By Dr. Doug Redford
On March 23, 2011, a bomb exploded in a section of the city of Jerusalem. The cause was traced to a terrorist plot. Not long after the attack occurred, a representative from Hebrew Union College (which has a branch campus in Jerusalem) sent an e-mail to assure concerned individuals that the campus was not damaged and that no one affiliated with the school had been killed or injured. The message concluded with this assessment of the tense situation:
Our institution trains leaders, and leaders have to cope with stressful and undesirable situations. As our College-Institute community goes about the business of getting through a difficult day, we are reminded of the fragility of all we hold most dear, and of the need we have of each other in challenging times. . . . All members of our Jerusalem community, Jew and Arab, local resident and visiting student, are thrown together by the reality of living in this bleeding and beautiful place. We will have to get through all this together.
Note the phrase bleeding and beautiful. What an “odd couple” these words present! We usually do not think of bleeding as associated with beauty. Blood is repulsive to most individuals; some even faint at the sight of it.
A Constant Tension
But this combination, though odd, is at the same time quite accurate in capturing the tension of life in a world created by a sovereign, loving God which is at the same time under the curse of sin. Most cities in today’s world could be categorized, like Jerusalem, as both bleeding and beautiful. They feature sights and events that are attractive and fun. But they also have sections within them that bleed on a regular basis from the crime and violence that take place daily.
Our lives exhibit a similar blend of the bleeding and the beautiful. Each of us experiences times of blessing and enjoyment, times that give us the opportunity to build fond memories. But each of us knows all too personally what a sorrowful, heartbreaking world this can be. A person may use the expression “My heart bleeds” to express his or her sympathy for someone who is suffering great pain or loss.
The Bible is a book that is both bleeding and beautiful. It conveys on nearly every page the tension between a world created to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31) by its maker but which can also be “very bad” because of the impact of sin. We cannot deny that much of the Bible is truly beautiful and uplifting. Who has not been comforted by passages such as Psalm 23 or by Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30 to find rest in him? But the Bible is also brutally honest about the bleeding that regularly accompanies living in a world in rebellion against its Creator. We do not read very far (Genesis 4) until we see the bleeding that occurs when Cain murders his brother Abel. God’s Word does not try to hide or soften these events or isolate us from the brokenness that sin has produced.
The Word Became Flesh
When Jesus, the Word who “became flesh” (John 1:14), entered our world, he experienced the same combination of bleeding and beauty that all humans do, beginning with his birth (think of how a newborn’s arrival blends both bleeding and beauty). Within their many predictions of his coming, the Old Testament prophets included descriptions of both of these characteristics. Isaiah portrayed him as a tender, caring shepherd in Isaiah 40:11. But in chapter 53, within perhaps the most vivid prophecy of the cross, the prophet drew attention to the suffering, the bleeding, that Jesus would experience.
The night that Jesus was born is celebrated each Christmas as a night of singular, holy beauty. Angels announced his arrival to the shepherds near Bethlehem. But all was not beautiful in the world Jesus entered. Matthew 2 records the plot of the evil King Herod to eliminate the Christ child whom he saw as a threat to his power. So all male children age two and under in Bethlehem and its vicinity were slaughtered. This was no “silent night”; it was a night pierced with the cries of the grieving, also predicted in prophecy (Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:16-18).
The Climax of the Tension
The murderous scheme of Herod was not the only opposition Jesus faced. Once his ministry gained momentum and his popularity increased, other enemies (primarily Jewish religious leaders) attempted to succeed where Herod had failed. For them the cross provided the ideal opportunity to achieve their goal. In God’s grand plan, however, the cross is the place where the tension between beauty and bleeding came to a head.
When Jesus began to speak plainly of the cross (Mark 8:31-33), his disciples could see no beauty in such talk. Peter (as one might expect) protested that such an outcome must never happen; he would not permit it! But he and the other disciples missed the beauty present in Jesus’ words—the promise that he would “after three days rise again” (v. 31). The beauty was lost amid the disturbing thought of the bleeding.
Like the disciples, we can become overwhelmed by the extent of brokenness and bleeding in our world. We see it manifested in so many ways, and in many cases the speed and intensity with which news events are covered in the media means that we are confronted hourly with the latest disaster. The circumstances that surround us—personally, nationally, and worldwide—can leave us reeling spiritually, and with a sense that the bleeding has gotten the upper hand.
What Really Happened
And so it seemed when Jesus’ body hung lifeless from the cross. The impact of this on his followers must have been devastating beyond words. But while the Jewish leaders figured they had overpowered their enemy at the cross, in reality God was overpowering his enemy.
The cross was God’s means of destroying and dethroning Satan, of reversing the curse of sin. Jesus “shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14, 15, NIV 1984).
The cross did not represent the unfortunate death of a good man. It marked the accomplishment of “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge” (Acts 2:23) and meant “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19). That God would use something so hideous—so closely tied to bleeding—to achieve beauty is captured in the memorable line from George Bennard’s classic hymn “The Old Rugged Cross.”
In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see;
For ‘twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.
The Final Victory
Easter Sunday signals for all followers of Jesus the indisputable, irreversible victory of beauty over bleeding. The empty tomb of Jesus shouts clearly: death has met its match. Death, so brutal, devastating, unfair, and evil, is beaten.
Revelation 5 records a portion of John’s glimpse into the heavenly realms. There he sees before him a Lamb with another “odd couple” of adjectives used to describe it: “slain, standing” (v. 6). This of course is the Lamb of God, who has been slain for the sins of the world yet stands triumphant. Consider the words “slain, standing” as the equivalent of “bleeding and beautiful.” For in the New Jerusalem, the “Holy City” that John saw “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2), bleeding will not have the final word.
Dr. Doug Redford is a freelance writer and Professor of Old Testament at Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Hymns and songs about Christ’s sacrifice are filled with poetic, “bleeding and beautiful” images.
• Grab a hymnal (or check out some Easter hymns at www.hymnlyrics.org/easterhymns.html) or listen to your favorite worship songs.
• Look for phrases that present contrasts in the gospel and in Christ’s sacrifice.
• Write the words and sentences in a place where you can come back to them.
• Read through the list, a few items at a time, over the next several days.
• Pray that God will deepen your understanding of who he is through these images of contrast.