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One of the more unsettling passages in Scripture is found in Exodus 11:4-6 where we read of the plague of death that befell “every firstborn in the land of Egypt.” Continue reading . . .

One of the more unsettling passages in Scripture is found in Exodus 11:4-6 where we read of the plague of death that befell “every firstborn in the land of Egypt.”

So Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again (Exodus 11:4-6).

That, dear friends, was a “cry” I thank God never reached my ears. I cannot conceive of any more dreadful and horrifying experience than to have been present that night as the angel of death sped with noiseless wing through the streets of the many cities of Egypt. The judgment of God was about to fall on this unbelieving nation. It must have been an especially bitter cry that echoed from Pharaoh’s chamber as his first born fell to the earth, dead. And as if to accentuate the pervasiveness of the wrath of God against those who rejected him, even the first born of the cattle were smitten.

And yet there were some houses into which the angel of death had no access. Why? What was it that preserved one house from the destruction that another endured? Was it the elegance of the building? Was death averted because one house was made of marble and another of mud and straw? No. The modest huts of Israelite slaves were spared while Pharaoh’s majestic palace was the first to the smell the odor of death, notwithstanding its external beauty and high material value. Perhaps it was the “goodness” of the people within. Perhaps it was the moral merit of each individual, after long lives of diligence in good works, that repelled the angel of death from the doorstep of those who survived. Again, no. The answer is given to us in Exodus 12:7, 12-13.

“Then they shall take some of the blood [of the sacrificial lamb] and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. . . . For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:7, 12-13).

There is no greater or more eternally important theme in all of Scripture than that of the shed blood of the sacrificial substitute. For example, when Paul writes in Romans 3:25 that God set forth the Lord Jesus Christ to be a propitiation “by (or through) his blood” his point is that what quenched the wrath of God and averted the death-stroke of divine judgment was not primarily Jesus’ life, perfect and sinless though it be, nor his teaching, wise and instructive as it is, but rather the shedding of his blood on the cross of Calvary.

Here is how Charles Spurgeon expressed this truth:

“Oh, how precious is this blood-red shield! My soul, cower thou down under it when the darts of hell are flying; this is the chariot, the covering whereof is purple; let the storm come, and the deluge rise, let even the fiery hail descend, beneath that crimson pavilion my soul must rest secure, for what can touch me, when I am covered with His precious blood?” (38).

There are a lot of things in the Christian faith, as set forth in Scripture, that offend the politically correct mindset of our society. The so-called “scandal of particularity,” according to which salvation is available only through faith in Jesus Christ and cannot be found in other non-Christian religions, is especially offensive. The sexual ethic set forth in Scripture where adultery and homosexuality and pre-marital intercourse are forbidden is mocked and ridiculed. The doctrine of hell is simply assumed to be barbaric and cruel and is dismissed out of hand.

The same can also be said of the concept of substitutionary atonement in which an innocent person dies and sheds his blood in the place of guilty men and women and in doing so endures their penalty and obtains for them the forgiveness of sins. What many find especially offensive in this truth is the pervasive presence in the Bible of blood.

I remember a conversation with a young man who was adamantly opposed to everything Christian. Among his reasons, at the top of the list were the declarations in Hebrews 9 concerning the blood of Christ. According to Hebrews 9:12 it was “by means of his own blood” that Jesus secured for us “eternal redemption.” Again, in Hebrews 9:14 it is the “blood of Christ” offered to God that purifies “our conscience from death works to serve the living God.” If that were not enough, here in Hebrews 9:22 we are told again that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

It all struck him as ugly and barbaric and contrary to the portrait of God as loving and longsuffering. He simply couldn’t reconcile this emphasis on the shedding of blood with his understanding of the nature of God. I tried to point out to him that where many go astray is in thinking that the “blood” shed by Christ on Calvary’s cross was primarily an expression of divine wrath and judgment when in point of fact it is also and equally a display of his kindness and grace and mercy to hell-deserving sinners. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the words of the apostle Paul to the elders in the church at Ephesus. He says this to them in Acts 20:28,

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

Note closely two things.

First, the shedding of “blood” was the means by which God “obtained” us or redeemed us or purchased us as his own possession. In other words, the pouring out of “blood” was the way in which God’s eternal love for his people was expressed. Paul is telling the elders in Ephesus that they should love the church and care for her precisely because God does. And God’s love was manifest most vividly and concretely in the shedding of blood.

He says much the same thing in Ephesians 5:25 – “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” When he says that Christ “gave himself up” for the Church it means that he yielded up his life and poured out his blood in death to redeem her. The blood of Christ is both the requirement of God’s justice and the expression of God’s love. Neither one of those should be allowed to cancel out the other.

Second, and even more important, is that this translation in Acts 20:28 is inaccurate. God does not have “blood.” God is spirit. A more accurate rendering of this passage is that God the Father obtained or redeemed the church with the blood of “his own,” the latter being a reference to the Son, Jesus Christ. The words “his own” are actually terms of endearment, an expression designed to highlight the intimacy that exists between the Father and Son. It wasn’t an angel that God sent to die or one of the four living creatures from the book of Revelation. It was none else but his own dear, cherished, highly loved, and precious Son.

It’s not unlike when Ann and I speak of our own children and say, “Melanie is my own dear daughter,” or “Joanna is my precious child.”

Let me say one more thing about the pervasive presence of “blood sacrifice” in Scripture and why it is so important. My suspicion is that the primary reason why some hesitate and even reject the biblical emphasis on the necessity of the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins is because they have a very low view of God and a very high view of themselves. What I mean by that is they don’t think much of God’s holiness nor of man’s sin. God’s holiness isn’t a big deal to them and neither is their own sin. Thus when man is held in high regard and God is held in low regard, there doesn’t seem to be any need for a violent substitutionary sacrifice in blood, such as we see portrayed in the NT with regard to the death of Jesus.

Human sin and rebellion will never be seen for what it is or register fully in our hearts until set over against the transcendent holiness of the God against whom it is perpetrated. Once you see and sense the beauty of God’s infinite righteousness, glory, and majesty you will readily understand the ugliness of human transgression and unbelief and idolatry. And only when both of these truths are embraced and understood will you see how reasonable and necessary is the shedding of blood to obtain the forgiveness of sins.

So, what I’m suggesting, as difficult as this may be for some of you to swallow, is that all this talk of “blood” in the Bible is probably ugly and offensive because you don’t fully understand the nature of God or the nature of man. Nothing makes more sense than the necessity of blood sacrifice to those who have been gripped with the incalculable heights of divine goodness and the immeasurable depths of human badness.

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