New York, September 3, 2011
It is a rich blessing for Sister Barbara and myself to be in your midst. I would like to thank you for inviting me to your convention. I pray that the Word which God will want to speak to you through me would be worth your effort.
(Greetings from Ludwigshafen, Germany and Europe)
The subject I have intended to consider together with you is about blood. When it circulates in the veins, while we do not see it, blood means life. It is a fluid wonderfully designed by God, which plays a central, life-giving role in the functioning of most living organisms. However, blood, when it is outside the organism, means death. Sometimes the loss of only a part of this life-giving fluid may make further life impossible. It is probably for these reasons that the sight of blood causes us very unpleasant feelings.
The question of blood in the Bible, particularly in the sacrificial worship of the Old Testament, is a broad one, and one of great importance. The Apostle Paul writes in the Epistle to the Hebrews this crucial information for us: „Almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” – Hebrews 9:22. Since we are all sinners and in need of cleansing, or forgiveness of sins, the subject of blood in the spiritual sense is for us of vital and central importance.
The immediate inspiration to share these considerations with you, brethren, was the testimony of a converted Jew, published a hundred years ago in „Zion's Watch Tower,” from November 1, 1904 (Reprint 3454). We quote two excerpts:
The old Jew says: „Again and again I read Exodus 12 and Leviticus 16 and 17, and the latter chapters especially made me tremble, as I thought of the great Day of Atonement and the place the blood had there. Day and night one verse would ring in my ears, 'It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.' I knew I had broken the Law. I needed atonement. Year after year, on that day, I beat my breast as I confessed my need of it; but it was to be made by blood, and there was no blood! (...) This thought filled me with horror. In my distress I consulted many other rabbis. I had but one great question – Where can I find the blood of atonement?
„I was over thirty years of age when I left Palestine and came to Constantinople, with my still unanswered question ever before my mind, and my soul exceedingly troubled about my sins. One night I was walking down one of the narrow streets of that city, when I saw a sign telling of a meeting for Jews. Curiosity led me to open the door and go in. Just as I took a seat I heard a man say: 'The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin.' (...) I had found the blood of atonement at last! I trusted it, and now I love to read the New Testament and see how all the shadows of the Law are fulfilled in Jesus. His blood has been shed for sinners.”
This is undoubtedly a very beautiful testimony. However, when I read it for the first time, a question arose in my mind: Is what this old Jewish man searched for and what he finally found at the Christian mission, the same as what God had expected, ordering the Israelites to make the blood sacrifices?
Both the Jews as well as we at the present time have long fallen out of familiarity with the sight of animal blood, shed in the service of God. Blood in the religious sense is a symbol for us, an intellectual concept that is used to solve theological problems. But was this all that God meant? Was it why he ordered to kill and burn countless animals for fifteen hundred years, so that we may arrange and solve theological equations?
The general understanding of certain symbols of cleansing with blood may be different. How different, I was able to find out first hand when one of my Catholic friends was once at our meeting. His biggest surprise was not so much the views we proclaim, but a painting on the front wall, depicting the sacrifice of the bullock on the Day of Atonement. What for me since childhood has been a symbol of purification by the blood of Jesus' sacrifice, for him was merely an unpleasant image of cow slaughter, with its blood dripping down into the bowl.
Our children attended a Christian kindergarten, where there was also a child from India. After a while his mother, a Brahmin woman, moved him to another kindergarten, believing that he is being discriminated against. During one conversation with my wife she said she did not want her son to be fed by the terrifying images of a bloody human corpse, hung on a wooden cross. It was obviously a reference to Jesus, since the teacher would tell the children about Jesus on the occasion of Easter, likely using a book with illustrations. Again, what I would consider a religious symbol of the atoning death was for the Brahmin woman a cruel image which should not be shown to young children.
So when we speak about an outpouring of blood which cleanses us from sin, or a sprinkling of blood or an anointing of blood, are we truly in touch with what this blood means? Should we perhaps be concerned that we may be so removed from the idea of blood sacrifices, including that of Jesus, and that which we would make of ourselves, that it does not quite raise the same emotions as those that God had planned, when He gave the rules of the blood sacrifices of animals?
