The Deepest Truth of All
God calls us to grow in grace and knowledge. (2 Pet. 3:18). Growth in Christ is our duty and privilege. Growth and multiplication are the dynamic of his kingdom, for the Spirit is not passive but powerful, not an idea but the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY God indwelling us (Acts 6:1,7; 9:31; 12:24). It is not enough for us to know the precious truths of the gospel once, then to tuck them away, as if we have already passed the final examination. Carelessness with the gospel is a sure way to go backward, fall into error, and even to be led away with the wicked from steadfastness in Christ (2 Pet. 3:17). Thus, we must never forget what great things Jesus Christ has done for us. We were dead in sin, guilty and condemned before the righteous Judge, but he took all our filth upon himself. There was only one way for him to redeem us to God: “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission” (9:22).
This is the deepest truth in our fallen world. There is no forgiveness without blood shedding. No tears, promises of personal reformation, good works, or intellectual prowess, can obtain forgiveness. Hold on to any one or all of these, and you are sure to perish. Nothing but the blood of Jesus can wash away our sins. This is the first of the “good things” (v. 11) our Lord brings to us. Through his blood, we are cleansed and forgiven. Other religions cannot make this claim, for they have no gospel, no good news of God’s great love and rich mercy. They are like sailors on a sinking ship trying to plug gaping holes with the oakum of wishful thinking, humanly contrived ceremonies, or mystical escape. The true religion of Jesus Christ gives what no one else can: free justification and free forgiveness. It is the best news sinners can ever hear, and it is the news we must hear and believe. Wrath and judgment are coming (1 Thess. 1:10), when the Lamb is revealed from heaven. Nothing but union with him, a believing participation in his death and resurrection, can save us in that hour and gain entrance for us into the joy of our Father’s presence and eternal kingdom.
Old Testament Cleansing in a Nutshell (vv. 12-13)
Impotent: By the Blood of Animals
For the Jews who believed upon the name of Jesus, it was like the sun blazing out after centuries of hazy clouds. Suddenly the Scriptures came alive. Ah, Moses’ prophet (Deut. 15:18), David’s priest-king (Ps. 110:4), and Isaiah’s Suffering-Servant (Isa. 42;53) – all seen in their fullness because the Sun of Righteousness arose with healing upon his wings; the Lord whom they sought suddenly came into his temple (Mal. 3:1; 4:1). It is difficult for us who have heard these truths many times and who live many ages after to appreciate the relief and the light and the joy of the early believers. The Jewish believers felt this keenly, for they had lived under the burdensome yoke of the ceremonies. They offered the sacrifices God commanded, but the believing among them knew that animal blood could not take away sin. For those who were taught by the Scriptures, they knew that a better blood was coming. Isaiah had said so. The repetition of sacrifices said so. They offered their animal blood in faith, believing in the Messiah to come. This is the way that the prophets and humble believers like Anna and Simeon, Zecharias and Elizabeth, served God. They did as he commanded in the law, but they did not set their hope upon the impotent blood of animals. They knew the Scriptures: “And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering” (Isa. 40:16).
Legal Cleansing and Outward Purity
Yet, God had commanded these sacrifices. The blood of bulls and goats, the ashes of the consumed red heifer did cleanse the defiled. When the spotless red heifer was killed, the high priest was to dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it before the tabernacle seven times (Num. 19). Then, the entire carcass was to be burned in the presence of the high priest. The collected ashes were then used in various purification rites, most notably cleansing after defilement from touching a dead body. Careful obedience to God in these matters brought a restored legal status before the law, so that the worshipper was clean as pertaining to his flesh. Animal blood and ashes purified a believer outwardly, but they could not touch the conscience. Legal acceptance before the law and outward purity in the flesh were thus the school in which God trained his old covenant church to seek free justification and heart cleansing in the coming Savior of the world. But the thing to bear in mind is that however glorious the old covenant was, it was a temporary and fading glory. Its sacrifices and rites could not give the blessings to which it pointed the faith of the believer. The response of the earliest believers to the coming of the Messiah, therefore, should not surprise us. Faith was hungry in the wilderness and parched in the desert. When he came, a Simeon could only say with almost his dying breath, “Lord, let not your servant depart in peace; for my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:29-30).
