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March 17, 2024

Blood Is Essential for Life

Passage: Hebrews 9:11-15

Our world over its 6,000-year existence has seen various forms of currency ranging from precious metals to encryption keys, bartered animals and services to bitcoin. And throughout the world’s economic development, perhaps when a new form of currency hits the scene, it may be strange at first, but, after a while, nobody questions it anymore. Regardless of this fact, there may yet be one form of currency which the very mentioning has caught the attention of the human ear throughout the centuries. That currency is blood. Now that may be a macabre and taboo thought, but a closer examination of the history of human expression might show that it’s not all that foreign of a concept. How many movies or books have you seen or read that portray vengeance, the shedding of blood in some way, as a sort of debt payment to settle the ledgers of a man’s satisfaction? Of course, these thoughts and acts of vengeance should not be found among mankind, for they are sinful, but the concept of mandatory bloodshed can tell us something about the concept. The person who wants to commit vengeance usually has lost something precious or valuable and they want payback of sorts. And so, why do some of these vengeance cases want blood as their payback? Simple…blood is valuable, for it is essential for life. You no doubt know that already, but ask any nurse or doctor just how valuable blood is and that perspective may open up a whole other world to the importance of blood.

Yes, blood is essential for life, and not just for your temporary life on earth, but also for your eternal life. We mentioned already how those with vengeful hearts want blood, but they do so sinfully. However, the Lord says, “vengeance is mine, I will repay.” This is true. But what does the Lord mean when He says that vengeance is His? Here He does not mean petty feelings of anger that explode in violent madness. Here He means the administration of justice. God is just and He will dole out the due punishment to people who disobey His requirements. Another way to look at it is that when a person sins, that person acquires a debt, a debt that can’t be paid with gold or silver, but only with blood—the essential ingredient to life. God made this clear in His words spoken to Israel in Leviticus, “`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. 11 `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.' To Israel this meant more than that they had to eat their steaks extremely well done. It was a sign to them that blood was precious, essential for life, and the payment due for sin. And it reminded them that one was coming, a Messiah, whose bloodshed would be the perfect currency to pay the debt they and all people owed.

Therefore, let us learn this concept further, the theme which states, blood is essential for life.

(we pray…)

Now, perhaps the concept of blood used as payment for your immortal soul is already very vivid in your minds. At the very least it is at Sunday worship where you hear of Christ’s atoning bloodshed on the cross, and especially those Sundays where you eat and drink Christ’s body and blood for your forgiveness and salvation. But, to dive deeper into our understanding of the essential importance of blood for our eternal life, perhaps examining the Old Testament understanding of this teaching may provide a whole new perspective on this concept.

To do so, let us examine our sermon text further. Though the book of the Hebrews is a New Testament book, the thrust of the book serves as a decoder for ceremonial practices in the Old Testament. Hebrews shows how Christ was the fulfillment of what the Old Testament sacrifices foreshadowed. And so, before we explain that, let’s provide the context of temple sacrifice to give us a frame of reference. Picture yourself not in this building (a church building or sanctuary) for worship, but in a large tent-like structure. You see a man dressed in ornate gemstones. He then takes multiple lambs and calves and slaughters them. He burns them. He takes their blood and sprinkles blood at various places in a room you cannot enter. And, in a room within the room you cannot enter—a room that only the highest-ranking priest can go into once a year—he sprinkles blood to make atonement before God. In this image there are a lot of visuals that we may take for granted. The smoke, the smells, the noises of slaughtered animals, and the blood…lots and lots of blood. There was even a time in Israel’s history even where Moses came and flung the blood onto the people. Imagine that! At the very least you would go away thinking that this blood must mean something!

The blood certainly does mean something. To me, this is what I think of. First, I see how wretched I am as a human being. I was born sinful and unclean. Before the holy God, I don’t stand a chance. I need to be cleansed. It should be me having my dirty blood drained out on the altar. It should be me being consumed by fire, cleansing all the sinful bacteria within me. On top of this, I have also thought many evil thoughts and have lacked pure thoughts, said many evil things and not said good things, and committed many evil deeds and have left good deeds undone. The record of my evils is not a non-essential thing. It is essential for me to live…and I have not done anything worthy to keep my life. There is therefore a debt, a debt that requires my life, which, of course, can only be given by bloodshed. It should be me being slaughtered.

And so, here’s the picture. It’s not only me, but you, too. In the presence of God, who is just and deserving of all things, we don’t measure up. You should be burned to purify you and your blood ought to be shed to satisfy your debt…

But, nevertheless, in these Old Testament sacrifices, it was not the Israelites who burned and whose blood was being shed. It was the blood of the animals which the priest shed. All the smoke and all the blood essential for life pointed out to Israel that it wasn’t them actually burning and bleeding, but something else taking this upon themselves in their place. Something else’s blood, the blood of perfect lambs, was shed to make payment. The blood of perfect lambs was sprinkled on them to set them apart from sin to holiness. But can lamb’s blood really do all this? Well, if you noticed, these sacrifices had to be made repeatedly. The sacrificial animal’s blood was not the essential blood that needed to be shed for your life, but was a reminder of the real deal, the real deal which Hebrews spells out.

