Christianity is a bloody religion. It has its roots in Judaism, which is known for its many, many, animal sacrifices. And as far back as Abraham, blood was flowing. When God made the covenant with Abraham, he had Abraham take "a three year old heifer, a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram." (Gen. 15:9). These animals were cut in half and placed upon the ground, opposite each other God passed between the bloody animal carcasses to indicate that He would keep His promises. And when God gave the sign of His covenant to Abraham, it was the bloody sign of circumcision.

When God made the covenant with Moses, the young men of the sons of Israel "offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the LORD" (Ex. 24:5). When the first priests were consecrated and set apart for service, a couple cows and rams were sacrificed upon the altar. (Lev. 8-9). Their blood was applied to the ears and thumbs and big toes of the high priests.

When God explained how people were to worship Him, God gave them all sorts of sacrifices to perform. There were burnt offerings (Lev. 1). There were peace offerings (Lev. 3). There were sin offerings (Lev. 4). There were guilt offerings (Lev. 5). With every one of these offerings, various animals lost their lives as a sacrifice for sins. Blood flowed freely down upon the altar

During every feast and festival that the Jews would celebrate, it was required that blood would be shed. On the Day of Atonement, 10 animals were sacrificed. On the feast of trumpets, 10 animals were sacrificed. During the feast of weeks, 11 animals were sacrificed. During the feast of unleavened bread, 77 animals were sacrificed. During the feast of tabernacles, 189 animals were sacrificed. [1]

And when you combined the required sacrifices with the sacrifices brought by the people, the blood can be overwhelming. I have heard it said that the number of animals sacrificed during Passover was so great, that the blood from the temple flowed down through the streets of Jerusalem, a bloody remind of the cost of sin. When the temple was dedicated in Solomon's day, 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep were sacrificed to the LORD. Now, all the blood that was shed through the centuries all had it's anticipation for the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ; and His sacrifice was a bloody sacrifice.

Have you seen Mel Gibson's, "The Passion of the Christ"? I saw it, but I must confess to you that I waited a long time after it came out to see it. The only reason that I saw it was because I was soon to be preaching on the crucifixion of Christ. I thought that it would be helpful to me in preaching. I delayed for so long because I was scared of seeing the images of Jesus suffering so much. Every promotion of the movie that I saw pictured Jesus dripping in His own blood, delirious over the suffering that He was experiencing. I'm not a horror movie lover. Such things make me cringe; I have little interest in them. I was not thrilled to watch the flogging of Jesus. I was not thrilled to watch as Jesus carried his cross. I was not thrilled to see the nails driven into His hands. I was not thrilled to see the moment when Jesus was hoisted upon the cross and dropped into the hole, causing shearing pain in His hands and feat. And yet, such is the reality of our faith.

Christianity is a bloody religion! Jesus died in a bloody mess. Just think about the blood that Christ shed as He died upon Calvary. Even before He was arrested, Jesus was sweating drops of blood. During the trial before the Jewish people, Jesus was beaten with fists and slapped in the face (Mark 14:65). He very well may have been bleeding in the nose and mouth at this time.

When Jesus was taken out to be crucified, Jesus was scourged, which was "a legal preliminary to every Roman execution." [2] They wanted to weaken the victim before he ever went to the cross. Jesus would have been stripped of his clothing and had his hands tied to an upright post. The soldiers would have taken a short whip with several leather tongs, in which "small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals." The regular custom of the Romans was to have two soldiers, who would stand opposite each other and beat the prisoner with alternating lashes.

Listen to the Journal of American Medicine, describing the flogging:

As the Roman soldiers repeatedly stuck the victim's back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin and subcutaneous tissues. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of the blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive on the cross.. [3]

After the flogging, the Roman soldiers stripped him of his garments and placed a crown of thorns upon His head, which the soldiers had twisted together (Matt. 27:29). As the crown was pressed down upon his head, blood would have flowed down upon his face. He could have tasted His blood as it flowed into His mouth. At one point, the soldiers gave him a reed in His right hand and mocked Him as king. Then, they proceeded to take the reed and beat Him on the head (Matt. 27:30). The thorny crown would have sunk even deeper into His skull, causing more pain and more blood to flow.