So where DID the idea of cleansing by blood come from, and what was its original purpose?
Abel was the first man who offered a blood sacrifice to God. How he came to the conclusion that God might really like a gift that consists of burning an animal killed, we do not know. After all, people did probably not eat meat at that time, so they had no need to kill them.
Later in the sacrificial worship prescribed by the Law, God gave people a little more information about what had been already intuitively sensed by Abel, Noah, Abraham or Job. These men, who grew up in the shepherding trade, even without the precise instructions of the Law felt, why an offering that consists of killing an animal may be pleasing to God as propitiation for their own sins.
Shepherds develop very close feelings for the animals in their care. This is evident even in the description of the treatment of the ewe lamb by the man in the parable that Nathan told David reproving him for the sin with Bathsheba: „But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.” (2 Sam. 12:3).
When Jesus wanted to show the joy of heaven from the repentance of one sinner, he reached for an example of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep in order to find one that gets lost. What would this shepherd have felt if that one lamb were to be then slaughtered and burned as a sacrifice on the altar?
David, a shepherd, quickly judged the offense of theft and slaughter of the ewe lamb in the fictional story by Nathan. He exclaimed, „The man that hath done this thing shall surely die” – and then he named the prescribed penalty of quadruple compensation.
A shepherd killing the most beautiful sheep of his flock – and the animals were mostly young, charming and defenseless – would certainly feel great sadness. An innocent animal had to be killed for his own offense. Even when a shepherd, lived in the city (like David or Jesus) and the sheep could only be seen in the distant fields or as meat sizzling on the grill, he could still understand how much the blood that dripped on the altar meant. We can only try to understand it.
Death is always sad. But when someone dies in a war he caused, or as a result of a self-inflicted accident, we think, well, that's a pity, but overall we accept such news quite easily, unless it affects our loved ones. But when innocent people die as victims of someone else's carelessness or as a result a third-party's war, or someone else's transgression, we feel that this is some great injustice. We also speak then of them as victims or sacrifices.
In a week, New York, the United States, and the whole world will celebrate the tenth anniversary of the terrible attack on the World Trade Center. What a sense of injustice and powerlessness arises in human hearts at the thought of the hundreds of people who were on the airplanes used by the murderers as flying bombs, and of the thousands of other victims who were burned alive in their offices, and of the firefighters who died in the rescue operations.
Similar sentiments are felt when we hear about the persecution of Christians in the Islamic countries, or of young people who are killed in schools or at the summer gatherings, as recently in Norway, at the hands of armed lunatics. These are victims or sacrifices which we sorrow for greatly. Though their blood does not purify anyone at this time, but the feelings they arouse, are similar to those that we should feel, thinking about the blood of the sacrifices cleansing our sins.
With these thoughts and feelings now let's look at three ways in that blood was used in the sacrificial worship of the Sinai Covenant. The blood of the sacrifices was (1) poured out and (2) it was sprinkled and (3) it was also used to anoint people and things. (4) We will also consider a forth way of sacrificing blood, in a way of drinking it, which was introduced by the teaching of Jesus and apostles.
(1) The shedding of blood means death. Even the expression „to spill blood” is used frequently in the Bible as a substitute for the word „kill” or „murder” (Gen. 9:6, Gen. 37:22, Num. 35:33). An animal sacrifice offered to God was first to be killed. The man who offered it was to lay his hands on the animal's head, expressing this way that it replaces him in death: „And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.” – Lev. 1:4
Killing animals for purposes other than offering it as a sacrifice, was an offense: „What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it out of the camp, and bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer an offering unto the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD; blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people” Leviticus 17:3-4. A man shedding the blood of an animal was to always put his hands on its head and kill the animal as a sacrifice in his place. Likely this was supposed to be accompanied by conscience of guilt over the death of an innocent victim.
(2) The sprinkling of blood of sacrifices was first of all part of the making of a covenant: „And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words” – Lev. 24:8. From the epistle to the Hebrews (Hebr. 9:19) we learn also that Moses sprinkled the book: „For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people”. This procedure probably meant that abandoning the obligation to keep the laws, given in the books, would result in the death of the offender, just like died the animals whose blood consecrated the books and the people.