The Cleansing Blood of Jesus Christ
Incomparable: How Much More?
The coming of the Christ of God brought with it enormous conflict. The powers of heaven were shaken and Satan cast out of heaven (Luke 10:18), which explains the increased demonic activity Jesus and his apostles faced. The transition from promise to fulfillment, type to reality, old to new covenant, closed to open heaven brought many changes and struggles. It was hard for Jewish believers to extricate themselves from the worldly expectations surrounding the Messiah’s coming. They learned, often painfully, that his was not a kingdom of instant success or world domination but of cross-bearing and power in weakness and suffering. The cost of discipleship, as our Lord so faithfully warned, would be high. “Deny yourself, and take up your cross.” “Ye must be born again.” “If ye continue in my word, ye are my disciples indeed,” he warned his Jewish disciples (John 8:31-32).
Some were fair-weather believers. Were these Hebrew believers to whom the apostle wrote of that number? Would they return to the worn-out and now expiring forms of legal and outward purification through the blood of animals? Having tasted of Christ, would they hold fast to him? To encourage them to do so, Paul exuberantly wrote, “How much more?” He does not speak evil of the old covenant forms. They served the purpose for which God gave them. They sustained faith in the Messiah to come, but he had now come. He brought in everlasting righteousness through the blood of the everlasting covenant (Dan. 9:24; Heb. 13:20). Do not even for your very life relinquish him for the outdated and perishing old covenant.
We do not exalt Christ by belittling the types that sustained the church in her infancy. The apostle did not take this approach. Salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22) – which does not mean Jewish ethnic superiority, as some of them falsely assumed against all Scriptural testimony (Deut. 9:4-5). Yet, through the Jews alone, God preserved the light of true religion: his covenant of grace, the promise of the Seed of the woman, and the true types that he commanded to set forth redemption through the shed blood of an acceptable substitute. The glory of the new covenant is not that it makes war against the old but fulfills it. Did animal blood provide legal restoration to the sinner, and thus testify to full justification? Jesus Christ gives it by his obedience imputed to us. Did the ashes of the red heifer point to purification from sin’s defilement? Jesus Christ cleanses us by his own blood and inwardly renews by his Spirit. His priesthood gives us the good things of salvation to which the old pointed. We need not depreciate the old to elevate the new; we do not appreciate the new by forgetting the old. But, we must not return to the old but let it lead us to Jesus Christ, as he himself taught us (Luke 24:27). As great as were the glories of the old covenant and Levitical system, his person and work so far eclipse the old in glory as the sun makes the brightest moon hardly to be seen. When we see his brightness and hold fast to him, there is strength and hope to endure the worst trouble with patience and joy.
Worthy: The Blood of Christ
For what comparison can there be in value and efficacy between the “bulls of blood and goats” to the blood of Jesus Christ? Animal blood served its purpose, but it could not take away sin (Heb. 10:4). Sacrificial animals could not be conscious of their purpose; they could not understand man’s sin; they could not tremble before God’s majesty and offer themselves as substitutes to satisfy his justice. Then came the Son of God, clothed in our flesh, entering the womb of the Virgin in order to bear our curse. He knew, O, he knew for why he was come. “A body you have prepared me” (Heb. 10:5). He came knowing full well the wrath and curse of the holy God against sin and sinners, for he was that HOLY ONE, from all eternity (John 12:27). He was as grieved as the Father and the Spirit at our ungrateful, stubborn wickedness, our rebellion and loss of original righteousness, and our idolatries and impurities. The Lamb of God came with a full knowledge of these things and that he would be shedding his blood for his filthy enemies. Even so, he humbled himself and came to save us. His humiliation makes his blood worthier, incomparably worthier than animal blood. His holiness as sinless and undefiled makes his blood worthier. His eternal deity makes it so. His total consecration to the Father as our Mediator and Surety makes it so. We cannot begin to esteem the value of his blood and its power to cleanse sinners unless we keep his eternal and full deity in mind, coupled with his eternal sonship as the Beloved of the Father, and his soul-emptying, to-the-death obedience as our Mediator. It is no wonder that the angels cease not to sing of these things and desire to look into them (1 Pet. 1:12)!
