Blood in the Cloud
In a recent chat a friend excitedly shared how in a newly launched ministry they had taken up the practice of prayerfully blessing everyone who visited their building. This custom was already bearing remarkable fruit. Immediately I sensed that this rite deeply reflected God’s heart giving him much joy, but it also made me feel very uncomfortable. As we closed our conversation in prayer I started to see some reasons for blessing in the Spirit, but the cause for my discomfort took longer to process. This teaching is a reflection on these experiences.
God eternally indwells a realm of sheer blessing. The Father is the “the Blessed”, Jesus is “blessed forever” and the Spirit is the medium of all blessing (Isa 44:3; Mark 14:62; Rom 1:25; 9:5; Gal 3:14). Father, Son and Holy Spirit are totally happy in each other’s glorious presence (John 17:5). Whoever comes close to God senses his pure blessedness; ““Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Rev 7:12). Created in the divine image humanity was birthed in this sphere of blessedness; “and God blessed them and said…” (Gen 1:28). Looking upon the “very goodness” of his own likeness the Creator had imparted something of his own unconditional happiness in simply “being himself” to the first human beings (Gen 1:31). The blessing of the Lord poured over Adam and Eve before they consciously responded to his Word or had any knowledge of a realm of good and evil. To be blessed was a part of their creation. This simple acceptance of unconditional divine blessing has been lost through sin. Where God once walked in joy with his children sin meant our exclusion from the divine presence (Gen 3:8, 24; 4:16).
Unsurprisingly, God’s covenant plan to restore his presence amongst us uses the language of unconditional blessing. ““I will bless you…so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you… and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” (Gen 12:2-3). Yet even the most blessed men of the old covenant could not escape a certain dreadfulness in the presence of God; “deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him.” (Gen 15:12; cf. 28:17; 31:42). Such a mixture of blessing and terror marks the calling of Israel out of Egypt. When the Lord came down in a cloud upon Sinai to give the nation his good law, “all the people in the camp trembled.” (Ex 19:17; Deut 8:16). Even the great prophet Isaiah feels on the threshold of death when encountered by the cloud of glory (Isa 6:1-7). The unapproachability of the divine presence birthed a long history in Israel of creating domesticated images of God, these idols always provoked judgement, which led to more idolatry and so on (Ex 32 etc.). Though the old covenant stipulated that God could be approached through the shedding of sacrificial blood the consciences of worshippers always testified that their own death was deserved in the presence of a holy God (Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:9). The distance between a God of blessing and a sin conscious fearful people could not be solved without the coming of Jesus.
Blood in the Cloud
Whilst the full glory of God lived in Christ he always radiated approachability (John 1:14, 16; Col 1:19). The cloud of glory which had traumatised Israel came upon him at baptism releasing to people not terror but the closest presence of God (Luke 3:21-22). Jesus’ earthly life climaxes with him ascending heavenward in the cloud of glory and blessing his joy-filled disciples who in turn were “blessing God.” (Luke 24:50-53). The one difference between the traumatising presence of God in the old covenant and the sheer blessedness in the new is that there is now blood in the cloud. The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world is at the centre of God’s glorious presence so that we in him we are blameless in God’s sight (Rev 13:8; Eph 1:4). As Hebrews testifies, Christ “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” (9:12). The cloud of God’s glorious presence on Sinai terrified even Moses, but the cloud we have entered through Jesus centres on “the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Heb 12:24). This forgiving blood testifies than God’s own conscience has been satisfied by the sacrifice of his Son so we can approach his nearest presence without fear (Heb 4:16). This confidence in the all-availability of divine blessings fills the New Testament.
Paul speaks of coming “in the fullness of the blessing of Christ” (Rom 15:29). He speaks this way because of his understanding of our identity as a “new creation” in Jesus (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). He knew that prior to any of our good deeds God “blessed us in Christ with every blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3 cf. 2:8-9). There is no limit to the power of this blessedness. When I know that the blood of the cross has secured for me an eternal destiny in the cloud of glory I will truly “bless those who persecute me” (Rom 12:14; Heb 10:19-22; 1 Pet 3:9). The blood of Christ may have stopped flowing at Calvary, but its power penetrates the highest heavens issuing me into the realm of unparalleled blessings of (Heb 9:24). By faith I know that whatever today’s trials in the End I will be a sheer marvel to all who behold me (2 Thess 1:10). In the fullness of the new creation I will be a pure unconditional blessing. This is my true identity. Whenever anyone receives a blessing from my mouth “in the name of Jesus” a presence of the glory of the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God radiant with his glory is imparted (Heb 12:22-24; Rev 21:2). These are very great truths.
To bless unconditionally “in Jesus’ name” is to testify that the Lord’s presence is a sheer unconditional gift and its entry point is the blood of the cross, a blood which is at the centre of the cloud of glory and which cries out for our forgiveness (Eph 1:7). My uncomfortable personal feelings about blessing everyone are a sign of my unbelief about the finished work of Christ. I have yet to appropriate the measure of my true identity in Christ, and to accept just how superior Jesus is to all that I am able to ask or imagine (Eph 3:20; Heb 7:7). This unbelief is surely a state of sin; one which I share both with our culture and so much of the Church. Such an unbelieving state of conscience will never be cleansed by any human efforts to make me feel good about myself, but only by the power of the Spirit-filled blood of Christ (Heb 9:14). To prayerfully meditate on something as simple as blessing everyone around us has the power to open up to us a whole new vision of the extent of God’s love. We need to pray that the Lord will release us from disbelieving that he is wonderful beyond all our expectations (Luke 24:41). Such a rediscovery of the extent of the gospel is what we all so desperately need.