In the Purchasing Power of Blood, Suffering, and Death
Tonight we focus on that part of our confession of faith that believes in the purchasing power of blood, suffering, and death. Originally Luther wrote "Jesus Christis my Lord who has purchased, won, and redeemed me" with the emphasis being on purchase. But he really wanted to emphasize redemption so he put redeemed first (Teaching Luther's Catechism, 171). Redeemed is what God the Son did "purchased and won" is how He did it. Purchased and won, however, aren't synonyms. Won looks at what Jesus did as a military victory. Purchased looks at it as a business transaction. Since we live in an age that views life through the lens of business - credit scores, interest rates, and Dow Jones Averages - I thought we could better appreciate the work of Jesus if we looked at in terms of a purchase.
But here we're swimming up stream. Even before the world became post-modern while it was still modern, people rejected the idea that the blood, suffering, and death of Jesus had any purchasing power at all. Talking that way was primitive "blood" theology. Paganism taught that god could be bought off by the blood, suffering, and death of a victim. Modern man was above throwing maidens into volcanoes and human sacrifice in general.
Playing down the purchasing power of blood, suffering, and death, was one of the reasons the LCMS rejected publishing the same hymnal as the then Lutheran Church in America in 1982. There is a Fountain Filled with Blood is not found in their Lutheran Book of Worship. Neither is Not all the Blood of Beasts. These two are found in the hymnal we published, Lutheran Worship. However, the fountain is no longer filled with blood. The opening line reads, "There stands a fountain where for sin Immanuel was slain, / And sinners who are washed there in/ Are cleansed from every stain." The 2006 hymnal, our latest, removed the fountain altogether by leaving out the hymn.
You do feel somewhat primitive when you say that you believe in the purchasing power of blood, don't you? But what do you with 1 John 1:7, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin?" What do you do with 1 Peter 1: 18-19 which is the basis for our confession of faith? "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed but with the precious blood of Christ, a Lamb without blemish or defect." What do you do with the Words of Institution where Jesus says, "This cup is the New Testament in My blood which is poured out for you?" What do we do with Hebrews 9:22, "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins?"
A large portion of the mainline churches, simply ignore those passages. You know why? Blood, suffering, and death were not needed to appease the wrath of God because God never was angry to begin with. He sacrificed His Son on the cross to show us that He wasn't really angry; He went that far to prove it. You know how one spouse will sacrifice time, effort, and money to show just how much the other is loved? That's what the cross is.
I know what you're going to do. You're going to drag that pesky old Bible out. What about Romans 1, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness?" What about I John, "Jesus is a wrath removing sacrifice not only for our sins but the sins of the whole world?" What about 2 Corinthians 5, "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself?" And what about fallen man himself?
Fallen mankind tells himself that God isn't angry with him or that there is no God to be angry, yet still he believes forgiveness isn't free, it has to be earned, we'd say purchased. You've seen enough news interviews, watched enough movies to know that there are people who say, "I'll never forgive them; they don't deserve it." Isn't this curious? The whole world believes weight can be lost without diet or exercise; a language can be learned without studying it, and you can become rich without working for it. But no one believes forgiveness is free. It must be earned, worked for, deserved purchased even from men.
So while people today are above a theology that speaks of Jesus purchasing "me from all sins, death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death," while they tell themselves God isn't really angry with them, they act on the contrary. Forgiveness does need to be purchased somehow, and they think they know how. They go green; they help the homeless; they are tolerant and accepting of anyone and everything; they purchase forgiveness for their sins by accepting the sins of others.
Don't misunderstand; if you are a recycler or work in a soup kitchen, there's no sin there, but if you think you satisfy God's wrath against your sins by such deeds stop doing them right away. Paul says in Galatians, "You who think you're justified by what you do have cut yourself off from grace." And make no mistakes about this, some do think they justify themselves by things they do. Rather than admit they are sinners; rather than admit that God is angry at them, there are people who recycle and help the homeless religiously, in the full sense of that word. Likewise, the person who accepts the sins of others really does think since he is not judging the sins of others God doesn't judge his sins.
