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TEXT: Leviticus 16:29-31
SUBJECT: Yom Kippur #5: Washed in the Blood
Four or five years ago, my family and I spent a few days at Lake Tahoe. One afternoon, watching the crystal clear water lapping the shore, I had a vision. It wasn't a vision of God, but of myself. It was a coming together of my past and my future bringing into focus what I most want to be.
I want to be clean.
I want a clean conscience. I want a clean mind. I want a clean conversation. I want a clean life. On that day, verses I've always known became very precious to me-
Purge me with hyssop,
And I shall be clean.
And I shall be whiter than snow.
Create in me a clean heart,
If this were a private wish, I wouldn't bring it up in public. But it's not private: it's the most public wish in the world. Just about everybody wants to be clean.
You see this desire in religion. Hinduism is about as far removed from the Bible as can be, but it offers the washing of souls in the waters of the Ganges River.
Look at the Sikhs-you'll never see a cleaner people than they are, but their personal hygiene is not personal; it's deeply religious. Though John Wesley was no Sikh, every Sikh would nod at his best-known saying-
Cleanliness is next to godliness.
Islam has its rites of purification, and of course, so does Judaism. Read the New Testament, and you'll find the Pharisees manic about cleanness-
Washing cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.
.And being very offended at people who don't.
This pining for purity is one of the great themes of literature, from Lady MacBeth, trying to wash the blood of King Duncan off her hands to Captain Ahab obsessed with the White Whale, to Holden Caulfield, scrubbing graffiti off walls. My wife knows a lot more about Russian books than I do, but I suspect they're mostly about unclean people longing for cleanness.
I wonder if this desire for cleanness is not what's at the bottom of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? These poor people wash their hands 300 times a day. If you've seen the TV show, Monk, you know what I mean: the man hired a full-time assistant whose main job was to hand him Wipies!
There's a wide and deep sense of impurity, of pollution outside of us and inside of us too! The lepers in Israel gave voice to the whole world, when they covered their mouths and cried-
Where does this feeling of uncleanness come from? It comes from the fact of uncleanness. I know parents and pastors, husbands and wives and others have used the feelings against us, but they didn't make them up. We feel dirty because we are dirty.
This is why we want to be clean. Pigs were made to be unclean and so they enjoy rolling in the mud. People were not made for this and we cannot enjoy it, not for long anyhow. The human race was created clean by a clean God to have clean fellowship with Him. But we've fallen into the mud-or rather, into the tar-and we can't get it off us-
Who can say, 'I have made my heart clean,
I am pure from my sin?'
Oh, plenty of people say it; but nobody does it. Nobody-
There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes,
Yet it is not washed from its filthiness.
This brings us to The Day of Atonement, what the Jews call, Yom Kippur. On that day, in the fall of the year, God did for His people what they could not do for themselves: He made them clean. Leviticus 16:30 says so-
For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.
OLD TESTAMENT CLEANNESS
Under the Law of Moses, 'cleanness' was connected to 'hygiene'. Some physical things are-for lack of a better word-icky, and if you touched them or they touched you, you were 'unclean'. If a man spit in your face, for example, he's in the wrong, but you had to leave the camp till sunset because his spittle made you unclean. This may be unfair to the innocent party, but it served God's purpose. He gave the purity laws to teach His people a lesson they needed to learn-and still do: The Lord is clean, and if you want to live in His favor, you've got to be clean too.
This is why, it was not only the people who were purified on the Day of Atonement, but so were the Tabernacle, the altar, the priestly vestments, everything connected to the worship and service of God was made clean.
Were the purity laws to be followed to the letter? They were: when Aaron's two sons chose to offer their own incense rather than the one God prescribed, He killed them for their impudence. The Law was to be obeyed-as given.
