Jesus loves us in the whole world and his blood is for us. It saves my soul and it saves my life. Jesus’ blood washes us because he loves us. God knows we need his blood. He knows that blood washes us and washes the Kingdom of God around the countries of the earth.
Do you see why I pulled over??? Grace is 4 years old. We’ve certainly taught her that Jesus came and died for us. Even that he shed his blood for us. But I tell you in earnest we have not, at 4 years old, gotten into the significant doctrinal details of “The Blood” and “substitutionary atonement.” As I thought about why, I came to the realization that while it’s important to wait for age- appropriate teaching, in reality “The Blood” is a hard truth to grapple with at any age. I think most of the time we distance ourselves from it with academic theological explanations or we simply try to avoid it.
It’s hard to look at the cross. The cross is brutal. It’s hard because you are staring into a violent death, harder still, because the one slain was innocent. Most difficult because it was the evil and indemnity of the human heart that caused it. We don’t want to confront that, because if we let our hearts go there we have to admit our own hands are guilty too. For who among us is without sin? (John 8:7) For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)The heart is deceitful above all things, (Jeremiah 17:9) and we don’t want to admit how desperately wicked we really are— or that we need to be saved. So people try to avoid it. “Doctrine of substitutionary atonement? Jesus died for sin? Jesus’ blood washes me and makes me clean? Forget that! Just give me the teaching of Jesus. That’s all that really matters.” There are serious ramifications to approaching things from that perspective.
When we distance ourselves from the blood Jesus shed to save us we take the heart out of our faith— Literally. It is the loving heart of our Lord that moved him to give up his life in the first place. That act is meant to move our heart, softening it to God. Instead of going there, though, we just want to focus on “Jesus’ teachings.” But then what do we get? We end up with just another “philosophy,” another “self-help” program. This program is one based on MY efforts to perform and adhere to “the teaching.” That doesn’t sound like some who’s holding on to a Savior. It sounds a lot more like someone who’s on a “Self-salvation Project.”
When we discount the blood Jesus shed to save us we also turn The Bible into something it’s not. It becomes a book of prescriptions of things we “should” do. Don’t get me wrong, the Bible does give us instructions. (B.I.B.L.E. = Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth) But, the Bible is not primarily a book about what we should do. If we approach it from that vantage point it becomes utterly crushing. Mark Twain saw the Bible that way. He reported that he had recurring nightmares of being crushed to death by the weight of a huge Bible. When you take the saving power of Jesus’s blood on the cross away, and simply look at the Bible as a prescription of how to “become a good person” it certainly will crush you— because deep down you know you can’t possibly meet the standard. Yet we continue on the path of thinking somehow the burden is on us to be “a better person.”
Personally, I get so irritated by this cliché it makes me want to just scream: “Don’t you realize!? There’s no such thing as a good person!” I once had a gentlemen tell me that was an “astounding thought.” But is it really? When we say “I’m a good person” or “I’m trying to be a good person” we are putting the credit to ourselves. We are looking at God and saying “I’m not totally bankrupt. I’ve got some credit in my account. I don’t really need you. ”
We don’t want to admit the truth that we can’t actually meet the standard of Jesus’ teaching. When we look at the standard we look for ways to justify ourselves, but find in reality we are crushed by it—suffocated in striving to perform the law. Don’t you know you have another choice? You can be crushed by the Bible… or you can be absorbed into it. I challenge you to approach the Bible from of whole new perspective. It is not a book about what you “should do.” It is a book about what God has done for you! John 3:16~ For God so loved the world he gave his only son that whosoever should believe in him will not perish, but have everlasting life. The Bible isn’t about you. It’s about God. When you get absorbed into the Bible like that you end up finding a whole new world! It changes everything about how you read it, how you view God and how you view yourself. God is no longer just the God of wrath setting impossible standards for you to fill. God is now the God whose love for us was as high as the standard he had for us. He is perfectly holy and perfectly loving and he could not compromise either of these aspects of his character. But, he wanted to be with us— so he gave us a way. Jesus. 1 John 4:10~ Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son to be the propitiation [atoning sacrifice] for our sins. [i]
Jesus’ blood shed on the cross is the way. Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” (John 14:6) We can’t discount the blood. Jesus is the way. God knew we couldn’t do it on our own effort. He knew the laws and rules and “shoulds” would never induce us to love of him or obedience to him. But He knew what would: Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13) He lived the life you ought to have lived: perfect and blameless. He died the death you ought to have died: judged guilty and executed. His love and sacrifice, his willingness to lay down his life for you, for me— is beyond comprehension. He knew when you really “saw” that truth, it could move your heart to awe at His extravagant love for you. And then you might choose then to love Him above all else.
