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

Guilt is Not A Fruit of the Spirit

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
(Psalm 119:10–11)

“The road to godliness is one of discipline, and discipline doesn’t come naturally to most.”
Bill Hull, Choose the Life

One of the great goals of the Christian life is that we are to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son” (Rom 8:29), that we would “in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph 4:15), to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” 2 Peter 3:18.  This growth in the likeness of Christ is only possible by the inward working power of God’s Holy Spirit, but the Spirit uses and supplies many spiritual graces, helps for our life of faith and maturity in Christ.

These graces, or Spiritual Disciplines, are vast.  We have the opportunity to come together as a congregation for worship and prayer. We have the signs of grace in the sacraments to aid us in our walk with the Lord. We are all literate people, and have the advantage of mass-produced copies of God’s word: every home has multiple copies of the Bible, and now you can have the Scriptures on your Smart-Phone, tablet, and mp3 player. There are endless opportunities for service, prayer, giving.  All of these are gifts given from God as disciplines intended to help you mature in your faith and understanding, as you grow in love for God and one another, and are transformed in the likeness of Christ.

The road to godliness is one of discipline, using the means of grace that have been given for our growth and strength.  We are to daily take up our cross, to die unto ourselves and to live unto Christ. The problem is, like diet and exercise, for most of us, discipline does not come naturally.  We want to be like Christ, and we love the idea of worshipping regularly, of reading the Bible daily, of serving more readily. But when it comes to actually doing it, the demands of work and family come crashing in. I’d go and visit my neighbor, but I don’t know what to say, and my favorite TV show is about to come on, so maybe tomorrow…

We have good intentions when it comes to Spiritual Discipline, but the implementation is difficult.  Add to that the fact that our enemy doesn’t want you to be disciplined and to grow in grace.  Satan would rather have you “spiritually soft” and undisciplined, stewing in the regrets of unfulfilled commitments, struggling with the doubts of despairs of an undisciplined heart and mind.

Friends, the purpose of taking on Spiritual Disciplines like daily reading scripture, prayer, fasting, service, etc, is not to make you feel guilty about the times when you neglect the spiritual disciplines.  The purpose is to make you more like Christ, to lead you away from reliance upon yourself – your own wisdom, strength, and even tenacity – and turn ever more to the perfect wisdom, the perfect strength, the perfect faithfulness of God.

Rest assured, the disciplines are hard work, they take time, and we will all, at one point or another, fail in our efforts to be disciples.  The original 12 disciples often failed in their discipleship. But the point was, they kept following.  When many would be followers of Jesus left Him because of some very difficult teaching, He turned to the 12 and said, “Will you leave me too?” Peter replied, “Where else shall we go to find the words of life?”

If you made a plan to read a chapter of the Bible every day, and then one day wake up and realize it’s been a week since you’ve last read, don’t be overcome by guilt and shame and just give up altogether. Turn to Jesus, admit your lack of discipline, then pick up and read. Seek His grace today. Sit at His feet and learn from His word.

If you want to grow in prayer but struggle to pray, then plead with God would put a passion for prayer in your heart. The desire to pray is a prayer in and of itself. Don’t despair that you cannot go more than two minutes in prayer without your mind wandering. Pray through the wanderings, then come back to prayer in praise.

I will say it again: Guilt is not a fruit of the Spirit. Discouragement is never the product of close communion with Christ.  Do not despair if you are not where you want to be.  Keep putting yourself in the place where growth will occur. Stop dwelling on the things you haven’t done, or you struggle to maintain some self-imposed standard. Rest in the grace of God, trust in His steadfast love, keep running back to the nail-pierced hands of Christ who died for your disbelief and rose for your righteousness.

SDG