The cross itself was a bloody affair. Jesus was hung on the cross by nails in his hands and his feet. Blood would have flowed freely from the wounds. Upon dying, "one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out" (John 19:34).

Christianity is a bloody religion. We ought not to shy away from this fact, especially since it's the blood of Christ that has saved us! His violent death upon the cross is the means through which God cleanses us from our sins to walk before Him blameless and holy.

Do you want to "clean up" Christianity? Do you want to remove its gruesome scenes? Then you will lose the power. Because, it's right here that we see the core of our faith: Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins upon the cross. The horrors of sin demanded a sacrifice. Jesus paid the Law's demands through His bloody death upon the cross of Christ.

Now, at this point, I feel compelled to address an issue that often arises with the blood of Christ. There are many who take a very mystical view of Christ's blood. We sang this morning, ...

There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel's veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. [4]

Such language is poetic, calling us to the cleansing power of the violent death of Christ. But, there are some who picture a literal vial of blood in heaven, which is smeared all over sinners who come into God's presence.

As Phil Johnson says, ...

When Scripture speaks of Christ's "blood," the expression is normally a reference to His sacrificial atoning death, not the actual red and white corpuscles. And the vivid language in our hymns about the cleansing ability and "wonder-working power" of the blood and "a fountain filled with blood" is not meant to be taken literally. There is no magical or mystical cleansing property in the red fluid, and there is no container of blood in heaven that is somehow literally applied to sinners. Such language [of speaking of blood] is meant to speak of Christ's sacrificial atonement—just as when Paul spoke of "the preaching of the cross" he had in mind the death of Christ, not the literal wooden instrument on which the Savior died. We're not to think a piece of wood is the point of our preaching. What happened on that cross is what is efficacious for our salvation, not some magical power in the wood itself. Similarly with the blood of Christ: it is the violent pouring out of blood in Christ's sacrificial death that saves us, not some supernatural property of the fluid itself. [5]

Now, to be sure, Jesus had to shed His blood to atone for sins. He couldn't have been poisoned to atone for our sins. He couldn't have drowned for our sins. The Scriptures are clear; only a bloody death atones. So please, don't shy away from the gory realities of our faith. The author to the book of Hebrews doesn't, especially in our text this morning.

As you read our text, I want for you to notice how often the words, "death" and "blood" appear in these verses.

Hebrews 9:15-26
For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives. Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you." And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Do you see the "death," the "blood"? Either one or the other of these words appears in every single verse. The key thought of all of the verses comes in the last phrase of verse 22: "without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness." The reason why Christianity is a bloody religion is because it is a religion that is high on forgiveness.

For God to forgive a sin, there needs to be a sacrifice for that sin. This is a fundamental law of the universe. It's as core as the laws of gravity--two objects are attracted to each other with a force proportional to their mass and inversely proportional to the square of the distances between them. It's as core as the laws of thermodynamics. For God to forgive a sin, there needs to be a sacrifice for that sin. That's the reason why God prescribed so many sacrifices in the Old Testament. They were to teach us that He requires a sacrifice for sins! It's blood that cleanses our souls. "Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness" (verse 22).

Now, I hope that you catch the irony of these things. There is hardly anything that stains a garment more than blood. You spill ketchup on your shirt, and you can easily wash it out. You get a grass stain on your pants, and you can wash it out. But, blood? It comes out only with the most fervent washings. Often, people will throw bloody garments away, rather than washing them. And yet, it is the blood of Christ that cleanses us from our sin. I love the description of the great multitude of saints who come out of the great tribulation. "They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14). Now, obviously, this isn't talking about the physical blood of Jesus. You can't wash "a great multitude which no one can count" in the literal blood of one man (Rev. 7:9). Furthermore, His physical blood would stain their garments, not make them white. But, it's a picture of the cleansing power of the blood of Christ. It can make us white. It can make us clean.

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

My message this morning is entitled, "Cleansed with Blood." That's what these verses in Hebrews 9 are addressing. Let's jump into our text.

