The Blood Trail

Jan Antonsson

The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway

September 7, 2018

Neosho, MO

“And all those dwelling on the earth will make obeisance to him, everyone whose name has not been written in the book of the suckling lamb who has been slaughtered from the foundation of the cosmos” (Revelation 13:8, David Bentley Hart translation).

The question, “Why did Christ have to die” has been raised countless times, because the crucifixion was arguably the most heinous crime of the ages.  I’ve written about it several times over the years, and thought my answer was credible. However, when the question came up again recently, God lifted the veil a bit more to give me a broader view into this pivotal point in the relationship between man and His Creator, and how Christ truly is the Alpha and the Omega of our quest.

I enjoy some crime dramas, like the NCIS series, and others, and some mystery novels if they are not too gory.  What is the fascination/obsession with murder, I have often wondered.  Juergen Moltmann, a German Reformed theologian who is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen, recently tweeted, “Anyone who murders another, murders God.”  That began this train of thought, that perhaps all murders, all wars, all taking of human life is really man’s rage at God acted out against another human being because God is out of reach.

To illustrate, the story goes that an avid golfer was having a VERY bad day.  Frustrated beyond all endurance, he threw his 7 Iron off the cliff, shook his fists at heaven and screamed, “Why don’t you come down here and fight me like a man?”  

We can’t take our rage out against God, so we turn our weapons on each other.  In crime dramas, they always say, “Follow the money” to find the culprit.  It occurs to me that the answer to why Christ had to die is “Follow the blood trail.”   To do so is really to travel from glory to gory and back to glory at last.

Join me in a brief trip through scripture, to observe how this has played out over time.  In his unveiling of the Christ, John the beloved revealed that the cross of Christ was always in God’s heart.  It was not plan B. It was always THE PLAN (Revelation 13:8).

Murder seems to be built into our psyche, beginning with Cain and Abel. Cain, a farmer, offered God the first fruit of his vineyard.  Abel, a shepherd, offered a firstborn of his flock.  God approved Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s, which aroused in him a murderous rage.  When his jealousy drove him to slay his brother, God confronted him about it, saying,  ‘‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10, ESV).

In His instructions to Noah and his sons after the flood, God said,  “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:4-6, ESV).  Moltmann’s tweet was correct, that whoever murders another, murders God.

Fast forward the tape to Abraham, who was instructed to kill his son Isaac, promised by God and for whom Abraham and Sarah had waited 25 long years to cherish.  As he was ready to plunge the knife in, an angel of the Lord called out to him, ‘‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’’ And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son” (Genesis 22:11-14, ESV).  No wonder Abraham is called the father of our faith.  

The importance of blood cannot be overstated, for it was by blood that man’s atonement always came: “For the life of an animal is in the blood. I have provided the blood for you to make atonement for your lives on the Altar; it is the blood, the life, that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11, The Message). The Law, as you’ll remember was very bloody in nature: “But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe”  (Exodus 21:23-25, ESV). 

When he dedicated the beautiful temple He had built for God,  “King Solomon sacrificed 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep” (II Chronicles 7:5, ESV).  The streets of Jerusalem must have run red with the blood of the slain animals.  This was to make atonement for their sins, and yet it really could not.  Even though the psalmist declared that the Law was perfect (Psalm 19:7), yet, the Hebrew writer tells us that, “the law made nothing perfect” because “…it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 7:19; 10:4, ESV).  In other words, the Law was a perfect instruction for morality, obedience, worship, and sacrifice, but it was completely ineffective in dealing with the angst, the rage, the sins committed by humans because of their anger toward God and each other.

Why were we angry?  Precisely because we are so ineffective and powerless to do anything right.  Because of that, we were summarily kicked out of Paradise and made to eek out a living amongst the thorns and thistles, and women were sentenced to pain in child bearing and in thrall, often enslaved to the whims of their husbands.  On top of that, we were given the Law and told to keep its precepts or else.  Our inability to keep the simplest part of the law is enough to cause anyone to want to tear out her hair and run screaming into the night.

Before we move forward, it is important to understand that there were two covenants God gave to Abraham.  One of them is found in Genesis 15:1-21, described as the “walking through the pieces” contract.  It was standard practice in the ancient world that when two people made a covenant, an agreement, they would kill animals, split the bodies down the middle, and lay them opposite each other on both sides of a ditch so that the blood would run into a pool below.  The more important person would walk through the bloody ditch first and the lesser important person would walk last.  The ceremony symbolized the agreement that anyone who didn’t fulfill his part of the bargain, could be slaughtered like the animals.  This is so bizarre that we can scarcely take it in.

The Genesis account relates, “As the sun went down a deep sleep overcame Abram and then a sense of dread, dark and heavy…When the sun was down and it was dark, a smoking firepot and a flaming torch moved between the split carcasses” (Genesis 15:12-17, ESV). No wonder Abraham was terrified, because God (represented by a smoking firepot and a flaming torch), could not fail to keep His part of the bargain, but Abraham knew he probably would fail. The Covenant God made with him that day was that He would give to Abraham’s descendants the land “from the Nile River in Egypt to the River Euphrates in Assyria” and everything in between. (See Genesis 15:18-21).  Circumcision was the seal of this bilateral (two party agreement).  “My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:13-14, NIV).

In addition to this covenant, God made a promise, a unilateral (one party) covenant with Abraham,  ‘‘By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:16-18; Galatians 3:16-18, ESV).

The Law of Moses was, of course, the composite of all the laws contained in the bilateral covenant, but Paul asserts that our Inheritance came by God’s promise to Abraham, a unilateral (one party) covenant (Galatians 3:18).  The Law, was “put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one” (Galatians 3:19-20, ESV).  The important significance here is that the bilateral covenant (two party agreement, i.e., the Law) can be broken, but the unilateral (one party covenant), cannot be broken because it was sealed by the oath of God.   Our inheritance therefore does not depend upon the Law, but upon God’s promise to Abraham. We are saved by the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts”  (Zechariah 4:6, ESV).

Paul concludes this earth shattering thought by proclaiming, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29, NIV).  This is a promise we can take to the bank, for it depends totally on God’s efforts, not ours. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19, ESV). 

This brings us again to why Christ had to die.   Abraham’s progeny, all of us, broke the covenant made with him by God, recorded in Genesis 15. The penalty for that is that the blood of the offending party must be shed.  Under the Law, only the firstborn, an animal without spot or blemish, was suitable to be sacrificed to atone for their sins.  Who of us, therefore, could qualify to do it? ‘‘None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, ESV);  no one is without sin, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, ESV).

Since none of us could possibly satisfy the terms of the Covenant God made with Abraham and the Law of Moses. God gave us the blood of Jesus, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, ESV). In Him, Paul asserted, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation….God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:19, 21, NIV).  

Christ is where the rubber meets the road on this bloody trail we’re following.  There’s not a blessed thing that we could ever do to save and rescue ourselves from the curse. Our anger raged at God, as we cried, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  Our generous and merciful Father God gave us His own blood in Christ on the cross to satisfy the terms of the “walking through the pieces” agreement. We may not fully understand it, but by the Spirit, to the depth of our souls, we know that this Good News is joy unspeakable and full of glory.  Hallelujah!

Father, we thank You and praise You that it is not by our efforts to clean ourselves up that we inherit Your promise to Abraham.  It is by Your word alone. You who cannot lie and cannot fail, will bring it to pass. May we receive this blessing, so difficult to understand at times, by Your Spirit through your grace.  “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever.  Amen. Jan Antonsson

Jan Austin Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850  (Snail Mail)

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