Jesus is awesome.
The word gets used a lot. It genuinely applies to Jesus. The more we get to know Him the more awe He inspires.
I know it’s not common for many Christians to study the Old Testament. Leviticus may get the least attention. 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:
“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 5:46-47, bold added)
One thing always stands out as I read Leviticus. Instructions about how to avoid becoming unclean. Unclean is a ceremonial and religious term, not necessarily a sanitary term. It speaks about a condition that separates the unclean, at least temporarily, from fellowship with the community and with the Lord.
Leviticus speaks about unclean or uncleanness 128 times in 90 verses. The book of Leviticus itself is only composed of 859 verses. The words “unclean” or “uncleanness” appear explicitly in more than 10% of the book. The surrounding verses often continue the discussion. So, it is safe to assume that this concept is pretty important to understanding the point of Leviticus.
Many New Testament believers find this subject boring. Irrelevant. A waste of time. For the nation of Israel it was incredibly important to know and understand how to remain ceremonially clean. It was essential for their life and worship. But how is this relevant for believers who are not under the Law?
The concept, when rightly understood, isn’t boring at all. It should increase our awareness of who Jesus is. What He has done for His people. How glorious and awesome He is.
To maintain ritual cleanness, one of the most important factors was keeping away from anything and everything unclean. Making contact with an unclean thing 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)
The prophet Haggai prophesied to the remnant who 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. After they had begun work, 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)
The priests rightly understood. Holiness is not transmitted from one thing to another. Uncleanness is. Put another way, uncleanness is able to infect and corrupt even holy things to 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. Since uncleanness is transmitted by contact, a prime strategy for remaining clean is to eliminate any contact with the unclean.
This entire idea is exemplified in the holiness of the nation of Israel. They were 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 by becoming proselytes. However, the Jewish nation as a whole was to remain set apart. This was exemplified within the lives of individuals.
It’s why the Pharisees were so disgusted with Jesus and His ease around sinners. The sinners were the unclean in their midst. When Jesus was visiting with Simon the Pharisee 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)
The Pharisee’s attitude is understandable. Contact from an unclean person would transmit uncleanness to whoever touches them. Therefore, Jesus was apparently allowing Himself to be made unclean. And He didn’t seem all that concerned about it.
Many professing Christians read accounts like this and scoff at the attitude of the Pharisees. Yet, it is this same attitude that causes many to separate themselves from the “bad” people in the world and create a Christian-bubble around their own families, belongings, and lives.
We don’t want to be around those that may corrupt us. There is certainly biblical wisdom in this (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:33). But taken too far, we simply become just like the Pharisees. 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. To eat with Him. To wash His feet. But Jesus was not a sinner. He did not participate in their deeds.
Most amazing is that Jesus never became unclean by His contact with sinners.
Leviticus 22:4-6 teaches that touching a leper makes you unclean. God affirmed that the priests were correct when they answered Haggai. Holiness is not transmitted by contact. 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, bold added)
I said it before. I’ll say it again. Jesus is awesome.
If you read the New Testament, Jesus heals many ways. Sometimes He heals with a word. He healed some who were a great distance away. Jesus certainly didn’t need to touch this leper. But He chose to.
All of the teaching on clean and unclean was meant to point us to Christ. The nation of Israel was an example. Human beings are born with a sinful nature. 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 anything good in God’s sight.
“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)
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.
Jesus can. Because Jesus is awesome.
Some think Jesus was just another guy. A prophet. A guru. What they don’t grasp is that for Jesus to be able to transmit holiness He must be so much more. Jesus was and is God in the flesh. He came for the salvation of all who will repent and believe. He is coming again to gather His redeemed and to crush His adversaries under His feet.
Those who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus are now called to go into all the world. To preach a crucified, risen, 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?