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Christmas Isn't Offensive to The World, But Christ's Blood Shed on The Cross is

I want to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas because Christ is the reason for this season.

Let me explain.

Any casual perusal of the Old Testament reveals that the Hebrew people worshiped God through a very elaborate sacrificial system.

There were the daily national "morning and evening sacrifices." offered by the priests on behalf of the entire Hebrew nation. There were special sacrifices on annual national "holy days" (holidays) which revolved around the seven annual Hebrew festivals. And then there were sacrifices offered by individuals during specific times of need(e.g., "leprosy") as well as after committing specific sins.

But there was one special sacrifice offered by the High Priest which was not daily, nor even annual. It was offered whenever the ashes of the previous sacrifice had been depleted through cleansing ceremonies.

This special offering is called the Red Heifer sacrifice.

A heifer is a young female cow which has never given birth to a calf. A red heifer is an anomaly. Most cows don't have a skin color that is red. The Old Testament Hebrews specifically bred red heifers for this particular sacrifice.

Instructions for the special kind of red heifer to be sacrificed are given in Numbers 19. It was to be a red heifer in the prime of its life, "without blemish," and one that "has never been yoked" (Numbers 19:2).

The red heifer was to be taken "outside the city"(Numbers 19:3). It was to be slain and then "burned with fire" (Numbers 19:5).

Then "the ashes of the red heifer" were to be gathered (Numbers 19:9). When an Israelite "dies in his tent"(Numbers 19:14) or when a living Israelite "touches a corpse" (Numbers 19:13), the tent and/or the living Israelite were to be deemed "unclean" for seven days (Numbers 19:11).

A small portion of the ashes of the red heifer which had been sacrificed and burned was to be mixed in a basin filled with "flowing water" (Numbers 19:17), which means water from a living source such as a river or a spring.

Then a branch of hyssop, which is an aromatic herbal plant, would be dipped into the water mixed with the ashes. The ashes of the red heifer with living water would then be sprinkled on the unclean person or tent on both the third day and the seventh day of the week after contact with death.

After this seven-day process of cleansing, the Israelite would be pronounced "clean" and allowed into the assembly and the courtyard of the Temple.

"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7).

If this ceremony of cleansing with the ashes of the red heifer was not performed on the unclean person, the Israelite would be "defile" the Lord and be "cut off from Israel" (Numbers 19:13).

The Ashes of the Red Heifer kept the nation of Israel clean before the Lord.

It was an important sacrifice.

During the entire Old Testament as well during the time between the Testaments (e.g., the intertestamental time period), there were only nine red heifers sacrificed by the priests of Israel.

Orthodox Jews today believe the Messiah is coming to reinstate the sacrifice of the red heifer by offering the tenthred heifer for Temple worship. Orthodox Jews are already breeding heifers to obtain the unusual red heifer line in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

But I believe our Jewish friends have missed the symbolism of their own religion.

Jesus Christ is the true Red Heifer. He is the final Sacrifice.

Jesus the Anointed One "came to fulfill the Law" (Matthew 5:17-20).

The Red Heifer of the Old Covenant foreshadowed the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus died "outside the city" (Hebrews 13:12). It seems quite probable that Jesus died in the exact spot the Red Heifer was sacrificed because the High Priest could see directly into the Temple from the offering site. The centurion soldier at the crucifixion saw the curtain in the Temple torn (see Matthew 27:54).

Jesus died in the prime of His life (age 33).

Jesus was "without fault or blemish" (I Peter 1:19John 1:47).

Jesus died that those "unclean" before God might "washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 6:11II Corinthians 5:21).

Hyssop throughout Scripture is an emblem of faith.

"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).

We live in a day when the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ is often mocked and ridiculed.

But it seems to me if a person wishes to be pronounced "clean" before the Creator, then one must embrace Jesus as a gift from God (John 3:16) who fulfills the Law for us.

Jesus came to cleanse sinners (Matthew 1:21).

The Apostle Paul wrote:

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).

Paul was not ashamed of the Good News. He never would have said that had there not been some people ashamed of the gospel in his day.

And in ours.

There is something in the Good News of Jesus Christ that causes people to shrink back in embarrassment and shame.

What is it about Christianity that causes people to be offended?

The world isn't offended by our worship buildings.

People definitely aren't offended by the good things Christian organizations do to help the poor.

The world, in general, isn't embarrassed by anything truly Christian, except for one thing.

Blood sacrifice.

