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“The Power in the Blood”

1 Peter 1:17-21
Bob DeGray
April 13, 2006

Key Sentence

His blood, shed on the cross, purchases our salvation.


       What is victory? What will it look like? Where will it take place? Those are the questions that haunted me for years. My name is Javan, the earthly father of Theodore the Shepherd, whose name has galvanized this land of Maritania. I want to tell you his story from my own perspective. You see my wife Elena and I were given the privilege of raising the High King’s son. I’ve told the story before of our journey to the island of First Landing to received the baby from the hands of the High King himself. The High King said: “He is, as you see him, no more than a fragile babe, and I entrust him to your keeping and your care. Guard him well and guide him and raise him in peace and safety. When the time comes, tell him that in him is the life of the land, and that in him, I will break the bondage of the blood hostages. Name him Theodore and call him Epiphanes, for he is my presence among you, and Soterlaos, for he will save his people from the evil that has bound them.”

        Theodore did not learn this whole story until he was about thirteen. We were living in Pontus, but the agents of the Tyran, Hexstatis, had begun prowling about, and that meant we needed to move on. Theodore was old enough, I judged, to know his story, and I told him all I knew, and he accepted it with many questions. So He and I began to study the words of the Chosen Ones, those who had prophesied the coming of the One Chosen to rescue the land and the people from the Tyran. At first Theodore did not feel himself to be that One Chosen or even Chosen at all. I wasn’t surprised: it’s typical for this awareness not to come until the Chosen are in their twenties. What he did see was that in the Chosen was the Love of the High King and the Life of His land. I had already explained that the Tyran had for many years now taken the Chosen as blood hostages, held at knife point in the Council Chamber of Irenia, and that the reign of the High King was hostage to their blood, for if it was shed the land itself would rise in torment and be destroyed.

        Theodore soon devoured the words of the Chosen and their prophecies. I was amazed at how he linked one to another and saw things I had never seen. The most troubling was his early conviction that the victory of the One Chosen would not necessarily spell the end of evil in Maritania. Along with all the faithful, I had always read the prophecies as foretelling a complete victory. But he saw connections which showed him that the battle with evil would continue after the victory of the Chosen One. He said that after the blood hostages were freed all who embraced the love of the High King would have the life of the Land in them and be cleansed from the curse of Hextasis. Yet he saw that not all would: Maritania would be a battleground between good and evil for many years to come, because the souls of many would still cling to evil even after the corruption of Hexstasis was removed.

        To my shame, even knowing who my son really was, I would not agree with him. I had long focused on the prophecies of sudden and complete victory by the Chosen One over the Tyran, and I clung to these with what became sullen pride. Surely, I mocked, the Son of the High King could do better than a mere moral or spiritual victory? Would he not triumph and reign? Would he not sit in sovereignty on the throne? Theodore was always gentle with me, but insisted it was the humble hearts of the people the High King wanted most, and they would be gained by humility.

        This disagreement soon became a wall between us, built entirely by my pride. I grew hot with anger or sullenly withdrawn when these things were discussed, and began even to doubt that Theodore was truly the One Chosen if he could not give us the victory we longed for. So it was that when Theodore came of age he moved out from under my roof, to take up the vocation of a shepherd on my father’s land. And it was good: the long days in the hills caring for my father’s sheep suited him, and in the solitude his heart relationship with the High King began to flower. This should have brought me joy, but because of the conflict it only raised the specter of jealousy in me. I resented playing second fiddle in his life, even to the High King himself.

        Because of the distance, we did not see these things first hand. We were living in the port city of Thallosos, where there was work for a weaver. From time to time my father would send bales of raw wool by the hand of one relative or another. Often this was Leander, Elena’s nephew, who had known Theodore from childhood. Leander reported that Theodore had now discovered the Life of the Land and the Love of the High King within him, and his time was near. Meanwhile, Theodore often left the sheep to travel the length and breadth of Maritania. On these journeys he did not teach, but only got to know the people and the land. He spent time in the fishing villages of the coast, and a season as a crew member on a trading ship. He risked travel to the Tyran’s capital in Great Harbor, and worked on the docks. He visited the agricultural regions and joined in the harvest. Once he visited us, and the pure joy of seeing my son after long absence helped me avoid our disagreements. We hardly recognized him for all he had grown - tall, strong, with a great joy on his face, which was only partly from seeing us: some was the joy of his relationship with the High King, and despite myself, that joy brought me jealous pain.