Hebrews 9:15
For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

Upon reading this verse once, it sounds a bit confusing and difficult. But, with some work, we can understand it. This verse addresses the natural question raised in verses 13 and 14. In those verses we learn that "the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer, ... sanctifies for the cleansing of the flesh" (verse 13). But, "the blood of Christ, ... cleanses our conscience" deep within (verse 14). And the question naturally arises, "Well, then, how were the saints of the Old Testament saved? Were they saved with these sacrifices that deal only with the flesh? Were they ever cleansed deep within?" Throughout my years as a pastor, I have heard many ask this question. And, it's a good question. The answer is that they were saved in the same way that we are, through the death of Christ. However, there is a difference. They were saved through a death that would come in the future. We are saved through a death that took place in the past. But, fundamentally, they were saved in the same way that we are saved: through the blood of Christ.

Verse 15 says, "He is the mediator of a new covenant." A mediator is the one who stands between two parties. He seeks their peace and harmony. In this case, Jesus is the mediator between us and God. When it comes to the New Covenant, where God puts His laws into our minds and writes them on our hearts, where God becomes our God, where we become His people, where we know the Lord deep within, where God forgives us of our sins and remembers our sins no more (like Hebrews 8 promises), this promise comes true through the death of Jesus. He's the one who reconciles all to God, whether Jew or Gentile, whether you lived before the cross or you live after the cross. This is the point of verse 15, ...

Hebrews 9:15
so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant."

Here we see the author to the Hebrews mentioning those who sinned under the first covenant. They needed redemption. And how were they redeemed? Not through the blood of bulls and goats. In Hebrews 10:4 it says, "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." They were redeemed through the sacrifice of Jesus. He paid for their sins.

In order to grasp what was going on here, let's turn back to Romans, chapter 3. Again, it's a difficult portion of Scripture, but it's a crucial portion of Scripture. John Piper has called this section of Scripture, "the most important paragraph in the Bible." [6] This is because it fully explains what was taking place with the saints of the Old Testament as well as those of the New.

Romans 3:21-25a
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.

There are jewels to be mined in these verses. They talk of the way of redemption. It doesn't come through the law and the prophets. Rather, the righteousness of God comes through faith. We are justified by grace through the bloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross. Now, for the sake of space, we need to let these words pass. I read them only to set up the context of the words that are of most importance to us this morning (verses 25 and 26).

Romans 3:25b-26
... This [i.e. the bloody sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross] was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The death of Jesus was to put forth the righteousness of God, because the Old Testament casts a doubt upon the righteousness of God. Now, the doubt didn't come through the statements of the Old Testament. Over and over and over again, the Old Testament affirms the righteousness of God. Deuteronomy 32:4, "His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He." Daniel 4:37, "All His works are true and [all] His ways [are] just." The Scripture is clear: God is righteous in all His ways. But, the way that God dealt with sin has brought a question upon the righteousness of God. God forgave those who believed without a sufficient sacrifice. Oh, sure, they offered up animals. But, in the end, animals could only cover sin. They could never take it away (Heb. 10:4).

And so, as God passed over the sins of the Old Testament saints, it was calling His righteousness into question. Where's the punishment? "Upon the slain lamb," it might be argued. But, really, that was no worthy sacrifice. A human sin needs a human sacrifice. And so, without a sufficient sacrifice, God's justice is called into account. God can't merely pass over a transgression.

For instance, let me give you an illustration. Suppose there was a man in Rockford, who had kidnapped children. He would see them walking along side of the road. He would coerce them into his car. Once in the car, he would drive them to a remote cabin in the woods, where he would torture them and kill them and eat them. Now, imagine the he was caught by the police and placed in prison. Then, imagine his trial. Over the weeks of the trial, the facts of his crimes came out in all of their horror. The city of Rockford was in shock as we heard of this man's wickedness! Then, imagine that the day of sentencing came. The judge reviewed all of the crimes that were committed. The judge pronounced a guilty verdict. The judge reviewed the appropriate sentence: death by lethal injection. However, the judge said to the criminal, "You deserve to die for your crimes. However, I am kind and gracious of heart. I just can't see you suffer in this way. I'm not going to punish you. You are a free man!"

What would take place in Rockford? There would be hostility in the streets. A spontaneous outcry would naturally arise against this judge. A movement to remove him from the judge would arise. Within a few weeks, I'm sure that he would be looking for another job. Why? Because the judge was unjust! We can't live in a city with such unjust judges. And this is exactly the accusation that could come upon God based upon the Old Testament. God was passing over sin, not punishing it as it deserves.

