Bronze Wash Basin
Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Remember, at the very heart of the temple is one issue - the issue of living in the presence of God. This is not just a visit, this is co-habitation, this is living together, serving each other. What will it take to live day to day in the presence of God, before God’s face, "qal peni"?
Well, it takes an altar. Last Sunday, we discovered that the altar was the place where relational justice was done. The fundamental premise of scripture is that we have offended God deeply and for reconciliation with God to happen, an appropriate sacrifice, without defect, must be made. Just as we, when someone has offended us, may insist on a thorough and sincere apology, God insisted that the worshiper bring a sincere sacrifice without defect. When Israel and we failed, God because we were worth so much to him, sent his son, the lamb of God slain for the world, the perfect once for all sacrifice so that we might be reconciled to God. The cross is that place of sacrifice, that place of relational justice with God. You see the altar, the cross, is the place of justification, were relational justice is done. We do not know him, we cannot live with God, unless we have come to the cross, confessing our sins, laying our sins on the shoulders of the sacrifice slain there on our behalf. And when we do, we are justified - made right with God just as if we had never sinned. And now as Christians we give ourselves, in Christ, without defect to God, living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is now our spiritual act of worship. We don’t give him the leftovers, we give him our first fruits, our best, our all.
Now we go a step further. Once reconciled with God, our sins forgiven at the altar, how is it that we can live with God, before his face in a permanent kind of living arangement?
You see, reconciliation is great, but living together, working together, serving each other - now that involves some interesting dynamics! Every one of us knows from experience that being reconciled is not the same as living together. The dynamics of living together takes on going work. It takes commitment to relationship, habits of healthy and fair communication, and especially keeping the relationship clean. All of us know that in living together, working together, little things can irritate, habits can unintentionally offend, communication in the negotiation of life can become harsh and undisciplined and we can end up regretting what we are saying and the relationship becomes defiled. Now this happens when people are compatible, the personalities fit well together. Just imagine the dynamics when sinful people try to get alone with a holy God who is a consuming fire. The wash basin, which was the next piece of furniture after the bronze altar of sacrifice had to do with the dynamics of keeping the relationship with God clean.
17 Then the Lord said to Moses, 18 “Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and put water in it. 19 Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and feet with water from it. 20 Whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. Also, when they approach the altar to minister by presenting an offering made to the Lord by fire, 21 they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.”
This basin in the temple represented a secondary washing. Before the priests in the Old Testament could commune with God, they were (EVERY TIME) still called to wash hands and feet at the bronze basin before they could enter into the prescence of God. And the priests, in their duties of serving God were called to wash their hands and feet again and again, because whether or not it was the defiling journey of life or if it was the defilement of service, to live in the presence of God they had to wash.
With their dusty journey through the desert, God expected them not to walk in his house with their dirty feet. In their service to God, where they were responsible for butchering slaughtered animals, where fat sticks to hands and blood stains clothing, they were to wash their hands again and again. God expected them to be clean, as he is clean, holy as he is holy, sanctified as he is sanctified. So if the altar and the cross have to do with justification, the wash basin had to do with real practical cleanliness or sanctification.
Let me tie this down to the reality of our experience, then we will look at the New Testament corallary to the cross, and finally, we will notice what kind of attitude we might have with regard to this washing.
That we need to be washed again and again to live in the presence of God is obvious from our experience. We start our journey’s as a Christian at the Cross. There, we experience for the first time our sins washed away. We discover peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. For some of us, that experience happened when we were young, our parents or someone else led us to faith in Christ, for others it was later in life and it refreshed our soul to a place where the joy of his love we experienced was beyond anything we had ever imagined.
But then what happened? We discover that that original excitment, that experience of cleanness, having the weight of sin lifted off of our shoulders, the realities of justification seem to slide away. We get dirty again. We experience the grace of God, but the next day, we have to go back into the world and we notice very quickly that this world and the cleaness that God gives us are very incompatable. Just being in life defiles, makes dirty.
Our irritating neighbor gets on our nerves again and we feel the urge for retaliation. We want to live in this peace we have with God - but we get busy, we get a little careless - and then slowly but surely that old nature rises up again. We blow up at the kids. We fall for temptation. Our anger, our addictions, our lusts, our pride - they creep back to the surface and let us know that they are still around and to be dealt with.
And if it is not ourselves it is the world. Many of us work in office contexts where love is a liability, suttle interpersonal manipulation is the way to get ahead. Or we work with others who find that the spice of language and humour is four letter words and off color jokes. We find that everything of grace and the work of the cross grates and grinds as we interact with this sinful world around us. Children disrespect us, adults don’t listen to us, customers want to take advantage of us, promises are broken, apologies are insincere, lust for sex or lust for more is our economy’s lure, our dreams need a reality check, and it is not just these things that defile, it is also our response to them. When at work, the name of our Saviour whom we love is taken in vain, to often we laugh with our coworkers, we don’t resist it would be socially very unpopular. We compromise the cleanliness of the cross and very quickly we know we are no longer ready for the prescence of God. And when we come to church, our hearts are not ready to worship, our feet are dirty from walking in this world, we have become defiled.
