Jesus is the Lord of reversals. To understand this, we have to understand the backdrop of the older covenant.
Throughout the Old Testament, if someone came into contact with an unclean body—a leper or a dead man—mere contact made him unclean himself. The disease, the death, the corruption was all contagious.
“Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the law, saying, If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No. Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean. Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the Lord; And so is every work of their hands; And that which they offer there is unclean” (Hagg. 2:11–14).
Under the older covenant, the unclean thing had the power to corrupt the clean thing, it had a way of spreading its qualities that a clean thing did not have. The dirty affected the clean. The clean could not transform the dirty.
But when the Lord Jesus conducted His ministry throughout the land of Israel, it did not work this way. Jesus entered into this broken and fallen world, and everywhere He went, He made things run backwards. For example, He went everywhere touching the corrupt, the diseased, and the leprous. His was a ministry of contagious cleanliness, contagious holiness. If Jesus reached out His hand and touched a leprous face, this did not make Him unclean. Rather, it made the leper clean.
“And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed” (Mark 1:40–42).
We have something remarkably similar in the death of Jesus. In fact we have the crowning instance of it. Remember that when He was nailed to the cross, this meant that He died under the curse of God.
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13).
Everlasting blessing and joy arise from the cursed thing. Jesus was lifted up like the bronze serpent was (John 3:14), and as everyone who looked in faith upon the impaled serpent was healed of the serpent’s venom, so also everyone who looks upon the poisoned cross of Christ with faith leaves all their poison there.
Not only that, but when He died, His cursed body became unclean as well. He died under the curse of God, so that He might provide propitiation for our sins, and this act of sacrifice culminated in his dead and unclean body hanging under an angry sky, threatening to contaminate the land. This is why the Jews wanted to break the Lord’s legs, so that His unclean body could be removed before it could defile their high holiday.
“The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away” (John 19:31).
But when the soldiers came to do this, they found that the Lord Jesus was already dead. Jesus was cursed, dead, and unclean. To ensure that He was really dead, one of them rammed a spear into His side, and blood and water came out (John 19:34). This is a crucial detail, as John makes plain in the next verse. “And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe” (John 19:35). John wanted us to know that blood and water came out. Why? So that you might believe.
But consider for a moment what this means. We are cleansed by the blood of Christ. We are washed by this blood and water. But this means that our cleansing comes from the blood of a dead man. His uncleanness makes us clean.
“This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth” (1 John 5:6).
His curse is our blessing. His defilement is our washing.
“How much more shall the blood of Christ [of a dead man, mind], who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:14).
A purged conscience is the work of the Lord’s blood.
“Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Pet. 1:2).
Sanctified because sprinkled with an unclean thing.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
The blood of a unclean dead man cleanses. Not only does it cleanse, but it cleanses us from all sin.
“And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Rev. 1:5).
We are washed in an unclean thing and, stupefying as it is, this is our cleansing.
I began by saying that Jesus is the Lord of reversals. Is this not a reversal of staggering magnitude? Just as Eve was taken from Adam’s side, so also the new Eve was fashioned from the side of the second Adam. But this means the one who was to be without spot or wrinkle or any other blemish was taken from the side of a corpse.
The only reason this can work is through the process I mentioned earlier, which Scripture calls propitiation. Because Jesus, the sinless one, died under the wrath of God, this means that the uncleanness of His death was the uncleanness contributed by you and by me. The reason your diseases are left behind when you touch Him is that He obeyed His Father and identified with you completely. This means that your sin became His, and you left all of it there, and that His righteousness became yours, and you took all of it with you.
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
I want to conclude with a Good Friday invitation. If you are not a Christian, if you are not forgiven, if you don’t know God, then know this.
With an unclean world behind you . . .
With an unclean Hell below you . . .
With an unclean heart within you . . .
Come then, to the cross of Christ, and touch the unclean thing. And if you do, then you will come away, everlastingly and eternally pure.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.