pointing to Golgotha's hill and its mysterious Victim. We also do well to make preeminent that which God has set forth as of first importance: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

From the shedding of the first tear and the decaying of the first leaf, from the very gates of Eden, winds the trail of sacrificial blood. Before the Jewish tabernacle, there was but one great sacrifice—the burnt offering. The later Levitical ritual divided this original sacrifice into parts peace offering, trespass offering, and sin offering. But the heart of the primeval burnt offering was ever preserved—blood and fire being common to all, from the basic daily burnt offering for the whole encampment to the individual voluntary offerings.

And why this focusing on blood and fire? Because He whom we have sinned against is King and Judge, as well as Father, and therefore must needs be "just," as well as the "justifier" (Rom. 3:26). He must show that the law is inflexible and inexorable, the very foundation and keystone of existence. God must reveal His hatred for sin, as well as His love for the sinner, and there fore atonement must spring not from His indifference to sin, but from His holiness. Only thus could He be both faithful and "just" in forgiving; only thus could grace reign "through righteousness" (1 John 1:9; Rom. 5:21). Calvary validates God's law as a reflection of the divine nature, more than if all mankind from Adam onward had kept it without a flaw. Our Creator is shown to be light as well as love, and truth as well as mercy. His wrath is revealed to be not like our selfish, capricious anger, but the inevitable recoil of His holiness against the most destructive element in the universe—sin. The fire associated with each sacrifice pointed to God's holy wrath, while the blood revealed that the demands of the equally holy law had been met.

Every sinner instinctively knows that forgiveness that costs nothing is not true forgiveness. We could not worship a God who did not take our guilt at least as seriously as we our selves take it.

"For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; . . . yet doth he [God] devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him" (2 Sam. 14:14). These beautiful words from the wise woman of Tekoah reveal the infinite superiority of God's dealings compared with man's. David, to whom the words were first addressed, failed miser ably in dealing with his rebel son. Hear his cry as he contemplated the problem of reinstating a sinner whom he loved: " 'O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!' " (chap. 18:33, R.S.V.). Our Father, against whom we have conspired, did die in our stead, for "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Cor. 5:19).

The cross was the solution devised in heaven's eternity to meet the emergency of sin. It upholds the sacred law, yet brings forgiveness to the lawbreaker, and in such a way as to break his heart and restore him to harmony with the precepts he has formerly despised. "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Rom. 11:33, R.S.V.).

It is no wonder, then, that the chief theologian of Scripture could exclaim: "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14). "I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (chap. 1:18, R.S.V.).

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Note:

This is the second of a series of articles to appear bimonthly on the subject of the Jewish tabernacle and the Christian faith.

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