Another source of uncleanness is ministry. Notice who is involved in this passage. The priests themselves. Those who go and do ministry in the tabernacle of God - they were the ones getting dirty - and what they were getting dirty with was the business of bringing other people's sacrifices to God. Anybody who has been to a place where animals are butchered knows how dirty a person can get. Its the same for Christians, all of us, for we are a kingdom of priests on behalf of others. Christian parents who have been struggling to raise their children in ways that are pleasing to the Lord and often in doing so, in a constant fight with the forces and influences of this world on their lives struggle with defilement. Christian businessmen, who want to manage business and employees properly, in the process find that doing so is a job where doing what is right burdens you and sometimes wounds you. If its our desire to bring other people to God then so often we become the burden bearers for them. We listen to their stories, their agonies, their pain, their sins. These defilements are laid on our shoulders and the effect of them is that when we want to draw together into the prescence of God in worship we feel defiled. Our hands are dirty because we've been involved in ministry. We need to be washed.
We need to be washed. What has happened to the wash basin in the New Testament? It is clear in the New Testament that though we have been to the cross for forgiveness, regular cleansing is needed. Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. 2 Cor 7:1
Listen to Jesus words in John 13 - you remember the foot washing scene. Jesus washes the disciples feet before the meal and then Peter asks for his whole body to be washed. Jesus responds:
“A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”
But how is it that we are cleaned? It is also clear from the new Testament that it is the Word of God that washes us. Jesus says in John 15, that wonderful passage about abiding in Christ, literally living with God day to day, Jesus says
3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
How is it that the Word of God cleanses us?
Let me point out an interesting little detail.
According to Exodus 38:8, the wash basin was made from the mirrors of the women of Israel who served near the temple. The wash basin had the property of being highly reflective, like a mirror. Not only did it hold water, it was also something in which the person washing could see themselves. Now listen to what James says about the Word of God.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
The word of God, like a mirror helps us to see ourselves, enables us to see God’s Holy standard, and then as the Holy Spirit convicts us of our failings, we have the opportunity to confess our sins and seek the sanctifying cleansing that the word and the Spirit give.
If you are a Christian, you have certain noticed this dynamic. As Christians, we want to make it our objective to be people who listen to the word of God. But at times we read the word of God, and it convicts us, makes us feel very uncomfortable, it points out our failings to live Holy lives in this world. And the danger is that we close the bible and stop reading because it makes us feel bad. But remember what James says: if we look into the mirror of the Holy Word of God, when we see what is dirty, wash it and choose obedience again and again, we will be blessed. You see it does us no good to go to a mirror, see our dirty hands, feet or face and feel bad about it. Feeling bad is not the point. The purpose of the water and the mirror is to wash, to scrub, to become clean, like new. Enough with beating ourselves up over our failures. In our history and tradition, there is a practice of humility that involved black clothing - “swatte coussin,” people took pride in their humility, their mourning over their sin and failures, even though they went to the cross again and again, the almost celebrated their failures. I ask you is that not an insult to God?
This came clear to me many years ago thanks to my two youngest sons, Ben and Mike. They were just past the toddler stage. On a Saturday, Judy and I decided to buy them new white socks and new rubber boots. They were excited about the socks and boots so we put them on them, and they went outside to play. While they were playing, a storm came over with lightening and thunder and buckets and buckets of rain. And they remained outside in the sandbox. Judy and I looked out the window. Obviously they were enjoying our new purchase! The time came for them to come in, soaked to the skin, and as they came in we discovered why they were having so much fun. They were marching around in the Sand box without their boots on in their brand new socks. Now their brand new white socks had turned coal black and Judy was a little upset. She said to the kids with a tone of rebuke: “How am I going to clean them?”
Michael, looked up at her and with a big smile and absolute confidence said “Mom, just wash them!”
It struck me, his confidence in Judy’s ability to wash far exceeded his ability to make himself dirty.
Isn’t this even more true of God? His ability to wash us clean far exceeds our ability to make ourselve dirty. That is the kind of joyful confidence that God wants us to come to his word with. When we, having been reconciled with him through the blood of Jesus continue in life and become defiled, we are called to turn again and again to his Word and Spirit with joyful confidence that he can wash us clean again and again.
Paul displayed that kind of attitude. After reciting his struggle with his old nature - you know, "the good I would I do not and the evil I would not that I do." Right after reciting his own failures, his deep frustration with his failed attempts to obey God - what is his celebration - Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ - Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. That is rejoicing because Paul had an absolute confidence that the power of God’s grace far exceeded his capacity for disobedience.
So each time we come to worship, we confess our failings, and it might feel like the assurance we receive just comes easy! It should because God’s grace to forgive and wash us clean, God’s power to make us new creatures in Christ, God’s ability to make his bride beautiful far exceed all our failures.
Paul pits the wash basin dynamic into these words in Ephesians 5
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Without stain, wrinkle or any other blemish - that is you, that is me, that is what God will accomplish in us as we come to his word, his mirror acknowledging our sins and failings, seeking his grace, his life in us to be different, his character lived through us.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.