Washed Clean by Jesus

I read a chapter in my Bible each night before bed, and I recently finished Exodus and moved into Leviticus. This book is full of God’s laws and instructions for His people Israel, and much of it has to do with ceremonial uncleanness.

Those parts of the Torah might not seem as if they have anything to do with us today. There isn’t a temple building anymore or a priesthood conducting animal sacrifices. We don’t worry about doing things that might make us unclean until evening or take turtledoves and lambs to the temple to ask God to pass over our sins. But the fact that we don’t have to worry about that anymore means something changed, and that something isn’t God. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). He’s still just as holy as He was in the Old Testament. What’s changed is something having to do with our holiness and God’s relationship with us.

This “something” is that Jesus’s sacrifice cleanses us from our sins. The fact that we say “cleanses” us from sin, though, points to the same problem Leviticus was trying to deal with. God is holy, but holiness is not the default state of human beings. Sins (and even things that aren’t sin which once resulted in ceremonial uncleanness) would separate us from God if there wasn’t a way of washing us. I think this is why the New Testament writers spend so much time talking about cleanliness and holiness. When they described what Jesus is doing in us, they’re working with this background knowledge that God didn’t allow unclean people into His temple.

Uncleanness and Sin

In the Old Covenant law, people became ritually unclean in several ways. One was by sinning, which required sacrifices offered as atonement even though they couldn’t actually remove sin. There were also ways to become ritually unclean without sinning, such as by touching animal carcasses or dead bodies, contracting leprosy, having a baby, and having sex (Lev. 5:2;12:2; 13:3, 44-45; 15:1-33). All sin made people unclean, but not all the ways to become unclean involved sin.

Even though many of the things that resulted in ritual uncleanness weren’t sins, they could still disqualify you from entering the temple or eating of the holy things (Lev. 7:19-21; Chr. 23:18-19; Rev. 21:23-27). Because God is holy, His people had to “make a distinction between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” so they wouldn’t die by defiling God’s dwelling place with their uncleanness (Lev. 10:10-11; 15:31). God is still holy today, but the process for making us clean is much more lasting and complete.

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify to the cleanness of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without defect to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Hebrews 9:13-14, WEB

Washed by Jesus

Jesus spent quite a bit of time during his earthly ministry engaging in debate with the religious leaders of His day. One thing in particular that He pointed out to them was that their efforts to be clean had gotten off-track. It wasn’t the outward cleanliness that mattered the most, but the holiness of the heart (Matt. 23:25-27; Luke 11:40-42). This doesn’t mean we ignore the outside, but outward things aren’t our focus; the outside becomes clean as a result of the cleaning happening inside us.

In John’s account of Jesus’s final Passover, he mentions that “many people went up to Jerusalem from the rural areas before the Passover to cleanse themselves ritually” (John 11:54-56). This is a detail I’ve overlooked in the past; it just seems like a note explaining something about the culture at the time. But a short time later at Passover, Jesus has this conversation with Peter:

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus answered him, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

Jesus said to him, “Someone who has bathed only needs to have his feet washed, but is completely clean. You are clean, but not all of you.” For he knew him who would betray him, therefore he said, “You are not all clean.”

John 13:8-11, WEB

We are clean in every sense–ritually and in terms of forgiveness for sin–if Jesus Christ washes us. Paul emphasizes this in one of his letters, saying “Christ also loved the assembly, and gave himself up for it;  that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the assembly to himself gloriously, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without defect” (Eph. 5:25-27, WEB).

Jesus’s sacrifice mediates a new covenant that involves more immediate and lasting cleansing than was ever available under the old covenant (Heb. 9:13-15, 22-24; 10:1-14). Instead of making it possible for us to walk inside a physical temple dedicated to God, Jesus’s cleansing makes us part of God’s undefiled spiritual temple (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:16-20; 2 Cor. 6:15-18). It goes beyond just being allowed to visit God. We actually get to be part of His dwelling place.

Image of a waterfall, with text from 2 Cor. 6:16-18, NET version: "For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, ‘I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ Therefore ‘come out from their midst, and be separate,’ says the Lord, ‘and touch no unclean thing, and I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,’ says the All-Powerful Lord.”
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Dwelling in the Clean Vine

Becoming clean is something that Jesus does to us. Staying clean is something we’re involved in. It’s part of a lifelong process of becoming holy the way that God is holy (Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). We need to “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1, WEB). We’re actively involved in the process of sanctification because we choose what behaviors shape the sort of people we are (1 Cor. 5:6-8; 2 Tim. 2:20-21).

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer. Every branch in me that doesn’t bear fruit, he takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already pruned clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. …

“In this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; and so you will be my disciples. Even as the Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and remain in his love.”

John 15:1-4, 8-10 WEB

The way we stay clean is by staying firmly attached to Jesus and following Him. Under the Old Covenant, we could have become “unclean” in all sorts of ways and becoming clean again involved the passage of time and/or ritual washing or sacrifice (depending on how you became unclean). Now under the New Covenant, Jesus washes us clean all the time so long as we’re sticking close to Him.

