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The New Covenant’s Sacrifice
Summer Quarter: Living in Covenant
Unit 1: A Fulfilled Covenant
Sunday school lesson for the week of June 16, 2019
By Rev. Ashley Randall
Lesson Scripture: Hebrews 9:11-28
Key Verse: Hebrews 9:22
: To consider how the blood of Jesus symbolizes life, healing, cleansing, and forgiveness.
Blood Saves Lives
There’s reason why there are so many lawyers on television urging you to call them when you have a wreck. Across the United States, more than 6,000 people go to the emergency room every day from injuries that are the result of a motor vehicle accident. Many of those injuries may not be life threatening, but nearly 100 people die every day in a car wreck. In fact, according to the CDC, “Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in the first three decades of Americans’ lives.” Thousands of accident victims survive, but only because of the concerted efforts of trauma teams who are more practiced than they wish they were.
One of the vital components in treating an accident victim is not a procedure that can be learned in a classroom. It’s not a tool that can be manufactured in a factory. It’s not a substance that can be synthesized in a lab. It can only be produced by another human body. It is blood, and a single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 1.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.
Sickle cell disease affects 90,000 to 100,000 people in the United States. About 1,000 babies are born with the disease each year. Sickle cell patients can require blood transfusions throughout their lives.
According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood. It is essential for surgeries, cancer treatment, chronic illnesses, and traumatic injuries. Whether a patient receives whole blood, red cells, platelets or plasma, this lifesaving care starts with one person making a generous donation.
Red Cross Blood Services provides about 40 percent of our nation’s blood and blood components, all from generous volunteer donors. Each year, an estimated 6.8 million people in the U.S. donate blood. Still, supply can’t always meet demand because only about 3 percent of age-eligible people donate blood yearly.
I have been a blood donor off and on for most of my adult life. A few trips out of the country (particularly to Africa and regions of Central America where malaria is endemic) have disqualified me from being allowed to donate at times. Nevertheless, I have donated more than seven gallons – and that doesn’t include the plateletpheresis donations.
Less than 38 percent of the population is eligible to give blood or platelets. Blood donors typically give about one pint of whole blood per donation. It takes about an hour to donate, from check-in to walking out the door. Donors can give about once every other month. Every donation can potentially save up to three lives.
Blood is the gift of life.
Invite the members of your small group to discuss their experience with blood donation. Have they ever donated? Have they volunteered at a blood drive? Ask them to describe what it was like and how they felt.
Life Is in the Blood
From Genesis to Revelation, blood has strong symbolic significance for the covenant community.
When Cain kills his brother, not only does God remark that Abel’s “blood flowed onto the ground,” but also that “his blood is calling out for me to punish you” (Genesis 4:10).
When the city of Jerusalem is under siege by the King of Babylon, God sends Ezekiel to the leaders with a message of judgment: “The people of Jerusalem murdered innocent people in the city and didn’t even try to cover up the blood that flowed out on the hard ground. But I have seen that blood, and it cries out for me to take revenge” (Ezekiel 24:7-9).
It is worth recognizing and reflecting on the way scripture characterizes blood as not only a stain on the soil, but also as a force that calls out to God. It serves as the sign of life itself.
Scripture makes this explicit when God establishes the covenant with Noah following the flood. God tells Noah that all animals, birds, reptiles, and fish shall now be acceptable as food for humans, with one caveat: “you must not eat any meat that still has blood in it.” Why? Because “life is in the blood” (Genesis 9:4).
This prohibition is continued and reinforced in the Mosaic covenant: “Life is in the blood, and I have given you the blood of animals to sacrifice in place of your own. That’s also why I have forbidden you to eat blood. Even if you should hunt and kill a bird or an animal, you must drain out the blood and cover it with soil. The life of every living creature is in its blood. That’s why I have forbidden you to eat blood and why I have warned you that anyone who does will no longer belong to my people” (Leviticus 17:11-14).
It is also important to recall the place of blood in the Passover. Prior to the tenth and final plague (the death of every firstborn son throughout the whole land of Egypt), Moses instructs the whole congregation of Israel to take the blood of a lamb and put it on the two doorposts and lintel of their houses.
“During that night the Lord will go through the country of Egypt and kill the first-born son in every Egyptian family. He will see where you have put the blood, and he will not come into your house. His angel that brings death will pass over and not kill your first-born sons” (Exodus 12:23).
As an advocate for life, the force of life, and the protector of the lives of their firstborn, blood is a powerful symbol for the covenant community. This becomes even more apparent when you read the passages of the Holiness Code in Leviticus. The first few chapters describe the many offerings and sacrifices the people are required to bring to God. You also find the use of blood in the preparation of Aaron to serve as the priest (9:1-25) as well as the detailed instructions involving the Day of Atonement (16:1-34).
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews assumes that his readers are familiar with all of these images. Many of them may have witnessed the priests presiding over these offerings and sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem before its destruction. It is even likely that they may have brought a lamb, a sheep, or a goat to the Temple for that purpose. Even if they had not directly participated in the cultic activities at the Temple, if they were observant Jews, they would have kept Passover each year and recalled God’s deliverance of the covenant community from slavery in Egypt.
Ask the members of your small group about their impression of the prominence of the place of blood in the scripture. Are there elements about it that make them uncomfortable? How have their feelings changed over time?
Once for All
The many cultic sacrifices and offerings prescribed by Moses distinguished the Hebrew people from their neighbors. As formative as these practices were, on their own they were not sufficient to prevent the people from turning from the holiness that God desired for them. Very soon after his ascension, Jesus’ followers begin to tell others what that had heard him say, “I give up my life for my sheep” (John 10:15).
As they gathered around the table to share the bread and the cup, they recalled his words, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven” (Matthew 26:28).
A central theme of Paul’s message was “you were far from God. But Christ offered his life’s blood as a sacrifice and brought you near God” (Ephesians 2:13). When he writes the Christians in Rome he extends his proclamation: “God sent Christ to be our sacrifice. Christ offered his life’s blood, so that by faith in him we could come to God. And God did this to show that in the past he was right to be patient and forgive sinners. This also shows that God is right when he accepts people who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26).
In a sense, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is hoping to show the congregation that God has been working to reconcile them to God since the time of Moses. What they are urged to accept today is the good news that Christ has done for them – and us – what the priests had only been able to accomplish provisionally.
The priests had to bring sacrifices day after day, year after year. They sacrificed the blood of goats and sheep and bulls, but Christ has entered the presence of God with a sacrifice greater than any they could bring. Christ has offered the sacrifice of himself – his own blood – his own life. It is a sacrifice that he has offered once for all to remove sin.
Note these three things that indicate how Christ’s sacrifice surpasses the sacrifice of the priests. First, it only has to be offered once. The priests made their sacrifices again and again. Secondly, it is offered for all. The priests made their sacrifices on behalf of those who supplied the livestock. And finally, this sacrifice marks the end of an age, and so the beginning of a new era defined by the new covenant established by this unsurpassable sacrifice.
Ask the members of your small group to discuss the difference it makes to them that Christ “offered his life’s blood” for the forgiveness of our sin as a sign of love rather than to fulfill an obligation. Discuss the three elements that differentiate Christ’s offering from that of the priests.
Ashley Randall is the Pastor of the Garden City UMC. He is a triathlete, a personal life coach, and a certified Health Minister.
To learn more about making a blood donation and to schedule an appointment, visit www.redcrossblood.org