But the letter of the Law was never the whole thing. Though hinted at in the Law itself, the prophets brought it into sharp focus. The rules that called for washing hands and taking baths and scrubbing pots and pans pointed to something more important than hands and bodies, cups and bowls. They pointed to the human heart. Israel could not have fellowship with God until they were clean on the inside-
Make yourselves clean;
Put the evil away from your doings
From before my eyes.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Reprove the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.
This is the kind of cleanness God wants! Not washed hands, but washed hearts! The Day of Atonement, as wonderful as it was, could not provide them. It was never meant to. God wants His people to be as clean as He is, and the Day of Atonement shows He wants it, and hints at how He's going to get what He wants.
But only 'hints' at it. The Israelites had to be satisfied with the 'hints' and trust God to solve the puzzle in His own good time.
Which He did, about the year 30 AD. Many Jewish men went to the cross that year, but one of them went in a completely different way than the others. Some died for their own crimes; others died because of the crimes of other men, but only one of them died for the crimes of other men! Some were criminals, some were victims, but only He was a Sacrifice!
He is the Lord Jesus Christ, whom John called-
The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
What does it mean to 'take away the sin of the world'? For one thing, it means, He bore the punishment of our sins on the cross so that we wouldn't have to bear them ourselves in hell. This is true, but it is not the only truth.
'Taking away the sin of the world' also means taking our sins away from us: in other words, making us clean. Jesus did this on the cross; Paul says so-
He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for Himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works.
The Atonement of Christ means more than forgiveness; it means cleanness, it means we don't have to live the dirty lives we have half chosen and half fallen into. It means the power of lust, envy, resentment, excess, and greed has been broken, that you're free from its mastery now, and that one day, you'll be completely free of it forever.
HOW HE DOES IT
How does this happen?
In the first place, the forgiveness of sin leads to knowing God in a deep and lasting way. If being forgiven hasn't changed your life, you haven't been forgiven. In the New Covenant, God says-
They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.
One reason we live in sin is because-while we might know God's rules-we don't know God. Because we don't, we resent the rules and wonder why the Lord is so strict and mean and unreasonable. How come everybody else gets to go to the party while we have to go the prayer meeting? But once we know God we find out, 'the prayer meeting is the party!' Knowing the Lord in this new way throws new light on His Law, and makes obedience another word for freedom!
In the second place, the forgiveness of sin leads to the Gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God-not some 'influence' of God, but God Himself, equal to the Father and Son in every way. Now, as God, the Spirit cannot live with sinners. But, if our sins are forgiven, He can, and does. In the New Covenant, God promises to-
Put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and keep my judgments and do them.
What changed the Apostles from the cowardly and silly men they were before Pentecost, to the brave and wise men they became? The Holy Spirit, now no longer residing in the Temple, but in the souls of His people.
In the third place, the forgiveness of sin leads to life in the Church. If it is hard to live for God in a seductive and threatening world, how much harder it must be to live for Him when the people of God are no different than the world. This is what all the Old Testament saints had to live with. Moses lived alongside Korah; David next to Saul; Elijah and the prophets of Baal were 'in the same church' you might say.
But with the coming of the New Covenant, Israel was no longer 'the people of God'; a New Israel was formed, a people who follow Christ? Perfectly? No. But we follow Him. This fellowship in Christ, with its true teaching, good examples, fervent prayers and godly oversight enables us to live clean lives.
Every Christian wants to be clean. Sometimes we forget the desire, but we never quite lose it. We want to be clean because God is clean and we want to be with Him.
What we want we will have. Not because we want it with all our hearts, but because God wants it with all His heart! And what He wants, He gets!
Let us confess our uncleanness to the Lord. Let us confess to Him our lukewarm desire for cleanness. Let us throw ourselves on His mercy. We cannot wash away our sins, and to try to do that is itself a sin! But we can submit to the washing God supplies in the blood of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
What was a prophecy in Zechariah's day is now a present reality and urgent offer-
In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.
Millions have washed in that fountain-and some of washed in it a million times. Now it's your turn-
Wash and be clean.
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