Blood was also sprinkled on the Mercy Seat on the occasion of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:14), upon the floor of the Holy (Lev. 4:6), on the garments of the priest and on himself (Ex. 29:21), an on the altar (Lev. 16:19). In exceptional circumstances, the sprinkling of blood took place also outside the camp. Among others, a leper was purified by the sprinkling of the blood of a bird (Lev. 14:7). Also, in the preparation of the ashes for cleansing after touching a corpse, the procedure included sprinkling with the blood of a red heifer (Num. 19:4).
Sprinkling is the most unpleasant way of coming in contact with blood. I have never been sprayed with someone else's blood, animal or human. Since I work in a theater, I was once in a scene where a liquid resembling blood was being sprayed as blood. I was aware that the red liquid, which was being sprayed, was not blood. Despite that, every drop falling on my body or clothing caused me quite unpleasant emotions. Also the objects with blood stains on them appear quite disgusting. We would prefer not to see them, and certainly we would not want to touch them.
The sight of blood being spilled on the ground is similarly not very pleasant. However, blood quickly loses its color and decomposes on the natural substrate of soil. When lightly covered with sand, it is not very visible. The spilling of the slaughtered animal's blood on the ground seems to be a hygienic necessity, and perhaps that is why it does not cause such unpleasant feelings as sprinkling with blood.
(3) Anointing is the third way of using blood in sacrificial worship. The best known example is the Passover in Egypt: „And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.” – Ex. 12:7. Although some translations use the word „sprinkle”, yet the correct translation is one that speaks of „painting” the door post and the lintel with the blood of the lamb. Another example of anointing with blood is in the ceremonial consecration of priesthood. The right ear, the right thumb and the big toe of the right foot were anointed with the blood of the sacrifice of consecration (Lev. 8:23). In the same ceremony, Moses anointed the horns of the altar with the blood of the sin offering (Lev. 8:15). Also, lepers were cleansed similar to the priests by anointing their ear, thumb and big toe with blood (Lev. 14:14).
The blood of every ordinary sacrifice for the sin of a priest, people, a prince or a common man was used, among others, for the anointing of the horns of the altar – both the golden altar of incense (Lev. 4:7,18), as well as the brazen altar for burnt offerings (Lev. 4: 25, 30). This means that the horns of both altars were being constantly smeared with blood. Also, the side walls of the brazen altar had traces of blood on them. They were anointed by the blood of birds both as burnt offerings (Lev. 1:15) as well as a sin offering for the poor (Lev. 5:9).
The anointing with blood appears to be a procedure less unpleasant than the sprinkling. This is because it has the marks of a deliberate and a voluntary action. The man being anointed with blood – the priest being consecrated, or a man healed of leprosy – agrees to participate in this ceremony. In this situation, this hardly pleasant ritual of anointing some parts of the body with blood did not seem to be so unacceptable.
The sight of tabernacle furniture deliberately smeared with blood on its designated parts was probably not too pleasant for the priests serving there. But it was necessary because of the obligation to remind the sins for which innocent sacrifices suffered death.
(4) The fourth method of using blood in the sacrificial rites is not referred to in the Law of Sinai in a literal sense. What's more, this method would be outright prohibited by the Law. We learn about this method from the teachings of Jesus: „Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” – John 6:54. Although Jesus is not speaking here of literally drinking His blood, nevertheless, even the suggestion was so outrageous that most disciples had left Him then.
Jesus was a sacrifice. His blood was shed in the literal sense. But when he speaks about drinking His blood, what He meant was the spiritual sense of using His sacrifice. The Apostle Paul explains that by eating the body of Jesus, we become a part of his body (1 Cor. 10:17). A similar conclusion can be reached from his considerations of the blood. By participating in the cup of the Lord (1 Cor. 10:21) we become a part of the Cup with the blood of Christ.
A spiritual meaning of the four ways of offering blood
Thus, in a natural way we have transitioned to the spiritual meaning of each method of using blood in sacrificial service. To remind them again, they were: (1) the shedding of blood, (2) the sprinkling of blood, (3) anointing with blood, and (4) the consumption of blood, the latter only having a reference to in a spiritual significance of Jesus' blood.
