Why did Jesus have to die on the Cross?
The first Christians understood why – but only because Jesus explained it to them. Did you notice what Jesus did on the road to Emmaus? He didn’t start by showing himself to his friends and saying “Look, I’m alive!” No, he said “If you want to understand who Jesus is, let me explain the Bible to you!”
So I’m going to try to do the same thing today – we’re going to do a bit of a Bible study. And the big idea I want to explore is about the blood of Jesus.
I once heard a reflection on the radio by a man from Northern Ireland, who’d become a Hindu. He’d grown up in a Christian family, where he often heard talk of being ‘washed in the blood of the Lamb’. He said – pardon my accent – that “the very thought of being washed in the blood of a lamb is a terrible thing when you’re a vegetarian!” Do we need to use such scary language, even when it puts people off? Yes, we do!
Lots of the Christians who wrote books of the New Testament wanted people to know about the Blood of Jesus.
St Mark (14:24) said that the wine blessed at the Last Supper became the blood of the covenant. Now a covenant is a solemn promise between someone more powerful and some people who are less powerful. It was marked by sacrificing one or more creatures. So Mark wants us to know that the blood of Jesus is his promise to protect us. Jesus literally loved us enough to die for us!
St Matthew (26:28) wanted us to know that at the Last Supper, the wine would become the “blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins”.
St Luke (Acts 20:28) tells us that Jesus ‘bought the church – that’s us – with his blood’.
St Paul too (Col 1:14) tells us that we are redeemed – rescued from being punished – through the blood of Jesus.
We don’t know the name of the Jewish Christian who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews. But this disciple too understood the power of the blood of Jesus. In the Jewish religion, each year the High Priest had to sacrifice a calf as a payment for his own sins, so that he would be worthy to enter the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the Temple, and then he could sacrifice a goat for the sins of the rest of the people. The blood of both animals would be sprinkled in that Holiest part of the Temple. But, we read in Hebrews, Jesus was a High Priest who was made worthy by his own blood, to offer a sacrifice for his people. The whole of Chapter 9 of the Letter to the Hebrews is worth reading – God gave us this as part of the Bible so we could really understand why Jesus had to shed his blood for us.
Finally, we have the words of St Peter, who in today’s reading says that we were ransomed by the blood of Jesus. Ransomed from what? Well, for St Peter, we are ransomed from the need to sacrifice any animals in the way that Jews had done for hundreds of years. But we are also ransomed from death and from sin. And that’s not the first time God has used blood to protect his people!
On Easter Night, we always tell the story of the Passover. God told his faithful people that if they wanted to be protected from the angel of death, each household must sacrifice a lamb, roast and eat its flesh, and place its blood on the doorpost of their house. In British Sign Language, the sign for Passover is two strokes, as if you are marking blood on the lintel and post of a door. But take note – it was not enough to mark the doorpost – the family also had to eat the lamb!
When the Jewish people had a Temple in Jerusalem, families would go there each year for Passover, taking a lamb with them. The priest would kill the lamb, and its blood would be poured into a bowl ready to be taken into the Holy Place of the Temple and poured on the altar. The family would take home the body of the lamb, to roast it and eat it.
When Jesus died on the Cross, his blood was shed… falling on the ground outside the city walls of Jerusalem. He was the True Lamb – John the Baptist had called him that. And he even made it possible for us to eat the lamb by celebrating the Last Supper.
We know one thing today that wasn’t known in the days of the Bible. Blood carries the breath of life from our lungs to every part of our body. It is not enough for us to eat the lamb – we must also be filled with the breath of God, which is the Holy Spirit.
St Peter ate of the Lamb. He was filled by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and given the courage to stand up in front of the people who had wanted Jesus dead. Peter declared on that Pentecost: “What you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit.” Maybe you’ve had your own personal Pentecost experience and seen or felt the Holy Spirit at work within you. If so, then you’ll probably want to sing and pray and give thanks to God. Lots of worship songs speak of the power of the blood of Jesus – if you’ve wondered why, now you know we are simply affirming what Jesus teaches us clearly through the Bible. If you’ve never experienced the Holy Spirit in that way, maybe today you can take a moment for prayer: just say “Holy Spirit, come and teach me to worship Jesus.” Be open. But it’s God who chooses when Pentecost happens for each one of us.
There are lots of prayers around that we can pray to ask Jesus to protect us by his blood. Some have been around for decades, others have been written to ask God to protect our health at this time. You can find online testimonies from Christians who say life goes better when you pray for the protection of the Precious Blood at last once a month. There are no rules here about prayers you must say – unless God gives an instruction the way he did to Moses, we are all free to pray the prayers that seem most meaningful to us. But if you find that praying for protection like this works, keep it up!
It may be, like the Northern Irishman who felt repelled by being ‘washed in the blood of the Lamb’ that you don’t like the language. That’s OK too – but recognise that all the first followers of Jesus came to understand that his blood protects you and forgives your sins.
I’d like to leave you with the words of another Ulsterman, C. S. Lewis, who wrote these words in Mere Christianity:
You can say that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarrelling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.
And finally, remember, God the Father and Jesus Christ love you so much that Jesus shed his blood for you and the Father raised Him from the dead – so that you would have faith and hope in God. As Padre Pio once said – pray, hope and don’t worry. You might think of today’s Gospel as the Road to Emmaus – I see it as the Road to Jerusalem, to Mount Sion, where joyful disciples rush to gather, to sing and celebrate the Risen Lord and the power of His Blood. Let’s do that joyfully as we celebrate thie Eucharist. And may the Precious Blood of Jesus protect us from all evil, now and evermore. Amen?
Evangelical discussion of how to ‘Plead the Blood‘
Academic thesis on the ‘Blood of Jesus’ in Pentecostal Churches.