Specifically, people seem offended by the truth that Jesus came to shed His blood for sinners, to make sinners who trust Him clean before God.

To believe that God planned from the beginning to give His Son to die, shedding His own blood for the remission of our sins, invites ridicule from others.

The Gospel is offensive.

I don't get it.

Songwriter Andre Crouch wrote a song that describes how I feel:
The blood that Jesus shed for me
Way back on Calvary
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day
It will never lose its power.

It reaches to the highest mountain
It flows to the lowest valley
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day
It will never lose its power.

It soothes my doubts and calms my fears
And it dries all my tears
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day
It will never lose its power.

Peter ignored the offense and shame that Christ's death brings and declared at Pentecost:

"This Jesus, delivered by the determined plan and foreknowledge of God ... is raised up again, putting an end to the agony of death" (Acts 2:23-24).

The Spirit used Peter's message to bring deliverance to 3,000 people from their bondage to sin and death as Peter proclaimed the truth of Christ's sacrifice for sinners (Acts 2:41).

But when Stephen later took this same gospel message to the religious leaders they stoned him (Acts 7).

People in their natural state, even refined religious people, do not wish to hear about the blood-shedding of Jesus Christ.

We like our religions clean and neat.

But the gospel teaches us that Jesus Christ died as our Red Heifer.

God commanded the Hebrews in the Old Covenant to kill the red heifer in order to cleanse them of their defilement, but that ordinance was only a picture and foreshadowing of the Son of God whom the Father in His love for sinners sent for our cleansing (Matthew 1:21).

The death Jesus died should have been the death we died. The fire that consumes all sin and wickedness, Jesus endured (Matthew 27:46). The death He died, He died for the cleansing and deliverance of sinners (I Timothy 1:15).

For the prostitute. For the drug addict. For the liar. For the cheat. For the adulterer. For the prideful. For the blasphemer. For the self-righteous. For the bullies. For the selfish. For all sinners who destroy their lives with sin. For the blind who are leading the blind down the road of self-absorbed religiosity.

Jesus is the Red Heifer.

"He (Jesus) who knew no sin, became sin for us" (II Corinthians 5:21)

His blood will cleanse the sinner.

The blood of bulls and goats in the Old Covenant could not cleanse the sinner's conscience or put an end to sin that leads to death.

But the blood of Jesus Christ shed at Calvary does this and so much more.

This is the reason for celebration this Christmas season.

"For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:13-14).

The message of the early apostles of Christ was clear:

"No one is justified by the Law before God, for 'the righteous person will live by faith.' The Law is not of faith; on the contrary, 'the one who practices the Law will live (and die) by the commandments.' But Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree--in order that in Christ Jesus the blessings of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:12-14).

The early Hebrew Christians had been steeped in their 'ancestral traditions' of animal sacrifice (Galatians 1:14).

After the resurrection of Christ, God's people were no longer required to offer the sacrifices.

Animal sacrifice is over.

The Righteous Judge had fulfilled the Law for us in His Son. God did not lay aside the Law of sin and death, but rather He fulfilled it in Jesus Christ so "He might be just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).

The message of blood sacrifice is the message of Christmas.

Jesus came to die.

Christ's sacrifice brings an at-one-moment (atonement) between sinners and God. The Creator is good to sinners, but it is only because of Jesus' death and the sinners' faith in Christ.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the red heifer sacrifice, and it is His blood that cleanses us. And it is this message of blood sacrifice which offends so many, but it is the only message that gives hope to the defiled.

When you join your family in worship this Christmas weekend, you will not be bringing a lamb to be sacrificed, because God has provided the Lamb.

You will not be bringing a red heifer to the altar, for God has given the Red Heifer.

You will not be shedding blood with your own hands, for God has shed His own blood for us.

Turn your eye of faith toward the shed blood of Jesus Christ and believe what He has accomplished for sinners. Our conscience is cleansed because we rest in Christ.

The promise of God's goodness for eternity is ours because we approach God through the merits and sacrifice of His Son. We rejoice in the Father's love because He gave us His Son. Jesus Christ has come, Jesus Christ has died, and Jesus Christ has risen from the grave.

This is the message of Christmas.

It may offend some, but the truth of this message draws from us our worship of God. It may be ridiculed by some, but it is adored by us. It may cause some shame, but we echo the words of the Apostle Paul:

"We are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes."

Wade Burleson is a writer, historian, and pastor. You can find him at

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