12 months of COVID has taught us all to sanitise. We sanitise our hands, we sanitise table tops, we sanitise the shopping trolley, we sanitise everything in sight, just to be safe.
Have we become an over-sanitised world, unable to withstand any bugs? Maybe. Certainly, we have become increasingly socially sanitised in my lifetime.
When I was a kid, it was not unusual for a school student to carry a rifle on the bus to school if he had Army Cadets after school. No one batted an eyelid.
If someone tried that now, he’d strike terror into everyone around him, he’d be pounced on by SWAT teams, and it would be front-page news.
In days gone by, it was not unusual for mum’s roast chicken dinner to start with dad carrying an axe into the henhouse. I won’t go into detail about what came next. But there was nothing strange about it.
Now, we buy all our meat in plastic trays from the supermarket. We don’t have to think about what goes into providing that meat for us.
Some even imagine that supermarket meat must be better, because “no animals had to die to provide it for us.” That’s how far removed modern society has taken us from the sometimes harsh and brutal realities of life.
So what are we to make of hymn lyrics like the ones William Cowper (pronounced ‘Cooper’) wrote in the mid-1700s?
“There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins.
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.”
Gruesome sounding stuff to modern ears. The mere thought of blood makes many of us queasy. But to be plunged into a fountain of it is just unthinkable.
Of course, we know it is poetic language, not meant to be taken literally. But what it speaks of poetically is a profound and liberating truth.
For it speaks of the ultimate sacrifice made nearly 2,000 years ago, when the Lamb of God was put to death on that first Good Friday to set people free from guilt and sin.
But even that idea is unacceptable to many modern ears. RC Sproul tells a story of a time he was explaining the benefits we stand to receive from the Father sending His Son to die on a cross.
One audience member was outraged by what he was hearing. “That’s primitive and obscene!” he protested. Many people – Christians included – would agree with this man.
Surprisingly, RC agreed with him. “You are absolutely right. It is primitive and obscene,” he replied.
The Lord had been preparing the Jews for this event for thousands of years by insisting on the sacrifice of an innocent lamb to cover over the sins of the people.
It was a picture simple enough for even children and uneducated people to understand. You didn’t need a theology degree to see that sin is serious, and that sin must be paid for. In that sense, it is a primitive idea.
It taught more than that too. It also taught in such simple terms that sin could be covered over by the sacrifice of a substitute. But also, by the need to repeat the sacrifice, it was teaching that something more was required for the permanent removal of the guilt of sin. We know the solution to that problem.
And as this man protested, it is also obscene. In fact, it is the most obscene event in human history. There have been plenty of unjust executions throughout history, plenty who have been put to death for a crime actually committed by another.
But no one who has been wrongly put to death has ever been entirely innocent. They may not have committed that particular crime, but there are plenty of other crimes and sins that they were guilty of, but were never found out. Everyone is guilty to some degree.
There has only ever been one person entirely innocent, one person who never sinned, never committed a crime, never did anything that was less than perfect.
And yet, He suffered the most. Jesus Christ, the only totally innocent man to walk the earth was betrayed, falsely charged, tortured, and unjustly put to death.
But He went to His death willingly, to fulfil what all the centuries of sacrifices were indicating. The death of one wholly innocent person would take away forever the sin and guilt of those who would put their trust in Him.
That’s what William Cowper was writing about all those years ago. Primitive, obscene, gruesome, unappetising.
There really is a fountain filled with blood. And all who put their trust in the One whose blood fills that fountain are set free forever from guilt and sin and shame.
Far from being undesirable or unacceptable, it should really be the most beautiful thought we can have.
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! [John 1:29]