What, will these hands ne’er be clean?

I had the privilege to serve as the timer for the regional High School One-Act competition yesterday, and was treated to an excellent one-act adaptation of Macbeth, told as a cautionary tale to children. It was delightful, entertaining, and best of all – brief.

Those who are familiar with the Shakespeare know the story: in a quest for power, prompted by the deceptive witches, egged on by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the crown for himself. The rest of the play shows how their guilt is their undoing, as Macbeth and his wife descend into madness and cover their guilt will more murder and treachery.

Notably, Lady Macbeth, plagued by her guilty conscience, begins sleepwalking, rubbing her hands as if washing them, certain that the blood of Duncan was on her hands for all to see. No amount of water would cleanse her of her guilt, but still she cries:

Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why,
then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky!–Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
account?–Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him…
What, will these hands ne’er be clean?–No more o’
that, my lord, no more o’ that: you mar all with
this starting…
Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. Oh, oh, oh!
(Macbeth Act 5, Scene 1)

While we’re familiar with the scene, and have probably quoted it when trying to get the spaghetti stain out of the white shirt, there really is a greater spiritual truth at play here.

In the account of the crucifixion of Jesus in Matthew 27, Pilate brings Jesus before the people, finding no guilt in Him worthy of death. He wants nothing to do with Jesus, but the masses demand his death, willing even to trade Jesus for the murderous Barabbas.

In a chilling scene, Pilate washes his hands of the whole affair, while the people respond, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). Consumed with a lust for death, the people call down a curse upon themselves.

And the curse is fulfilled. All who reject Jesus as the Son of God who died for their sins bear the guilt of his death. His blood is on the hands of all who do not believe as a sign of their guilt on the day of judgment.

When preaching in the Temple on Pentecost, and later in Solomon’s Portico, Peter comes back to this curse that was upon the people: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men…” (Acts 2:23), and “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life…” (Acts 3:14). There’s no indication that the same people who were in the Temple crying for Jesus’ death at the Passover were the same people in the Temple at Pentecost, or Solomon’s Portico later. But Peter is saying that all who do not repent and believe in Jesus have his blood-guilt upon their hands.

Indeed, John writes, “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:18-19).

We’re like Lady Macbeth; though not there to do the evil deed, our hands are covered with blood. No amount of washing will remove the stain. No perfume will hide the scent of death. So how can we be clean?

Interestingly, we come clean only through the blood of Jesus. 1 John says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7–9). Like the blood of the Passover Lamb, we are covered in the blood of Christ to spare us from God’s judgment and wrath (Ex 12:23). Like the priest of the Old Testament, we are anointed, set apart, as God’s holy people by the blood of the lamb (Ex 29:21).

One way or another, we will have blood upon us. Either we will have the blood of Christ on our hands in the guilt of our faithless rejection of Him as our Lord and Savior, or we will be washed in the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

If only the Bard could have directed Lady Macbeth to the Word of God. Perhaps she could have sung a new verse:

What can wash away my sin? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 
What can make me whole again? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 
O precious is the flow 
that makes me white as snow; 
no other fount I know; 
nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

SDG

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