"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The Ashes of the Red Heifer, Jesus, and Christmas

I want to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas because Christ is the reason for this season.

Let me explain.

Any casual perusal of the Old Testament reveals that the Hebrew people worshiped God through a very elaborate sacrificial system.

There were the daily national "morning and evening sacrifices." offered by the priests on behalf of the entire Hebrew nation. There were special sacrifices on annual national "holy days" (holidays) which revolved around the seven annual Hebrew festivals. And then there were sacrifices offered by individuals during specific times of need (e.g., "leprosy") as well as after committing specific sins

But there was one special sacrifice offered by the High Priest which was not daily, nor even annual. It was offered whenever the ashes of the previous sacrifice had been depleted through cleansing ceremonies.

This special offering is called the Red Heifer sacrifice.

A heifer is a young female cow which has never given birth to a calf.  A red heifer is an anomaly. Most cows don't have a skin color that is red. The Old Testament Hebrews specifically bred red heifers for this particular sacrifice.

Instructions for the special kind of red heifer to be sacrificed are given in Numbers 19. It was to be a red heifer in the prime of its life, "without blemish," and one that "has never been yoked" (Numbers 19:2).

The red heifer was to be taken "outside the city" (Numbers 19:3). It was to be slain and then "burned with fire" (Numbers 19:5). 

Then "the ashes of the red heifer" were to be gathered (Numbers 19:9). When an Israelite "dies in his tent" (Numbers 19:14) or when a living Israelite "touches a corpse" (Numbers 19:13), the tent and/or the living Israelite were to be deemed "unclean" for seven days (Numbers 19:11). 

A small portion of the ashes of the red heifer which had been sacrificed and burned was to be mixed in a basin filled with "flowing water" (Numbers 19:17), which means water from a living source such as a river or a spring.

Then a branch of hyssop, which is an aromatic herbal plant, would be dipped into the water mixed with the ashes. The ashes of the red heifer with living water would then be sprinkled on the unclean person or tent on both the third day and the seventh day of the week after contact with death.

After this seven-day process of cleansing, the Israelite would be pronounced "clean" and allowed into the assembly and the courtyard of the Temple. 
"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7). 
If this ceremony of cleansing with the ashes of the red heifer was not performed on the unclean person, the Israelite would be "defile" the Lord and be "cut off from Israel" (Numbers 19:13).

The Ashes of the Red Heifer kept the nation of Israel clean before the Lord.

It was an important sacrifice.

During the entire Old Testament as well during the time between the Testaments (e.g., the intertestamental time period), there were only nine red heifers sacrificed by the priests of Israel.

Orthodox Jews today believe the Messiah is coming to reinstate the sacrifice of the red heifer by offering the tenth red heifer for Temple worship. Orthodox Jews are already breeding heifers to obtain the unusual red heifer line in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

But I believe our Jewish friends have missed the symbolism of their own religion.

Jesus Christ is the true Red Heifer. He is the final Sacrifice.

Jesus the Anointed One "came to fulfill the Law" (Matthew 5:17-20).

The Red Heifer of the Old Covenant foreshadowed the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

Jesus died "outside the city" (Hebrews 13:12). It seems quite probable that Jesus died in the exact spot the  Red Heifer was sacrificed because the High Priest could see directly into the Temple from the offering site. The centurion soldier at the crucifixion saw the curtain in the Temple torn (see Matthew 27:54).

Jesus died in the prime of His life (age 33).

Jesus was "without fault or blemish" (I Peter 1:19; John 1:47).

Jesus died that those "unclean" before God might "washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ"  (I Corinthians 6:11II Corinthians 5:21).

Hyssop throughout Scripture is an emblem of faith.

"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31).

We live in a day when the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ is often mocked and ridiculed. 

But it seems to me if a person wishes to be pronounced "clean" before the Creator, then one must embrace Jesus as a gift from God (John 3:16) who fulfills the Law for us.

Jesus came to cleanse sinners (Matthew 1:21).

The Apostle Paul wrote:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). 
Paul was not ashamed of the Good News. He never would have said that had there not been some people ashamed of the gospel in his day. 

And in ours.

There is something in the Good News of Jesus Christ that causes people to shrink back in embarrassment and shame. 

What is it about Christianity that causes people to be offended?

The world isn't offended by our worship buildings.

People definitely aren't offended by the good things  Christian organizations do to help the poor.

The world, in general, isn't embarrassed by anything truly Christian, except for one thing.

Blood sacrifice.