But, here's the glory of the gospel. Jesus Christ took the punishment that our sins deserved. God punished Jesus for our sins! Thereby, God can be righteous, because our sin was punished with human death. And, God can justify us, because no accusation remains. The punishment was executed. It all fell on Jesus!

This is the meaning of Romans 3:25-26. In the bloody sacrifice of Jesus, God demonstrated His righteousness, because He actually punished sin by punishing Jesus. In the bloody sacrifice of Jesus, God is able to justify us! We no longer stand condemned. Our debt has been paid! Thus, God can be "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (verse 26). In other words, the sins that He passed over and forgave were punished in Jesus Christ. His spilled blood was sufficient payment for the sins committed under the first covenant.

And that's the point of Hebrews 9:15.

Hebrews 9:15
or this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

The saints of the Old Testament were redeemed through the death of Christ! It is through His death that the called of the Old Testament receive their eternal inheritance in heaven! They will be in the same heaven that we will be in. Jesus said the "many will come from the east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 8:11). We will receive our inheritance through Christ. They will receive their inheritance through Christ.

Picking up on the last word of verse 15, "inheritance," verses 16 and 17 speak of the way of obtaining an inheritance. It comes through death. The writer uses an analogy.

Hebrews 9:16-17
For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.

With these verses, he brings us to think about the way a final will and testament works. You write up your wishes of how your estate should be distributed after you die. You take 25% of your financial portfolio and distribute it to the charities of your choice. You distribute what remains of your portfolio equally to all of your children. You give your piano to the child who will continue to use it. You give your snowmobile to your son who loves the outdoors. You give your furniture to the child who just purchased a home. You can identify a particular piece of jewelry to be given to a friend, who lives in California. You can make your will short: "I give all my possessions to the poor." Or, you can make it as exotic as you want.

If you have a heart for the education of your grandchildren, you can give them money, only to be used for tuition costs. If they don't use it on tuition, you can order the money given away to charity. Perhaps you have a vision for a grand family reunion to take place in your absence. For years, your family has merely talked about getting together. You can set aside some of your money to be used only to fund the travel expenses of all the long-lost relatives, even those who are living in London. Whatever you want to come to pass regarding your earthly possessions, you merely need to write in your will. I hope you have a will. Or, if you can afford it, a trust.

But, the point of verses 16 and 17 is this: None of the things that you write up in your will ever take effect until you die. This was the shock of the prodigal son's request! He requested the inheritance before his father died! "Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me" (Luke 15:12). As many have pointed out, he was merely saying, "Father, I wish that you were dead!"

See, death is what brings the document to life. So also the New Covenant. Apart from the death of Christ, the New Covenant would have been paper and promises. But, the death of Christ gave God the ability to be merciful to our iniquities, and to remember our sins no more (Heb. 8:12). Whenever you have a covenant, you need a death to take place. Thus, the importance of the death of Jesus.

Now, if this is true (i.e. that a covenant needs to be inaugurated with death) then it must be true of the first covenant. That's what verse 18 says, ...

Hebrews 9:18
Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood.

And the following verses explain what took place when the first covenant was inaugurated.

Hebrews 9:19-20
For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you." And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood.

The historical occasion for these words comes from Exodus 24. Moses took the law that he had just received upon Mount Sinai, the 10 commandments and various other laws. And, Moses read the law for all the people to hear. The people quickly pledged their obedience to the law. So, Moses "built an altar at the foot of the mountain" (Ex. 24:4). He sacrificed the animals and collected the blood of the animals into basis. Moses, then sprinkled the book and the people with the blood, declaring, "This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you" (Ex. 24:8; Heb. 9:20). Then, according to the writer to the Hebrews, he sprinkled the tabernacle and the vessels of the ministry with the blood.

