Blood Donations: Literal and Spiritual (and a Memorial Day Tribute) May 28 2016

I donated blood yesterday.  I’ve donated platelets on an almost monthly basis since 9/11.  The blood bank seems to especially love my platelets because I am CMV negative, that is I do not have the cytomegalovirus.  A large percentage of the adult population has the CMV virus, and when babies with cancer need platelets, I am told that it is important for the donor not to pass along the CMV virus.  No sooner am I done with one donation than they call me to set up an appointment for the next one.  

If you have been in to donate blood, you are aware of all the sensitive questions that a donor is asked:  diseases exposed to, medications being taken, and sexual practices.  All of these are for the purpose of protecting the purity of the blood supply and the patients who are dependent upon it.  The donation screeners ask about tattoos, accidental needle sticks, drug use, and otherwise coming into contact with someone else’s blood.  This attention to detail is all because we know that coming into contact with someone else’s blood can be life-threatening, depending on what it contains.  More than ever, the life is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11).

So imagine someone unfamiliar with the gospel message hearing the old Christian hymn by Elisha Hoffman “Are you washed in the blood?” This seems so antithetical to any concept of contact with physical blood as we think of it today.  Being washed with blood would be viewed as an utterly disgusting idea to many people. But to the believer, the words of the hymn are well understood, hopeful, and even refreshing:

Are you washed,
In the blood,
In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless?
Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Verse 4 of the hymn refers to our garments being stained with sin, and there is nothing that can wash away that sin except the blood of Christ, shed on the cross for us.  There are deep, deep connections between the Old Testament sacrifices and the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, all of it centering on the blood.  This blog can only cover a tiny speck of the significance of this relationship, as this would be whole study in itself.

Early on, John the Baptizer recognized this connection and Christ’s coming sacrifice when he declared “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus spoke of “the new covenant in my blood …” at the last supper, often quoted in I Corinthians 11:25 during communion remembrances.
The Book of Hebrews spends a lot of time on the parallels between the Old Testament blood sacrifices and that of Christ.  “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13, 14).  We see that there is a purpose behind the cleansing, and that is to serve.  

Jesus also said to the disciples that “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink” (John 6:54, 55).  The disciples’ reaction to this was much like what could be our own: “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”  But Jesus went on to say that “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

While contaminated physical blood can be life-threatening, Jesus’ point is that the pure, spotless spiritual blood is life-giving.  His sacrifice offers us not only eternal life, but also an intimate relationship with the Father that can transcend the worldly trials and and challenges we face.  This is hard to remember when the bills are stacking up, the daily chores of life aren’t getting done, and the kids aren’t cooperating.  But the most unfairly treated, abused One in history still had time to say “These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  May God help us see this as a great reminder for putting our day-to-day difficulties and discouragements in perspective.

A Postscript for Memorial Day

Speaking of blood, it is on Memorial Day in the U.S. that we remember those who shed their own blood while serving in the armed forces.  We remember these men and women in the U.S, while recognizing that many countries do not have the freedoms we are privileged to have here, including the freedom to write and speak about the Lamb of God.  Begun as Decoration Day to remember those who died in the U.S. Civil War, Memorial Day helps us reflect on those Americans who died in all our conflicts, including the following primary ones:

  • Civil War – 750,000
  • World War I – 117,000
  • World War II – 405,000
  • Korea – 37,000
  • Vietnam – 58,000
  • Iraq/Afghanistan – 7,000

We give honor this Memorial Day for the men and women who have died over the years in the line of duty and pray that the Lord would continue to comfort and bless their families.  

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Steve Smith