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 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. Jesus 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 stands out as I read Leviticus is talk about how to avoid becoming unclean. This term is a ceremonial and religious term, not necessarily a sanitary term. It speaks about a spiritual condition. The unclean, at least temporarily, are separated from the fellowship of the community and from the Lord.
Leviticus speaks about being unclean or uncleanness 128 times in 90 verses. Some verses mention these two or three times. The book of Leviticus itself is composed of 859 verses. The words "unclean" or "uncleanness" appear explicitly in more than 10% of the book.
This is boring to some New Testament believers. It shouldn't be. The nation of Israel knew it was incredibly important. They needed to know and understand how to remain ceremonially clean. This was huge for their life and worship of the God of the Bible.
To maintain their ritual cleanness, one of the most important factors was keeping away from unclean things. Making contact with unclean things transmitted 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 prophesied 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 began rebuilding the Temple, Haggai was given a word from the Lord. 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. It can 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 critical. Since uncleanness is transmitted by contact, a prime strategy for remaining clean is to eliminate any and all contact with the unclean.
This idea is exemplified in the holiness of the nation of Israel. Being "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. By becoming proselytes. However, the Jewish nation (as a whole) was to remain set apart. This carried over to the lives of individuals within the community.
It's why the Pharisees were so disgusted about Jesus and His ease around sinners. Sinners were the unclean in their midst.
Consider 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. Contact from an unclean person would be transmitted to whoever touches them. Therefore, in their view, Jesus was allowing Himself to be made unclean. Christ didn't seem all that concerned about it.
Many professing Christians can read accounts like this one and scoff at the attitude of the Pharisees. Yet, it is this same attitude that causes many in our day to separate themselves from the "bad" people in the world. To 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.
Certainly there are passages in the New Testament that warn about participating in the deeds of darkness. Jesus never did this. Jesus may have allowed sinners to hear His teaching and to wash His feet. But Jesus was not a sinner. He did not participate in their deeds.
Christians are warned about the corrupting influence of so-called brothers who participate in the deeds of darkness. There is also wisdom in restricting fellowship to those who are genuinely in Christ. But contact with non-Christians is not something the Bible commands New Covenant believers to avoid at all costs.
What is more amazing is this: 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. In our corrupted state, 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. To receive a new nature. Jesus is able to purify us. To make us acceptable in the sight of God the Father.
Jesus can. Because Jesus 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. Jesus was and is God incarnate. Jesus has come for the salvation of all who will repent and believe. He is coming again in glory to gather His people to Himself and to crush His adversaries under His feet.
Those who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus are called to go into all the world. To preach a crucified and exalted 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?