The next morning, he had a sore throat, followed later that night by chest congestion and an inflamed throat in the morning. He ordered George Rawlins, the overseer of his estate, to draw a total of nearly 3.75 liters of blood from his body – one of the most popular remedies for just about any ailment for nearly 2,000 years, up to that point.
It didn’t work. George Washington died on Saturday night, December 14, 1799. He was 67 years old.
It’s one of the perennial what-ifs of history. Up until that point, George Washington had been a robust figure, larger-than-life in many ways. It’s hardly remembered (but a powerful testament to his strength) that less than two years before his death, Washington accepted a commission as commander-in-chief from then-president John Adams to fight in the “Quasi-war” against France. He would remain in this position until his death.
So why was this great man cut down in what appeared to be otherwise-healthy twilight years? The answer is found in what he thought would be his cure: blood-letting.
At any point in time, the average human body has about 4.5-5.5 liters of blood coursing their veins. Washington’s insistence that well over half of that be removed in order to “balance” his system may have been commonplace at the time, but it ultimately proved fatal, as his body simply wasn’t able to recover.
Washington was familiar with the Bible (officially, he was an Anglican), but had he looked closer at the Old Testament, and in particular the book of Leviticus, he would have seen a verse that could have saved his life: “The life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11).
Blood plays a vital role in keeping our bodies functioning properly. It carries oxygen from the lungs to different parts of the body to regulate our metabolism, helps to balance our internal temperature, and bands together to form a clot to protect our bodies from excessive bleeding. In a sense then, George Washington’s blood-letting remedy fought against the very nature of what our bodies are designed to do in order to keep us healthy.
But in that same passage (Leviticus 17:10-13), God’s focus is not to ascribe physical benefits, but rather spiritual. He denounces the pagan practices of consuming blood, saying that it has no place among His people. But He also states that blood has spiritual responsibilities, “for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (for sins).
Without blood – without sacrifice – there can be no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:18-22).
This command in Leviticus 17 is one of the reasons that the Jews reacted so angrily to Jesus’ teachings in John 6. When He commanded them to “eat His flesh” and “drink His blood,” He was telling them to partake in His suffering and in His death, to have
The enemies of Christ didn’t take it that way. Both Justin Martyr and Tertullian, living over 100 years removed from the death of Christ, faced charges of both cannibalism and infanticide – and sometimes, a combination of the two. Though the perception of Christian cannibalism largely died out by the beginning of the fourth century, until that time, charges of disgusting paganism by both Jews and Romans plagued the early church.
Still, “the life” is indeed “in the blood.” Without the blood of God Himself, nothing could assuage God’s wrath; we would be lost forever in our sins. To interact with the blood of Christ is to connect to the soul-saving power of the Lamb of God “who comes to take away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29).
What else can it do? The Scriptures list a number of things.
It Can Cleanse Our Conscience from Dead Works (Hebrews 9:14)
To say this is to ask the question: What makes our works “dead” in the first place?
Someone would rightfully argue, “I’m advancing in my career, I’m taking great care of my family, trying to get myself in shape to run a half-marathon – what part of that is ‘dead’?”
All of those things are great, but the real question that has to be asked of every action is, what’s the end result? Where are you going? What is it all for? (Colossians 3:17).
By definition, the word “dead” means that which is “no longer alive.” It’s deprived of life, there’s no force behind it, no longevity, no perseverance. James would use the phrase “dead faith” (James 2:26) to describe a faith that is not justified by works (thus extolling the necessity of action). To say that you have faith without any works of any kind is to have zero faith – a dead faith.
Likewise, works that either (a) lead to death or (b) don’t produce life (or both) are dead. Specifically, in the context of Hebrews 9:14, those dead works are the Jewish laws that can’t save you from your sins and focus on an external morality deprived of any inner repentance. Hebrews 6:1 – “not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works”) – states it in much the same way.
What can the blood of Christ do? Give us a life that matters. A life that works towards something eternal instead of something that will burn up with the rest of the world
It Purchased the Church (Acts 20:28)
The church is the pinnacle of God’s creation. Mankind is great, but a select, called-out subgroup of the larger body of human beings that are special to Him is His crown jewel.
But it didn’t come free. Jesus paid for every soul in the church with every drop of blood that was drained from His body on the cross. He bought it; it’s His, not ours.
Perhaps this is why Paul was so insistent in his closing address to the elders of the Ephesian church that they defend the body of Christ. Jesus paid for it with His life, so we should honor Him by defending it with ours.
One for these attacks comes from the so-called “man of perdition” in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. An examination of him/her/they would take whole websites to cover, but suffice it to say this is something that poses a direct threat to the church. Paul tells the Thessalonican church to “stand firm” and “hold to the traditions” that they were taught by the Apostles in order to defend against this force.
Christ’s purchase of the church gives us a home. Adam and Eve left the garden because they trusted in Satan. The Jews were taken off into exile because they chased after idols. The pagans in Romans 1 were “given up” because they embraced immorality. In all three cases, an undervaluing of God and an over-estimation of what lay in their neighbor’s backyard was their downfall.
Thank God that Jesus purchased the church, because in it, I can find contentment.
It Washed Us From Our Sins (Revelation 1:5)
No matter how you interpret Revelation, it’s nearly impossible to read it front to back without coming away impressed at the power of God. All throughout are sprinkled “hallelujahs” and praises due our King…and for good reason.
He “released us” from our sins.
No longer do we have to spend our life in guilt and destruction, careening toward an eternity separated from God; now, thanks to His grace, we can be forgiven.
One of my favorite passages in Scripture is Matthew 11:28: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” What’s the rest that He’s talking about? A life spent in service to God is much more stressful than a life lived apart from Him, so where is this rest coming from?
How about freedom from guilt, hopelessness, and the nagging feeling that life has no purpose? Through obedience to Christ, we are cleansed from the very thing that separates mankind from God, and it is through being baptized into His death that we access that blood (Romans 6:3; Galatians 2:20).
The blood bulls and goats couldn’t do that for us. Only the spotless, holy blood of Jesus the Messiah could cleanse us from our sins.
As Paul would say, thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)Last modified: February 14, 2019