Drinking Blood

As you may have guessed, though the title suggests the possibility, the following content is not vampiric in nature. Rather, this is about the Last Supper. And about Leviticus. And communion.

Jesus took a cup (presumably of wine, as it is from the vine) and told his disciples, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood…”

(Matthew 26:26-28 ESV)

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

The shock factor of this command increases when you consider the cultural background of these men, whom observe the Levitical laws against eating blood. “Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.”

(Leviticus 17:10-16 ESV)

“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.
“Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off. And every person who eats what dies of itself or what is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or a sojourner, shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening; then he shall be clean. But if he does not wash them or bathe his flesh, he shall bear his iniquity.”

The thing is, blood was to be revered and not eaten because of its symbolic value in being a life fluid. To read the rest of that section in Leviticus, blood on the altar was special and had the power of atonement for the people’s souls, so it was not to be eaten as merely common food. But because blood atones and gives life in that spiritual sense, Jesus fulfills and hence references this mental construct and symbolic association established long ago to show the disciples with pizazz how his death and the loss of blood associated with this death would be the blood on the altar to atone for all sins. Once and for all.

“Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Leviticus is like a tome of metaphors to unlock the oomph and awe of the New Testament gospels!

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Throwing off burdens (and some spectacular use of grammar in the Bible)

Abel. Enoch. Noah. Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Sarah. Joseph. Moses. The people of Israel. Rahab. Gideon. Barak. Samson. Jephthah. David. Samuel. The prophets. (Hebrews 11, the list of the faithful.)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)

First of all, thank goodness the people included in this ‘great cloud of witnesses’ are flawed to various degrees, just like I am! When I was younger, I used to mistakenly imagine Christians of the past in heaven looking down at me disapprovingly and being disappointed/disgusted – not to mention Jesus or God’s perspective. (Couldn’t even bring myself there.) That sort of watchful ‘accountability’ is terribly disheartening, and resulted in my greatly desiring to let no one get to know me, lest they discover what all these heavenly witnesses knew better. Nevertheless, I know better now: Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is my identity, as with all of those in that cloud of witnesses. None of us could stand before God but for Christ, even if some appear somewhat more righteous than others. (Truthfully though, it also helped my acceptance of this truth to discover how others too were more sinful than I had first assumed, and that I wasn’t too sinful to be forgiven, or too damaged to be made new. Due to the helpfulness of this discovery for myself in making my acceptance of salvation in Christ a joyful thing, it has since been a personal conviction to freely share my dirt as is appropriate to the situation, but regardless of my own discomfort.)

Returning to that verse in Hebrews, the ESV Bible mentions “weight” rather than things that hinder, and the New KJV uses “ensnares” to describe sin rather than entangling. A snare, being a trap, is more active than the action of entangling, which seems more passive. Nevertheless, the idea is the same: we are bound and held captive by sin. Kinda like a slave. Last summer I received a copy of Slave by John MacArthur which I will finish this summer. (On my word, I shall!) It emphasizes the very Biblical but unsung idea of switching loyalties from being a slave to sin to being a slave of the Lord Jesus, and how this second ‘slavery’ is, in actual fact, freedom from sin and the various burdens of a sinful nature.

Recently, at a women’s retreat, I’ve been privileged to be read a list of hindrances by which we may be trapped, and these made me sit up and pay rapt attention.

Hindrances:

  • self-preoccupation
  • false accusations
  • worry and fear
  • bitterness
  • unforgiveness
  • pain of past and present hurts
  • circumstances (health, physical limitations, finances, jobs…)
This made me sit up because as a Christian, I tend to unthinkingly categorize everything negative as sin when not every burden is technically sin, even if it resulted from sin or could result in sin in some way. The point is, though, that both burdens and sin are debilitating to our ability to run the race, to be a new creation, to have the courage to go and be a witness, to rejoice and to worship. Burdens are a yoke of slavery that prevents us from living as those who have been freed.

Anyhow, imagine a hot air balloon, the pictorial theme of the retreat weekend. Being tethered to the ground prevents it from soaring, but soaring willy-nilly is dangerous. Like us, when the balloon is tethered to Christ as a guide, then it can soar freely in safety.

But I don’t always feel like I soar, or am safe!

Where is Christ then? And there, something that John Piper said brought comfort: One of the greatest heartaches of the Christian walk is our slowness to change.

Didn’t Jesus wash me clean? Aren’t I free now? That certainly is a heartache of mine.

