Summary: There could never be a more personal, more sacrificial or more sacred expression of God’s saving love than the shed blood of Jesus.
“Life is in the Blood”
Hebrews 9:11-15, 19-28
Two missionary doctors working in India, both surgeons, were frustrated by the unwillingness of most Indians to donate blood. To the Indians, blood was life, and they couldn’t get past the idea of sacrificing any of their precious life-force. Parents were often even unwilling to donate blood to save the lives of their own children.
One day a 12 year-old girl was brought into their hospital suffering from a severely diseased lung that needed to be removed immediately. The surgery would require at least three pints of blood. Fortunately, the girl was an AB+ blood type, a “universal recipient,” meaning that she could receive the blood of any donor, regardless of type. But the hospital had only two pints of blood on hand, so they needed one more from the family. After learning this and conferring together, the family pooled their money and offered to buy the additional pint.
Dr. Reeve Betts, one of the surgeons,explained that there was no blood to be bought, and that if the family didn’t provide it themselves they might as well take the girl back home to die. So the family huddled once again, and finally they pushed forward a frail old woman weighing under 100 pounds, the smallest and weakest member of the family.
Dr. Betts looked around at the healthy, well-fed men who’d made that decision, and he lost his temper. In his broken Tamil dialect he berated the dozen or so other family members, jabbing his finger back and forth from the strong men to the frail old woman. They cowered in the face of his anger, but even then no one stepped forward.
Finally, Reeve rolled up his own sleeve and told his colleague, Dr. Paul Brand, “I can’t stand by and let that girl die. Take my blood.” The family fell silent and watched in awe as Paul cuffed his arm, slipped the needle into his vein, and the rich, red flow of blood spurted into the bottle. A collective “ahhh,” sound arose from among the family members, and Reeve heard them saying, “Look, the sahib doctor is giving his own life.” It was an act of sacrificial love in their eyes, one that witnessed to them more than any sermon ever could have, and it saved that young girl’s life.
In the Bible, too, blood is equated with life. Israel was taught that “life is in the blood.” It was always to be treated reverently, as an expression of the sacred gift of life itself.
Even in our day of highly sophisticated medical science, there’s no substitute for blood--no such thing as synthetic blood. Blood is still a precious commodity, an essential, God-given element of physical life. Too often we take it for granted, but every major surgery requires the blood of multiple donors who understand that vital fact. (In fact, blood donors are among the unsung heroes in our society.) And the first course of treatment in trauma cases when there is serious bleeding is to stop the loss of blood, and to replace it as quickly as possible.
A father of fours active young children once told me, half kiddingly, that he could tell his parenting style had mellowed over the years because, whereas he had been quick to respond and intervene in some of the squabbles between his first two children, after the third and fourth arrived, his rule of them had become, “If I see any blood, I’ll get involved.” Blood was the sign that it was becoming serious.
It’s often been said that the Bible is a bloody book, and that’s very true. In the Old Testament, there’s a “scarlet thread” running from the blood of Abel to the circumcision of Abraham and every Jewish male thereafter, to the blood of the Passover on the doorposts of Israel’s homes, to the sprinkling with blood of the altar and all of its elements of worship, including the scrolls of Scripture--and even the sprinkling with blood of all the people on the most consecrated occasions. The old covenant was sealed in blood.
All of the innocent blood shed through the centuries, including the lives of literally more than a million animals sacrificed at the Temple--bulls, cattle, oxen, goats and sheep, and even pigeons and doves for those too poor to won livestock (like Joseph and Mary)--all of that tragic shed blood was a vivid prelude to what God would do in the sacrifice of his Son to forge a new covenant, sealed in his own sacred blood.
Without wanting to be gruesome, it’s important to point out that it would have been an utterly horrifying sight to witness the bloodied body of Jesus on the cross. From his head to his feet, Jesus’ blood would have been dripping, even streaming at times. His crown of thorns, made from the 3-4 inch long, razor-sharp black thorns native to Palestine, had been driven deep into his scalp by the Roman soldiers’ repeated strikes from his staff. His face would also have been bloodied from the blows of their fists. He was then severely flogged with a Roman whip of several leather thongs, each tipped with sharp, jagged metal or bone fragments, leaving his back and shoulders in ribbons. His knees were bruised and bloodied from repeated falls onto the cobblestone pavement under the weight of the crossbar he was forced to carry to the site of his crucifixion. It was there that large, crude spikes were driven into his wrists and ankles. And the longer he hung on the cross, the more he would have bled through his nose and mouth.