You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin…
The cross of Christ speaks so richly to us! Often we rightly look and see love and salvation there, and it certainly is present. If mercy and justice have kissed (Psalms 85:10), they have certainly kissed at the cross. Mercy is to be found there, but justice is to be found there as well. The cross of Christ is the ultimate expression of the law.
What do I mean? The writer of Hebrews shows us that if we think we have arrived at some acceptable level of righteous living, there is always a higher standard to attain to when we look to the cross. When we look to Jesus as an example to follow, the cross is the standard. Have we resisted self-love and idolatry and covetousness to the point of death? Have we loved God and our neighbors so much that we would die for them? Do we count our very own lives as sacred idols? Are we willing to “hear God” if His word is that we must shed blood and die in obedience? Don’t we find that crazy? Do we have such a strong faith that we see the joy set before us in the face of death? Is our joy that we would sacrifice everything to obtain, the welfare of our enemies? OUCH! Would we forgive our own murderers right as they are in the act of murdering us? Do our enemies and detractors and betrayers find love and forgiveness beaming down at them from us? Can you even think of a mythical being, much less a real human, who even comes close to being that good? And you think you can do it too? I am skeptical, to say the least. As he goes on to explain in the rest of the passage, the cross of Christ shows us that there is always room for improvement for everyone no matter how “mature” they believe themselves to be (1 John 3:2). We always have need of the loving discipline of God. Even Jesus Himself learned obedience through the process of experience (Hebrews 5:8).
When he says, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin,” who is he talking to? Is there some group of people who have progressed beyond the need to hear this? Of course not! He is talking to everyone. Everyone is in need of the gospel, every day. No one at any point has attained to the level of the perfection of obedience that Jesus has attained to. No one is worthy to open those scrolls (Revelation 5:2) except the Lamb who was slain. I have talked many times to people who wonder why we have so much emphasis on guilt and sin and mercy and grace and forgiveness — they just don’t feel they are so bad. They think that actually they are pretty good. Forgiveness and redemption just isn’t their primary need! They take care of their responsibilities, work hard, watch out for their children’s welfare, and even serve sacrificially at their church. The question is, are you such a person that you would obey God even if He asked you to die? Would you shed blood to avoid sin? If you think you have reached an acceptable level of moral success and have no need of redemption, your standard is too low. What is the right standard? The right standard is the cross of Christ.
The cross says something very profound here. It says that the law kills. You don’t have to understand why to observe that for Jesus, and thus for us, the law demands death. He fulfilled the law because He died; short of obedience to death, Jesus would not have fulfilled the law. Death is the law’s satisfaction. The law goes against our desires, against our joy. Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2), but the cross was not the joy. The cross was to be endured. The cross was undesirable; it was set against His desire. The power of the law is that it asks us to sacrifice and to die and to do the thing which is counter to our comfort and joy. If there is to be joy, we must look beyond the killing sting of the law to the resurrection. As we have died with Christ, we have been resurrected with Him (Romans 6:4). Under the new covenant in His blood, virtue and desire are united, but under the old covenant the standard of righteousness carries only the sting of death (Hebrews 8:10,11,12,13).
I think this is the right context from which to understand Jesus’ command to us take up our cross daily and follow Him. This is the daily standard: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24). Abandon your own self-appointed anemic standard of excellence and embrace His standard. His standard is the cross. If we wake up some day and think, “I have confessed everything, I have purified myself (1 John 1:8-9, 3:3)” we can rest assured that the cross is still the rich standard to which we must attain. This is the day I am my own best idol in a fresh and living way; this is the day I haven’t resisted sin to the point of shedding blood. This is the day I look to Jesus as the author and perfecter of my faith, because this is the day that I am yet imperfect in which I need His new mercies. This is day when I have so much to confess, so much to be cleansed of, so much need for purification. Today the cross tells me, I need forgiveness again, today, now. The cross says that I need a savior, and the cross says that I have a savior! Every day and every hour I need to go where justice and mercy kiss. The cross expresses the standard which tells me that I need mercy, and the cross tells me that God has shown forth mercy in His very blood.