[Originally published as Why Red?]
My backyard bird feeder is always alive with flashes of red. The northern cardinals are daily visitors for free helpings of sunflower seeds. As one catches my eye, I ponder, why red?
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Isaiah 1:18
Most animals blend into their surroundings. But not the cardinal. He flashes about in a scarlet garment heralding his presence for all to see. Why would a small bird, an easy prey, want to wear such colors? As I meditate on what creation would speak, red conjures two images: the stain of sin and the source of salvation.
The Stain of Sin
Red catches our attention, and normally for something of which we must take heed. We use it on our warning signs and labels; red hangs at every intersection to prevent disorderly collisions.
In Isaiah 1:18, red is used as a bold simile illustrating the blatant sins of the people. All that they do and say is stained with the crimson of sin. Although sin may blend in as the “norm of society”, it stands out to God’s eyes. Isaiah the preacher points out this scarlet warning sign, and begs the people to heed the warning and repent.
The Source of Salvation
But another profound biblical use of the color red is that of blood. From the blood of Abel through the atoning sacrifices of the Israelites, of the thread in the window which saved Rahab and her entire family, to the saving blood shed upon Calvary’s cross, the entire Bible is stained red with blood.
Though normally a gruesome sight for most, the red blood of the Bible is hope; it is cleansing. The sins of the people of Isaiah’s day stand out like red stained clothing. But it is the red-colored blood of the new covenant which is able to remove that stain.
Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. Revelation 1:5
Though I may be pushing things by stretching the color of a bird into a mini-sermon, I’d rather have the red northern cardinal remind of the warning of sin and of the hope of salvation, than to stand for a red-robed religious official for whom it is said the cardinal is named!