Powerful: By the Eternal Spirit
Not to interrupt the flow of these delicious words, each one being worthy of ages of reverent investigation, but there is some difference of opinion as to the meaning of “through the eternal spirit.” More recent students of Scripture believe it refers to our Savior’s divine nature or the divine influence that permeated his redemptive work. Understood in this light, we are given another reason to “make much of the blood of Christ,” for his blood was that of the God-man. His divine nature does not have blood, but what is done by or said of one nature, may rightly be said of the entire person (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 3:16). When we consider that the Son of God incarnate laid down his life for us, that he obeyed unto death, that he suffered such indignities at the hands of wicked men, then the value of his blood, its efficacy, our wonder at such love and such a sacrifice, must pass beyond all bounds of thought and word.
The oldest and most common view of these words is that they refer to the Holy Spirit. True, “eternal Spirit” would be a unique name for the third person of the Trinity, but the apostle’s subject matter would justify such a description of him. Our Savior, the God-man, was endowed with and empowered by no less personage than the eternal Spirit (John 3:34). However much it is true that Jesus was “crucified in weakness,” he was also being upheld by God the eternal Spirit, who never left him but sanctified his sufferings. From Isaiah’s Spirit-endowed Servant of the Lord through John’s Gospel and finally to Paul’s explanatory Letters, we are constantly told that it was the Spirit of Christ who spake through the prophets. It was the Spirit that our Savior enjoyed without measure. It was the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead and will one day raise us (Rom. 8:11). So closely aligned are the Son and Spirit, that Paul could write, “The Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17). This was written not to confuse their Persons but to conjoin their personal working in the accomplishment of our salvation.
I find it difficult to choose between these interpretations. Both are consistent with the analogy of faith. Both magnify the worth and saving power of Christ’s blood and sufferings. Each elevates his superiority over the older covenant priesthood and sacrifices. There is something extremely compelling about “eternal spirit” referring to our Lord’s divine nature. Nothing was more offensive to the Jews than that their Redeemer would be crucified and treated as the scum of the earth. But if they and we could but once be gripped by the truth that the One who sunk so low was at the same time the eternal Son of God, that his emptying was not of his divine essence but of his voluntary surrender for a time of his claims upon it, then we should cease being offended or embarrassed by the death of Jesus Christ. It would grip us with such wonder as to leave no room for any embarrassment. The only reproach is upon us; all the glory is upon him. Jesus Christ and his cross then must become our only boast and glory in this world. “Amazing love, how can it be, that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
Wondrous Love: He Offered Himself
How could he, when it came time to mount the altar of his obedience and plunge the knife into his own holy soul, offer himself? It strains the limits of human understanding. He was so weak when he made this offering. The very thought of it in Gethsemane opened his pores and turned him into a bloody, sweaty mess. What else but his divine nature or the Spirit of God could have sustained him. Simon may have carried his cross, but only Jesus Christ could be nailed to it. Only he could lay down his life, which he did, as a willing, conscious sacrifice for sinners. No human strength carried our Savior from Gethsemane to Golgotha. It was the God-man, the Spirit-filled God-man who made his soul an offering for sin and poured out his soul unto death. It was also an offering of love. Men do not lay down their lives for others without love (Rom. 5:6-8). Jesus’ love for us was a deliberate, pre-meditated sacrifice. He loved us to the end. The horrors of his death did not simply happen to him. We see him planning for them, guiding events and people to make sure the Scriptures were fulfilled, to make sure that he would plunge himself into the abyss of our judgment. He had power to lay down his life and to take it up again (John 10:18). He was personally engaged and committed to our salvation. He was our Head, our Husband, our Surety.
That he planned and executed his Father’s will does not make his love any less staggering, but more so. Knowing the terror of the Lord, he laid down his life. Knowing the sorrows of death and pains of hell, the sharpness of the sword of divine justice, our Lord gave himself into the hands of sinners, into the hands of his Father to lay down his life. We shall never cease singing his praises for this laying down of his life in love. The angels have not stopped singing and serving him since his triumphal return to heaven. Let us never stop thinking about it, praising him for his love, seeking to love him back, not from guilt, for there can be none before such a perfect sacrifice. It is all love and grace, all his voluntary sacrifice for sinners, all the worthiness and power of his blood, that must change and captivate us so that we love him who first loved us.