Specifically, people seem offended by the truth that Jesus came to shed His blood for sinners, to make sinners who trust Him clean before God.

To believe that God planned from the beginning to give His Son to die, shedding His own blood for the remission of our sins, invites ridicule from others.

The Gospel is offensive.

I don't get it.

Songwriter Andre Crouch wrote a song that describes how I feel:
The blood that Jesus shed for me
Way back on Calvary
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day
It will never lose its power.
It reaches to the highest mountain
It flows to the lowest valley
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day
It will never lose its power.
It soothes my doubts and calms my fears
And it dries all my tears
The blood that gives me strength
From day to day
It will never lose its power.
Peter ignored the offense and shame that Christ's death brings and declared at Pentecost:
"This Jesus, delivered by the determined plan and foreknowledge of God ... is raised up again, putting an end to the agony of death" (Acts 2:23-24). 
The Spirit used Peter's message to bring deliverance to 3,000 people from their bondage to sin and death as Peter proclaimed the truth of Christ's sacrifice for sinners (Acts 2:41). 

But when Stephen later took this same gospel message to the religious leaders they stoned him (Acts 7). 

People in their natural state, even refined religious people, do not wish to hear about the blood-shedding of Jesus Christ. 

We like our religions clean and neat. 

But the gospel teaches us that Jesus Christ died as our Red Heifer. 

God commanded the Hebrews in the Old Covenant to kill the red heifer in order to cleanse them of their defilement, but that ordinance was only a picture and foreshadowing of the Son of God whom the Father in His love for sinners sent for our cleansing (Matthew 1:21). 

The death Jesus died should have been the death we died. The fire that consumes all sin and wickedness, Jesus endured (Matthew 27:46). The death He died, He died for the cleansing and deliverance of sinners  (I Timothy 1:15).

For the prostitute. For the drug addict. For the liar. For the cheat. For the adulterer. For the prideful. For the blasphemer. For the self-righteous. For the bullies. For the selfish. For all sinners who destroy their lives with sin. For the blind who are leading the blind down the road of self-absorbed religiosity.

Jesus is the Red Heifer. 
"He (Jesus) who knew no sin, became sin for us" (II Corinthians 5:21
His blood will cleanse the sinner.

The blood of bulls and goats in the Old Covenant could not cleanse the sinner's conscience or put an end to sin that leads to death.

But the blood of Jesus Christ shed at Calvary does this and so much more. 

This is the reason for celebration this Christmas season.
 "For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:13-14).
The message of the early apostles of Christ was clear:
"No one is justified by the Law before God, for 'the righteous person will live by faith.' The Law is not of faith; on the contrary, 'the one who practices the Law will live (and die) by the commandments.' But Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree--in order that in Christ Jesus the blessings of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:12-14). 
The early Hebrew Christians had been steeped in their 'ancestral traditions' of animal sacrifice (Galatians 1:14). 

After the resurrection of Christ, God's people were no longer required to offer the sacrifices.

 Animal sacrifice is over. 

The Righteous Judge had fulfilled the Law for us in His Son. God did not lay aside the Law of sin and death, but rather He fulfilled it in Jesus Christ so "He might be just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).

The message of blood sacrifice is the message of Christmas.

Jesus came to die. 

Christ's sacrifice brings an at-one-moment (atonement) between sinners and God. The Creator is good to sinners, but it is only because of Jesus' death and the sinners' faith in Christ. 

Jesus is the fulfillment of the red heifer sacrifice, and it is His blood that cleanses us. And it is this message of blood sacrifice which offends so many, but it is the only message that gives hope to the defiled. 

When you join your family in worship this Christmas weekend, you will not be bringing a lamb to be sacrificed, because God has provided the Lamb.

You will not be bringing a red heifer to the altar, for God has given the Red Heifer. 

You will not be shedding blood with your own hands, for God has shed His own blood for us. 

Turn your eye of faith toward the shed blood of Jesus Christ and believe what He has accomplished for sinners. Our conscience is cleansed because we rest in Christ. 

The promise of God's goodness for eternity is ours because we approach God through the merits and sacrifice of His Son. We rejoice in the Father's love because He gave us His Son. Jesus Christ has come, Jesus Christ has died, and Jesus Christ has risen from the grave. 

This is the message of Christmas. 

It may offend some, but the truth of this message draws from us our worship of God. It may be ridiculed by some, but it is adored by us. It may cause some shame, but we echo the words of the Apostle Paul:
 "We are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes."

27 comments:

Aussie John said...