To us, such an event might sound a bit strange. When we make an agreement, we shake hands on it, or we sign a document, or, we pledge with an oath. Yesterday, our family went to Minneapolis to purchase a teardrop trailer for our trip to California this summer. A teardrop trailer is basically just a mattress on wheels. We found a good deal in Minneapolis. So, we acted quickly, before someone else took it. Here's how the deal was made. We sent a few emails. We made a few phone calls. I gave the owner some cash. He gave me the title. And, I drove away with the trailer. I didn't go to Minneapolis and say, "OK, cut your finger. Bleed." But, the ways of a covenant are different. They are inaugurated with blood. This is the point of verse 22, ...

When you read through the Old Testament, you are struck by the number of times that blood is shed to cleanse from sin. At every feast and at every festival, blood was shed. At the beginning of the day, blood was shed to cleanse the temple. At the end of the day, blood was shed to cleanse the temple. As worshipers came, blood was shed.

Now, there are a few instances in which grain (Lev. 5:11-13) or water (Lev. 15:10) or fire (Num. 31:22-23) or gold (Num. 31:50) or incense (Num. 16:46) could cleanse. Thus, the reason why we see the word, "almost." "One may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood" (Heb 9:22). However, as one commentator pointed out, "Such [bloodless] ceremonies were all exceptional. As a whole the Levitical system looks constantly for blood as the means of putting away sin and impurity." [7]

But, there are no exceptions to the last half of verse 22, ...

Hebrews 9:22
without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."

Here the point: Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. And the great reality of our faith is this: Jesus Christ shed His blood for our forgiveness. We are "cleansed with His blood." Earlier in the service, we sang, "Jesus thank you."

Your blood, has washed away my sin, Jesus, thank you.
The Father's wrath, completely satisfied, Jesus, thank you.
Once your enemy, now seated at your table, Jesus, thank you. [8]

And that's the great reality of what we celebrate in the Lord's Supper. All of us were born children of wrath. All of us were dead in our sins. But, God, because of his great mercy and kindness, has forgiven us our sins through faith. It's through the blood of Christ that we are made clean. Please note that this forgiveness can't come any other way than through the death of Jesus. The New Covenant (verse 15) needed to be inaugurated with blood. And it was. The death of Christ brought in the New Covenant.

Perhaps you remember the words of Jesus on the nigh in which He was betrayed. He took the cup and said, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood" (1 Cor. 11:25). The new covenant doesn't come to us because we are worthy. It comes to us in our sin.

I mentioned earlier that I took a trip to Minneapolis to purchase a trailer. I purchased it from a man named Mike, who had recently fallen upon hard times. He caught the swine flu and was very sick. At one point, he was bleeding right through the pores in his leg. He was in a coma from three months. At one point, he was given only 24 hours to live. He used to be a body builder. But, now he walks with a cane. Upon meeting him, he said to me, "Only God has kept me alive. He kept me alive for some purpose. I'm not sure what it was, but he has kept me alive." He saw our license plate, "HESED 4," and instantly made the connection, "Hey, you know God." He discerned that HESED was a Hebrew word that speaks of God's lovingkindness.

Anyway, when I came into his house to retrieve the mattress for the trailer, I was met with three giant German Shepherd dogs. They were beautiful dogs. But, I was also met with the smell of a house where three giant German Shepherd dogs lived. My daughter (who came with me) even whispered to me, "Dad, it stinks in here." It did. His life is a mess. His house is a mess.

When I returned to seal the deal, I brought in a plate of cookies that my wife had made in preparation for giving to him. He instantly cried like a baby. I believe he did, because we really cared for him. At that point, I put my arms around him and prayed for him. I also gave him a sermon CD by John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. I said to him, "Perhaps this is your purpose that you are looking for." Then, I spoke with him about church and about Christ. He knows everything. He even told me of his relatives who were pastors and missionaries. But, sadly, he said, "I'm not sure what happened to my side of the family."

Mike isn't the most worthy guy. And neither are you. We come to Christ, not because we are worthy, but only through His shed blood.

This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on June 6, 2010 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see

[1] The following site lays out the sacrifices very clearly:

[2] JAMA March 21, 1986--Vol 255, No. 11, p. 1457

[3] Ibid., pp. 1457-58

[4] "There Is A Fountain," written by William Cowper.


[6] John Piper. The Pleasures of God, p. 165

[7] I obtained the list of these exceptions from Expositor's Bible Commentary, p. 89

[8] "Jesus, Thank You," written by Pat Sczebel.