The God who turned the other cheek: a reflection on Heb. 12.24 and Gen. 4.8-14

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October 11, 2012 by jmar198013

But 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 2.22, 24 NRSV)

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. (Genesis 4.8-14 AV)

What is it precisely that makes Jesus’ blood “speak a better word than the blood of Abel”?

Notice that Abel’s blood called out for vengeance. It called out for punishment, for more violence. Abel’s blood shed gave Cain good reason to suppose that whoever came upon him would kill him. Cain’s shedding of that blood made him an outsider, the face of God and other humans both hidden from him.

Jesus’ blood, on the other hand, cries out for reconciliation, for forgiveness, for an end to the shedding of innocent blood and cycles of violence and vengeance. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23.34 NRSV). And again, “in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1.19-20 NRSV) Jesus’ blood is the testimony of God standing in the breech and proclaiming, “No more of this!” And while Cain’s shedding of Abel’s blood brought estrangement and hostility to him, humanity’s shedding of Christ’s blood does quite the opposite. “And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him” (Col. 1.21-22 NRSV)

Learned people time out of mind have tried to stuff this all into theories of atonement, to explain what has taken place. They have been successful only in varying and relative degrees thus far.

Those theories are perhaps necessary and helpful. But I do pray that we would stand astonished and speechless at it more often. Because herein is a mystery that defines who we are as Christians: we are ambassadors of the God who turned the other cheek.

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One thought on “The God who turned the other cheek: a reflection on Heb. 12.24 and Gen. 4.8-14

  1. […] The God who turned the other cheek: a reflection on Heb. 12.24 and Gen. 4.8-14 (Oct. 11, 2012) […]

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