Wade,

Thank you for a great reminder of what Christmas is about. Reading what you have written also reminds me that from the very beginning this was God's plan. The red heifer wasn't simply part of plan "A" and then plan "B" had to be instituted with the incarnation.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
“the Word” is a title for Jesus which is peculiar to the apostle John and the next mention of the Word tells us something very important, the Word was WITH God. He was not before nor after God, but WITH Him at the beginning. Then we read, the Word was God. Not more than, not less than, in reality, IS God!
The Word was before anything else which exists,”All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made”.

The Word is the powerful creating force of the whole universe.

So I'm reminded that the babe of Bethlehem and the Incarnate Word are one and the same!

Christiane said...

I love the beginning (prologue) of the Holy Gospel of St. John to which Aussie John is referring when he speaks of 'the Word':

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

For some time I have thought that many Christian people speak of Jesus as the Son of God but do not emphasize that He was also God in the second Person of the Holy Trinity. When it comes to Calvary, then there is a disagreement over 'Did God die on the cross'?

Some say 'no', only Jesus' human nature died on the cross.
Others say 'yes', God in the second Person of the Holy Trinity died on the cross. . .a person died, not a 'nature'.

I do think how one sees the answer does affect how the sacrifice is understood.

Anonymous said...

No matter what Christmas presents I give or receive, none will compare with this post! Thanks!

Linda

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

Your post was very informative. I didn’t know anything about the Red Heifer. Thank you!

However you wrote: “the soldier at the crucifixion saw the curtain in the Temple torn.” (Matthew 27:54) What translation did you use?

“The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. [At noon, darkness fell across the whole land… verse 45] They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 NLT)

“Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead.” (Matthew 27:50-51 NLT)

Wade Burleson said...

Rex,

Matthew states in Matthew 27:51 - "At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom"

Then 3 verses later:

Matthew 27:54 - "the Roman soldier and the other soldiers at the crucifixion by the earthquake and "all that happened" - I am included vs. 51 in "all that happened."

Also, in the Hebrew Mishna, it was made quite clear that at the spot of the sacrifice of the red heifer, the High Priest must see INTO the Temple (the doors were opened to reveal the patterned curtain separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies.

The article that I linked to in my article makes a really sound argument for why Christ was crucified "at the head (top) of the mountain where the red heifer was offered."

Could the crucifixion have occurred somewhere else? Of course. I'm familiar with all the spots that the Roman Catholic Church (Church of the Holy Sepulchre), the Protestant Church (Gordann's Tomb) and others have pointed out as the possible spot of the crucifixion. I always lean toward a more biblical approach than I do historical when it comes to locations.

Anonymous said...

I cannot count the number of times in the 70's and 80's when someone would rush breathlessly into church and tell us this Christian ministry or magazine or that one had reported that the first in 2000 years purely red (not one hair of another color, not one blemish) heifer had been born here or there. Of course, that meant the world was ending and the rapture would probably happen before next Tuesday.

Linda

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

Deathbed confessions and statements have always been thought as being true.

These soldiers and Roman officer may have heard some of the miracles and of the teachings of Jesus. But what convinced them Jesus was the Son of God was what they heard him say on the cross:

1. “…It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.” (John 19:30 NLT)

2. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 NLT)

3. “Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands.” And with those words he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46 NLT)

Wade, you said you used Matthew 27:54 (“The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened…”) to justify your saying, “…the soldier at the crucifixion saw the curtain in the Temple torn.”

I believe Scripture should state facts and not speculation.
We agree the moment Jesus died the curtain was split.

I would speculate :) in that moment Jesus died the soldiers were looking UP at the Cross and not DOWM at the temple.

A touché would not hurt my feelings. :)

Tom Ross said...

Rex, do not forget all the dead people coming out of the graves after the resurrection and walking around Jerusalem, It was after all of these things that the solders decided that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God.

Rex Ray said...

Tom,

Thanks for replying. (Wade there’s nothing more frustrating than silence.)

I will reply to your speculation with Scripture.

“And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:37-39 KJ)

“Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. When the Roman officer who stood FACING him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39 NLT)

Wade Burleson said...

Rex,

You may have missed my comment at 06:39 am on Friday.

Merry Christmas.

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

Yes, I saw your reply at 06:39 Friday, and I replied to it on Friday at 7:02 PM. I wanted a reply to mine, but you could skip that one and reply to the one I wrote Tom about (Mark 15:39 NLT) on December 23 at 8:29 AM which is today.
MERRY CHRISTMAS back at you. :)

Wade Burleson said...