Staying in God’s Presence

Jesus doesn’t let anything that could make us “unclean” stand in the way of us getting into God’s presence. The relationship we have with God isn’t cut off if we touch an unclean animal or become seriously ill; there’s no more ritual uncleanness to worry about. However, God still cares about the way we live our lives.

Just like there was a difference between ritual uncleanness and law-breaking sin in the Old Testament, there’s a similar difference today. The first doesn’t matter at all anymore–Jesus takes care of washing us from any ritual uncleanness. The second doesn’t have to matter, but still could. Jesus’s sacrifice washes sins away as easily as any other uncleanness, but in this case we’re also supposed to stop sinning after we’re washed clean and repent if we make a mistake.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, which is what you are.

1 Corinthian 3:16-17, NET

The word translated “destroy” here is phtheirō (G5351), and it can also mean “corrupt” or “defile,” though most modern translations use “destroy” (see Thayer’s Dictionary and KJV translation). I wonder if Paul was thinking about the effect that uncleanness had in the Old Testament when he wrote this. If something that was holy touched something that was unclean, then the holy didn’t sanctify the unclean–the holy thing became corrupted (Haggai 2:11-14). God doesn’t want that happening in His temple (i.e. the church body of believers).

If you look back at Jesus’s words in John 15, you see that remaining in Him involves keeping His Father’s commandments. Jesus washes us from sins as well as from ritual uncleanness, but we’re still not supposed to do things that would defile us. If we do realize we’ve sinned, then we’re supposed to repent and ask for forgiveness so He can wash those sins away again just like He did the first time we were sanctified (1 Cor. 6:9-11). The cleanness of our souls should matter to us because one of our chief desires should be to dwell in the presence of God (Psalm 16:11; 140:13), and He doesn’t have close relationships with people who won’t let Him wash them (as Jesus told Peter in John 13:8-11). So let’s stay close to God, repenting if we sin and continually praising Him for cleansing and making us holy so we can dwell with Him.

Featured image by jplenio from Pixabay

Talking with God: What (And Who) Makes Prayer Possible?

Prayer is such an integral part of the Christian life that I rarely stop and think about how it works. Even in studies on how and why to pray, I haven’t focused much on what (and who) makes prayers possible.

Of course, it’s obvious that God Himself makes prayer possible. If He wasn’t listening we’d have no reason to pray. He also gives instructions about how we’re to approach Him, which is why most people I know end their prayers with some variation on the phrase “In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Jesus said, “ask in my name,” and so that is what we do. His instruction to pray in His name would be enough of a reason to do so, but I also think this aspect of prayer can teach us important things about how the God-family operates and how They relate to us. So today, I want to take a closer look at why we pray in Jesus’ name.

Ask in His Name

The passages where Jesus instructed His disciples to pray in His name are found in John’s gospel. Before sharing these instructions, though, Jesus makes an important foundational statement.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you know him, and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7, all scriptures from WEB translation)

As the Word, Jesus was always the member of the God-family that human beings had the most direct access to. Before Jesus came as a human being, people knew there were two Lords but they didn’t have access to the Father directly (the scriptures to back this point up would double the size of today’s post, so I’ll direct to my post “Who Was ‘God’ in the Old Testament?”). Read more

Don’t Be Something Jesus Would Throw Out Of His Father’s Temple

Let’s take a trip back to the early 1st century. It’s a few days before Passover and the Jews are heading to Jerusalem for the Feast. As they travel, they sing the songs of ascent like they do every year. On this particular year, though, there’s an extra level of excitement. A man named Yeshua (Jesus) arrived on the scene a few years ago and many think he could be the Messiah. He’s even riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, as Zechariah said the Messiah would.

Hoshiya-na! Baruch haba B’Shem Adonai!” they call. Save us now! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

As Yeshua rides in, the people spread their garments in the way. They also cut palm branches as if they were here for the Feast of Tabernacles instead of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They’re expecting the Messiah to kick the Romans out, redeem Israel, and restore the kingdom. They’re hoping for the fulfillment of Tabernacles — the Messiah, son of David, ruling in power and might.

Instead, this Yeshua turns his donkey toward the temple. Once there, he “drove out all of those who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the money changers’ tables and the seats of those who sold the doves.” Instead of driving the pagans out of Jerusalem, he drove corruption out of God’s house, saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers!” Read more

You’re Not “A Temple of God.” You’re Part of The Temple Of God

We’ve probably all heard that Christianity is about your individual relationship with Jesus. I’ve said that myself. But while God is very much concerned with the state of every individual heart and wants a relationship with you, Christianity is not an individualistic religion. We get that idea from Western culture, not from scripture.

