Water and Blood at God’s Altar

“But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.'”
(John 19:34)

(This is the third in a series of devotions drawn from the Old Testament)

At the Jewish Temple one of the main implements of worship was the Bronze Altar. Here God sanctified (made holy) both the sacrificial portions placed upon it as well as the people who worshipfully ate from such sacrifices. In Christ’s day there were at the base of this altar two channels; into one channel sacrificial blood and libation wine would be poured, and into the other channel water from the Feast of Booths ceremony would be poured. The base of the Bronze Altar thus received worship-related blood and water.

When the Roman soldier guaranteed Christ’s death by thrusting a spear into His heart, the Apostle John emphatically informs us that at once there came out blood and water. John, whose Gospel is always expressing deep theological truth, is likely conveying the fact that we now have a final sacrifice: Jesus on the cross. Now this “altar”—like the ancient Bronze Altar—finds at its base blood and water.

Christ now comes to us by water and blood, as the Apostle John explains: This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood (1 Jn 5:6). Christ comes to individuals by His blood with the water of Holy Baptism. Luther, commenting on 1 John 5:6 said, “What makes baptism so precious, so holy and essential is the mingling and the union of the water with the blood of Christ…” [from Sermons of Martin Luther]. Every newborn child of God has been baptized into Christ’s death (Ro 6-3); we are linked to Christ’s death by the blood and water of Holy Baptism. In Baptism we are brought to and connected with Christ’s cross.  When Jews celebrated the Passover they would always mix water with the wine.  When early Christians (and certain Christians today) celebrated the Eucharist, the chalice contained wine cut with water.  Christians who celebrate the Eucharist with a chalice of wine mixed with water, uniquely realize Christ comes to His people by water and blood. The blood in the chalice is the very blood shed at the cross, for as often as you drink this cup, you show forth the Lord’s death until comes (1 Cor 11:26).  Thus, as with Baptism, we observe Christians encountering the cross as they partake of the Holy Supper.

From the two sacraments, Christians, so to speak, kneel at the base of the altar of the cross, the place of blood and water. In Holy Baptism we are caressed with forgiving bloody water; there we are at the foot of the cross. In Holy Communion Christ’s cross-related blood gives a water-associated cleansing from all sin; there we are at the foot of the cross. From the altar of the cross, through Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, God continues to sanctify us through blood and water.

Lord Jesus, continue to sanctify us as we humbly kneel at the foot of your cross. Amen.