So You Want to Be Clean

Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy. Whatever touches the altar shall become holy.  Exodus 29:37

Even a casual observer reading through the Old Testament finds that the concept of “uncleanness” is a major theme.  All kinds of things could make you unclean – touching a dead animal, consulting a medium, skin conditions – a whole host of things.  Uncleanness was a problem, too, because it blocked you from participating in the spiritual life of the community.  You couldn’t eat festival meals or enter holy places if you were unclean.

Despite the differences in time and culture, all of that should sound pretty familiar to us as post-modern Christians.  We struggle with a kind of uncleanness all the time.  We get it from watching the wrong videos or visiting the wrong web sites, from using foul language, from our addictions, from all the things we say and do that fill our minds with sin.

And the effect on us is the same.  We know we need to bring our sin with us to church but we can feel the separation we have from God and from one another.  The contrast between where our heads are and where we find ourselves physically is enough to keep many people out of the church altogether.

Uncleanness in the Old Testament was particularly pernicious because it spread like a virus.  If something was unclean, anything that touched it became unclean.  We get that, too.  If you work with people whose minds are in the wrong place, our natural tendency is to follow them down that bad road.  I remember working in a shop where the language of my co-workers would have offended the proverbial sailor.  After a couple of years, I was shocked to hear those same words coming out of my mouth.  Their uncleanness had spread to me.

But our text for today is one of the few places where we see the whole uncleanness operation in reverse.  The altar of God was sanctified by blood.  It was holy and whatever touched it became holy too.  That should both encourage and inform those of us living lives burdened by sin.

The only way to deal with the sin in us is through sacrifice.  When we bring ourselves, including all our filthy sin, to the place of sacrifice, we become holy.  When you are sufficiently tired of being a reservoir and a conduit of uncleanness, take yourself to the one place you know can cure it – to the altar of the Lord, sanctified by the blood of our Savior.