My favorite fairy tale when I was a little girl was Snow White. Being a native Texan, I didn’t know very much about snow. But I liked the way the huntsman who had been sent by the Evil Stepmother to murder Snow White killed a wild animal in her place:
The Huntsman did as the Queen asked – he took the little girl into the forest and prepared to kill her. ‘Please don’t kill me,’ cried Snow White, looking in terror at his big sharp knife. ‘I will run away into the forest and never come back again.’ The Huntsman relented, and let her go. The child ran off through the trees deep into the forest. ‘The wild beasts will kill you, you poor child,’ thought the Huntsman to himself. But somehow he was glad he had not killed the little princess. Just then a wild boar came blundering through the bushes. The Huntsman killed the animal, and cutting out his heart and tongue took it to the Queen, as proof that Snow White was dead. The Queen rejoiced and was happy that she was once again the fairest of them all.
Perhaps this old fairy tale takes some of its inspiration from real life. In the Bible, blood is a symbol of cleansing. The ancient Hebrews sprinkled the blood of certain animals on their altars as an act of worship and confession of wrongdoing. These people knew they weren’t perfect (don’t we all?). Sacrificing an animal was a way to show the Lord that they were sorry for messing up (sinning). To fully understand their act of worship, consider that wealth in those days was measured in the livestock a person owned. The people deliberately and purposefully gave God a portion of their personal wealth. The animal — the wealth — died in place of the person who sinned. There were even specific sins that required specific animal offerings as a price for forgiveness. Those who offered sacrifices did not dare offer their lame or otherwise imperfect animals. Instead, God called them to select the best for sacrifice. (This practice was not wasteful; the meat from these animals was used as food for the priests.)
A specific sacrifice spared the Israelites’ firstborn sons, in Egypt. God told the Israelites they would be spared from the final, horrible plague — passed over — if they sacrificed a lamb and then sprinkled the lamb’s blood over their doorways. This entire story is found in Exodus 12, if you’d like to read more about it. Like the wild boar stood in the place of Snow White, the lamb stood in the place of the firstborn sons.
One of the Names for Jesus is the Lamb of God. (I get goosebumps just thinking about this connection to the passover story.) When Jesus ate the last supper with his disciples, they just “happened” to be celebrating the Passover meal (as God had commanded them to do every year..see Exodus 12 above). So the concept of the sacrificial lamb was foremost in everyone’s minds when Jesus did the unthinkable in Matthew 26:
26 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”
27 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, 28 for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant* between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.
The Israelites were accustomed to eating the lamb they’d sacrificed as part of their traditional Passover Meal. But now Jesus, with these words and his later actions on the cross, ushers in a new era in which HE himself is the passover bread and the passover lamb. Then he allowed himself to be arrested and tried. He was flogged and then nailed to a cross. And Scripture tells us that by his blood we who believe in him are now clean (Hebrews 9):
11 So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. 12 With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.
13 Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. 14 Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds[f] so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.
24 For Christ….did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. 26If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age[k] to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice.
I’m a bit fixated today on the thought that BLOOD is a cleansing agent…that God used it to signify the forgiveness of sins. I tend to balk at the sight of blood…so much so that I will not eat meat unless it is cooked to the consistency of “shoe leather” (according to my husband!) There is an old hymn that talks about this cleansing, forgiving quality of Jesus’ blood:
What can wash me white as snow? Nothing but the blood of Jesus…washing my heart as I confess to Him. As we sang that song in church today, a lump grew bigger in my throat and my eyes teared up because…here’s the rub of this whole confession…despite what I know of Jesus and his sacrifice for me, I.Don’t.Feel.Clean.
I don’t. I don’t feel remotely clean. Instead, my heart feels condemned. Ugly. Filthy. I walk through my days cringing inwardly even if outwardly I carry a smile.
For example, just a second ago my husband chilled beside me here in the bedroom — he on his iPod, me on my laptop, writing this blog. Without a word, he got up and left the room and puttered around the kitchen and backyard for a few minutes. Instantly my mind and heart felt condemned. Did I do something wrong? Did my lack of talking to him make him think I’m ignoring him? Should I stop blogging in order to engage him in conversation so he will give me that slow smile? The black cloud of self doubt and mental flogging whirled around my brain for a few minutes until he came back in the bedroom and resettled himself beside me. He wasn’t angry or unhappy: he was just getting up to putter around. So why did I jump to conclusions and think that he was?
I follow the same wrong-headed thought patterns in my other relationships…always walking on eggshells for fear that something I’ve said or done has caused heartache or pain or anger or something else unpleasant to those I love. I assure you this is NOT a pleasant frame of mind to be in, and I have lived it my whole thinking life. Sadly, I have the same feeling towards the Lord: that I am perpetually in a state of sin and that I will never be able to claim the “white as snow” status.
It’s a matter of my HEAD understanding that Christ’s action on the cross washed me clean of sin…and my HEART really getting what that forgiveness truly means.
As Paul puts it in Romans 7- 8:
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power* within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
Life in the Spirit
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power* of the life-giving Spirit has freed you* from the power of sin that leads to death….He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Perhaps I still feel condemned because I am focusing on my sinful nature rather than on things of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, self-control. I walk as a person under the letter of the law rather than walking as a person under the Grace of God. Scripture teaches us to be anxious for nothing…yet I am experiencing anxiety about my inability to really feel, deep down, that I am forgiven and clean.
It’s time to change. The next part of the verse that tells us to be anxious for nothing (it’s in Philippians 4) says that
…in everything, present your requests to God. And (therefore, as a consequence of presenting my requests) the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.”
That’s what I need! A guard for my mind and for my heart! So here is a word picture of me, offering up this entire blog to my Heavenly Father…presenting my request:
Lord, I know and accept by faith that my sins are forgiven and I stand before you with my heart white as snow… unscarred, whole, and healed. I say this with these words but continue to struggle with feelings of condemnation even by misinterpreting the innocent actions of those around me. Please help me accept that YOU are more than enough. You sent Jesus to stand in the place for me…and I am awed and terrified and grateful that you did so. I pray you will remove my anxiety so that I will no longer walk on eggshells in fear and trembling before no one except You, because You are God. I’m presenting this request to you in hopes that you will indeed permeate YOUR peace into my life. Overcome my failings with Your strength so that at the end of the day, I will stand before you with a beautiful, clean and pure heart so I will be Spiritually, Snow White before you.