The Gospel of Jesus Christ is inescapably bloody. Tying together all the biblical imagery of Jesus as the high priest (Heb 2:17; 4:14-15; 5:1-10; 7-9), the Lamb (John 1:29; Rev 5:12), and the One who cleanses sinners (Heb 1:3; 9:14; 1 John 1:7), is the historic reality that He poured-out His blood for His people (Matt 26:28; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor 11:25; 1 Pet 1:2; Eph 1:7). When we say that Christ died for our sins, we mean that He died a bloody death on our behalf (1 Cor 5:7).
It is not surprising that the world still finds this foolish (1 Cor 1:18), but it is a shock when professing Christians do. Many reject the Bible’s description of Jesus’ atoning work, this “bloody Gospel,” because they find it repulsive. I would suggest at least two reasons for their revulsion – one cultural, the other, spiritual.
As the Purell in my pocket indicates, I am far from opposed to our culture’s bent toward cleanliness. I am a man of antimicrobial hands living among a sanitized people and that for good reason. Look, when your calling in life involves “the laying on of hands,” your accessories must include sanitizer. However, when you regularly cleanse yourself of foul microbes, buy your meat shrink-wrapped, and quarantine your sick and dying to hospitals, you begin to expect that life really is neat and tidy. But contrast that expectation with the rest of the world, where the meat that used to frolic with your kids is slaughtered in the same backyard and your dying expire right there in your living room. Suffice to say, owing to the general cleanliness of the First World, we probably find bloody deaths more revolting than others around the world or in the past.
But there’s a more basic reason, a spiritual one, which transcends time and culture. We are revolted by Jesus’ death because of our self-deception (e.g., Rom 1:18, 32). By the bloodiness of the biblical Gospel, God reveals His impeccable holiness and our defiling sin. And so people prefer a sanitized “gospel” because we like to believe that we are more sanitary than we are. We do not like the truth that there are no hand-wipes for the dirt clinging to us, oozing out from within us (Matt 15:10-20).
This is the main reason that so many find Jesus’ death revolting, it is the death that we know deserve (Rom 1:32). In the mirror of His sacrificial death, absorbing the wrath of His holy Father, a penal substitution for all who trust Him, we cannot hide from our filth, our dirt, our defilement, and our revolting sin.
O the curse and bitterness that our sins have brought on Jesus Christ! When I but think on these bleeding veins, scourged sides, furrowed back, harrowed temples, digged hands and feet, and then consider that my sins were the cause of all; methinks I should need no more arguments for self-abhorring.
Christians, would not your hearts rise against him that should kill your father, mother, brother, wife, husband? O then, how should your hearts and souls rise against sin? Surely your sin it was that murdered Christ, that killed him who is instead of all relations, who is a thousand times dearer to you than father; mother, husband, child. One thought of this should, methinks, be enough to make you say, as Job did, I abhor myself in dust and ashes.
O, what’s that cross on the back of Christ? My sins. O, what’s that crown on the head of Christ? My sins. O, what’s that nail in the right-hand, and that other in the left-hand, of Christ? My sins. O, what’s that spear in the side of Christ? My sins. O, what are those nails and wounds in the feet of Christ? My sins. With a spiritual eye I see no other engine tormenting Christ; no other Pilate, Herod, Annas, Caiaphas, condemning Christ; no other soldiers, officers, Jews, or Gentiles, doing execution on Christ — but only sin. O, my sins, my sins, my sins!
We can be disgusted by Jesus’ death because it reveals the ugly truth about us. But if the Spirit grants you to overcome the gag-reflex over your own defilement, you find this bloody Gospel to be a gem of peerless beauty. Jesus’ revolting death was voluntarily offered by our High Priest on our behalf. Jesus “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” and “having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:26, 28). If it were not for His blood, then it would’ve been your blood, because of your gross sins.
In the Gospel of Christ, we truly find both revulsion and beauty – but not where many critics see it. The revulsion is my sins, O my sins! But O, the beauty in His blood, His blood!