Monday, May 18, 2009

The offense of the Cross

After our Sunday evening Bible study, Paul and I had a lengthy discussion with our pastor and a few others in the room regarding the nature of Communion, or the Lord's Supper, if you prefer. It was a fascinating and thought provoking discussion comparing the various non-Catholic views. My husband, holds to the Lutheran belief commonly referred to as consubstantiation. Though sympathetic to his view, I have a more "Reformed" perspective, more like Calvin's than the bare "memorial" view associated with Zwingli and adhered to by the bulk of modern evangelicals. This is the first time, however, that I've devoted such extensive thought to the matter. I've found it a very edifying subject for study; and as I said, it has provoked a lot of thought, on a variety of related themes - blood for instance.

There is something innately horrifying about blood, something offensive. My sister faints at the sight of it, hers or anyone else's. My son hated the mere mention of the word "blood" when he was a little boy - probably still does. It's as if we know instinctively what Scripture tells us: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood..." (Lev. 17:11). We recoil at seeing blood spilled - life pouring out.

Then, as though to bolster our natural revulsion, when God singled out a people upon the earth to call His own He gave them commands concerning blood. "It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood." (Lev. 3:17) And, "Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people." (Lev. 7:27) There were also commands regarding "blood guilt", and the blood of the animal sacrifices was to be sprinkled on the altar. In fact, the Scriptures tell us that "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22b). At first glance it seems a strange thing that blood, that dreadful sight, would be required for forgiveness. Yet when we remember that the penalty for sin is death, it stands to reason that the cure for sin would be the stuff of life. But I've digressed.

My point here is blood, and offense. By the time of Christ there had been centuries of history and tradition and law regarding blood. And then comes Jesus, performing miracles, teaching the people, attracting multitudes who hung on His every word, and to this Jewish crowd He said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." (John 6:53-56) At this saying His disciples began to grumble; and Jesus responded, "Do you take offense at this?..."(v.61) He goes on to explain that He's speaking spiritually, but most cannot get past the original offense and, "After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him." (v.66).

And the notion of a bloody sacrifice is still shocking and offensive to this day. It is so earthy and barbaric - and yet, so is our sin. The penalty must fit the crime. We are a bloody and foul people (if you don't believe that, just read the news). We are hardly less primitive than in the days of Christ, and no less obscene. And so, we too are in need of a sacrifice as offensive as our sin. Only the blood of the sinless and eternal Lamb of God, can cleanse us from the guilt of our sin. And thus we can sing of the most offensive thing as though it were truly lovely - and it is.

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in His day;
And there have I, though vile as he,
Washed all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r,
Till all the ransomed church of God
Are safe, to sin no more.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.

William Cowper, 1771


4 comments:

barrywallace said...

Great post, Laurie. God help us if we ever even think about removing the offense of the cross. The horror of Christ's bloody sacrifice demonstrates once and for all the horror of our sin and rebellion.

Cowper's hymn is one of my favorites.

jeri said...

I've contemplated this same issue, Laurie...the horror, really, of so much shed blood in the OT sacrifices, yet it could never take away sin, after all; relentlessly required, day in and day out. The heat, and the smell, and the bleating of the animals...the brutal act of slaying required of the priests over and over...all designed, I think, to cause the people to despair of it and long for a Sacrifice that would once and for all take away sin. Love your thoughts on it.

Joe said...

Excellent thoughts and post. As barrywallace mentions above "God help us if we ever even think about removing the offense of the cross." Thank you for this reminder today and for reprinting "There Is A Fountain", one of my favorite hymns.

Blessings -

Anonymous said...

Here is a bit of modest bragging! William Cowper was a member at the church Gordon and I now attend in St Alban's, Hertfordshire, UK: Spicer Street Independant Chapel.
Thank you for posting the hymn and the comments are so appropriate too.
Estelle.