Crying Blood (Genesis 4)
And the LORD said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to Me from the ground." (Genesis 4:10)
God gives us a vivid image of martyrdom: crying blood. We look through the Scriptures and we see martyrs' blood crying out to God. Why does the blood cry? To correct the injustice of their death. Blood doesn't cry out if it's receiving what it deserves. Blood cries out because it receives what it doesn't deserve. Blood cries out because it's been betrayed.
This betrayal first begins when Cain betrays Abel. Brother against brother. We see here the basis for the back story in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Younger brother Edmund finds himself the unwitting pawn of the White Witch who seeks to kill him and his brother and sisters. The ultimate betrayal is setting one's family up for murder--or causing their murder. To shed a brother's blood is the most heinous action.
Blood is life. As long as blood flows through your veins, you are alive. To take that life is to proclaim yourself God. You seek to rule over who can live and who must die. This is what God tells Noah after the Flood when He allows man to eat meat: "But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood" (Genesis 9:4).
Taking blood is murder. Whether human or animal, it's murder. But Jesus would remind us that murder isn't just the physical taking of blood: "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire" (Matthew 5:22). We see this also from the Gospel reading. The Pharisee murders the tax collector through insults laced into his prayer: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector" (Luke 18:11). Through his insults, the Pharisee is taking away his neighbor's life force, murdering him by his words.
This happens just as Cain whacks Abel on the head and kills him (v8). The first murder. A brother taking his brother's life. For Cain this is murder. For Abel it is martyrdom. He died for religious reasons. Abel had been justified by God (v4). Cain couldn't stand it. Abel was innocent of anything that would have set Cain off. Abel didn't rub his acceptance in Cain's face. Cain couldn't accept that God had rejected his sacrifice.
Abel was the first of the martyrs in the Old Testament. The first killed for the faith. Jesus would use him as an example (Luke 11:49-51):
- Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, "I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute," so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary.
Zechariah the priest was going about his ministry in the Temple. He preached to King Joash and the people of Judah, "Thus says God, 'Why do you break the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, He has forsaken you'" (2 Chronicles 24:20). King Joash conspired against him to kill him. He was the last martyr before the Babylonian exile. Like Abel, Zechariah's blood cried out. It cried out for vengeance. With his dying breath, Zechariah said, "May the LORD see and avenge!" (2 Chronicles 24:22). God spoke to Cain, "The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground" (v10). Crying out for vengeance. Crying out for God to mete out justice against their killers. In St. John's vision of the fifth seal, martyrs' souls cried out from under the altar, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10). The innocent blood of the martyrs cries out for justice and judgment. Whining about their circumstances. Whining about their God-given cross.
Of all the martyrs who have ever died for the true faith, of all their crying blood, it all cries out to Jesus. The blood cries out for judgment. Their cries are heard by God. Each soul under the altar in Heaven is "given a white robe and told to rest a little longer" (Revelation 6:11). The robe wasn't just made of white cloth. The robe was washed whiter than white in the blood of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 7:14). They had come out of the "great tribulation"--martyrdom because they believe in Jesus' crying blood. Because Jesus' blood cried out, the martyrs had the calmness and perseverance to withstand even death, knowing that their room had been prepared in Heaven (John 14:2-3). Prepared by the blood of the Lord Jesus.
Prepared because Jesus' innocent blood was shed on the cross. He, like Abel and Zechariah, like the souls under the altar, cried out with His dying breath. Cried out seven times in fact. Not once did He cry out for revenge or judgment on those who were putting Him to death. The judgment was there. It was being meted out against Him. He was suffering the judgment, wrath and punishment deserved by all. Jesus' blood cried out for atonement. As the Son of God, He knew the only way to bring atonement was for Him to die for the sins of the world.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lewis calls this atonement the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time. Because of Edmund's betrayal, the White Witch demanded his blood. The Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time declared that the blood of every traitor belonged to her to be shed to redeem for their betrayal. Aslan offers Himself, a much greater prize for the White Witch, instead of Edmund. Aslan offers Himself because of the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time: "when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward" (p. 163). Aslan, the Christ-figure in The Chronicles of Narnia, gave Himself for Edmund to suffer death in his place. He went forth without complaining. Willingly, He allowed the White Witch and her minions to kill Him so that He might redeem Edmund.
As with Aslan, Jesus willingly allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross so that He might redeem each and every traitor who had gone before and who would come after. As the nails pierced His flesh, Jesus didn't cry out for vengeance and judgment. He cried out for forgiveness: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). The judgment is happening. All the sins of the world are being punished at that time. In Jesus' flesh the entirety of God's wrath was being poured out. Every sin was being atoned, forgiven, forgotten before the eyes of our holy Father in Heaven. Atoned because God was satisfied that the necessary punishment had been fulfilled. Forgiven because Jesus paid our debt. Forgotten because everything has been covered by Jesus' blood. "The sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" (Hebrews 12:24).
In the Gospel reading, we see Jesus' atoning blood in action. The Pharisee prayed about how wonderful a person he was. The tax collector's prayer was simple: "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13). He understood his place before God. Without Jesus' atoning blood, he had nothing except his sin. With Jesus' atoning blood, he had a merciful God. Because of God's mercy, Jesus tells us the tax collector "went down to his house justified" (Luke 18:14). He knew that His only recourse was to throw himself on God's mercy. God's mercy gave him what he needed: the assurance of his sins being forgiven. Abel saw this. He brought from the flock. Life for life. Blood for blood. Knowing only Christ's blood could atone for his sins, Abel sacrificed a life in his stead, looking towards Jesus' true sacrifice on the cross.
Both Abel and the tax collector humbled themselves and God exalted them. Being humbled, they could return home. Humility before God allows for that calm assurance. Calm assurance like Paul's: "I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come" (2 Timothy 4:6). Paul knew his time on this earth was almost over. He was able to face his impending death fully assured that his Savior had his room prepared for him in Heaven. Not long after writing his second letter to Timothy, Paul would be beheaded outside of Rome. He went to his death calmly.
You too can go to your death calmly. You have the same assurance through Jesus' blood. You have the forgiveness of your sins. You have been atoned and made holy. You are seen as His beloved child. Through Jesus' death and resurrection, He calls you to live for Him. Through His atonement, you have life. His death brings you life. Jesus told His disciples, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day" (John 6:53-54). This is why we have the Lord's Supper. This is where we have communion with the Son of God in His glorified state. We come before Him as humble, unworthy servants. He comes to us and calls us His brothers and sisters. He invites us to sit at His table. He invites us to partake of the very food of Heaven. This is Jesus' crying blood for you.
Jesus' blood cries out for you to believe His Word. As one of our communion services reminds us, "As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (LSB p. 162; 1 Corinthians 11:26). We eat Jesus' body and blood, wishing to reverence it and not harm it. We seek to fulfill our duty to our neighbor Jesus. We worship Him by partaking of the gifts He gives to us. The gift of eternal life through the body and blood broken and shed for you.
Blood is life. The martyrs' blood, shed for their beliefs, cries out to God. God answers through His Son's blood crying out for the salvation of the world. All betrayals have been reconciled. All sins forgiven. Saved by the crying blood of Jesus. Amen.