On the Washing Away of Sins

By John David Clark, Sr. - January, 1989

Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS THAT ARE PAST, through the forbearance of God. Romans 3:24-25

And for this cause he is the mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, FOR THE REDEMPTION OF THE TRANSGRESSIONS THAT WERE UNDER THE FIRST TESTAMENT... Hebrews 9:15

Under the first testament which God made with Israel, there were provisions made for the forgiveness of sins. Those who found themselves in violation of one of God’s commandments could obtain mercy and pardon by repenting of their transgressions and then bringing the required animal sacrifice to the priest, “and the priest shall make an atonement for his sin that he hath committed, and it shall be forgiven him” (Lev. 4:35). This forgiveness of sin, as wonderful an opportunity as it was for Israel, was not a washing away, a personal cleansing, from sin. Except for a few prophetic references, there is no mention of sins being “washed away” under the Old Covenant. There was no provision made in Moses’s Law for the “remission” of sins, nor for sins to be “blotted out” or “taken away.” “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb.10:4).

By rendering the required sacrifice, the Old Testament worshiper obtained mercy “through the forbearance of God”, until Christ should come and “offer himself without spot to God” for the sins of the whole world. Until Jesus came and died, sins were forgiven but not blotted out of God’s book. They were “put on hold”, so to speak, until Jesus came and paid the awful price required to have them “put away.” By obeying God’s commandments concerning sacrifice for sin, given to Israel through Moses, repentant men placed their sins in a box, figuratively speaking, with Jesus’s name on it. No one else could open that box; it was held by God. No one else could touch it. It was hallowed by God’s mercy. Those sins in the box were not yet “taken away”, but neither were they held against those who had committed them.

Oh, how important it was for those sins to be eradicated! Until they were “taken away”, there had to remain in the hearts of Abraham, David, even Moses, and all the upright, some anticipation, a longing for absolute deliverance from the sins they had committed, then renounced. Such men were admitted, after their deaths, into the paradise of God, but only on the condition that Jesus would come to earth and pay the terrible price for the sins that were still “in the box.” Every blessing that was given to those who turned from their sins was given only on the condition that Jesus would come and pay the ultimate price that the Almighty required. On Jesus’ shoulders rested all the hope of man. In him alone lay our only hope of escaping the wrath of God. Had the agony of the crucifixion weighed more heavily on him than his love for us could bear, and had he called to the angels who were standing ready to come deliver him from the nails, no one would have escaped. Paradise would have immediately been destroyed, and that sacred container where the forgiven sins were so securely kept, would have been torn open by the Creator. Abraham would have been summoned to the judgment seat to give account for his sins. David would have been required to show God why he should not be cast into the Lake of Fire. Moses, Daniel, Noah, Job, Elijah, with all others, would have stood naked with their sins before an angry, holy Creator, without excuse and without hope. As peaceful and pleasant as Paradise surely was, the righteous who dwelt there must have cried out with unspeakable joy and relief when by the blood of Jesus their sins “in the box” were at last blotted out. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day”, proclaimed Jesus to one particularly hostile group of Jews, “And he saw it, and was glad.”

From the depths of his broken, devastated heart, the guilty King David cried out for the cleansing from sin which was not available for his time. “. . . blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. . . . Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.” Because David repented of his error and brought the required sacrifices to the priest, God did “hide His face” from David’s sin, for the time being. He put them in His box until Jesus would come. But nobody except Jesus would persuade the Almighty to blot them out. Everything depended on Jesus. And everything still does.

The beauty of the Law of Moses is that it provided for those who obeyed it a sanctuary from the wrath of God until the Messiah came. It showed men how to live and approach God until there was a way made to enter into he Holiest place of all, the dwelling place of God in heaven. “The way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest” while the first testament was still in force” (Heb.9:8). Now, however, because of Jesus, we have access to the very throne of God in heaven, where sins are not only forgiven but they also are purged from our very conscience. The Law of Moses, then, was precious because by it men were given the opportunity to die without carrying their sins to the grave with them. They could put their sins in “the box”, in faith and hope that somehow God would make a way for them to be blotted out. The old covenant priests labored constantly to this end, “. . . daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb.9:11). Although the sacrifices they offered could not make the men offering them perfect, they were a means of making the people, for that time, acceptable to God.

In essence, those sacrifices were reminders to God of the worshipers’ faith that He would find a way to blot out their sins. By confessing a sin and offering the required sacrifice, the Old Testament worshiper was saying to God, “I am still trusting you, Lord, to rid me forever of these sins.” The sacrifices were sent up as reminders to God of the worshipers’ hope in the deliverance which Jesus would bring. As the writer of Hebrews put it, “. . . in those sacrifices there is a remembrance made of sins . . .” The righteous realized the preciousness of the Law’s provision. They took full advantage of the opportunity to put their sins “in the box.” Others, sadly, failed to perceive the mercy and love of God in the Law extended to them and died with their sins not covered from the gaze of God. Seeing this, and unable to persuade his fellow Jews to take shelter beneath the wings of the Law, the Psalmist lamented, “Rivers of waters run down mind eyes, because they keep not Thy law.” It is a tragedy of eternal proportions for anyone to die in their sins. And because the Law offered men a means to go to the grave without their sins, wise men loved and kept that Law, knowing that their lives depended on it. As the wise Psalmist said again, “Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction.”

It was an honor almost beyond words which was bestowed upon John the baptizer, when by God’s grace he was given the singular privilege of introducing to Israel the One who would at last take away their sins. When Jesus came to be baptized of John in the Jordan, John saw him coming and was moved by the Spirit to announce, “Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world!” Yes, he came unto his own, “But his own received him not. . . . He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” Upon Jesus alone all our hopes rest, the One who left the splendors of heaven to pay a debt he did not owe, for those who owed a debt they could not pay. Isaiah prophesied of the reception which the Messiah received:

He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned every one to his own way. And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living. For the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.

Jesus now offers you what David longed to have in his lifetime: the baptism of the holy Spirit by which sins are washed away, not just forgiven. Consider the price he paid so that you might receive this blessing, and then ask yourself this question: is it good to be without it? Please don’t allow someone’s doctrine to keep you from the most precious and longed-for blessing ever offered to humankind.


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