There are many strange verses in the Bible. Some of them, after a little thought and study, and perhaps a little more maturity in the faith, become not strange, but wonderful and meaningful and true. It is like some of the things that your parents told you when you were young. At the time, you thought you knew better, and you were sure that whatever they told was wrong or outdated. But then, after a few years of being out on your own, you began to see the wisdom of their words and their ways, and before long, you were saying the same thing to your own children. When it comes to the Bible, we all have a lot of growing up to do, no matter what age we are. So if something looks strange to us, we ought to be willing to approach it with humility. We may well remember that we are children before God, and may not yet know everything.
There are, however, some verses that seem strange the first time, and just as strange, the fiftieth time you read them. For example, consider Revelation 7:14. If you want to find strange verses, Revelation is a good place to go, and this verse is as strange as any. John is seeing a vision of the great multitudes of those who have been saved and are with the Lord in heaven. One of the elders says of this great multitude of the saved, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation.” The great tribulation must be life on this earth, so that part is easy enough to relate to. But then it says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” What does that mean? If you were going to wash something and try to make it white, would you wash it in blood? Blood stains everything. Blood would never work as a fabric whitener.
But, of course, this is not a lesson in washing clothes. Rather, it is symbolic language, symbolizing how we have been washed clean from all our sins by the blood of Jesus Christ shed for us on the cross. That is true and it does help to move this into the realm of the symbolic. But even at that, this is a difficult symbol. When you receive communion the minister gives you a little sip of wine and says, “The blood of Christ, shed for you,” and then you drink it. You have probably been around church long enough to know something of what that is all about, and so you see nothing strange in it. But imagine someone coming in off the street, having never been to a Christian church, and they hear this talk of drinking blood. They probably would not catch on right away, and it would be a tough symbol to explain in even an hour. It’s a wonderful symbol, but it is not an easy symbol. As I said, understanding some of what is in the Bible takes a bit of time and knowledge and maturity in the faith.
The other day a little girl from Sunday School had a question for me. She could not understand all this business about God as our Father. She already had a father. He tucks her into bed at night, but then they say a prayer to another father. What does that mean?, she wondered. Well, I gave my best explanation for someone that age, and she listened politely. I then asked her if that helped. In a clearly disappointed voice, she said with a sigh, “A little.” And Father is an easy symbol compared to blood. There is much in the Bible about blood– from the shedding of the blood of the Passover lamb, to Old Testament altars drenched in blood, to Jesus on the night before his death talking about the new covenant in his blood.
It is indeed a difficult symbol, but one has to admit, it is a striking and memorable symbol. And one of the purposes of communion is to help us remember. Many years ago I read a book called The Memory Book. One of the keys to memory, it said, was to create pictures in your mind of what you want to remember; and the more bizarre the picture, the better and more effective. For example, if you meet a man named Phil MacDonald, and you want to remember his name, picture Phil in bib overalls and a straw hat, standing in a cornfield. Imagine him with his pockets filled (as in ‘Phil‘) with chickens and little pigs, and they are all singing, Old MacDonald Had a Farm. Having that outrageous picture in your mind with help you remember Phil MacDonald’s name.
That is a silly illustration, but it makes a serious point. At the Last Supper, Jesus was a few hours from death. He would rise from the dead, but then in 40 days would ascend into heaven. He had to do everything he could to make sure his disciples, and everyone else down through the years, would remember who he was and what he did. And blood is a striking and strange and meaningful and memorable symbol. (continued…)
Revelation 7:13-14 — Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
I John 1:7 — But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
Ephesians 2:13 — But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Charlotte Elliot (1789-1871)