34. Hiking in Hebrews: The Stain of Sin

Do you have any old, stained garments you just can’t throw away?

For many years, I’ve held onto a set of shorts, capris, and T-shirts I call my Painting Clothes. I must be the world’s messiest house painter, because each piece is caked with so much paint, they can practically stand and paint by themselves. I’ve kept them scrunched in an old canvas bag inside my Paint Closet—yes, we actually have a space in my basement entirely devoted to half-used paint cans, brushes, rollers, and scrapers. I used to love repainting rooms and bringing fresh color into my life, but after moving into our current house five years ago and painting every inch of its three bedroom, two bathroom interior (including ceilings, doors, baseboards, closets, window frames, railings, and the entire basement) in the space of five weeks, I overdosed on painting and hope to never do it again.

Last week I hauled out my Painting Clothes and tossed them. It felt good. I can’t quite bring myself to toss the other stuff yet—you know, for touch-ups or whatever. But the stained clothes only reminded me of my back-breaking, frenzied painting spree, and how exhausted I felt when the work was done. Good riddance to that!

The Israelites carted around stained garments for generations. And stained implements—everything used in the tabernacle worship was caked with blood. Here’s our passage today:

When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law required that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Heb.9:19-22)

We get a graphic picture of this in Exodus 28-29. The priestly garments were a particular target. After a lengthy description of the garments’ splendor—woven with gold, purple, blue and scarlet yarn and fine linen, embroidered with pomegranates and decked with tinkling gold bells, topped with an ephod embedded with precious jewels representing the twelve tribes of Israel—Moses is instructed to dress Aaron and his sons in their finery for the final touch:

Take some of the blood on the altar and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his garments, and on his sons and their garments. (Ex.29:21)

Anyone who’s done laundry knows how hard it is to get blood stains out. Especially if the blood is mixed with OIL. And these stains, inflicted on the first wearing, were meant to be permanent!

The blood spattering didn’t stop there. The priests had ram’s blood dabbed on their right ears, right thumbs, and right big toes. The altar was deliberately splashed with blood. And all the people had bloody water—or watery blood, if you prefer—splashed on their heads and garments. Shades of Carrie, with a much larger crowd.

The message was clear: “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb.9:22)

But why the permanent blood stains?

Every time the Israelites approached the tabernacle or the temple, they’d be confronted with fresh and dried blood. There was no escaping the deeper message: Sin is ugly. It is costly. It mars and destroys even the most beautiful things.

Imagine if someone invented one of those blood-detecting lights you see on crime shows, except THIS contraption exposes past and present sins. When you shine it on someone, you see every act of sin against that person: every insult, deception, injury, bad attitude, and unfair treatment they’ve endured. Every act of betrayal and indifference, every word of slander and gossip. How eye opening would that be! We’d be able to see the hurts and wounds of a lifetime, and understand the pain, fear, anger, and insecurity carried by individuals as a result. We’d see the extent of sin and the toll it takes on a human soul. Hopefully, we’d realize the weight of our own careless words and actions, and be more careful.

One step further: Imagine this miraculous light also shows the impact of a person’s own sins on their soul. The hardening of heart. The self-loathing and shame. The armor of deluded excuses and rationalizations. We’d clearly see why God describes us as DEAD in our sins (Eph.2:1-3; Col. 2:13)) and filled with every kind of wickedness (Rom.1:29-31) until He cleanses us through the blood of Christ.

God sees mankind through this light. It’s easy to shake our fists at the left or the right, depending on our personal politics, and blame the world’s sickness on the agenda of Others. We need to realize that every man or woman over the age of accountability, regardless of their politics, is blind and steeped in sin unless they’ve been redeemed and born again. And even then, none of us are free from the pull of temptation until we leave this earth.

I’ve often wondered how it felt to be an Israelite at the temple, watching thousands of innocent animals being bought and sacrificed for human sins. I think I would’ve hated it. The temple was magnificent, but the activity at its center was bloody, noisy, and disturbing. The spotlight was constantly on sin, because sin demoralizes and destroys. Even so, the Hebrew writer notes that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to cleanse the conscience of the worshiper. (Heb.9:9). I’m not sure whether this means every worshiper went home feeling guilty and unsatisfied, or whether it’s simply referring to the inability of animal blood to forgive sins, but the restatement of this thought in Heb. 10:7 indicates both inadequacies.
All of this to say: how grateful we should be for perfect sacrifice of Christ, which IS able to clear our consciences and fill us with joy instead of shame!

It’s not popular to talk about sin these days, unless we’re pointing out the folly of others, and even then we give it other names. Agenda. Beliefs. Mistakes. Personal preferences. Lifestyle. Attitude. The Bible calls it what it is, and the vivid picture of Moses sprinkling blood on everything– the priests, the people, the tabernacle and all its furnishings—shows how crucial it is to understand and remember sin’s wretchedness.

I’m glad I don’t have to walk around in my painter’s clothes every day, displaying my messiness and the crusty hodgepodge of colors I chose for two houses. I’m even more glad not to walk around with my sins, past and present, on public display. But understanding the impact of sin is central to our understanding of life. Sin is not an uncomfortable side topic. It’s the reason Christ came, the reason he died, and the reason we need a Savior.


Let’s not forget.

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