        Evident also was his growing love of the Land itself. He spoke movingly of the mountains of Poymane, the rocky coast of the northern reaches, the green fertile plains where the land produced its bounty. Yet he insisted that the hearts of the people were not as worthy as the land. Many willing followed the Tyran’s evils for their personal gain. Some pursued wealth through his unjust taxes. Other lusted after the power of positions in his government. Still others lusted after pleasures. The result was injustice to the needy, broken families and hearts grown cold to the life of the land and the love of the High King. Theodore gently insisted that those with poisoned hearts would not embrace victory over Hexstasis: their evil was rooted within.

        Again I disagreed. My heart was prideful enough that I argued with my son and claimed that he could, if he wished, rally the people to defeat Hexstatis and welcome the sovereign reign of the High King through him. It was this victory we longed for, not some spiritualized talk of pure and humble hearts. Of course it was my own impure and jealous heart that motivated such protests. Yet after Theodore’s visit as I looked around at the people, I did see that my generation had mostly embraced the Tyran and his ways, and had grown selfish and cold. Few were faithful to the hope or the prophecies of the One Chosen; most were faithful only to themselves.

        So Theodore began to gently warn the people of the land. At first he simply confirmed what the High King had said, that the day would soon come when the life of the land and the love of the High King would be focused in the One Chosen, so that in this one blood hostage life and love would be given freely to all who would receive it. He said nothing the Tyran could do would change this. But he also warned that all who turned away, those who served themselves or the Tyran were doomed to remain slaves. Like me, many of the faithful did not accept this. Some confronted Theodore with the prophetic promises of complete victory, and he countered with prophecies of cleansed and humble hearts, words he and I had debated for years.

        It didn’t take long for Theodore’s teaching to reach the Tyran, but though Theodore was now clearly Chosen, the Tyran could not lay hands on him. Wherever the spies said he was, he wasn’t. If he was confronted in a house or in the streets, he’d easily slip away. Often the agents of the Tyran would return without remembering why they’d been sent. It was clear the High King was protecting his son. Time is too short for me to recount all that Theodore did and taught: suffice to say that while he alienated many of the faithful with his talk of sacrifice rather than victory, he attracted many others who were humble enough to recognize the Tyran’s hold on their hearts. These began to call him by his prophesied names: Epiphanes, the presence of the High King, and Soterlaos, the one who would save his people from their sins.

        Furthermore, Theodore began to prophesy as the High King’s son: ‘Hear what my father, the High King, has to say: You have stained your hearts with blood: when you hurt and harm, you have forsaken my love and my land. You lust and possess, you cheat and defraud, you despise and ignore those who should be your loved ones, and you are filled with pride; you would rather go your own way than follow me. Lo, I will give each of you what you want: if evil, then evil; if cleansing then cleansing. If you are my sheep you will hear my voice and follow me and find my care. But if you are not my sheep, you are slaves of evil, and such you will remain.”

        It was this teaching that fully incensed Hexstatsis, coupled with the fact that he could not capture his enemy. He began threaten all who listened to this so-called Chosen and finally proclaimed that if these rebellious teachings continued, all the Chosen bound in the Chamber would be sacrificed and the land itself would perish.

        Apparently the Tyran saw his dominion slipping away and chose to destroy it rather than lose it to the High King. There were at this time only seven Chosen: most had been there many years, none fewer than three, since Theodore began to prophesy. Even if Theodore was Chosen, the death of these seven, Hexstasis thought, would surely destroy the land. A friend from Great Harbor told us the story:“It was the usual scene of sacrifice: the main square of Irenia at night, lit by bonfires from the four corners of the temple platform. All seven of the Chosen were led out, bound and chained, each with a Tyran priest holding a long gleaming knife held to his heart. Hexstatis raged: “Behold the blood hostages; behold the death of all who oppose me. If this people will not follow me they will follow no one and if this land will not follow me it will be destroyed.” The crowd was mostly people who followed the Tyran in his evil, but even they cried out in fear at this awful pronouncement.