Scripture bears out my point: all people know God is wrathful towards them. It's written in their hearts that when they do contrary to His word He is angry with them. It's written in their hearts that they are in fact born separated from God. They try to deal with this wrath by telling themselves that God's not really angry at them or that what they are doing is not really a sin. But pretending there's no such thing as God's wrath, or believing (Yes, by faith) they have satisfied it by doing something is not enough.
I know it's not enough because look what God does to His own Son because of sin. This should shock us even as Barbara Walters was shocked by what Bing Crosby would do to a child who sinned against him. In a 1977 interviewed Walters asked the staunch Catholic Crosby what he would do if he found out one of his seven kids was living with someone. He said he would disown them and never talk to them again. She was so stunned she asked him to repeat what he would do to a son or daughter who sinned against him. He did and she was still stunned 30 years later (Audition, 320ff).
Look at the cross; no look in Gethsemane. How much dying, how much death, how deep the grave, how dark the tomb does it take for the soul of God the Son to be overwhelmed with death? How much wrath, how much anger from God the Father does it take to shove the face of God the Son into the dirt? How much pain the man Jesus must have borne in drinking the cup of God' wrath if it took an angel sent from heaven to strengthen Him to drink it? How heavy, how unbearable God's wrath must be against your sins if it could cause God the Son to sweat great drops of blood?
Look in Gethsemane I tell you and heed the hymn Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted, "Ye who think of sin but lightly/ Nor suppose the evil great/ Here may view its nature rightly, Here its guilt may estimate." If God the Father will do this to His own Son for sins He didn't commit, what will He do to you for the sins you have? Moreover, what will He do to you for the sins you embrace, defend, and accept? If the God-Man who could level a large crowd of people with just two words "I am" could not drink the cup of wrath without being strengthened to do so, do you think you can bear even a tiny drop of it for just one of your sins?
You can't. Thankfully the God-Man purchased you from sins, from death, and from the power of the Devil, with His blood, suffering, and death. Sin, death, and the Devil had a claim on you because God's Law gave them a claim. God's Law said only the perfect could have fellowship with God, only the holy could enter into His kingdom. In terms of our confession only those who were holy, only those who were precious, only those who were innocent could be in the kingdom of God. God's Law showed us to be impure, worthless, guilty sinners. God's Law stopped us at the gate and said look at your sins there, there and there. Death said these prove you belong to me and the Devil said, "Let's go."
And God was all for it. Laws were Laws. God couldn't deny His holiness without ceasing to be God. Being holy doesn't just mean God is without sin; it means He hates sin and sin cannot exist in His presence. So if we were going to be out from under God's wrath and have fellowship with Him now and in eternity, we need holiness. Enter the Man Jesus Christ. He lives our life. Every point where we sinned, Jesus did not. Every place we failed to fear, love, or trust God above all things, Jesus did it. Every sin we did with our body or soul, Jesus didn't. His holy life purchased us from sin, death, and the devil's claim, and His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death purchased us innocence, blessedness, and righteousness.
Stop making yourself suffer for your sins. Even if you suffer to the point of shedding your blood, it wouldn't turn God's wrath from you for a second. It takes innocent suffering and blood that is both holy and precious to do that, and you haven't been innocent or holy since you were conceived in the womb. But you were precious, precious to God. He punished His only Son in your place. He made Him suffer for your sins rather than you. He shed His holy blood rather than your guilty blood. The highest praise and thanks you can show is to dive into that Baptismal fountain filled with blood; see the absolution smearing Jesus' blood over you so thickly your sins can't be seen; taste the blood of Jesus as the sweet wine of forgiveness it is.
As we go through the rest of Jesus' Passion, see every drop of blood, every tear of suffering, every pang of death as purchasing yet one more sin of yours till they are all, every last single one of them, bought and paid for. Then go home without them because nobody takes home what someone else has purchased. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek II (20130220); Second Article, Passion Reading II