Maundy Thursday 2009

John 19:34-37


Jesus’ blood…


About the time of the prophet Malachi (400 B.C.) there was a Greek by the name of Hippocrates who practiced medicine.  It was he who formulated the Hippocratic Oath that doctors are supposed to take today to guide them in their medical practices.  It was also this Hippocrates, among others, who talked about four distinct character types.  According to Hippocrates’ way of thinking, you and I find ourselves in one of the four character types.  Here they are: sanguine (happy go lucky), melancholic (moody, brooding, sad), choleric (take charge, easily angered, volatile), phlegmatic (quiet, not easily excitable, even keeled, kind of a non-personality type of person).


That list of character types has something important to do with our discussion on this Maundy Thursday evening of Jesus and his blood.  Before we think of Jesus’ blood, don’t be put off that on Maundy Thursday evening the topic before us is Jesus’ blood.  Don’t go squeamish over the sound…or the sight…of blood this evening.  Let’s not pretend that blood is something that is just limited to religion and Jesus and this terrible graphic shedding of blood that Christianity talks about.  Don’t buy into the talk that Christianity is a “bloody” religion and cultured and refined people should stay away from broaching such a topic to their children.


It is true.  Our religion and our belief is all about blood.  But life is about blood.  When we speak about blood, we are speaking about life.  Even the poster in the post office that says, “Give the gift of life” encourages us to think about blood and its connection to life.  No one who is in a car wreck and is watching their life blood seep into the upholstery of their car has any trouble talking about the importance of blood.  No one in that situation has any trouble with the fact that the paramedics have blood with them and they are going to be talking and dealing in blood with them.


Hippocrates wasn’t against talking about blood.  He named one of the four character types sanguine.  Sanguine means blood.  It comes from the Latin word blood.  The color of this character type is red.  This character type enjoys life and is happy.  This character type is warm and outgoing and strikes up friendships easily.  In fact, if you had to chose one of the four character types as your character type, wouldn’t you choose sanguine?  That’s the one with blood in its name.  


We don’t know which of the four character types Jesus was.  Maybe he was melancholic.  Isaiah has told us that he was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”   Sorrow overcame Jesus in the garden that night.  (Drowsiness overcame his disciples.) But whatever type Jesus was by human reckoning, he was all about blood.  In that respect he was the most sanguine of the sanguine.  And tonight we see the work of the centurion’s spear on Jesus’ side.  And we hear the words, “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”


If you cut someone, he will bleed.  Jesus bled.  He was a real man.  He had to have blood to live.  He was just like you in that regard.  And he shed his blood for you.  He really did bleed to death.  And it remains an amazing thing that God can bleed.  It was amazing on two counts: 1) that God could shed his blood and be a fatality and a road kill with its ebbing red life on the road, and 2) that God would make himself this vulnerable for human beings he was going to save.  Think about this: God spilled his blood and died for you!  Can you understand it?  Can you comprehend it?


On Maundy Thursday evening we see red.  Blood and this color are always going to get our attention.  Blood red is blood red.  Everything else goes away when we see this color and this blood and realize what it is.  This was firmly imprinted on the minds of Jews, this color red of blood.  They said, “His blood be on us and our children.”   It was in the minds of the civil war generals who talked about “the effusion of blood.”  Nathan Bedford Forrest knew about this.  So did Ulysses S. Grant.  They saw the red of blood.  50,000 men shed red blood during the three days of Gettysburg’s fight in 1863.   At Cold Harbor 7000 men were struck down in five terrible minutes.  7000 men shed their blood.  When you read about it, you will find it described this way, “And so at one o’clock on June 3, 1864, the Battle of Cold Harbor ended.  It was one of the most sanguinary struggles of the great Civil War.”


It was one of the most sanguinary struggles of the great Civil War but it wasn’t the most sanguinary of struggles.  That one was on Good Friday when Jesus shed his blood for all people who would ever live on this earth.  He shed his blood during that greatest of civil wars…the War of the Rebellion.  That terrible war started when the first two people willed to get out from under God’s control and be like him.  They wanted out from under their “slavery” of having to put him and his will for them first.  They wanted to live on God’s plane…or above it.  That was the War of the Rebellion.  Jesus’ sanguinary skirmish with the leader of that rebellion was the bloodiest battle.  It happened on Good Friday on Golgotha, the place of the skull.


On Maundy Thursday evening we think about Jesus’ blood.  We think about Jesus’ life and the ebbing of that life for us.  We think about what the shedding of that sacred blood purchased.  We think of the infusion of blood that we got.  Literally, we got the infusion of Jesus’ blood into our veins.  It was compatible blood.  We are of Jesus’ blood type.  Jesus’ blood brings the oxygen of forgiveness to every part of our lives.  The pallor of death goes away.  The coma ceases.  Life goes on for us.  Life can even be happy and we can truly be sanguine in that word’s meaning of happy and carefree.


So we think about the Lord’s Supper particularly this evening.  That is where the blood of Jesus is literally and really present.  Jesus said, “My blood is real drink.” (John 6:55)  He said that before he shed it.  That sounds gruesome…even ghoulish.  What did he say?  We have Jesus’ sacrifice.  We believe what he did for us.  We “take it in.”  We swallow it.  It becomes part of us.  We live because of it.  And in the Lord’s Supper we have the blood “really present.”  This is the very blood shed for us.  It is present with us.  Jesus isn’t in John 6:55 speaking primarily or even firstly about the Lord’s Supper.  This is John chapter 6, remember.  He says in these words, “Whoever does this….”  It isn’t true that every single person who would take the Lord’s Supper and drink there the blood of Jesus with the wine would be saved.  Nevertheless, this is surely the case in the Lord’s Supper where we have Jesus’ blood given to us and for us and really present.  When faith apprehends this, we have it for our good and for our lives.


Without the shedding of blood there is not forgiveness; without blood there is no life.  Observation tells us this.  It told this to Hippocrates.   Matthew 26:28 talks about Jesus’ blood being the blood of the covenant.  This is the clincher.  This is the seal.  This is the empowerment of the document.  This is the life of the covenant.  This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.  Hebrews 9:18


Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? ( I Corinthians 10:16)   It is!  We participate in the Lord’s blood this evening.  The very blood on that Roman’s spear point is present with us.  It is that real and that present.  It is genuinely Jesus’ blood. And it has a wonderful effect on us all.  It buys us back.  It makes us God’s own. …For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  1 Peter 1:18


So when we think of Jesus and his work here in this world of saving all people, we think first of his blood.  His blood shed is the testimony to his work completed.  The Bible itself talks this way: “This is the one who came by water and blood---Jesus Christ.  He did not come by water only, but by water and blood.”  1 John 5:6  Believers have looked at those words differently.  Some have said that the blood there is reference to the Lord’s Supper.  Surely Jesus comes to us in that way.  And some say that the blood of Jesus means he came to us specially through his baptism and his suffering and death on the cross.  And this too is true.  The centurion himself said, “Surely this was a righteous man, surely he was the Son of God.”  He saw the blood.  He maybe even was responsible for it.


No, he wasn’t responsible for it.  Jesus was.  He shed his blood for us.  He did it so that we might have life that is truly happy and eternal.  Amen.