“Without the shedding of blood there is no remission,” the Bible says in Hebrews 9:22. Blood played a major part in the lives of Old Testament believers. At Mount Sinai, Moses read to them the Book of the Covenant, then sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice on the altar and on the people and said: “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words” (Exodus 24:8). Through this covenant (agreement, treaty, pledge), God bound Himself to His people with the promise of forgiveness through the sacrifice of the coming Messiah. Then, once a year, on the great Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the Old Testament high priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of the sacrifice for all the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:15-19).
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, saying, “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). Jesus’ words connect Mount Sinai and Mount Calvary. A woodcut by Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer depicts angels holding chalices to gather Jesus’ very blood — the Lamb of God under the Law of God — which we receive in the Lord’s Supper.
God comes to us in realities, not in wishes or mere ideas, not in fickle emotions or mere intellectual thoughts. God comes in ways that we can see and hear, and even touch and taste: God’s spoken Word in the Garden of Eden, the sprinkled blood of the ceremonial sacrifices, the promise-drenched waters of baptism, the truths of His Word preached, proclaimed, prayed, remembered, and sung.
Our Savior’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper bring us real and true forgiveness, not just as a symbol or remembrance, but with genuine comfort and strengthening of our faith that He forgives us and promises us eternal life. Lutheran Theologian Herman Sasse wrote:
“Both the Gospel that is preached and the Gospel that occurs in the Sacrament contain one and the same gift, though in different forms: the forgiveness of sins. This is not some doctrine about the possibility of a forgiveness of sins, not an illustration of such a possibility, but the actual forgiveness itself, this unfathomable miracle of God’s mercy that blots out our guilt and gives us everything that comes with forgiveness: Life and salvation, redemption of the whole person, both soul and body.” (We Confess the Sacraments, p. 26)
This is true because of Jesus’ words and promise — Take, eat, drink, for the remission of sins. In this way, the promise of Isaiah 52:15 is fulfilled: “So shall He sprinkle many nations,” a promise which leads into the vivid description of Jesus’ suffering and death in Isaiah 53. We look forward to the final fulfillment described in Revelation 7:14: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” as we sing in the hymn Behold A Host, Arrayed in White. And St. John summarizes it all in a simple phrase: “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Professor Mark Degarmeaux
Bethany Lutheran College