Numbers 19:14-22 “Death’s Contamination and God’s Cleansing” (Part 2)
The Lord’s Supper Aug 4, 2013
Imagine that you are an Israelite, living under the Law of Moses. You have been caring for your elderly mother, and just today, she died. You were touching her when she died. You know that the law says that you are now considered unclean, and that you must therefore be washed clean with the water of cleansing on the 3rd day and the 7th day. But you’ve been busy dealing with the funeral and caring for your family, and you just didn’t think it was all that important.
But when you go to the temple to offer sacrifices, the Levites stop you. “You can’t come in here. You are unclean! You touched a dead body and you were never made clean by the water of cleansing. You’ll defile the tabernacle if you come in here. Your defilement and uncleanness remain upon you.”
“So what should I do now? How can I get clean again?”
“There is no remedy. You failed to be purified in the allotted time period, and now you must pay the price: from now on, you are no longer part of the people of God. You are cut off from the Israel and from coming to the Lord at the temple. You are excommunicated.”
That’s a picture of anyone who fails to be washed clean by the blood of Jesus in their allotted time on earth. The cleansing is readily available in the gospel. You only have to confess that you are a sinner before a holy God, to turn from your sins and yourself, and to trust in Jesus Christ as your great purifier from sin’s defilement. You need to be washed clean of your guilt and shame by the cleansing blood of Jesus.
But for those who fail to do so, their defilement, shame, and guilt remain upon them, and they are banished forever from fellowship with the living God.
In the old Covenant, it was crucial to be made ritually clean, after you had contact with a dead body:
Look at Num. 19: 20 “But if a person who is unclean does not purify himself, he must be cut off from the community, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. The water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on him, and he is unclean”.
What a graphic picture of our own moral uncleanness and our condemnation before our Holy God, if we are not cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ!
For outside of clinging to Jesus as our only Savior from sin, guilt, shame and death, all of us are defiled, unclean, cut off from God, and without hope.
Do you really believe that? Are you clinging to Jesus as your only means of being cleansed and accepted by the Holy God?
The good news is that in the gospel, all people can find cleansing in the blood of Christ.
The purpose of this cleansing ritual was to move people from the corruption of death to a renewed life, to a new creation, being reconciled to God. The purpose of the water of cleansing ritual was to move people from a deathlike state where corruption reigns, to a renewed life, to a new creation. This new beginning allows the people of God to participate again in the worship and the life of the tabernacle. How much we all need this cleansing!
Review from last Sunday: The picture of the prepared ashes, ready to be mixed with fresh water, and then sprinkled on the contaminated person, is a vivid portrayal of the sacrifice of Christ, whose once-for-all atoning death on the cross can be freshly applied to each person who comes to Him in repentance and faith. The unblemished heifer points to Christ’s sinlessness; its death in the past provides cleansing for the present and future; only undefiled people could administer the cleansing ritual- as Christ is both the cleansing sacrifice and the high priest who mediates the benefits of that sacrifice for us, as he is without sin.
And while the water of purification dealt only with the ceremonial defilement, Jesus’ sacrifice deals with the depths of our sinful souls. Jesus’ blood washes the sinner completely clean:
Heb. 9:13-14 “…the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ… cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”
God gave this visual aid as lasting ordinance so that future generations would grasp the danger of defilement and the necessity of cleansing. This ceremony pointed forward to a time when God would provide a unique, once-for-all sacrifice in the person and work of His Son.
The sprinkled water allowed the defiled Israelite to rejoin the camp; and now, the shed blood of Christ enables the cleansed sinner to enter into the presence of the Lord.
Through this ritual, God provided a way for people to approach Him in a worthy manner.
Do you feel your great need of such a cleansing?
Listen to the words of Henry Law. Henry Law was a leading figure in the evangelical party of the Church of England in the early nineteenth century. He was also a prolific practical teacher of the Scripture who wrote The Gospel in the Pentateuch.
“DEATH! The very sound falls heavily. What mind can lightly think of it? What eye unmoved can see it? The limbs, once full of vigor, stir no more. Sinews, once elastic in activity, become rigid. The form, so wondrous in its mechanism, becomes an inert mass. The features, once the reflecting mirror of ten thousand thoughts, are marble-monotony…. The fabric, once so sparkling in beauty, is a deserted ruin.
Death! It is more than your spirit departing. Decay draws near, with a polluting touch. Corruption fastens on its prey. Your friends, most dotingly attached, cannot but turn loathingly away. A stern necessity requires that your offensive remains be buried out of sight.
Listen, here pause and meditate. This death is pressing at your heels. It soon will lay you low. Your weeping friends will bury you in the dust. A forgetting world will go on merrily, as though you had not been.
Remember, you cannot escape. This tyrant wields a universal sway. But in what cradle is it born? Whence is it armed with that destroying scythe? It is transgression’s child. Sin is the womb which bore it. A sinless world would have been deathless bloom. But the world is sinful, and therefore is an open tomb.
In Eden sin was foreseen, and therefore death was fore-announced. Obey and live–but disobey, and “you shall surely die.” Gen. 2:17. The miserable sequel is well known. The tempter came. The bold lie triumphed. And from that day our fallen earth has been a blighted & diseased house.
In death’s features we read God’s wrath, displeasure, and curse. Its voice is stern one–God is offended. Its scourge vindicates eternal majesty and truth.
Death, then, is perpetual evidence, that rebellion has worked extensively. It follows, because sin has preceded. Now God, in love, desires to set this truth conspicuously before each eye. Hence He writes a clear decree in Israel’s code. “Whoever touches a dead body, is unclean seven days.” Numb. 19:11. The man, thus soiled, is outcast from the tabernacle-service. He is exiled from social fellowships. The rule is universal.
This is a rigid law. But it speaks clearly. How awfully it shows God’s sense of sin! Whoever is brought near to death–sin’s symbol–is symbolically vile. Proximity to lifelessness–sin’s work–is counted, as proximity to sin itself. The contact with the sign, is branded, as contact with the thing signified.
But pollution may thus occur, which no forethought could flee. Without intent the foot might touch a grave. In ignorance a tent might be entered, where death sat. The decent offices of love might require, that lifeless relatives be carried out. Care must hide those, who cannot hide themselves. Be it so. It matters not what be the cause–if death is touched, legal uncleanness is incurred.
We hence are taught, how sin surrounds us, and how suddenly it soils. It is the very atmosphere of earth. Man cannot move, but some contamination meets him. His casual walk is along miry paths. In the discharge of pious duties some stain may soon defile. Thus each day’s course may render us impure.
This is a humbling truth. But in this very darkness there is light. We are not left bereft of remedy. The unclean may be cleansed. All stains may vanish. There is a fountain opened for all soul-filth. There is full help for foulest need. Where sin abounds, sin’s cure exceeds. Where pollution spreads its wide pall, the Savior brings His wider covering. This is the Gospel-message. And this stands prominently forth in the provision for removing the defilement of death’s touch. My friend, come view now the ordinance of the Red Heifer. And while you view, bless God for the great fulfillment of the shadow ritual–Christ Jesus.”