The Bible is written for all peoples and all cultures. But it was also written by people living in a Middle Eastern society, and those of us in the Western world can miss some things Biblical writers took for granted. It rarely occurs to us that Americanized Christianity might not be the same thing as Biblical Christianity, but our culture does color how we read the Bible and in some cases it leads to inaccurate assumptions.

When I was reading Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, one of the misconceptions that really stuck with me had to do with the verses about spiritual temples. We tend to read the verses that say “you are a temple of God” and think the “you” is singular” and treat “temple” as plural, assuming that we are each one of God’s temples. But we’re wrong.

Confusion of Plurals

There are three passages where Paul talks with the Corinthians about them being God’s temple. They’re 1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19; and 2 Cor. 6:16. Richards and O’Brian only talk about one of these, but I checked the others in the Greek and their point holds true for all three. They write,

Biblical Greek could differentiate between you singular and you plural, but we miss this in our English translations. … We typically understand the singulars and plurals in this verse backwards. In the original Greek, the you is plural and temple is singular. Paul is saying, “All of you together are a singular temple for the Holy spirit. God doesn’t have millions of little temples scattered around. Together we make the dwelling for the spirit (p. 108)

Read more

Clean Temples For Yom Kippur

Back in the Old Testament when there was a tabernacle or temple standing, it included a room called “the most holy place” or “the holy of holies.” This was where the ark of the covenant was and a heavy veil separated it from the rest of the inner temple. It wasn’t a place that people, even the priests, could just walk into.

and Yahweh said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother, not to come at all times into the Most Holy Place within the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark; lest he die: for I will appear in the cloud on the mercy seat. (Lev. 16:2, WEB)

The only time someone could enter this most holy place was on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. Even then only the high priest could go in and only if he followed the proper rules for entering a place God had sanctified.

Clean Temples For Yom Kippur | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: “Clean” by Sara Laval, CC BY via Flickr

But why bring this up now? We don’t have a temple or a priesthood or sacrifices anymore. And many Christians will say all that Old Testament stuff belong in the past. Or does it? There actually is a temple today, for “you are a temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16, WEB). There’s a priesthood, too, because Jesus Christ is the High Priest and He has “an unchangeable priesthood” (Heb. 7:24, KJV). We’re even included in that because we’re meant “to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices” (1 Pet. 2:5, WEB). So given these facts, what can we learn from Yom Kippur today?

Temples Defiled By Association

When I was re-reading Leviticus 16, I was surprised to notice that the high priest was told to “make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, even all their sins” (Lev. 16:16, 33 WEB). I knew he was to make atonement for himself and “all the assembly of Israel,” but hadn’t noticed the holy place needed atoned for as well (Lev. 16:17, 30). There was something about being in the midst of an unclean, sinful people that defiled even the part of the temple where God’s presence appeared.

Today, the church body is described as a temple of God (there’s also a temple talked about in heaven, which we’ll get to later). The Greek word used in those passages is always naos (G3485), which refers to the inner sanctuary rather than the entire temple complex (which would be hieron, G2411). We are now God’s most holy place. And like the other holy of holies, we can become defiled by choice (see 1 Cor. 3:16-17) or by the sinful world around us. Read more

Our Atonement Today

A blessed Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement to you all. Earlier this month, I subscribed to Bible Gateway’s newsletter Holy Land Moments with Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. It’s described as a way to learn about the Jewish background of Scripture by exploring the High Holy Days.

I’m finding it fascinating. I grew up keeping these Holy Days, but not always with much understanding of the Jewish perspective on them. While some of the Jewish tradition doesn’t relate to Christian observance of these days, they often teach a perspective that deepens my understanding. Take the Days of Awe for example. Using the 10 days between Trumpets and Atonement for self-reflection and repentance deepens the meaning of and my engagement with this holy time. And sometimes, the Jewish perspective sparks a thought about how my Christian perspective differs, such as today’s comment in the Holy Land Moments newsletter:

The central part of the Yom Kippur service is missing today. Chapter 16 of Leviticus is dedicated to the description and instructions for the Yom Kippur service that was performed when the Tabernacle and later the Temples stood. Today, we no longer have a high priest, nor do we participate in ritual sacrifices. So how do we achieve atonement?

Those who believe Messiah has come have a different answer to this question than those who don’t. Rabbi Eckstein writes,”There are three keys that take the place of the service performed in biblical times” and they “can undo our wrongdoings and change things for the better.” These things are “repentance, prayer, and charity.”

Our Atonement Today | marissabaker.wordpress.com
original photo credit: Nick Fullerton, CC BY via Flickr

While those things are important, I thank God through Jesus Christ my Lord that I’m not trying to atone for myself. There’s no way I could ever do enough or be good enough to undo my own sins. Today, we do have a High Priest and He has filled the ritual sacrifices with His perfect sacrifice (Heb. 7:23-28). The “central part” of Yom Kippur isn’t missing for Christians who keep this Holy Day — it’s more real than ever. Read more