If I told you that I was dipping my hand into warm liquid and then splashing it around on the corners of the furniture and around the floor, you might think I was getting ready to scrub things. But then if I told you that the warm liquid was blood, you’d probably think I was insane or having a nightmare. Reading about the Old Testament temple rituals is kind of like that (Leviticus 9, for instance). There’s blood everywhere. In some of the rituals they even sprinkled it on the priest’s clothing. My first thought in reading about that was, “That’s going to be really hard to wash out.” I know, because I’ve had to work at getting it out of my family’s clothing. If you don’t get to it quickly enough with cold water and hydrogen peroxide, it’ll never come out. Seriously. Never. Oh, wait . . . maybe that’s the idea.
In our modern state of hyper-cleanliness it’s hard to imagine blood as something that cleans, but that’s exactly what it meant to the ancient Israelites. One of the reasons I think this is so hard for us to understand is that we think of cleaning as something we do to wash off the dirt on the outside. Often it’s dirt we can see—mud, food remnants, ink, grease—leftovers from our daily activities. In our modern sophistication we’re even aware of washing away things we cannot see—germs, viruses, bacteria—but those are also on the outside.
Have you ever had a tangible feeling of being dirty on the inside? Often our response when that happens is to take a shower. And depending on how disgusted we’re feeling on the inside, that shower might take a little longer than our regular shower. Sometimes afterward we find that the shower didn’t really help quite as much as we’d have liked. This is sort of like what the Israelites were doing with the blood. They weren’t washing away dirt on the outside, they were washing away the dirt on the inside, the guilt for the things they’d done or missed doing.
And just like we wash sometimes solely to get rid of germs we can’t see, that only might be there, they also washed to take away guilt they only might have incurred. They atoned for their ignorance. Maybe that’s the most important kind of washing. Acknowledging our ignorance means admitting that we don’t know everything, despite our great advances in all kinds of learning, and that there are things that only God knows. This washing also means that we trust God to do what he says he’ll do. If he says to do certain things to make up for our shortcomings, then we have to trust that this is true, even though we can’t see it happening.
But we don’t have to slaughter animals anymore to accomplish this inside washing. Jesus was the last sacrifice, the one-time-covers-everything blood washing. There’s a lot less work involved in receiving forgiveness now—virtually none, actually. Believe that Jesus already did the work, and acknowledge our need of that work. Have faith that God does what he says he’ll do. And just to make it even easier, God gives us that faith. We just need to use it.
Our modern sensibilities get in the way here, too. Or maybe just plain old human nature. The proverb “seeing is believing” rings true because it is true. We want proof. Empirical evidence. But faith isn’t about having empirical evidence. Faith is having confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). Trusting that in Jesus all the promises God makes to us in the Bible are true, and living out those promises in how we think and act and interact with other people.
Want empirical proof? Put some blood on a piece of cloth and let it dry. Then try to get it to come off. Some of it might, but probably not all, unless you’ve found some super high-tech cleaner. (And if you have, let me know!) Or better yet, ask God to show you how he changes hearts and lives. And then keep your eyes open. What you see might just surprise you.