The following verse is so wonderful I’ll state it twice, in different versions:

“For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV)

“…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14 NIV)

I promised spectacular grammar in the title of this post, and there it is. That Jesus “has made perfect” is stated in present perfect tense, which deals with a past event that has present relevance. (E.g. “I have lived in Vancouver.” I can call myself a West Coaster, but Eastern Canada is my home now.) On the other hand, “those who are being made holy” is in present continuous tense, which deals with events that are in progress now and will be in progress for an unspecified time yet. These two different time tenses happen in unison. Perfect. Holy. Finished and still in progress.

The good news, as I was reminded that weekend, is that “being on the way is proof that we have arrived.” Are we there yet? No, but yes. So keep going, whether the way is slow, tortuous, or quite circular at times. Take heart in the good news of the gospel of grace, and our sanctification that follows. “Our fight against sin is not simply to become perfect, but because we are.”

The funny thing is, when we are weak and struggling through little fault of our own, it is easy to turn to God and rely on Him. In stark contrast, when it is our folly, our lack of self control, our empty purpose, our pig-headed stubbornness, our self reliance, our apathy, our resentfulness, our bitterness, our unwillingness to forgive or anything else like that which has caused us to stumble, struggle and be faint, or even caused others to be hurt, it is harder to rely on God. “Do I have a right to?” subtly comes to mind.

Yes. Most assuredly so. You didn’t earn the right, but Jesus earned it for us, and at this time, you need to rely on the one who sanctifies us. You just gotta suck in your pride and look upon glorious, undeserved grace.

My favourite image from that hot air balloon themed retreat was that of the fire in the burners. In those times of fire and trial, our dependence on and closeness with Christ in the uncomfortable environment of hot air gives us lift to soar that a mild and cool environment does not. It’s like the special treat of trials, almost like a consolation prize, except that it’s much more, and conversely, is really the point of the trial, I would say. It’s hard to complain about difficulties when you see that God is bringing you closer to Himself through these things.

One last scribble that I took from just the first talk of the retreat: Living for Christ – waiting for our emotions to catch up.

The Attitude [Isaiah 3]

The difference between sinners and the forgiven? Not in virtue, but in attitude. “They sin openly like the people of Sodom. They are not one bit ashamed.” [Isaiah 3:9] That is what ‘confession’ is all about; recognizing where you have gone wrong, and admitting that it is wrong and a dirty part of you. When you do, the shame will come naturally, for deep inside we all want to be good. It is again a matter of pride; do we think that we are good enough already?

A friend who betrays you and is unaffected or self-righteous, versus one who is filled with remorse and shame. Which would you forgive? Which would you be?

How difficult it is to be saved! [Isaiah 1]

Many people’s reaction to the idea of salvation as a gift for repentance is not wonder, joy, or gratefulness. Rather, it is one of doubt and skepticism. “That’s too easy.” “Well then wouldn’t you just keep sinning and asking for forgiveness?” The feeling is that it is kind of cheap on our part.

But one must really consider what repentance actually means. It is not just admitting “Oh, that was wrong. I feel bad for it, and don’t want to do it again.” Someone who repents must, by definition, also actively turn from that of which he/she repented. An alcoholic may decide to quit. She may stop drinking for a day. Or two. But would she last for three? During those first few days would she be living a normal life, or would she be constantly thinking of alcohol and reproving herself every time she did? When we sin it is like pure silver that has become worthless slag. When we repent, we decide we want to become pure again, and turn to God, the refining fire. He says “I will melt you down and skim off your slag. I will remove all your impurities.” [Isaiah 1:25] Meanwhile, people say that being melted down and purified by God is “too easy”! No, salvation may be free, but it is not cheap. It costs you your old, familiar, comfortable life. (Dirty and unsuitable as it may be.)

No, changing your life hurts alright. It is truly difficult. It is different from making New Year’s Resolutions. It means following your NYRs.

It pains us when we fail. It pains God when we fail. It doesn’t mean we don’t try. We do something bad, and think that whatever good we do can balance out the equation. But what is done is done. We have no power to erase that bad, that unique action, that we have committed. “I am sick of your sacrifices,” says God. [Isaiah 1:11] and I think here he meant to add, “So I will give you my own.” (And yea that means Jesus.)

Only God can forgive our wrongs. But only we can accept that forgiveness (and first we have to admit that we need this stuff.) Then we have to go into the next, unknown room. We have decorated and set up our old room, and turned on the air conditioning. But God calls us to the next, empty, hot room. We do not want to sweat out our toxins; we want to stay comfortable. But God wants us to sweat, and toil, and make something good of ourselves. In the process we will deck out the room too. Then we must move on again, until we reach the final room.