(1) The shedding of blood means death. The spilling of a sacrifice's blood signifies a substitutionary death, instead of the sinner's death. Such a death creates the possibility of atonement (redemption): „For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement [KaPhaR – redemption] for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement [KaPhaR – Redemption] for the soul.” – Lev. 17:11. The verb KaPhaR (#3722) is closely linked with the word „ransom” – Hebrew KoPheR (#3724). From Hebr. 10:4, we learn that the blood of animals did not provide an atonement (or cleansing) for sins. The blood of animal sacrifices was only a symbolic representation of the actual redemption, which was accomplished by the shedding of Jesus' blood. He died for all men who die in Adam (1 Cor. 15:22).
Jesus' blood was shed long ago and far away. But its color has not faded, and its importance has not decayed. It differs from the blood of animals just like reality differs from a shadow. We owe endless gratitude to our Heavenly Father for having created the plan of redemption through the blood of Jesus. We are very grateful to Jesus himself that he was obedient unto death on the cross, and that with his own blood He redeemed us – both believers, and all the people. Proper feelings of gratitude, however, should not obscure our guilty conscience. Even though the shedding of His Son's blood was planned by God, it is still a murder of an innocent victim.
I am a sinner. I would have died not only because of Adam's sin, but also because of my own sins and weaknesses. But I live because Jesus shed his blood for me – and that in the most literal sense. He suffered, experienced pain, and died with a keen sense of loneliness and abandonment. True, it wasn't my sin that directly caused his death. I wasn't there. But what killed Him was the sin of people like me. He was killed by sin like mine. I am sometimes inconsiderate, proud, able to persecute people who are different than me, who understand God differently than I do. If I lived in Judea 1978 years ago, I would probably find myself shouting in front of Pilate's doors, Crucify Him! Crucify Him!
(2) Sprinkling of blood is very depressing. It's easier for me to just think in general terms, that I am a sinner overall. It is harder to name my own specific sins that offend God, those that sadden Him. But the hardest thing is to admit to our neighbor our offense against love. Sometimes we avoid this topic until we are sprayed with the blood of a sacrifice. This rarely happens in a literal sense. But sometimes I realize that my bad conduct brings suffering and shortens the life of my neighbor. And I don't mean hear only inflicting actual pain on others or causing their death. If my brother is sad or weakens because of me, he will probably live shorter because of it. We know how much spiritual sufferings are linked to the literal, fleshly ailments.
When someone reminds me that my neighbor is suffering because of me, I feel as if I was sprayed with the blood of an innocent sacrifice. This is an unpleasant feeling, but unfortunately sometimes necessary for me to realize my own sinfulness and the need to reconcile with my neighbor, by changing my own conduct and asking forgiveness from the person who suffered because of me.
Sometimes it is us who suffer because of someone else. In such cases, we should not „splash” our suffering, our „blood” left and right. We should, instead, suffer silently, like Jesus, who did not revile those who mocked him; he threatened not those who caused him to suffer, those who were taking his life. Knowing that my suffering, my symbolic „blood” may help someone understand their error and correct their ways, may bring them to more readily take advantage of the purifying sacrifice of Jesus, helps me to endure my sufferings in silence and in humility.
(3) The anointing with blood in the spiritual sense is when we purposefully use the blood of Jesus' sacrifice to purify our altars, our bodies, clothes and services. We look at the horns of the altars anointed with the blood of Jesus. It is through its purifying power that our prayers can ascend to heaven like incense from the golden altar. With His blood applied to the horns of the altar of burnt offerings, our own sacrifice laid on this altar can be accepted as pure, though obviously far from holy and perfect.
I was afflicted by the leprosy of the bad intentions of my heart and the sinful deficiencies of the flesh. With His blood, Jesus anointed my right ear, so I could hear His voice and believe in the love of His Father. He anointed my right thumb, so that with the use of my fingers, my whole hand, both my hands, are able to perform the actions that could be considered good and holy, though they are not. He anointed the big toe of my right foot, so I would walk only following Him, and that I would together with Him be heading for the goal, set forth by His blood of reconciliation.
The anointing with blood is a realization that my own service is imperfect. It is an expression of a sad humility and an acknowledgment of my own sin. May this anointing become clear frequently, in concrete terms. I would like to improve my service – not to remain in the mistakes I made but to fix them and serve better, and with greater purity. Each humble recognition of an error on my part helps me with that. Often, the error may mean an omission to do something good. On those occasions, I would like to feel the embarrassment and, to ask Jesus to re-anoint me with his blood as a sign of healing from another attack of leprosy.
(4) And finally, the hardest task: Drinking the blood of Jesus. The Apostle Paul says to us in Hebrews 12:22-24: „But ye are come unto mount Sion (...), and to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven (...) and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” We use the blood of Jesus. But we „come unto” his blood in the sense that by our own suffering we may expand the reach of His blood.
By coming unto, joining, the „church (gathering) of the firstborn” we expand that church, because we become a part of it. This gathering grows as more and more join the ranks of believers. We similarly join the Mediator and His blood. Today, what counts is only the blood of Jesus. There is no other blood for purification. But there exists the blood of sacrifices, the blood of persecution, of ridicule, the blood of physical and mental anguish, the blood of the sacrificial death of Jesus' followers. When the Grand High Priest shall accept this sacrifice as one worthy of His example, He will use it for sprinkling and anointing of those who were guilty of its shedding. He will use it to purify those who had the same weaknesses and sins, as the persecutor, but who themselves may not have become direct participants in shedding the blood of the saints: „That, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ” – 1 Peter 3:16. All persecutors will benefit from the cleansing blood of Jesus, but also from their sprinkling with the blood of their innocent victims.
Let's summarize: (1) Jesus shed his blood to cleanse all people. His blood was true life. When it was shed, it substituted the blood of all the sins which was poured out on our miserable earth. (2) Jesus and His Body, the members of the Church, lay themselves down as sacrifices, whose blood will be sprinkled on all sinners guilty of its shedding. The persecutors and their followers will quite likely experience an emotional shock realizing their guilt. This will help them convert to follow the works of righteousness. (3) Through that process, everyone converted will willingly and readily look at the horns of the altar anointed with the blood of the sin-offerings, and will willingly ask to have their ears, thumbs and big toes anointed with the blood of the sacrifices of consecration, as a sign of purification from the leprosy of the sinful condition of the heart.
When the work of the cleansing of sin is complete, never again will the blood of any sacrifices be shed. People will offer their thanksgiving on the altars of prayer, free of blood. A smoke of pure incense will rise to heaven, with the savour of oil, flour and wine seasoned with the salt of the everlasting covenant. Thus, both the blood of the animal sacrifices and the shedding of the blood of Jesus, and of His followers will all remain only as memories, unpleasant but necessary, memories of crimes committed in the past, which will never happen again.
And what about us today? Let us watch not to commit sins. Let us strive for holiness and purity, which as infrequently as possible appeals to the blood of reconciliation. Jesus shed His blood for us. It is a great relief. This is a rope ensuring our difficult climbing. But let us strive not to fall back and strain that security. True, we do have the assurance of real reconciliation in the event of committing an offense. However, there is great joy in heaven, when we correct our ways and not commit sins, in other words, when with all our might we strive not to commit a smallest offense.
On the other hand – when we suffer, when drop by drop, the blood of our sacrificed lives is being shed for the future sprinkling – let us rejoice! „If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” – 1 Peter 2:20. It is a great privilege to suffer with Jesus. It is a great honor to be able to help someone achieve perfection by and by. But what is necessary today, is our patient bearing of the weaknesses and vices of our neighbor, and sometimes even bearing the weaknesses of our co-sacrificers, our brethren. Let us be proud of the privilege to suffer with Jesus. Let us be patient in enduring this privilege.
Oh yes, dear brethren! We have found the blood of atonement which this old Jew was looking for all his life. We are sorry that because of our sin Jesus had to suffer and die. We are sorry for sufferings we cause for others. We try to endure our own sufferings with humility in meekness.
And may the Lord will add strength in the exercise of this honorable and challenging service of drinking the blood of Jesus – joining Him in suffering, so that we may participate with Him in the glory of His eternal service. Amen.