Inwardly Availing: Purge Your Conscience from Dead Works
The old covenant worshipper certainly could depend upon God’s mercy through the shed blood of the sacrificial animal, but that blood could not reach his conscience. It was an outward purification – commanded, necessary, typical of Christ, but unable to purge the conscience. The precious, worthy blood of our Savior descends to the root of our sin, guilt, and alienation from God. It soothes the terrors of conscience at the thought of death and judgment. His blood has accomplished what oceans of sacrificial blood shed under the Levitical priests could not. They could cleanse outwardly. After offering them, the worshipper was ceremonially clean. God always had something better in mind. What separates us from his fellowship? His offended justice as echoed in the guilty conscience of the sinner. No peace without righteousness! No peace with God without God propitiated! Men mock this now, but there will be no mocking later, only wailing in horror for those who have not kissed the Son and made their peace with God through the blood of his Son.
Without such deep cleansing at conscience level, all our works are dead. Nothing but dead fruit and dead works can come from a dead root. When the heart is icy cold toward God, he will not receive the works that come forth. When the works are prompted by guilt rather than love, self-atonement rather than thankfulness for redemption accomplished, they are dead and unacceptable. He is the living God and only likes works made warm by faith and love. Dead works lead only to death, for they cannot be offered with the faith that God accepts as pleasing to him. The aroma of the sacrifices commanded by the law pointed to something better. God does not like the smell of burning, bloody animal carcasses. He likes the smell of faith, a renewed and cleansed heart, and love for him that issues forth in joyful obedience – not to merit anything with him but to love him, the joy of obeying him who has reached down his hand in grace and mercy to reconcile us to himself. Only the blood of Jesus can do this. His blood unlocks the door of the sin-burdened, guilt-laden conscience. His blood running over his rusty lock loosens and turns the lock that was closed fast by the decree of God the Judge. His blood removes the guilt by satisfying heaven’s penalty against the sinner. Then, the dead works are gone, for the death is gone. The guilt is gone. Conscience steps out into the sunlight of a reconciled God, rejoices in him, and desires only to serve him.
Renewed and Consecrated: To Serve the Living God
To go back to the old covenant now that Christ has come is to embrace a form of death: dead, impotent sacrifices, unworthy, unavailing blood (even assuming that there was a temple and priesthood and altar), lifeless ceremonies. Will God be pleased with these? One reason he sent his Son into the world is to give us new life so that we might serve him. He is the living God, and he will have living works for his glory and our joy in him! But they cannot exist until the heart is made new and conscience purged. This the blood of Christ does. We must not turn from him. No matter how great the threat of persecution or how many smiling wolves encourage us to alter the gospel to gain the world’s respect or tolerance, we must hold fast to the old gospel of blood shedding, the precious blood of the Lamb of God. Do not allow your feelings of sinfulness and unworthiness to lead you away from him but to lead you to him. He loves sinners and came to save us from our sins. There is no other way to be forgiven of our sins and to have our consciences set free from guilt and dead works but through the cleansing power of his blood.
When he emptied his veins for us on Calvary, he dug a bottomless well upon that gory hilltop. From it now flows living water, crystal clear, refreshing, life-giving. It flows from the throne of God, from the reconciled God, the God of our salvation. Heaven is open and his throne our refuge of grace because Jesus rose and ascended and intercedes for us there. What shall we offer to him for the kindness of God our Savior? Shall we offer to him manmade works, worn out works, perfunctory works from a cold heart? Shall we offer him as little as we can get by with offering? Or, shall we offer to our Redeemer living works of faith and love? O, believer, for the glory of Jesus and the joy of your own heart, offer to him works of love. Say to him now, “Jesus precious Savior, you have shed your blood to reconcile me to God and purge me from my sins. Take my life, as feeble as it is, and make of me what you will. Remake me by your power. Use me today to magnify you in my works, words, and relationships. Make my witness humble and joyful. Free me more and more from the love of sin and the love of the world that I may live wholly for you and to you. Free me from my foolishness, my fears, and my frustrations. And make my motive love – not guilt, for there can be none with you. Even my sins, you pledge to forgive. I praise you now and forever, and want to live for you here until I fellowship forever with you there.”