I found myself in a new place among unfamiliar faces this past weekend, but sharing in a very familiar tradition—the passing of tiny cups of juice and bitty cubes of bread while old, old verses were read:
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. I Cor.11:25
There was an invitation for all who are trusting Jesus as their Saviour to partake. It was a rightly sober few moments of remembrance and of gratitude for a Lamb slaughtered, for blood shed…for me. How many times before have I chewed and swallowed, upended the tiny plastic cup of Welch’s best…but a new thought occurred to me in the process this time, perhaps because I am currently making my way through the book of Leviticus chapter by chapter. And there is so much blood there!
For every infraction of God’s law, an offering must be made, an animal sacrificed. Even unintentional sins resulted in bloodshed. The procedures were very specific—a perfect and specific animal, an exacting procedure. This was holy business. Just this morning I finished reading the instructions pertaining to sacrifices. I don't quite get the distinctions between the burnt offering, the peace offering, the sin offering and the guilt offering but one thing they have in common is BLOOD and always this blood is poured out at the base of the altar after being applied to the horns of the altar or thrown against the sides of the altar. And never is this blood to be consumed. It was strictly forbidden to eat blood.
"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.”. Lev.17:10-11
The explanation God gives is this: "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.” Lev.17:11
Life is represented by the blood. Under no condition was it to be consumed, always poured out.
But something changed when the perfect Sacrifice came along, God’s Lamb, Jesus. He invites, even commands His disciples to drink His blood--not literally, of course, but symbolically, to take the cup in recognition of their participation in the New Covenant. "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. Mt.26:27-28
This marked a radical departure from the endless round of sacrifices required by the Old Covenant. At last an offering had been made which put an end to all other offerings. At last here is an offering that actually has the power to do away with sin, to nullify its deadly effects, to pronounce the worshiper clean!
And at last, the worshiper is offered the LIFE that is represented by the blood. For the perceptive follower, this new paradigm had already been strongly hinted at. Jesus had laid it out in pretty graphic language:
So Jesus said to them, "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. Jn.6:53-56
Many of His followers had turned back at those words. Drinking blood? They would have known this was a violation of the law. What then could He possible mean? They didn’t stick around to find out.
But those closest to Him persisted in following, listening, and believing, even when they did not understand. What alternative was there? Peter put it well: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jn.6:68,69 They hung on His Words and they followed even when they had questions.
And I too have been chewing this week on His words, considering this Life that I’ve been invited to participate in, to drink deeply of, to let flow through me… Do I understand completely how this works? How do I ‘feed on His flesh and drink His blood’ daily? Do I comprehend how the Spirit makes this life real in me? No, but I am counting on this Life to be lived out in me by faith, this Life like no other, that God has provided at the cost of His own life…
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I Jn.5:11-12
The Gospel makes some pretty bold claims, some would say exclusive claims. Is there really no other way to find life?! Aren’t other religious systems plausible means to life?
I heard it explained this way—yes, the Gospel is exclusive in this sense--it excludes all the ways that lead to death! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is about Life, the way it was meant to be lived. And it is in fact exceptionally inclusive! Consider this all-expenses paid invitation:
The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. Rev.22:17
Unlike any other offers this Life is free, not hinging on my performance, my goodness, my devotion, or my ability to keep the rules. And it’s all made possible by the blood of Jesus having been poured out as the ultimate Sacrifice.
So I come in awe, and I come grateful. I believe and drink deeply. The whole weight of who I am (and who I’m not) I cast on Jesus. His Life is for me and for You. He tasted death for us so that we might experience True Life!
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. Jn.17:3
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. Heb.2:9
"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Is.55:1-3
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God… You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. ... If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you… I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me…(I Cor.15:50;Rom.8:9,11;Gal.2:20)
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.Heb 9:13-14
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight Eph 1:7-8… making peace by the blood of his cross”Col 1:20
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Rev 1:5-6
What a helpful pondering this is -- and it's never occurred to me before, this New Testament departure from the OT rule. And we are drinking life, aren't we? And it is a picture of the fact that in our every day life we need to feed on Him.
I tried to have a conversation along these lines once with some friends, and they began looking very concerned for me, "You do know that it's only a symbol . . ."
Oh, yes, I know, but please don't say "only."
Yes, Michele, like the manna we are never meant to hoard enough to get by for days on end...We are meant to keep drinking I think--synonymous with keeping on believing as we feed on His Words...I love the way new insights emerge as we do so.
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