Can Dirty Soap Wash You Clean?

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I work for a non-profit, dealing primarily with sending basic-human-need supplies abroad.  One of our big projects is a variety of kits that we send to disaster-stricken areas and also to specific community development projects.  One of these projects is supporting African nationals who have been trained to physically care for AIDS patients.  These “medical caregiver kits” have basic supplies like gloves, cotton balls, anti fungal cream and of course soap.  We keep the supplies in large 4’x3’x3′ boxes so that volunteers can form assembly lines to build these kits and package them to be sent abroad.  Yesterday, I needed to move a few hundred pounds of soap from these large boxes to small boxes – by hand – and as you can imagine it gave me a lot of time to think!  When I finished moving all of the soap, I looked at my hands and they were filthy, and the irony of moving soap making me so dirty gave me much food for thought as I had been meditating on the New Covenant all morning.

Now, this analogy is not perfect – as no analogy is.  But the purpose of the covenant system is to deal with humanity’s sin.  The Old Covenant was God’s perfect Law that He gave to the Israelites shortly after they had been miraculously freed from slavery in Egypt and before they entered into the promised land.  It dealt primarily with social structures and the sacrifice system to atone for the sins of the people.  Priests were appointed – by familial lineage – to intercede and mediate for the people before God.  They were the ones who offered the sacrifices and worked in the tent of meeting/tabernacle/temple (the setting changed over hundreds of years).  They had to regularly make atonement sacrifices for both their sins and the sins of the people, and God – who was merciful – forgave their sins.

But Hebrews speaks to us about the New Covenant, a “Better Covenant” (Heb 8.6).  I know that it is easy to think of the Old Covenant as bad and the New Covenant is good.  But that’s not the picture that the Bible paints.  The Old Covenant was God’s perfect and intended will.  But Hebrews 8 says that there is fault with it:

“But now [Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant which has been enacted on better promises.  For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.  For finding fault with them, He says,

‘Behold, days are coming, says the Lord when I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant and I did not care for them’ says the Lord. ‘For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws into their minds and will write them on their hearts and I will be their God and they shall be my people’.”

– Hebrews 8.6-10

The Old Covenant had a fault.  But the fault was not internal, it was “with them” (v. 8).  And because the people did not keep the Covenant (the Law), God did not care for them (v. 9).  The Hebrew people had hundreds of years to try and follow the Law.  And they simply could not do it. Over and over again they would repent, come back and try their best, but they were unable to keep the Law and therefore God did not care for them.

And the priests were sinful people.  They had to make sacrifices for their own sins before they could sacrifice for the sins of the people.  They were “dirty soap”.  Even though they could honor the Covenant and pay off old sins, they were not perfect and therefore they had to continually make new sacrifices both for themselves and for the people.  They were never fully clean.

But Jesus is perfect.  He is the final High Priest.  He never has to make atonement for His own sins, and so he is the clean and pure soap that can wash us eternally.  And as the perfect priest he made the perfect and final sacrifice of His own blood on the cross.  And Jesus, “because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently.  Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7.24-25).

This is phenomenal to me.  Jesus lives forever, as our mediator to God.  Why does one mediate?  To reconcile two people.  What needs reconciliation?  God’s wrath!  He is angry at our sin.  But Jesus always lives to make intercession for us.  He paid the penalty that you and I deserve and He is constantly interceding for us.  Every sin that you and I commit, Jesus stands before God Almighty saying “I paid for that”.  And because He continually intercedes for us who draw near to Him, He can save us forever!

And being the mediator of the New Covenant, because Jesus continually intercedes for us, we do not need to continue to make sacrifices.  His sacrifice was enough.  And the outpouring or enactment of the New Covenant is that God’s perfect law is now written on our hearts (Heb 8.10).  Jesus through His final sacrifice enables us to be united to Him as He and the Father are one (John 17.11), and when we are united with Him through Christ’s continual atonement, He gives us a new heart on which is written the Law, and He sets it in our minds.

At the risk of sounding flippant, Jesus is the perfect soap that can wash us clean in the eyes of God for eternity.  But the analogy breaks down in that he not only washes us clean, he gives us a new heart – he completely makes us clean from within – and sets His laws on our hearts and minds so that we can love and keep the New Covenant, and God cares for us.

What grace!  What mercy!  Let us be washed clean, and live to the Law written on our hearts out of love and thankfulness.  Let us seek to honor Him in all that we say and do and draw near to Him because He is our mediator and He saves us forever if we do so.

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