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Death, Blood, and New Life

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 29, 2009 3:48 pm    Post subject: Death, Blood, and New Life Reply with quote

Easter sits appropriately in the vibrant season of spring when “new life is in the air.” Yet the forty days leading up to this holiday have been marked, by some, with a Lenten journey of fasting, serious reflection, and, ultimately, an existential encounter with the death of Christ. Here in Charlotte, Good Friday became a cosmic reenactment of that crucifixion day when a sunny morning turned to dark clouds and rain right at noon. The stormy darkness lasted for just three hours. Those attending church services that day experienced as dramatic a backdrop for their meditations as one could imagine.

The following week witnessed another somber holiday. We remembered the extermination of six million Jews in “the Holocaust.” (The Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day followed three days later). Many Jews prefer the Hebrew name HaShoah (“catastrophe”) over a term used for ancient pagan sacrifices. “Holocaust,” however, is a biblical word, employed more than two hundred times in the Greek version of the Old Testament to refer to sacrifices completely consumed with fire. This term is an especially grim reminder of the means of death so many Jews experienced in the Second World War.

The six million innocent Jews we remembered were, of course, not ritually sacrificed. No priest presided over their deaths and no ceremony guided the horror. To the contrary, the victims were brutally executed in a ruthless, meaningless slaughter.

The death of Jesus also appeared to be a cruel execution and a senseless slaughter. Yet the blood that was shed that day was the culmination of centuries of prescribed ritual sacrifice. Millions of innocent sheep and goats routinely lost their lives in a God-ordained system that filled the air with the smell of burning flesh and covered the ground with rivers of blood. Why, we are right to ask, so many holocausts?

The answer is so important to me that I insist on arranging for an animal slaughter during our educational journeys to Israel. I believe that on this side of the cross we still need to witness the shedding of innocent blood if we are to fully appreciate the fundamental biblical truth that sinners are rescued from judgment only by the death of a perfect substitutionary sacrifice. “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1Pet 1:18-19).

While Jesus was languishing on the cross, the priestly personnel in the temple were preparing for the festival of Passover. How ironic that while they were examining animals inside the temple for their ritual suitability, outside, in the defiled dump where the Lamb of God hung, a single Roman soldier proclaimed Jesus righteous! Fifteen hundred years of Passover celebrations prepared a community for a moment they missed. Countless households slaughtering innocent animals, recalling the night God delivered his covenant children from judgment. Their only protection from death was the blood of the sacrifice. God said, “When I see the blood, I will ‘pass over’ you.” (Exod 12:13). After their rescue, Moses sprinkled the people with blood saying, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you” (Exod 24:8). Jesus underscored the historical and theological significance of his imminent death by restating these ancient words during the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mat 26:28). Our redemption, like that of our spiritual ancestors, required his blood. It alone seals our covenant relationship.

Death and blood are not only important to us in the context of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice. He told his disciples that they should follow him to their own deaths. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’” (Matt 16:24-25). Ten of the disciples were martyrs for Christ, and millions have followed him to one kind of cross or another ever since. In the words of John’s Apocalypse, “They overcame [the devil] because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death” (Rev 12:11). All over the world we have brothers and sisters overcoming the enemy, staring down death because the blood of the Lamb assures them of eternal life.

Though many of us may not be called to be literal martyrs, we are all called to death as a way of life. Paul would say, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phi 3:10-11 NIV). To the Galatians the apostle testifies, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). In the simplest of terms, he insists to the Corinthians, “I die every day!” (1 Cor 15:31). Paul saw himself as a perpetual holocaust. Moreover he knew that his death was the source of life to others.

We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (2Cor 4:10-12)

Jesus had compared himself to a kernel of wheat that falls into the ground and dies, only to come out of the ground producing many seeds (John 12:24). It turns out to be quite symbolic that the Lord came back to life in the same place where he was executed (John 19:41).

Easter speaks of new life, secured for us two thousand years ago. It also reminds us that spiritual life requires daily dying; it grows on the cemeteries of our old natures. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship” (Rom 12:1).
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