The Word Among Us

Lent 2021 Issue

Neither Do I Condemn You

The Blood of Forgiveness

Neither Do I Condemn You: The Blood of Forgiveness

“What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). With these words, God confronted Cain with the murder of his brother, Abel. God said he had “heard” Abel’s blood crying out, and he was demanding an accounting from Cain. Centuries later, the Letter to the Hebrews talks about the “sprinkled blood” of Christ “that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” (12:24).

What is the message that Jesus’ blood speaks more eloquently? That’s the question we want to focus on during this season of Lent. We’ll see that Jesus’ blood actually speaks three “eloquent words” to us:

• A message of forgiveness
• A message of sacrifice
• A message of a new covenant

So for the next forty days, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus—at his crucifixion, where his blood flowed out onto the earth, and at the Last Supper, where Jesus offered his disciples “my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:28). Let’s see what message Jesus has for us, a message that can lead us to Easter joy.

I Forgive You. Just three simple words, but those words are packed with meaning. Saying “I forgive you” is like saying, “I don’t hold this against you. I don’t want the memory of this hurt to stand between us anymore.” When you say, “I forgive you,” you’re also saying, “I won’t try to get back at you.” It’s not just a statement of fact; it’s a statement of desire—the desire to heal a wounded relationship. It’s such a relief to hear someone speak these words to us, especially when we are feeling bad about having hurt that person!

Imagine how it must feel to hear God say the same words to you. Imagine him promising not to hold your sins against you and to relieve you from your guilt. Imagine him saying, “I want our relationship to be restored.” Hearing these words, really hearing them, just might change your life dramatically.

This is one of the most important messages Jesus wants to give us this Lent. He wants to convince us that we have been forgiven—fully, completely, eternally. This is an especially important message if we have a hard time forgiving ourselves or accepting that God could ever forgive us for something we’ve done. And to get that message across, Scripture points us to the blood of Jesus. His sacrifice—the shedding of his blood on the cross—has made that forgiveness a reality for us.

Jesus, the Forgiving Messiah. Before we talk about the message of Jesus’ blood and his cross, however, we have to first look at Jesus’ ministry and what brought him to Calvary. From the very beginning, Jesus announced that the way to receive the kingdom of God was through repentance—by renouncing sin and seeking God’s forgiveness.

Jesus’ proclamation of God’s forgiveness was one of the central reasons why some of Israel’s leaders opposed him so violently. Of course, they knew that God has mercy on those who repent. But what they didn’t approve of was how generous Jesus seemed to be in offering that mercy. They saw him forgive flagrant adulterers, traitorous tax collectors, and sinners of all other stripes. He even forgave a paralyzed man he had just met without checking to see if he was sufficiently sorry for his sins (Mark 2:1-12)!

Jesus’ habit of assuring people of God’s mercy and his desire to forgive even the worst of sins scandalized the elders. They thought he was too soft on sin and too easy on sinners. It was as if he were flinging open the gates of the kingdom to everyone! Surely a righteous man would avoid sinners instead of surrounding himself with them. Surely he would wait for them to come to him in sackcloth and ashes before proclaiming their pardon. And most important, at least as far as they were concerned, Jesus didn’t have the authority to forgive people at all!

But by announcing the mercy of God and welcoming sinners, Jesus moved people’s hearts and won them over. He showed them that they didn’t have to convince God to forgive them. It was the other way around—God was trying to convince the people that his greatest desire was to forgive them. His mercy was a given; the only question was whether people were humble enough to repent and receive it.

The Blood of Forgiveness. Jesus’ opponents were so offended by him that they kept trying to trip him up. They asked trick questions in order to catch him in some kind of blasphemy. Worse, they began plotting to kill him. But nothing they said or did could stop Jesus. He had been sent to proclaim God’s great gift of forgiveness, and he would keep doing so, even in the face of death.

Jesus continued to announce the mercy of God right up until the day he died. Then, on the cross, the shedding of his blood announced the same message, only more powerfully than ever before. It spoke a message of forgiveness to every person who had ever sinned against him—friend and foe alike.

Jesus’ blood spoke a message of forgiveness to his disciples, who had abandoned him at Gethsemane. He never once condemned them or blamed them for running away and hiding. Even when he rose from the dead, he came back to them with words of peace and forgiveness (John 20:21).

His blood also spoke a message of mercy toward his persecutors and executioners. He forgave the Pharisees and Sadducees who mocked him and beat him at his trial. He forgave them for making false accusations to Pilate and for whipping up the crowds to demand his crucifixion. He even forgave the Roman soldiers who tortured him for sport and who drove the nails into his hands and feet. Jesus had but one thought for all of these people: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

The Message of Jesus’ Blood. “Father, forgive.” This is a message that Jesus’ blood speaks to us during this season of Lent. It’s a message he asks us to focus on as we spend these forty days following him on the way to the cross. We know in our hearts that our sins deserve punishment. But in Christ, God has reconciled us to himself. He does not count our trespasses against us (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

If you are tempted to doubt this, think about how many times Jesus turned the other cheek throughout his earthly life. He didn’t count the many trespasses committed against him. That’s how strong his mercy was for the people around him, and that’s how strong his mercy is for you. He had every right to push back against his accusers. He would have been perfectly justified if he had sent legions of angels to his defense or if he had miraculously come down from the cross to condemn his accusers (Mark 15:29-30). But he didn’t. He forgave everyone.

As you look at the cross this Lent and contemplate the blood that he shed for you there, remember that there isn’t a single sin that Jesus isn’t willing and eager to forgive. Not adultery, theft, violence, or even murder or abortion. Not anger, gossip, lust, or pride. Jesus chose to shed his blood for you rather than condemn you. You are free from condemnation and guilt. If you just come to him in repentance, you will experience his forgiveness.

If you contemplate just one verse from Scripture this Lent, let it be this unfathomable promise: “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). Memorize it. Rejoice in it. Hold it close to your heart. Let Jesus’ blood speak that word of forgiveness to you.

When You Drink This Cup . . .

• You are receiving in sacramental form the blood that was pouring out of Jesus’ body when he said, “Father, forgive them.”

• You can picture Jesus saying, “Father, forgive this child of yours.”

• You can hear him telling you, “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11). “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Mark 5:34).

• Your venial sins are forgiven and washed away (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1393).

• You are committing yourself to “Do this” in memory of Jesus—to forgive as fully as you have been forgiven (Luke 22:19).

This Lent can be a time of healing and forgiveness for all of us. Because nothing is too big for Jesus’ mercy.