Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Holiness Transmitter

Jesus is awesome.

The word awesome gets thrown around for a lot of different things, but it genuinely applies to Jesus. The more we get to know Him, the more awe He inspires.

I know that is is not really popular for many Christians to study the Old Testament, especially the book of Leviticus. Yet, the books of Moses are extremely helpful in understanding the awe-inspiring nature of Jesus. In fact, Jesus plainly taught that Moses wrote about Him:

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" (John 5:39-47, NASB, bold added for emphasis)

One thing that always stands out to me as I read through Leviticus is how often the Law instructs about how to avoid becoming unclean. This term is a ceremonial and religious term, not necessarily a sanitary term. That is, it speaks more about a spiritual condition that separates the unclean, at least temporarily, from the fellowship of the community and from the Lord.

The book of Leviticus speaks about being unclean or uncleanness 128 times in 90 verses, which means that some verses mention these things two or three times. The book of Leviticus itself is composed of 859 verses, which means that the words "unclean" or "uncleanness" appear explicitly in more than 10% of the book, with the surrounding verses often continuing the discussion.

While this may be boring to some New Testament believers, the reality is that for the nation of Israel, it was incredibly important that they know and understand how to remain ceremonially clean. This was huge for their life and worship of the God of the Bible.

In order to maintain their ritual cleanness, one of the most important factors was keeping away from unclean things, because making contact with unclean things would transmit uncleanness to whatever touched it. For example, "Or if a person touches any unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean beast or the carcass of unclean cattle or a carcass of unclean swarming things, though it is hidden from him and he is unclean, then he will be guilty. Or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort his uncleanness may be with which he becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, and then he comes to know it, he will be guilty." (Leviticus 5:2-3, NASB)

The prophet Haggai was sent to prophecy to the remnant that returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. They had been living among an unclean people for 70 years! One of his prophetic purposes was to stir the people to rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed. After they had begun working to rebuild the Temple, Haggai was given a word from the Lord and he asked the priests a question regarding holiness and uncleanness. This summary is helpful for those of us who do not fully grasp the teaching of the Old Testament Law on clean and unclean.

"Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'Ask now the priests for a ruling: If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?'" And the priests answered, "No." Then Haggai said, "If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?" And the priests answered, "It will become unclean." Then Haggai said, "'So is this people. And so is this nation before Me,' declares the LORD, 'and so is every work of their hands; and what they offer there is unclean." (Haggai 2:11-14, NASB)

The priests rightly understood that holiness is not transmitted from one thing to another, but uncleanness is. Put another way, the uncleanness of a thing is able to infect and corrupt even holy things and make them unclean.

This is incredibly important for understanding the nature of the gospel and the difference from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

Under the Old Covenant, remaining clean was important, and since uncleanness is transmitted by contact, a prime strategy for remaining clean is to eliminate any contact with the unclean.

Simple.

This entire idea is exemplified in the holiness of the nation of Israel, being called to be "set apart" from the surrounding nations. Israel was not to mingle with the nations, lest the uncleanness of the nations defile and corrupt God's holy people. There was a way for the nations to become incorporated and "cleansed" through taking the Law upon themselves and becoming proselytes. However, the Jewish nation as a whole was to remain set apart and this was exemplified within the lives of individuals.

It's why the Pharisees were so disgusted about Jesus and His ease around sinners, who were the unclean in their midst. For example, when Jesus was visiting with Simon the Pharisee and a woman came and washed Jesus' feet with her tears and anointed His feet with perfume: "Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.'" (Luke 7:39, NASB)

The Pharisee's attitude is understandable, since the contact from an unclean person would be transmitted to whoever touches them. Therefore, in their view, Jesus was allowing Himself to be made unclean and didn't seem all that concerned about it.

While many professing Christians can read accounts like this one and scoff at the attitude of the Pharisees, it is this same attitude that causes many in our day to separate themselves from the "bad" people in the world and create a Christian-bubble around our own families, belongings, and lives.

We don't want to be around those that may corrupt us.

We may use different language, but the concept is the same. We are living as though our ritual cleanliness will be spoiled by contact with the unclean.

Now, certainly there are passages in the New Testament that warn about participating in the deeds of darkness, which Jesus never did. Although Jesus may have allowed sinners to hear His teaching and to wash His feet, Jesus was not a sinner. He did not participate in their deeds.

What is more amazing, is that Jesus never became unclean by this contact.

Leviticus 22:4-6 teaches that touching a leper (among other unclean things) makes the one who touches them unclean. God affirmed that the priests were correct when they answered Haggai by saying that holiness is not transmitted by contact, but uncleanness is.

Except with Jesus.

"And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, 'Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.' Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, 'I am willing; be cleansed.' And immediately his leprosy was cleansed." (Matthew 8:2-3, NASB, bold added for emphasis)

Like I said before, Jesus is awesome.

All of the teaching on clean and unclean was meant to point us to Christ.

The nation of Israel was set up as an example.

Human beings are born with a sinful nature, and as such everything we touch, think, and do is defiled by our sin. This is why it is impossible for us, in our natural state, to do even one good thing.

"For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." (Isaiah 64:6, NASB)

Yet, Jesus is able to make us clean. Jesus is able to cause us to be born-again and to receive a new nature. Jesus is able to purify us and make us acceptable in the sight of God.

Jesus can, because He is awesome.

Anyone who thinks that Jesus was just another guy, or a prophet, or whatever else, doesn't grasp that in order for Jesus to be able to transmit holiness, He must be so much more than just a human being. Jesus was and is God incarnate, come for the salvation of all who will repent and believe.

For those of us who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus, we are now called to go into all the world and preach a crucified Messiah. We are not to participate in the deeds of the world, but we are also not called to "protect" ourselves from those who we deem to be unclean. Instead of setting ourselves apart from them, we are to bring them news of the One who is able to make them clean, if they will only repent and trust in Him.

Are you living like a Pharisee or are you living like Jesus?

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