“you have come to… Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
Hebrews 12:22, 24
“Glory be to Jesus, / Who, in bitter pains, / Poured for me the lifeblood / From His sacred veins!” (Galli/Caswall). It was the antithesis of earthly glory, the grotesque picture of a scoundrel hanging from a tree bleeding for the lost lot of humanity. Jesus would die at the hands of the very men he created, whose might he bestowed and breath he first breathed. Yet it was Jesus who prayed that God would glorify him in John 17. This was no self-serving prayer, but one of purpose, hope, and vision. He knew that the road to his glorification led through the cross. But he held in his heart his redemptive purpose to glorify the Father, to reconcile his people, and to fulfill the faithful promise that he would be raised to eternal glory never again to cede heaven’s high throne. Love would reign victoriously, the light of the Son never again to be darkened by the shadow of death. It was his heart of love and vision of hope that strengthened Jesus to pour out his lifeblood so willingly. In theologically rich language reminiscent of Old Testament substitutionary atonement, Hebrews 12:22 and 24 says, “you have come to… Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” What is the “better word” spoken by the sprinkled blood of Christ?
“Abel’s blood for vengeance / Pleaded to the skies…” (Galli/Caswall). In Genesis 4:1-13, we find the earliest scene of worship. Incidentally, we also find the first sibling rivalry and “worship war.” Abel’s offering of the first of his flock was acceptable to the Lord, but Cain’s was not. We infer that Abel offered precisely what God prescribed and with the right heart while Cain offered something else. When counseled by the Lord, Cain chose to persist in his rebellion and jealously struck his brother down in a field. The righteous are often targeted by the unrighteous who feel judged, not by any spoken word, but merely by their just example. There Cain stood in undeniable guilt convicted by the now silenced cries of his brother’s innocent blood echoing from the ground when God confronted him. If in his heightened emotional state he believed his problems would vanish with the death of his righteous brother, he would soon learn otherwise. God demonstrated his omnipresence and omniscience when he asked the provocative question “Where is Abel your brother?” (v. 9). Cain showed man’s capacity for callous when he slyly replied: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (v. 9). Then God poured out his broken heart when he said: “What have you done?” (v. 10). God then enacted justice when he said: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (vv. 10, 11). In his short and tragic life, Abel demonstrated man’s capacity for faith leaving a legacy for generations: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).
“But the blood of Jesus / For our pardon cries” (Galli/Caswall). Like Abel, Jesus was righteous, and for his righteousness, he was hated. Ultimately, Jesus would be crucified (Matthew 27). But before his vile death, the officials who tried him admitted they saw no guilt in him (vv. 18, 19, 23, & 24). “And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ (25).” They had no idea what they were saying, but Jesus did. Even as he hung dying on the cross, he cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter would stand before many from the same crowd and would convict these very people of murdering Jesus, their Messiah. When they came to grips with their grievous guilt, they cried out, “what shall we do?” (v. 37). Then, for the first time in history, the gospel was preached: “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself'” (vv. 38, 39).
With the two referenced historical accounts fresh on our minds, let’s return to our earlier question from Hebrews 12:22 and 24, What is the “better word” spoken by the sprinkled blood of Christ?
“you have come to… Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.” The relationship between God and man has always been covenantal in nature: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exodus 6:7).
“…and to the sprinkled blood…” But the covenant took two forms, the old covenant was ratified by the blood of animals (Exodus 24:8), and the new covenant by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 9:11-22). Under the old covenant, the sin offering involved sprinkling blood ceremonially upon the altar and sometimes before the temple veil. To usher in the new covenant, Jesus shed his blood upon the cross.
“…that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” In the case of Abel, his violently shed blood indicted Cain of his guilt and cried out to the Lord for vengeance. But under both covenants, the sprinkled blood of the substitutionary sacrifice came to represent cleansing and consecration for the sinner(s). The lamb, the sacrifice designated for common people, would pay the penalty in the place of the guilty and the guilty would be set free by the blood of the lamb. Under the old covenant, animal sacrifice was repeatedly required for offenses, but the sacrifice of Jesus is better because he died once for all (Hebrews 9:23-28). In this light, consider again the significance of Jesus on the cross bleeding for the sins of all mankind and crying out, “Father, forgive them”!
Glory be to Jesus,
Who, in bitter pains,
Poured for me the lifeblood
From His sacred veins!
Abel’s blood for vengeance
Pleaded to the skies;
But the blood of Jesus
For our pardon cries.
Grace and life eternal
In that blood I find;
Blest be His compassion,
Lift we then our voices,
Swell the mighty flood;
Louder still and louder
Praise the precious blood!
Hymn: 184.108.40.206 Galli’s Raccolta di Orazione e pie Opera colla Indulgence (1837), tr. Edward Caswall (1857)