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In one of Shakespeare’s most profound plays, Macbeth, our author tells of three witches who prophesy the future of Scottish general Macbeth, who will soon become King of Scotland. As enticed and encouraged by his wife, Macbeth sets out to kill the King so that the prediction will come true.
Throughout the play, one of the most popular lines involves the question of cleanliness. After assassinating King Duncan, both she and Macbeth have been unable to sleep. As a result, her shuteye is filled with horrific nightmares involving blood, stain, and remorse, all things that make one guilty.
In one of these dreams, in particular, Lady Macbeth is known for the line, “Out you ****** spot” (Macbeth). Through this imagined confession, Lady Macbeth attempts to wash her hands of the blood she and her husband shed, but as hard as she tries, her hands cannot be made clean.
“Here’s yet a spot,” she cries, desperately rubbing (Macbeth).
“Here’s the small of blood still” (Macbeth).
Like Lady Macbeth, we as Christians can often question if we are clean or unclean, especially after we have sinned. And while we may not have killed a King, we are likely to be just as guilty.
The Question of Cleanliness
In the Scriptures, Mark 7:1-23 analyzes this question of cleanliness well.
Through a discussion with the Pharisees, Jesus was asked by these religious scholars why his men were eating without washed hands when that was their tradition. In other words, He was asked why their hands were dirty if they were truly His Holy People.
“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles). So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands” (Mark 7:1-4, New International Version, boldness added for emphasis)?
Now while Lady Macbeth was guilty of the death of King Duncan, and the blood upon her hands was a reflection of guilt, making her unclean, Jesus’ Disciples were not guilty or unclean. Yes, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23; 6:23), but in this particular situation, the Disciples were not blameworthy of the accusation being cast.
The Question of Tradition
According to the Tradition of the Elders, this “tradition,” was much different than God’s Law.
The “Tradition of the Elders,” was a list of many rules made up and abided by the Pharisees, though they thought all of their rules were more important than God’s Law and words. This is why Jesus responds in Mark 7: 6-13 that man’s tradition is never the same as God’s Law. Because while one brings death and condemnation, the other brings life and truth. While one says “do,” the other says “done”.
“He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions” (Mark 7:6-9, New Living Translation).
The Question of Man-Made Traditions
Jesus’ Disciples were not guilty because they valued Christ and His Word above man-made traditions. And what do man-made traditions sound like?
Like the Pharisees professing to serve Christ while abandoning their mother or father in need.
Like saying you are a Christian on Facebook, but cursing with your friends and saying the Lord’s Name in vain.
Like reading your Bible an hour a day, but not giving a friend, family member, or homeless man on the street the time of day.
Like nullifying the Word of God by focusing too much on your own rules, regulations, and stipulations.
“For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that” (Mark 7:10-13, New International Version).
Because whether we like to admit it or not, most of us from time to time follow the traditions rather than God’s Law. We follow laws, rules, and heavy burdens we’ve placed on ourselves and others rather than the life-giving Word of the Spirit. We have placed an unneeded expectation on constructing our regulations to make us holy and right with God when the reality is that we are saved by grace through faith in a relationship with Him.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Ephesians 2:8, English Standard Version).
The Question of Your Heart
Today, I am still learning to walk in the freedom that Christ brings as I abandon my self-imposed ideas of what it means to obtain freedom through works or human-made traditions. And being honest with you, I have been guilty as the Pharisees of making or attempting to make things “holy,” while forsaking the most Holy One.
I have made hours of Bible reading, singing solos at church, and writing articles about God more important than God Himself.
I have been a Pharisee when I have valued how I look doing something for the Kingdom of God rather than looking at my heart.
And I am still learning to re-align this vision, as I walk day by day.
“Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean)” (Mark 7:14-19, New International Version).
Let us not become hypocrites who care about clean or unclean measures of holiness, but Christ-followers set in pursuit of how He wants us to live.
Let us not self-impose religious standards that Jesus never commanded, while forgetting what it means to love those He created.
We are not made holy by the number of hours we study Scripture or events we volunteer at. We are not even made holy by washing our hands and saying we are clean while slamming the door in the face of those we see as “dirty.”
The Question of Salvation
Clean or Unclean, we are made holy by Jesus’ death on the cross. And in the same manner, it is not these outward things that make us unclean, but the evil and sin that purges forth from within us. It is not food, drink, handwashing, or even tradition that makes one holy, but the heart behind our actions.
“He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person” (Mark 7:20-23, New International Version).
Maybe Clean or Unclean isn’t the true question, but if you are honoring God with your mind, body, heart, soul, and actions that flow from within that place.
Because all of us at one time had a red-stained spot that wouldn’t come off of our hands.
We were unclean, guilty, and condemned to Hell.
But Praise is to God who sent His only Son Jesus not only to take the penalty for our sins of the present, but those of past, and future. A Holy Man, a Clean Man, was crucified for our sins and the sins of the world not because we were the clean and faultless ones, but because of quite the opposite.
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7, New King James Version).
If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, then the question is no longer if you are clean or unclean, but rejoicing in the fact that you have been redeemed. If you have not, then you have a bigger question to account for and attend to.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good;
Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow. “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:16-18, New King James Version).
It was not and is not rules, traditions, lists, and regulations that make one right with God.
It is a pure, steadfast, loyal, and intimate personal relationship with Him.
That is the true question that I pray you will take the time to answer for yourself today.
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, New King James Version)!