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. 


Have Mercy

“Have Mercy on Those Who Doubt…” (Jude 22)

A week before the start of my 5th grade year, our teacher fell from the roof of his house breaking, if I remember correctly, his hip and leg, and would be out of the classroom for the first semester.  While tragic, there was a part of me that was overjoyed. This particular teacher had a reputation for being tough on students. My older brother had him for a teacher and told me all sorts of stories. Plus, our substitute for the semester was a new, young, female teacher – everyone was happy!

That was until the start of the second semester. When our regular teacher returned, he felt it was his mission to whip us into shape, to correct the inadequacies of the substitute’s teaching methods.  There were push-ups for wrong answers.  He tapped his cane like Thor’s hammer on our desks to get our attention. There was a lot more yelling involved than the first semester. Generally, it was a miserable experience.

I wonder, then, if this was the temptation that Jude experienced in his letter to the Church. He wanted to write to them about their common salvation in Jesus Christ, but because of the false teachers who had crept in and twisted the gospel into a license for sensuality and rejecting the Lord and Master Jesus Christ, he instead had to plead with them to contend for the faith.  Hearing of how they had been deceived and deluded, one response could have been like the return of our 5th grade teacher, “The beatings will continue until moral improves!”

Instead, Jude gives gracious instruction, “Have mercy on those who doubt.”  Those who have been led astray by the false teachers, who are struggling with doubts, questions, worries, and fears, show them mercy.  Don’t come down with wrath, judgment, or an air of superiority.  Be gentle with them and avoid vilifying those who are honestly and humbly struggling with some aspect of the faith. They are still in the faith, though they may have doubts, so encourage them in mercy and kindness.

How we need to be reminded of this today! Too often, in times when we are feeling particularly content in our own righteousness, we sit in evaluation of others faith and wonder why they’re not as mature as we are. We grow impatient with others continued struggle with sin, their slow growth in faith and fruitfulness in the Spirit, and we vent our frustration, “shouldn’t they know better by now?!?”

So Jude reminds us to show mercy.  Mercy is the withholding of judgment, exercising instead, patience, kindness, and compassionate care.  Mercy is born from a humble and honest self-evaluation. Mercy is the recognition that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” Mercy is forgiving not seven times, but seventy times seven. Mercy is the means by which we know the grace and favor of God in Jesus Christ, therefore we are to be merciful to others as well. 

To quote from Shakespear’s Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.