March 6 – Ash Wednesday
by Pastor Pete Scheele
Read Exodus 12:21-23
Grace and peace to you as you let the blood of Jesus mark you for salvation, from God, our Father, our suffering Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
During the 16th Century the Dutch valiantly fought against their Spanish oppressors, seeking independence. After a particularly bloody battle Spanish soldiers gained control of the city of Rotterdam. Systematically they moved throughout the city, going from house to house searching out Dutch citizens, slaughtering them and dragging their corpses out into the streets.
As the sounds of the massacre drew closer to a cluster of Dutch citizens hiding in a house one of them had an idea. He killed a goat and collected its blood, pouring the blood on the floor inside the entry way to the house, he then used a broom to sweep the blood on the floor inside the entryway to the outside of the house and out to the street.
When the Spanish soldiers stepped to the front of this house they noticed the blood seeping out from under the door and one of the soldiers declared; “Let’s move on! The work is already done at this place. Look at the blood marking the slaughter!” The Spanish soldiers continued their massacre at the next house, while the people inside that house marked with the blood escaped from death.
Blood usually is not pretty. Some people faint at the sight of blood. Many folks don’t like to view bloody movies or think about blood in any way. Even the cross that we painted today with red paint as a symbol of the blood that Jesus Christ shed for all our sins may be disgusting to some of you. And yet, blood can mean life and salvation to someone facing death. Certainly, that goat’s blood delivered those Dutch citizens out the hands of death and into life. Likewise, to a person bleeding to death, the blood of a donor is the most wonderful gift they could ever receive, for it is the gift of life. Shed blood can mean death, but it can also mean life. God in Leviticus 17:11 tells us, “The life of a creature is in the blood.”
Eternal life comes to us by the blood of Jesus. It “purifies us from all our sins” (1 Jn. 1:7). Sin ultimately brings death to all people in this world. Jesus shed His blood for us on the cross of Calvary to forgive our sins, and “Where there is forgiveness of sins,” as Martin Luther observed, “There is also life and salvation.”
We come to this Ash Wednesday service to be marked, by faith, with the life-giving blood of Jesus Christ. Being marked with life-giving blood is nothing new for the people of God. It goes way back, not only to Jesus 2,000 years ago, but about 3,500 years ago when God rescued the people of Israel from slavery and oppression in Egypt, on that first Passover night.
Perhaps you can picture the situation with me. Slowly but surely the Egyptians were out to destroy all the people of Israel, who were their slaves. The Egyptians continued to demand more and more from them, while at the same time killing their male babies in order to reduce their numbers (Ex. 1:8-16). The Israelites cried out to God, and He heard them and chose Moses to lead them out of their slavery.
Moses told the Egyptians ruler, Pharaoh, to let God’s people go, but Pharaoh refused. To change Pharaoh’s mind, God sent plaques upon the Egyptians, nine of them in all. With each plague Pharaoh promised to release the slaves, yet he quickly changed his mind each time God removed the plague. Finally, God told the people of Israel to get ready to leave the country on the night when the angel of death would pass through the land of Egypt, killing every first born person and animal of Egypt. But the death angel would Passover every household where the doorway was marked with the blood of the lamb. (Ex. 11-12)
On the 14th day of the first month in the Hebrew calendar, every Israelite family dipped a branch of hyssop into the blood of the lamb they had slain and painted that blood on the vertical and horizontal beams of the doorframe. Wherever the death angel saw a home marked with the blood of a lamb, he would pass over that house, sparing all its inhabitances. The next morning the Israelites slave were asked to leave Egypt and ever since that day their descendants have remembered the Passover as they salvation event.
Years later, Jesus and His disciples gathered together in the Upper Room to celebrate their ancestor’s great deliverance. Surely, they must have reflected on that wonderful night so many years ago. But Jesus also was looking ahead to an even greater deliverance. The next day He would sacrifice His own blood for the sins of all the world. As the Israelites for many years had stained the horizontal and vertical beams of their doorframe with the blood of the Passover lamb. Jesus, God’s holy and sinless Son, the true Passover Lamb “who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29) would stain the horizontal and vertical beams of the cross, our doorway to heaven, with His blood.
There it was, years after the first Passover and the night before Jesus would forever replace the sacrifice of the Passover Lambs with His own sacrifice. On that night Jesus took a cup of wine used in the Passover ceremony and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt.26:27-28) In so doing, Jesus in effect is saying to each of us, “Like the Egyptians Pharaoh so long ago, you too have heard God’s commands and have disregarded them, following your own plans. You to have oppressed people, maybe not by enslaving them, but surely by resenting them, neglecting them, speaking ill of them . . . in your own community, at your work place, in your classroom, even at home. Like old Pharaoh, you have placed your desires and goals above God’s will.” Jesus says to us, “surely My Father could condemn you as He condemned Pharaoh and the Egyptians long ago, but My blood marks your cross as My own. Left to yourselves, you are doomed to death and destruction. But as blood marked your ancestors, My blood will mark you for life. The Devil, death and hell cannot destroy you now. My Father sees My blood on you who believe in Me, and His wrath passes over you. The judgment of death and eternal condemnation that you deserve for your sin will pass over you to me.” Jesus says to us, “I, the true unblemished Lamb of God, marked you with My blood, for your salvation.”
Tonight, in a mysterious but very real way the Holy Spirit has reminded each of us, that we have been marked by the blood of Jesus Christ. Just as each drop of blood can identify who we are, each of us have been identified as a Child of God through the blood of Jesus Christ. In our Baptism it is the blood of Jesus Christ that has washed away all our sins and marked us to be His own, as He puts His name upon us. Tonight we will also be reminded of how Jesus’ blood upon our cross has taken away all our sins, as we take part in Holy Communion. We are reminded that we have been marked with Jesus’ blood as we come up to receive the body and the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all our sins. We are reminded that because of Jesus’ blood markings on our cross, the wrath of sin, death and the power of the devil has Passover us.
In 1927, a blood specimen was taken from a West African native named Asibi, who was sick with yellow fever. From that blood specimen a vaccine for yellow fever was identified. All of the vaccines manufactured since 1927 have been derive from that blood specimen. Multiplied through repeated cultures in numerous laboratories, the vaccine from this one human being has offered immunity to the deadly disease of yellow fever to millions of people throughout the world.
The blood of another Man, a humble Man from Nazareth, has accomplished an infinitely greater deliverance for each of us. The blood of this one Man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, has immunized the whole world from the curse of sin, death and the power of the devil. As we believe in Jesus Christ, we receive the mark of His blood upon us and in Holy Communion we drink His blood shed for us for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Jesus Christ gives us life that never ends because He shed His blood marking us for eternity. So, go and share the good news of the blood marking you for eternal life to all those you meet in this world. Amen