In the course of working a day with my art supplies, capturing the content of discussions in corporate meetings, more than just my art is likely to get quite colorful. My markers occasionally drip. On good days, just on my hands.
Then there’s the pastel. Since my signature look is vibrant color, I apply pastel liberally, using two multi-colored socks as my applicators. (They’re much cheaper than the sponges that many artists use.). But over the course of the day, a fair amount of tint ends up on my fingers.
Using my hands as an accidental canvas requires regular walks to the washroom, to scrub off the accumulated pigment, particularly right before lunch. I’d prefer to relegate the staining to the outside of my body.
I bring this up because I have finished studying the first chapter of Isaiah. As I was creating visual notes of what I was learning from the commentaries, I was struck by the powerful accusation God makes partway through the passage.
When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood. (Isaiah 1:15)
Often at the end of an event I scribe, people come up to shake my hand. I usually apologize, keenly aware of the stains on my palm and fingers. But here, God’s people are stretching forth their hands in supplication to Almighty God, unaware of the bloodstains from their guiltiness.
What are they to do? How will they get clean? God says the starting point is obedience.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil (Isaiah 1:16)
And then, the Lord makes a now-famous promise:
“Come now, 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 become like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
The more I think about wonder in the Bible, the more I consider the cry of amazement (and also its cousin, perplexity) to be “How can this be?” (John 3:9) That should be the reader’s reaction to this promise. For “reason together” seems to be picking up the chapter-long courtroom imagery – in essence, “approach the bar for your sentencing.” And before the holy Judge, no amount of self-cleansing would suffice to remove the record of guilt.
I know this well from trying to clean those pastel socks. Even with a high concentration of bleach, color remains. Once stained, they will never return to their unblemished state.
And yet, God promises that God’s guilty people will be as brilliantly pure as the two whitest things in their age, wool and snow. There is a cleansing agent not mentioned in this verse, something more powerful than a sinner’s corrective action. It’s hinted at in verse 27, where they will be redeemed by justice.
Jesus is that cleansing power. He is the Redeemer who paid the price of his own life in order to satisfy the cry of justice.
I look down at my hands this morning: clean, unblemished, ready to work again. I know, in my imperfect efforts to obey God, I’m likely to befoul them again. How glad I am that he is faithful and just to cleanse them. Again and again.
Holy God, through your Son we come before you with spotless hands to stretch before you in prayer. We are amazed that you can remove the stain of our sin. But you have declared us “not guilty” in your court. And with grateful hearts, we go to do your work.
Reader: When is washing your hands the most satisfying?