Rex,

I believe the soldier could see straight into the Temple’s curtain when it rent, for that is a requirement for where the red heifer sacrifice occurred. However, I agree that this assertion requires that one of the things included in “all the things that happened” that the soldiers saw was tearing of the curtain.

Tom Ross said...

Matt 27:50-54

50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.

51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, 52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

54 So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying,"Truly this was the Son of God!"
NKJV

Just quoting scripture

Shalom

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

Thanks for your reply.
You said, “I believe the soldier could see straight into the Temple’s curtain when it rent, for that is a requirement for where the red heifer sacrifice occurred.”
That could be interpreted as ‘the curtain could not be torn unless the soldier saw it torn.’ :)

We agree the moment Jesus died the curtain was torn.
I believe the only eyes NOT on Jesus when he died was perhaps his mother and those that had theirs shut from weeping.

“…the Roman officer who stood FACING him saw how he had died.” (Mark 15:39)
Wade how did the officer see him die if he was looking at the Temple?

And what was so important about the Temple that anyone would look at it when the greatest event in the Bible was taking place? God’s Son dying for our sins.

We’re off to visit my son.

Wade Burleson said...

Rex,

Enjoy the visit with your son.

The Veil of the Temple being torn was extraordinarily significant.

Whether the soldier saw it or not is a question to ask him when we see him in the Resurrection.

Tom Ross said...

Rex, the question that is not being considered is when did the centurion soldier make his statement that, "Truly this was the Son of God." Matt., or "Truly, this man was the Son of God!", Mark, "Certainly, this was a righteous Man!", Luke.

I wonder if the Centurion soldier needed some time to reflect on the events of the day and the days that followed before he was able to make the recorded statements that he did.

How necessary is it for our understanding, for us to only consider that the above statements were only made when Jesus Died.

Also, has any consideration been given to the fact, that even with the doors open, and the separation distance between the Temple and the mountain top where Christ was crucified, would you be able to see enough detail within the temple to be able to discern that the curtain was ripped/torn from top to bottom. Also, it is being assumed that the temple doors were open during the time of the crucifixion.

I live around 100 metres from my neighbour's house and even when they have the doors to their house open, it is very difficult for me to make out what is inside the house or even what is occurring. What is the distance being considered here? 600 metres, i.e. 2,000 ft.

Within the limits of story telling, it is possible to have vision over that distance to be able to know what is happening inside a building.

Shalom

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

I may be shooting myself in the foot but here goes.

http://www.leaderu.com/theology/stunning.html

This link tells part of a 280 page book written by Dr. Ernest L. Martin. The title of his book is “Secrets of Golgotha. (“To receive a copy email Jerusalem Christian Review at edchr@Christian.edu.”)

The link is two pages but the highlights are:

His interest originated from the centurion being able to see the Temple veil tear while at the foot of the cross which had to be east of the Temple Mount. This would rule out today’s traditional crucifixion sites.

His searching through hundreds of contemporary and first-century writings, ancient church literature, and original Hebrew and Greek Scriptural sources are conclusive:

the curtain was visible only from atop the Mount of Olives which was the location of the altar of the Red Heifer for over ten centuries.

Wade Burleson said...

Rex,

That's what I've been saying.

:)

Merry Christmas.

Wade

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

The historian, Martin, wrote: “My initial interest in researching this subject was spawned from…one primary fact. It appears as though the centurion who was at the foot of the cross was able to observe the tearing of the curtain that would have been possible only from a point east of the Temple Mount, and not from any point west of it.”

He did not say he believed the centurion saw the curtain torn.

http://www.biblewise.com/bible_study/questions/mount-olives-garden.php

This link states: “The Mount of Olives was a two mile-long ridge on the eastern part of Jerusalem. Gethsemane was a garden on that ridge.”

“…Jesus…went as usual to the Mount of Olives…he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” (Luke 22:39-44 NLT)

“They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane…my soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” (Mark 14:32-34 NLT)

Jesus began to realize the price he would pay in replacing the Red Heifer.

RRR said...

1 Cor. 8:5 "For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, :6 yet for us there is [but] one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we [exist] for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we [exist] through Him."
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!!!

Christiane said...

The Holy Gospel read for Christmas from the second chapter of St. Luke

"In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
"Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
"Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

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Rex Ray said...

MERRY CHRISTMAS

TO THE BURLESON' GANG

Wade Burleson said...

Same to you, Rex

Rex Ray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rex Ray said...

Wade,

My step-son improved my picture with his mother. :)

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