        One by one the Chosen were led to the altar. As each was laid before him, Hexstasis took the gleaming knife from the gaurd and plunged into their hearts. Then he took his chalice and lifted some of the man’s blood to his lips: “My hatred feeds on this love; my power feeds on this life” he cried. At that moment all who were present expected the earthquake: the life of the land protesting the death of the chosen. But instead an eerie calm ensued. And after each death there was the same silence. By the end even Hexstasis seemed daunted, and killed the last almost tentatively, as if he either feared that destruction would be unleashed - or feared it wouldn’t. And again the earth stood still as the blood drained on the altar. Finally the Tyran turned away and walked stiffly back to the temple. There would be no destruction that day, for the life of the land lived in the One he could not capture or daunt.

        Oddly, the failure of Hexstatis to destroy the land seemed to increase the confidence of his followers. He lusted after the ultimate power to create and destroy, but they desired only the powers of this world: to rule and possess and satisfy their lusts. The evil in the land increased dramatically, as if all restraint was removed, so that murder and rape and theft and drunkenness and persecution and starvation multiplied. All this made me begin to wonder if Theodore wasn’t right after all - that the healing of Maritania would have to take place in individual hearts. But I didn’t want it to be that way: I wanted the political victory that would give Theodore a kingdom.

        Months later Theodore sent me a message from Poymane: “Father the time is near. Come to me and try the High King’s way.” I almost wanted to refuse, but I didn’t want to so obviously reveal my prideful heart. So Elena and I traced backwards the trip we’d taken so many years before. Since spring had opened the mountain passes, the road was not difficult, only long, bringing us at last to Poymane in it’s beautiful valley. It was here that Theodore had attracted his first and most loyal followers. Once there had been thousands, but since the deaths of the Chosen they had dwindled. There was widespread apathy; many were saying that neither the High King nor the Tyran had any real power: you’d better look out for yourself.

        My first meeting with Theodore was both warm and distant. I wanted to plead with him again that now it was time to raise the people against the Tyran. But even I could see that the hearts of the people were cold. And it was my own heart that concerned my son: “Father, all of the Love of the High King and all of the Life of the land now flows in my veins. There is no other life. But no heart that in pride refuses my sacrifice will find it. I know you have tried to show me the right path, but it is not a path I can walk - sovereign power without changed hearts would be meaningless. I plead father, abandon your own way, and accept the healing that all must accept.”

        But I could only promise to think about it. In the meantime, Theodore told us he must make one more journey, to Great Harbor, to challenge the Tyran’s power. I clung to a moment of hope that the victory I longed for could still be, but I could see in my son’s sad face that wasn’t what he meant. So we set out. The mountain passes were in full bloom, and as we walked along it was easy to see the life of the land in the company of our son, to hear the love of the High King from him. Look at the flowers, he said, they do not weave, yet the High King has clothed them in beauty that cannot be matched by men. Look at the mountain’s glory, only a reflection of my Father’s glory.” Later, walking in the night “Look at the stars, his handiwork. Yet his love is not given to the stars, but to the people who have rebelled. Not for the stars, not for the mountains, not for the flowers will the sacrifice be made.”

        Before long we arrived in Euphora, where we gathered the followers and hid ourselves in an old barn. We were about seventy in all, including those who had come from Poymane. When the doors were locked Theodore began to speak: “My friends - look how few we are today compared to only a few months ago. Those who love the High King and his land, those who follow the High King’s Son are indeed few, and few will continue to the end. But do not be afraid: the sacrifice and the victory that will free the land and enable all of you to become Chosen are at hand.”