And so, let us transition back from the days of the Israelites to our day. How come I didn’t slaughter an animal during our confession and absolution portion of the liturgy this morning? In fact, those white altar clothes aren’t blood soaked at all. Well, that’s because the blood payment that was essential for your eternal life has been made. It only happened once, for that’s all that was needed. Here’s how it went down: about 2,000 years ago, a certain High Priest bearing the name Jesus—that means Jehovah saves—, and the title Christ, meaning, “anointed one,” came to save you by doing the work He was anointed to do, namely offer a perfect, once for all sacrifice for you. He, the ultimate High Priest, came dressed in ornate gemstones and white robes, but not rubies or sapphires and white linens. No, He was pretty dirty and bloodied up when He did this. Yet, He still was dressed ornately with gemstones: the rubies of perfect love shown to His heavenly Father and the sapphires of perfect love shown to His neighbor. He came in a white robe of righteousness, showing He has lived a perfect life worthy of the title High Priest. He then walked into the tabernacle made without hands, into the Most Holy Place—before the throne of God Almighty, with a perfect plea—the best blood payment to pay off the debt of you and all people. He went to the altar, not your ordinary rectangular altar, but the altar of the cross to shed blood, sprinkle it, and burn it as incense. And the lamb He offered was no ordinary ewe lamb. It was the best of its pedigree. It was Himself. He shed His own blood for payment. He was burned with wrathful fire as He took the agony of hell—the Father’s abandonment—to make a sweet smelling aroma to God, and He sprinkled this blood before His Father in the Most Holy Place—before God’s throne. All this He did to offer a payment. All the blood, sprinkled and burned if you will, was given in this Lamb of God. All His blood, the blood essential for your eternal life, was poured out before the Father, saying, “This should cover it.” And finally, just as Moses did with the people of Israel, He sprinkles this blood on you. “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” And that’s exactly what Christ did for you. He sprinkled this blood, the sufficient payment for your sin debt and the purest cleansing agent, on you. He cleansed you and set you apart. You don’t need to be burned anymore, for He set you apart already. He has cleansed your conscience from doing dead works. He has given you the sprinkled blood which is essential for life. Through this blood He has given your dead heart life. He has given you faith which yields life of service to the living God.

All this our great High Priest did one time, and He has it recorded in His Word. He has it imparted to us in His means of grace, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The blessings He gave to you in the performance of His priestly duties, in the giving of his essential blood for your eternal life, He did once for all. The altar clothes are not blood soaked. It doesn’t smell like charred meat in church. I’m not wearing gemstones. There is no veil between the chancel and the pew. No, it’s all changed, for Christ only needed to make one sacrifice. All the vivid Old Testament blood shed is gone.

But then, in our New Testament way of worship, don’t we also have vivid preaching devices that declare Christ’s sacrifice to us? Certainly, there are! I’ll name two. First, we saw that we are wretched humans who are born sinful and unclean. Before Almighty and Holy God, we didn’t stand a chance. We needed to be cleansed. But we aren’t having our blood drained out on the altar. There isn’t an ounce of blood on that altar. There is no fire burning, but rather water cleansing. We who have thought many evil thoughts and have lacked pure thoughts, said many evil things and not said good things, and committed many evil deeds and have left good deeds undone, hear this: the record of our evils has been washed away. Through baptism we are vividly connected with the sacrifice of Christ which has washed away our crimson stains of sin. This act of grace, water connected with God’s Word, violently drowns out our sinful heart, as if it were burned day after day, and brings for a new heart, purified and set apart by that essential lifeblood of Christ offered for your eternal life. Here is the first vivid preaching device.

And here is the second: we also saw that it was someone else’s blood, Christ’s blood, which was shed to make payment for our sins. As the blood of perfect lambs was sprinkled on Israel to set them apart from sin to holiness, serving as a reminder of the real deal in Christ the Lamb of God, we have the blood of the perfect Lamb offered to us in a vivid manner as well. Yet it is not sprinkled on us but fed to us. The body and blood of Christ is given to us in, with, and under bread and wine; and it seals to us, that is tightly secures to us by sure grip, the forgiveness of sins—the price of which was that body and blood of Christ. It seals to us salvation, which was brought by Christ offering His blood essential for sparing us from eternal fire. And it seals to us eternal life, giving to us the very source of life, the essential blood.

And so, as you can see from the vividness of God’s Word and Sacraments, Christ’s blood is essential for your life. It was shed once and only once for your salvation. It has made the payment for the debt which your sinfulness accrued, and it has cleansed you and given you life as the blood of Christ is inclined to do. All this is true for you, for you have this promise, “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.” Amen