May 5, 2007

There is power in this 'bloody religion'

A young immigrant from Asia is attending our church. The person who invited her told me that she has decided that the reason our congregation is so “calm and happy” is “because they really do trust their God.”

It is exciting to see this woman buying her first Bible, trying to memorize the order of the books, asking questions like, “What is heaven?” and lighting up as God gives her insight into His kingdom. English is not her first language, but she is determined to learn it so she can teach it to others from her part of the world.

It is also exciting that the faith of people in our church is so obvious. We are a strongly biblical congregation, a denomination often criticized for taking seriously those things stressed in the Bible, particularly in my reading today. It is from Hebrews 10:19-25.

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Christianity is mocked as a “bloody” religion by those who do not understand that God said, “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin” and “the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls” (Hebrews 9:22 and Leviticus 17:11). Some Bible versions even remove some references to the blood. It is not a popular theme.

However, God says that “the soul that sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). Sin is an abomination that is punished by death. This is not physical death (although this is a result of sin) but the spiritual death that separates a soul from God, whether they are alive or have died. Yet God does not take pleasure in the death of sinners, so offers a way of escape, a substitute. In the Old Testament, He promised a Redeemer. For those who believed God’s promise, He instituted a bloody sacrificial system that would satisfy sin’s punishment until that Redeemer came.

The sacrificial lamb of the old covenant was replaced by a “new and living way” when Jesus shed His blood for our sin, taking our punishment, and securing our forgiveness and redemption. These biblical words, mocked by even “religious” people, are the source of our hope. We believe that God’s promises are true and we know that He is faithful.

Because of that, we get together every week to motivate one another, to encourage love, goodness, and a growing faith. Our “assembling together” is motivated by our deep conviction that the blood of Jesus is our access to the Father. We can draw near to Him because our High Priest, Jesus Christ, has forgiven us and gave us a clear conscience.

We also believe in water baptism, not that the action of doing it adds to anything Christ has already done, but that it signifies or declares our faith. It is an important symbol of the fact that in Christ we have died to our old way of life, and in Christ risen to live a new life of hope and obedience.

People mock baptism too. They say isn’t just a little sprinkle enough? But we have not been given just a little washing from our sin! The blood of Jesus Christ has purified our entire beings, and because we know it is true, we want to boldly declare it. That declaration is our testimony to His power. It is also a vital reminder of all that He has done for us.

This “washing with pure water” is so significant that in some parts of the world, new Christians are tolerated for believing, but when they are baptized, their unsaved family members consider them dead, and may even hold a symbolic funeral. Sometimes those family members actually murder the baptized believer and have a real funeral. They may tolerate faith, but not the telling of it, especially by baptism.

Critics can do their thing. None of it can destroy the peace and joy that God gives to those who love and obey Him. Even more significant, as least to us, is the reality of God using our peace and joy to attract others to the Lamb, the blood, the gatherings that celebrate our faith, and even to their own faith and dunking in our baptismal tank.

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