Not one of us is innocent. Hard to hear, but true. We have all offended and sinned against God, and that puts us in Hid debt. If you don’t like the thought of that try it on with a simple illustration. Imagine (it shouldn’t be hard to do) someone you know has offended or hurt you deeply. The typical human response is not forgiveness. Instead, we want retribution. We judge the offender. We “hold them accountable” for hurting us. We make them “pay.” We “punish them.” You see, they “owe” us. They should make things right! If they don’t, we are going to make them pay for that debt. Maybe we make them pay by saying unflattering things about them to others, or by giving them the silent treatment, or treating them poorly when we see them, or maybe we simply make them pay by continuing to think ugly thoughts about them and holding a grudge. You see, when we do these things we are making the offender “pay.” After all, why shouldn’t they have to pay? They haven’t kept the standard! So we crucify their character. We crucify our relationship with them. We crucify them in our hearts.
But what happens when we choose to forgive? If we are honest, forgiveness hurts. It hurts because in forgiveness we decide that we will bare the cost. We won’t hold them indebted to us. We pay the debt. We do it by refusing to speak poorly of them— even though a part of us wants to, we crucify that intention in ourselves. We bare the cost by continuing to treat them with kindness—even though the nature of our “self” doesn’t feel like being kind, we crucify that hard nature of our hearts. We also refuse to entertain mean thoughts about the person or relive the wrong done to us. Every time the wrong pops into our heads and we want to relive it, we just don’t go there. When we do these things we are acting out forgiveness. We are choosing to pay the debt owed to us. When we do that it is painful. It is crushing. It cuts deep. We choose to crucify our “self” instead of crucifying them— and sometimes that almost feels like spilling our own blood.
Do you see the parallel? Every wrong thing we do is an offense to the Perfect God. Every sin we commit is painful to him. But, instead of making you pay, instead of punishing you and holding you accountable and in debt to him, he paid the price. He bore the cost. He took the pain. He was crushed. He spilled his own blood. He was crucified. You were forgiven. He satisfied the debt for you. You owe nothing. When we really understand the depths of what that means it should melt our hearts! That allows us to be molded into a completely new creation of God— one that day by day becomes so absorbed into the Love and Forgiveness of our Savior that we take on his likeness, rather than pursuing the subjective “good person” cliché. Instead, we become a unique creature so altogether different that others look at us and wonder. And in their wonder we point them to Jesus, the heart of our salvation… Showing this is not on our effort, but solely by his effort and unmerited grace toward us. As my pastor Lon Solomon says: “Jesus, plus nothing!”
I recently met the father of my good friend Amelia and I was moved by his heart’s embracing of this truth. Art had just gotten a tattoo of a cross on his forearm with the word Tetelestai under it. When Doug and I asked him what that meant this big burly guy got choked up as he explained: “It is Greek. It means ‘it is finished’ or “The debt is paid.” You know this is the word that was stamped on any receipts for debts in the ancient world. When a debt was satisfied they would stamp “Tetelestai” on it. And to me that’s it! On the cross Jesus said ‘Tetelestai’ – ‘It is finished.’ So my debt is paid. And that means so much to me.”
[i] As noted in [ ] “propitiation” means atoning sacrifice, or the act of appeasing and making well. As a personal side note I included this particular translation rather than the newer because I have a special attachment to it. This translation is actually the first verse I ever memorized. I learned it the summer I was 8 years old at Christian summer camp. It was the same summer I gave my heart to the Lord. Though I was saved so young, I went until my adult years without much nurturing of my faith. But this verse stuck through all those years and would pop into my mind at the most needed times… and still does. It is the only verse that was written on my heart and though I did not realize it then, it buoyed me through 15 years of “wandering.” Amazing what the Lord can do with just one verse of scripture! Think about the power of the entire compilation of His word! The word of the Lord never returns void— Not even one verse.