BROTHERS and SISTERS, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have obtained access by faith to this grace in which we stand. And we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more then, now that we have been justified by His blood, will we be saved through Him from the wrath. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life.
I would like to unpack a bit one particular phrase from this Epistle reading:
"We have been justified by His blood."
Why blood? What's so important about it?
Remember, when Christ was teaching, when the apostles were witnessing to His teaching, when the first Christians were converted, all of it was done in the context of the Old Testament. Every time the word "Scripture" is mentioned in the New Testament texts, it always refers to the Old Testament. The New Testament as a book would not exist for another 2-3 centuries.
The significance of the Old Testament is that it was a precursor to the New. Old Testament was meant to prepare humanity for the Messiah. Old Testament would come to make sense only in the light of Messiah. And that Messiah is Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God.
So, what significance did blood play in the Old Testament? More specifically, sacrificial blood? Let's consider two examples from the Old Testament and one from the New. When the Passover meal was instituted, the Lord told Moses and Aaron that people were to kill and cook a lamb, and take some of lamb's blood and doorposts of the houses in which they eat. This would be a sign to God, Who would send an Angel of Death, and where he would see blood, he would pass over that house. But all the rest of the Egyptian households, the firstborn of man and animal would be killed. (See Exodus 12).
Why was God so eager to kill Egyptians? Because of Pharaoh's disobedience to obey God. Egyptians in general were also not that obedient. The blood on the doorposts marked out the group of people from the wrath of God. And Saint Paul says that "we have been justified by His blood, will we be saved through Him from the wrath" of God.
The second incident from the Old Testament takes us to Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Law from God (note: he didn't just the Ten Commandments, but the whole Law). After coming down from the mountain, Moses read the Law to the people, who accepted it (rather hastily), "All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do" (Exodus 24:3). Then, Moses built an altar and offered sacrifices. And "Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people, and they said, 'All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.' Moses took the blood and dashed (sprinkled) it on the people, and said, 'Behold, the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words'" (Exodus 24:6-8).
Here, the blood marks out the people of God, as those who "signed" the covenant. As long as they obey what they promised to do (follow God's Law), His wrath will pass over them.
And at the Last Supper, taking the cup, the Lord said, "This is My Blood of the New Testament/Covenant...Drink of it all of you" (Matthew 26:27-28, Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25). Now it is not the blood of an animal that marks us out as God's people, it's the Lord's blood, which He offered voluntarily. Every time we partake of His blood in the Holy Communion, we "sign" or reaffirm our Covenant with God. What do we reaffirm? That we will be His obedient people and He reaffirms that His wrath will pass over us. As long we remain faithful, we do not have to be afraid of God's wrath.
We are justified by Christ's blood and we are saved through Him from the wrath.
For last year's reflection, click here.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest