24 February – 2 March 2019.
Even if we don’t know the Old Testament laws very well, one thing we probably do know is that the ancient Jews divided many things into “clean” and “unclean” categories. This was the case for animals and food, but also for people. We see many of these laws in Leviticus 11–12.
For example, if one of the followers of the law touched an unclean animal or ate it, if they had specific illnesses or had particular physical or behavioural problems, they were counted as unclean. To be unclean meant being kept away from other people. But it also meant being excluded from the temple and kept away from God. The Israelites feared that an unclean person would contaminate the sanctuary, and even contaminate any objects or people that they touched. So those who were clean needed to be protected from the unclean. And since God was the most pure and holy person of all, he needed the most protecting.
But often a person’s status as unclean wasn’t related to their actions but simply to their nature, to who they were as a person. These laws were particularly hard on women. Leviticus 12 tells us, for example, that women were counted as unclean every time they had their period. Also after giving birth to a baby, mothers were counted as unclean for 40 days. If they happened to give birth to a girl, mothers were doubly unclean and needed to be excluded for 80 days. That’s not very fair.
Even worse, this holiness and purity system also gives us a very wrong understanding of who God is. It makes us feel like God is afraid of us, afraid of our “dirty lives”, afraid of our sins, even afraid of our gender! Even though in the church we Christians don’t follow these purity laws, this system has still influenced many people and led some Christians to think that our sins do indeed keep us excluded from God, pushed away and prevented from coming close to him. Thankfully, that thinking isn’t right.
Jesus Christ truly is God. And during God the Son’s ministry on earth, he didn’t shout at sinners to stay away, he didn’t push so-called “unclean” people away and stop them coming close to him. God didn’t put up walls to keep dirty and sinful people away. Instead God the Son purposefully welcomed sinners to him, he ate with them, spent time with them, and even unflinchingly let them come and touch him. God isn’t an anxious and nervous God, afraid to let sinners come close to him. He is a God of love who welcomes us all to come into his arms. He is the one who tore the temple veil in two so that there would never again be a barrier between us.
If only holy, pure, and sinless people could come close to God, then heaven would be empty, because none of us are pure. We all have sin. But God calls us all to him anyway. That’s certainly not a reason for us to keep on sinning! But it is a reason to rejoice. We don’t need to be perfect, and we certainly don’t need to wait until the day we are perfectly clean and holy before coming to God; because that day will never come. Instead God welcomes you and calls you now to come to him just as you are – to come with your sins and weaknesses and with all your failings. God isn’t afraid of those sins. Instead he wants to hold us tight in his holy arms and save us from those sins. So let’s all come back to God today.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis