Friday, November 18, 2016

BLOOD WHITE IN COLOR

Even as children we all have a sense of justice. “Jimmy’s piece of cake is bigger than mine! It’s not fair!”

Things ought to be fair. What is more, we feel that someone who does wrong must in some way “pay” for his wrongdoing. If someone causes harm or damage, they are responsible to make things right.

This sense of justice is universal. The standards about right and wrong may vary from culture to culture, and the specifics of the transgressions and the reparations may change over time, but everyone has some sort of sense what is or what is not fair. We all have our own view about how a just society should conduct itself. We all have an opinion about what is right.

Inherited from God

There are two separate words in English for justice and righteousness, but in the Bible there is a single word for both of these.[1] The Bible treats the two as the same. To be just is to be righteous. Each of us may have our own interpretation of the specifics of what is just and right, but all agree that that there are standards.

Where does this universal sense of justice come from? Why is it that we all have some sort of idea about what is right and what is wrong? It seems to be hardwired into our DNA.(to continue reading, please press the READ MORE button below)
 Anthropologists and social scientists may say that these things are instilled into us by culture, and this is at least partially true. That is why values can change over time. But that is not the entire answer. The fact that there are values at all, and what any society sees as the standards of behavior that are important, depends upon the universal truth that the people should even care about values. The ability for a civilization to have standards relies upon an inborn sense of justice in the individuals of that society. If that sense of justice is not there, if people simply did not care about what is fair and what is right, there could be no values at all.

This basic form of fairness, this ingrained sense of justice, comes from God. With God as our creator, there are certain things about us that will always reflect the nature of God. We have been made in his image. These aspects of the nature of God in us as humans can be tarnished, they can be polluted, they can even be corrupted almost to the point where they cannot be recognized, but somewhere deep inside of every person, there is the image of God.

We are all like poems, if you will, written and created by a great poet. The words of our lives may differ from one another, but there is something about the writing style in each of us that point to a common author. The sense of justice is one of these qualities. We long for justice because God is just, and he has made us to value justice as he does.

In any society on earth, we are expected to live by the laws and the standards of that society. We are required to live by their sense of justice. If I am living in a foreign land where I am not a citizen and do things that are outside of what is acceptable or lawful in that country, I can be expected to be deported from that country and not allowed to return. I become a persona non grata, an unwelcome or an unacceptable person. It is actually the same word for grace, so we could call this, a person without grace. An unwelcome person and one to whom grace will not be extended.

It is no different in the kingdom of God. God also has standards for anyone wishing to live in his presence. We commonly call this “going to heaven,” or some such phrase as that, but in these last two chapters of Revelation, we see that there is more to heaven than simply floating around on a cloud somewhere. Heaven is the whole society of God, which also includes a newly created earth and a functioning economy. It is an economy unlike any we have ever seen or even can imagine, because as we have seen in previous chapters of this book, it is not an economy based on money and power. But it as economy nevertheless. It is the economy based on the administration of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:10). 

Immigration Requirement Number One – Clean Robes

The standards of conduct for living in God’s kingdom are very high. God’s sense of what is right and what is wrong is high above ours. In fact, it is unattainable. Anyone who has ever tried to live by the Ten Commandments knows that. In our own strength and by our own abilities, we can never attain to God’s standards. The immigration procedures for the kingdom of God are very demanding. So demanding, in fact, no one is able to meet the requirements. You can see the problem if we want to live in that new heavens and new earth, the society of God. What are we to do?

John says that we are to wash our robes.

John’s commentary is this: Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14 NAS).

What does John mean by saying that we are to wash our robes? Related to this same subject, in an earlier vision of heaven that John had, he saw what he called “a great multitude [of people] which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes” (Revelation7:9 NAS). The Lamb, of course, refers to Jesus Christ.

“Who are these who are clothed in the white robes?” someone asked John. “Who are they and where have they come from?”

John did not know, so he was told, “These are the ones who came out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14 NAS).

Of course, if one is speaking in practical and literal terms, this is a ridiculous statement. We do not wash our clothing in blood, and if we did, a white garment would no longer be white. So, what then does he mean? 

Dazzling White Robes

As I have several times mentioned as we have looked at the events in the throne room of God, I again go back to the events that took place on the Mount of Transfiguration. This is the place where Jesus appeared in a more unveiled form, where more of his glory became visible to the three disciples who were with him at that place.

In describing his appearance, the gospel write Mark says, “His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them” (Mark 9:3 NAS).

In these references to white robes, both John and Mark must have meant the literal robes that the people were wearing, since that is what the people present witnessed. But there is an additional meaning to these robes, a meaning that goes deeper than the garment itself.

That phrase that Mark used, “as no launderer on earth can whiten them,” is an indication to us that what the disciples saw on that mountain was something beyond what we experience here on earth. What they saw was supernatural. Other translations say that the clothing of Jesus was whiter than bleach could ever make them. The actual Greek phrase is that they were whiter than any cloth refiner could make them.

For John also, despite all of the astounding things that he was seeing in the throne room of God, among all the things about the scene that he could have mentioned, it was the whiteness of the garments that caught his attention.

These are the garments of the kingdom of God. It is the people with these robes, so white that they fairly dazzle, who will have the right to the tree of life and may be permitted into the New Jerusalem. 

Dazzling White Lives

John and Mark, the people who spoke of these things, were indeed referring to the literal robes, but the pure robes also represent the ones who wear them. These are the people who have purified their lives so that they will be able to live in the kingdom of God. Just as the manner of washing these robes to make them so pure must be something supernatural – something that is above nature, even so the cleansing of the lives of those who wore them must come from a source above nature. No cleansing system that we can do will make lives this clean.

Then how are we to have clean lives? I have already written of the impossibility to live up to the standards that God has put forth. Despite our very best efforts, we will always fall short of God’s sense of what is right. This has been the striving of men and women throughout history. King David of the Old Testament wrote these words: 

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge 

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
(Psalm 51:1-7 NAS)

The plant of hyssop was used in the ceremonial cleansing during the day of David. David desired that God would cleanse him with the hyssop, and to wash him so that he would be whiter than snow. The whiteness of the snow that fell in the Holy Land on occasion, was for the people of David’s day, the whitest of white that they had ever seen. We understand this well. Looking out over a snow covered field in the bright sunlight is so white that it is blinding to our eyes. David’s desire was that God would wash him not only so that he would be as white as the snow, but even whiter than snow – something beyond the cleanliness that we can experience here on earth. This was something that could not be done by the sacrifice of animals. It was something that only God could accomplish.

David understood our condition well. He realized that our sin is so ingrained within us that that there exists no possibility that we could ever purify ourselves. From the moment of our conception, the nature to do wrong is a part of us.

Persona Grata

But did you notice how David began this song that he wrote? “Be gracious to me, O God.”

King David lived in the day when the priests from the Israelites made blood sacrifices to atone for the sins on the people. To atone means to compensate, to repay or to make right the damage one has done. God had instructed the people of Israel to make sacrifices, not because the blood of the sheep and the goats could actually accomplish this or that their sacrifice in some way made up for all of the transgressions of the people. God instructed them to do this so that they would learn the principle that a payment must be made for their sin.

In the New Testament we also read about this. The blood of those animals did nothing in and of itself, but it was meant to teach us that justice must be done. Things must be made right. It is only fair that it be this way. The sacrifice of animals could not do it, but in the book of Hebrews we read this, “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14 ESV).

This is the washing by the blood. This is the blood of the Lamb of God that will make our garments radiant white and our lives purer than the new snow.
 
John understood this. He earlier wrote, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:9 ESV).

The Apostle Paul speaks of it in this way: “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NAS). 
This is how we wash our robes. This is how we cleanse our lives. We put our trust in what Jesus already has done for us and we begin to walk in his light. We accept the grace of God. In this way, our robes and our lives become blood white in color, so brilliantly white, they fairly dazzle.

David also understood this. Even though he obeyed God by making the sacrifices necessary according to the Jewish calendar, he knew that the real answer is that God would respond in grace. David wrote, “Be gracious to me, O God.”

I spoke earlier of people who are expelled from a country because of their wrong doing being known as a persona non grata, a person without grace. Countries may do that. God never will – at least not for those who seek his grace.

Here is how the Old Testament prophet Isaiah put it:

“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD,
‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool’
Truly, the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 1:18, 20 NAS).


[1] In the Old Testament, the two words Justice and Righteousness both are taken primarily from the tsedek word group in Hebrew. In the New Testament, the translations come from the dikaios word group in Greek.


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