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

With Brotherly Affection

“Love One Another with Brotherly Affection…”

Romans 12:10

Romans 12:9-21 gives us a picture of what the Christian character, and the Christian community, ought to look like. As I’ve written here over the past few weeks, this Christian life begins with a genuine and sincere love for God and for one another. In loving God, we grow to hate that which is evil, and cling to that which is good and true. Today we see how we are to treat one another.

Paul writes that we are to love one another with brotherly affection. Now while I love the ESV translation of scripture, there are times when the Greek really has more to offer. This love to which we are called to have for one another in the Greek text is really a combination of two words, philos – meaning brotherly love – and stergo – which means “natural affection. Essentially the word, which is only found in this passage in Romans, calls for a devotion or loving-kindness that is naturally found in the family – in parents for their children, or the love that binds brothers. In other words, the Christian is reminded to love the brethren in the faith as though they were brethren in blood. Matthew Henry wrote, this “kind affection puts us on to express ourselves both in word and action with the greatest courtesy and obligingness that may be.”

But let’s be honest. I grew up with an older brother and younger sister, and I know we didn’t always get along. I am raising four kids of my own, and not a day goes by that there is not some skirmish or battle between the brothers. They wouldn’t fight like this with their friends, but their brothers are free game.

Sadly, I see this in the church, too. I came to realize, very early in ministry, that often Christians will treat their brothers and sisters in Christ far worse than they would a total stranger. It’s in the slander and gossip that flows under the guise of a “prayer chain” and the cold and unforgiving glare in the “fellowship” time after worship. It’s in the dismissive attitude that one elder has for another, and in the deacon’s refusal to care for that member who’s always asking for help. The community of faith, which ought to be a witness to the forgiveness and transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, frequently clouds that witness in the way they treat one another.

How do we, then, maintain our witness as we love one another with brotherly affection?

Remember You are Brethren, Purchased by Christ.
I realize when I give bullet points like this, I usually start out with a “remember” point. There’s good reason for that. So much of what we’re supposed to do flows out of what’s already been done. What we do as the Christian community comes from who we are in Christ. It is because of what He has done, having purchased us by His blood (1 Pet 1:18-19), having broken down the dividing wall of hostility between us and made us one body in Him (Eph 2:14). Through faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, we are made the children of God, )with one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Eph 4:5-6).

We are then, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Let us “therefore, by the mercies of God” live with love toward our brethren. When we address one another, let us remember that we are addressing one for whom Christ died, one in whom the grace of God is working, one in whom the Spirit of God is sanctifying. When we speak to other Christians, we are addressing the child of the King of Heaven, a fellow heir and saint by grace through faith, a new creation through the Spirit and the Word.

Forgive as You Have Been Forgiven
If you live with someone long enough, you are bound to need forgiveness. Disagreements and arguments are normal in any family, and the family of faith is not immune. You will not find in Scripture any congregation that is above correction, for on this side of eternity the Church and it’s members is being made holy – we have not arrived.

And so we are “bear with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:13). This, of course, reminds us that each of us has been forgiven, and the grace we have been shown in Jesus Christ is the same grace we are to extend to one another. This means seeking out those whom we have harmed and asking for forgiveness (Matthew 5:23-24), and eagerly seeking to be reconciled with those who have brought us harm.

Rejoice in the Lord Always
In all things, as we relate to one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord our overriding theme should be joy in the Christ. While we may not always see eye to eyes as brothers and sisters in Christ, we can agree to let the joy of Christ be our theme.

What is this joy? It is the joy that Christ came to make complete in our lives (John 15:11). It is the joy of knowing that we are reconciled with God and at peace with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. It is the joy of having full assurance of salvation in Christ alone. It is the joy of being one with kindred spirits as the body of Christ. It is the joy of belonging to a family whose foundations run deeper and truer than flesh and blood. It is the joy of being “blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessings in heavenly places” (Eph 1:3). It is quite simply that as we are one with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as Calvin once wrote, “come what may, believers, having the Lord standing on their side, have sufficient ground of joy.”

SDG