“For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14)
We used to sing, “What can wash away my Sin?” and the then answer would come, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” It is a strange concept to those outside the Church, no doubt, that the blood of another person, indeed, the blood of the Son of God, was necessarily spilled to cleanse us from our sin. And yet, the Bible is clear about this. “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission (of sins)” (Hebrews 9:22).
It’s hard for me to admit it now, but I remember paying $1,700 for a vacuum cleaner. It was a Kirby. I don’t even remember inviting the salesman inside the house, but before I knew what was happening, he had squeezed past our defenses and we were signing on the dotted line. It was the presentation that did me in. He passed my vacuum cleaner over the spot on my carpet that he had soiled for the demonstration. After giving mine a good try, all the while extolling the virtues of the Kirby vacuum cleaner, he then proceeded to pass his machine over the same spot. Though I had thought my vacuum cleaner to be pretty good, the evidence was right there in the Kirby! It had gone deeper than my own vacuum cleaner and lifted debris I didn’t even know was in my carpet!
Maybe you have seen some of the miracle cleaners sold on those daytime TV infomercials. Whether they are taking tarnish off your silverware, cleaning dirt and grime off an old car, or taking pet stains out of your furniture, each new product holds the promise of a secret that the developers of said product have alone in all the world discovered. Some of these products are probably very good (I believe I do remember hearing some excited housewives giving their testimonials), while others are probably little more than soap and colored water. But one thing they all claim to be able to do is get out those stubborn stains. You know, that one you tried with all your might to clean but were unable?
Religion is very much like those cleaners hawked by the daytime infomercial gurus. It promises to give you peace and remove the specter of guilt from your heart. Usually, like those cleaners that promise so much, this amounts to paying some kind of price. If you do the right things, observe certain ceremonies or rituals, and make certain sacrifices, some kind of absolution can be found for your sins and the promised peace you so desire to find can be finally realized. In one sense, religion makes sense. After all, if I have sinned and alienated myself from God, I should have to do something to atone for it all. This even has a certain appeal, because if I can clean the slate and pay my debt, I don’t owe God anything. We’re even.
The problem is that religion and religious duty is kind of like my old vacuum cleaner. It gives the appearance of cleaning things up, superficially at least, but in reality, there is still the shadow of guilt on the heart. We know we somehow don’t measure up. Our hearts instinctively know that God is holy, and whatever that may mean, we are not. That is our condition before God, and that is why Jesus came. He alone could be the Lamb of God, the innocent sacrifice who could take upon Himself the sins of the world. None of us could qualify for we were already stained. He took our place, the innocent for the guilty, and bore the punishment that was rightly ours.
Through His death, He balanced the scales of divine justice on our behalf, serving as the “propitiation (or satisfaction) for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Having fully paid our debt, death had no further claim on Him, since He had no sin of His own. Into that grave the power of God came and He was raised up by the glory of the Father, the captain of our salvation. And when He was raised up, we were, in a very real sense, raised up with Him. Now, when anyone believes this good news, fully yielding their heart and life to Him, that same power rushes into the tomb of our sin-deadened heart and brings forth a new creation, alive to God and free from the power of sin.
There is no man-made cleaner that can touch the stain of guilt. Good counselors know that guilt is the cornerstone of all mental illness. This is because man was not meant to live outside of fellowship with God. Rather, our life was meant to be lived in response to His love. He alone provides forgiveness through the blood of the cross, for only there was our ransom paid in full. By grace and grace alone we are made right with God through faith (see Romans 5:1). No good deed or life of service can pay such a weighty price. Peace with God cannot be earned. It can only be received as a gift.
Such love demands a response. Either we accept what God has provided through the blood of Christ and respond with appropriate humility, or we reject the grace of God for some charlatan’s counterfeit that will never remove the deep stain from our heart. Like many stains we’ve tried to clean, it fades for a moment only to seep up again and soil the soul with its darkness. The blood of Jesus, however, removes once and for all the stain of sin and opens the way to the Father. That is a door no man can open on His own. It is only through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood that our sins are washed away, the veil is parted, and we are reconciled and reunited with Father. We may profess to not believe in any of this, but in every person’s heart is the desire to be clean; to be rid of the ever present shadow of shame. This cleansing is available, and the price has been paid in full. When the stain of sin is removed from the conscience, it frees us to be the people God has called us to be. There’s a new you to be discovered and new life yet to be lived!