        “In Great Harbor I will challenge the Tyran for the dominion of this land. But the victory will not be won by power. It will be won by blood. Listen to the words of my Father, the High King: “It is necessary that the blood of the One Chosen be shed for the life of the land. Only in the spilling of innocent blood will my victory be won. For the hearts of my people have grown cold, and there is no welcome for me in the land. Only in the sacrifice of blood will the Evil One be defeated. Only in the shedding of blood will the my love again be shown in this land. Only in death will there come the rebirth of life and hope.”

        “My friends, this is the cup I must bear, and I will bear it alone. No one knows the will of the High King but his Son, and no one can do his will but the One Chosen. My Father has decreed that a sacrifice of blood will free my people, and that after death will come victory. Do not be surprised at these things, for the Love of the High King and the Life of the Land has always flowed in the blood of the chosen. “

        At that moment Theodore took up a sharp farmer’s knife that was hanging nearby, and he cut himself deeply on the palm of his hand. Walking around the room he took his own blood on two fingers, and placed it on the forehead of his followers. Some backed away and would not allow his touch. Some protested. Others wept. As he approached us Elena tried to take her kerchief and bind the flow of blood. But Theodore looked us each in the eyes and said “Father; Mother, this is the blood of the High King’s promise, for which you have waited for so long. It must flow for the life of my people. Take my mark upon you my parents, and be chosen along with me.” So this was his monument: not victory but blood. And much as I wanted to deny the need, at this moment my heart stood revealed to me: prideful, selfish, jealous - in need of cleansing. And yet when the blood was applied to my forehead, I felt no immediate relief from the tyranny of myself.

        This same sad and noble ritual was repeated in every town of the plains as we slowly made our way toward Great Harbor. Sometimes only two or three in a town were willing to receive the mark - never many. Nonetheless, my son’s hands became scarred with the bloodletting, and each time he pierced his palm he also pierced my wife’s soul, so that after the ceremony she would weep as she cleaned and bound his hands. In this way nearly all the followers outside Great Harbor received the mark. Looking back it’s clear there were two miracles going on during the journey. The first was that so many of Theodore’s followers participated at one point or another. The second was that all these meetings took place without any interference from the Tyran’s spies, who seem unable to see what was going on in front of their eyes.

        Finally we approached Great Harbor. We did not expect to find many faithful there, since it was such a stronghold of the Evil One, but we expected to meet in the shipyard of Mattanias, son of Matthias, the faithful ship’s captain who had years ago taken Elena and I to First Landing. His son had served Theodore even under the cruel pressures of the Tyran’s stronghold. So we met in his shipyard, in a rope making barn, surrounded by the raw materials of the trade. It was with a rope-makers knife that Theodore pierced his palm again for the ten or twelve faithful in Great Harbor who had not received the mark. Among these was Mattanias, but as Theodore reached out his two fingers to touch the disciple’s forehead, Mattanias lurched backward, saying ‘No, I will not do it’; he turned and fled the building. Some tried to take hold of him, but Theodore said “No, let him go, for thus begins the sacrifice and the victory of the Chosen One.” He then unhurriedly complete the ritual for the five or six remaining faithful, and allowed his hand to be cleansed and bound.

        By that time the Tyran’s soldiers had surrounded the building. Through cracks in the walls we could see the wavering light of torches. There came a loud knocking at the large double door, and the harsh call of one of the Tyran’s captains, saying that we must surrender the so-called Chosen One or die by flame. Looking at the hemp and rope surrounding us, we knew the building would become an inferno in mere moments.

        Theodore also looked around, then went to the door and yelled ‘hold your torches - I will come out - only do not touch these others here.” The captain’s voice yelled back ‘It’s you we want - we’ll deal with the others later.’ We remained frozen in our places while Theodore, who had been uncapturable, opened the door and stepped out. He was bound and gagged in our sight, and dragged away toward the temple.

        Dawn came slowly to Great Harbor that day, and the light of the sun seemed shrouded in mists and shadows. Elena and I, as we had many years before, skulked around the central square of the Citadel, expecting something to happen. The only sign we got was a public announcement by one of the chief priests that the sacrifice of a Chosen would take place that evening which all the inhabitants of Great Harbor must attend. I struggled to understand what they might see. If Theodore allowed himself to be sacrificed, wouldn’t that destroy Maritania? If he defeated Hexstasis, wouldn’t that be the opposite of sacrifice? How could his blood be the victory? Elena and I whispered our way through these questions with a couple of the other followers, but we could not come to any firm conclusion except grief and an uncertain hope.

        Much later that night than usual the bonfires were finally lit on the temple platform. Soon, Hexstasis himself came forth from the citadel, but unlike the Hexstasis of old. He had almost entirely dropped his appearance as a man, and was a being of fire and darkness, his face permanently etched with rage, and his eyes a shining bloody red. He cried out: “Now I will destroy this impostor, or I will destroy this land; in either case the victory is mine: I will rule in Maritania.” With that Theodore was dragged forth by a squad of armed guards. What we could barely see of our son revealed a man bruised and bleeding, obviously beaten. It appeared one leg had been broken, for he dragged it as he staggered along. “Behold,” the Tyran yelled, “this so called Chosen. He bleeds and breaks like any other. By this know that he is an imposter.”

        Theodore was lifted without protest onto the table of sacrifice, and Hexstatis took the gleaming knife from the Captain of theGuard. Elena hid her face in my shoulder, but I could not stop watching, not for all the convulsions of pain and horror that ran through me. Hexstasis lifted the knife and plunged it swiftly into the Son’s heart. Out of control, the Tyran raised it again, and plunged it and twisted it over and over. I hoped Theodore had died before the second blow. Then Hexstasis grabbed up the jeweled chalice, caught some of the flowing blood and lifted it to his lips. He drank and cried “My hatred feeds on this love; my power feeds on this life”

        As he drank several things happened. From far off there began the not unexpected rumble of an earthquake - surely the land must cry out over the death of the High King’s son. From much closer - on my forehead - came a sense of burning, so that I raised my hand with a cry to the place where the Son had touched me with his blood. I felt as if molten love, burning life was tearing into me from that spot.

        In instant all my own feelings of selfishness and lust were revealed to me even as they were being consumed by the power of his blood. Behind that burning came a sense both cool and green, as if my soul were being bathed now in Love and in Life, and for the first time I experienced at a soul level the presence of the High King.

        All this took but a moment - longer to describe than to experience, and when I lowered my hand from my forehead I saw Elena doing the same, and smiling up at me with eyes filled with love and life. But at the same time, looking up, I saw the Tyran writhing above the table of sacrifice, and he began to cry out inhuman words with inhuman screams. Theodore’s body lay quiet beneath him, a great quantity of blood flowing down the altar. As the Tyran raged and screamed, a green and white light seemed to grow from within him, it’s burning edges consuming his black and fiery center. It grew and his anguish grew with it, until it consumed his entire torso, his arms, his legs, and finally is horrifying face, consumed under the green and white flames that left nothing of him behind, except his shadow, which loomed large for a moment on the wall of the citadel and then vanished as a vapor.

        In the sudden stillness I heard the roar of the earthquake growing louder, and the screams of the citizens of Great Harbor growing more panicked. I turned to look, and from the vantage point of this high place, under the light of early dawn, I saw a line of destruction, moving through the many towns that clustered around Great Harbor. One by one the ground beneath them writhed, and all the buildings fell inward. Clearly the destruction was quickly moving closer. Turning I looked out to sea, and saw a great swelling coming from that direction, a wave which towered to our height here on the cliff and above it. The two forces would meet in only moments on the exact spot where we stood, and all would be destroyed.

        At that moment, at the very last moment, came a cry louder and more beautiful than any I ever heard. It was a familiar voice, but with more power than mortals can imagine and it cried “Enough!” “Enough” “Enough” and with that word the destruction ceased; the wave sank into the sea, and we stood in the dawn light. And Theodore stood above us on the table, whole and entire, with his hands outstretched, and smiling with a victory that we, the chosen, would only now begin to understand.