April 6—Nothing but the Blood

What can wash away my sin?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus. (“Nothing but the Blood” by Robert Lowry)

It was the day of preparation, and the Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath (and a very special Sabbath, because it was Passover week). So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out. (John 19:31–34 NLT)

Though it is considered to be one of the classic hymns of Christendom, at first glance the repeated phrase “nothing but the blood” could appear to be a bit of theological reductionism. After all, it wasn’t only the shed blood of Jesus that makes us whole; if Jesus had died on the cross, but there was no resurrection – no stone rolled back from the grave and no defeat of death – then the cross would have been in vain. Certainly His death is important, but just as important is His resurrection.

Hymns such as “Nothing but the Blood” are a balancing act between theological soundness and poetic license. What at first glance might appear to be an oversimplification of a deep theological truth could simply be the author using a bit of poetic language to give the hymn better imagery. Dr. C. Michael Hawn, a professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology, writes of Charles Wesley that he “often used the word ‘blood’ in his hymns . . . as a synonym for grace.” John the Revelator was likely among the first Christian to use the image of blood in this fashion. In Revelation 7:14, he describes the saints of God wearing robes that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and made white. While there is more than simply Jesus’s blood that makes us whole and brings new life, the image of His shed blood as a stand-in for His all-encompassing grace is more than valid.

Dedicate ten to fifteen minutes to thanking God for His shed blood, His atoning sacrifice, and His defeat of death through resurrection. Then, as you go about the rest of your day, try to live in this spirit of thanksgiving for the grace God continues to shower on you.