The Blood of the Cross

The accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in the gospels share very few details about the actual crucifixion itself. Oh, we are told several of the things that Jesus said from the cross. We are told some of what the Jewish religious leaders said and did there. But as far as the actual details of the crucifixion, there isn’t a lot of information. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John say little except “When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.” (Lk 23:33). The actual historical documents that tell of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus don’t give us many details about exactly what Jesus suffered on the cross.

Of course, the writers didn’t have to give a lot of the brutal details of the crucifixion because their readers knew those details all too well. Crucifixion was not just a manner of execution, it was a form of torture and terror designed to keep the subjugated citizenry in their place. First century people knew exactly what happened when someone was crucified. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did not have to give a detailed explanation of the horror of crucifixion; all they had to do was to say that Jesus was crucified.

One of the criticisms of the movie The Passion of the Christ was the over-the-top portrayal (in super-slow motion) of the bloody gore and violence associated with the crucifixion. I read somewhere that Gibson used many times more fake blood in The Passion than he did in Braveheart (another movie not for the squeamish), and that is probably about right. Roger Ebert (in a very positive review of the movie), said this—

“The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen.”

The Passion focused on the violence of the crucifixion, and that is not really the emphasis in the Biblical story at all. Despite the mega-gallons of stage blood used in the movie, the gospel writers mention blood only once in their account, “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (Jn 19:34). (Actually, the word "blood" is also used in Matt 27:25 when the mob protested to Pilate, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" Gibson chose not to include that line in the movie due to suggestions of antisemitism.)

So did the movie use too much stage blood and make too much out of the blood of the crucifixion? I'll leave that question up to the movie critics.  What I will say is that while the gospels don’t really stress the blood spilled at the crucifixion, the rest of the New Testament does the blood of the cross quite a bit.  Our reading today from Hebrews 9 uses the word “blood” 11 times (Hebrews 10 uses it another 6 times). The writer points his Jewish readers to the Old Testament purification rituals and reminds them that everything was purified by blood, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood” (9:22a). Jesus purifies us by offering his own blood (9:12). His point is that the blood that Jesus offered on the cross is far superior to the blood that purified in the Old Testament rituals--

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (9:13-14).

It is still true that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (9:22b).  Jesus went through the agony of the cross to pay the price for our sin and to purify us through the shedding of His own blood.

Is the imagery of blood repulsive to our modern sensitivities? Well, it should be. It shouldn’t be repulsive because our constitutions are so delicate that we are easily offended by such things. The imagery of blood should repulse us because it represents our sinfulness and rebellion and the high price it cost Jesus to love us. The gospel is soaked in the blood of Jesus.

What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!