“Wash Up!”

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing.  You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar.  And you shall put water in it, for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it.  When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, lest they die.  So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die.  And it shall be a statue forever to them – to him and his descendants throughout their generations,”  Exodus 30:17-21.  (NKJV)

He made the laver of bronze and its base of bronze, from the bronze mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, Exodus 38:8.

“And you shall set the laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar, and put water in it,” Exodus 40:7.

He set the laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar, and put water there for washing; and Moses, Aaron, and his sons would wash their hands and their feet with water from it.  Whenever they went into the tabernacle of meeting, and when they came near the altar, they washed, as the LORD commanded Moses, Exodus 40:30-32.

The laver was set between the bronze altar at the entrance of the courtyard and the entrance to the tabernacle itself.  It’s an interesting article of furniture.  For one thing, it’s the only article for which no measurements are given.  No height, no width, no telling how many gallons of water it held – nothing.  Further, in all their travels and the instructions for covering and moving the furniture of the tabernacle, the laver is never mentioned.

Its use, however, is emphasized.  In the ten short verses describing the laver, the fact that Aaron and his sons were to wash their hands and their feet whenever they approached the tent or the altar is mentioned five times, with the added warning if they didn’t bother to wash:  lest they die, Exodus 30:20.  This might seem extreme to us.  After all, the priests were probably back and forth all day.  There must have been dozens of sacrifices every day.  There were no floors anywhere and they wore sandals.  Then there was the difficulty with the water:  they were in a wilderness with no running water.  They had to fetch it from somewhere.  With the continual use of the laver, there must have been many trips back and forth.

But it was that or die!

And why is it considered separately from the rest of the articles of the tabernacle?  There is only the single verse in Exodus 38:8 which tells us the laver came from bronze mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. The other verses in Exodus 38 tell us the origin of the bronze for the rest of the tabernacle in the “ransom money” from the men.

Who were these “serving women”?  Why did they assemble at the door of the tabernacle?  And how did their mirrors come into the picture?

Though there are no “official” instructions about these women and their role, there are a couple of other references to them in Scripture.

The first one is in 2 Samuel 2 and introduces the prophet Samuel to us when he was only a child.  He was an answer to prayer and had been dedicated to the LORD by his mother.  The priest at the time, Eli, had three very wicked sons who were also priests.  Their sins included that they would take advantage of the women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, 2:22.  Again, there is nothing said as to why these women were there.

The New Testament  gives us the other reference.  In Luke 2:37, we read of one Anna, who was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fasting and prayers night and day. She turned out to be the first witness for the Lord Jesus because she was there when Joseph and Mary presented the infant Jesus at the Temple to fulfill requirements of the Law and [she] spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem, Luke 2:38.

As for the laver itself, it was for the cleansing of the priests in their daily service.

It’s a fitting symbol for the Word of God, for by it our Lord sanctifies and cleanses His church, that is, true believers, with the washing of water by the word, Ephesians 5:26.  Now this has nothing to do with the ordinance of baptism, which was designed to be a picture of our identification as believers with the Lord Jesus in His burial and resurrection.  It has nothing to do with “being saved,” as in the beliefs of some or, in the case of infants, including them in the “household of faith.” In the Old Testament, “circumcision” of an infant, said to be the OT forerunner of infant baptism, didn’t make him a member of the nation; it signified that he was already a member of the nation.  Baptism was meant to be the “profession of faith” of a new believer, not walking an aisle or some other physical movement substituted by human wisdom.  In New Testament times, and in a large part of the world today, to be publicly baptized was, and is, likely to be signing your own death certificate.

Why the laver was singled out as to the source of its bronze, since mirrors have to do with us checking our physical appearance, is perhaps God telling us that inward character is more important than physical beauty or handsomeness.   After all, beauty fades, hair turns gray, wrinkles appear, and age spots.  What might once have been gorgeous or handsome – after a while, not so much.  With this in mind, 1 Peter 3:3, 4 says to the ladies, Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel, – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible [imperishable] beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.

Earlier in the same book, Peter wrote, All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.  The grass withers, And its flower falls away, 1 Peter 1:24.

Like our physical appearance, whether male or female, the grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever, Isaiah 40:8.

James has a word for us men, too:  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he is, James 1:22-24.

The Word is designed to teach us what we are, not give us a reason to pat ourselves on the back.  Apart from the Lord Jesus, we are all lost and undone, facing only the judgment and wrath of God and an eternity of suffering.

When the priest was getting ready to enter the tabernacle or approach the altar, he didn’t have to bathe all over.  He just had to wash his hands and feet.

Our Lord had something to teach His disciples about this.  At the Last Supper, He was about to wash the feet of His disciples.  Peter, being himself and not understanding at all what was going on, said to Him,

Lord, are You washing my feet?”

Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”

Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”  John 13:8-10.

Later that same evening, He told the eleven disciples, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you,” John 15:3.

Scripture tells us, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, Titus 3:5.

Paul wrote Titus that regeneration “washes” us, makes us clean.  That only happens once.  The idea that it can happen more than once is unScriptural.  Therefore, even though there’s no need, indeed, no possibility, of daily “getting saved;” there is a need for daily cleansing from the defilement and pollution of this world.  By the grace of God, if we’ve been saved, we’re “clean;” we just need to “wash our hands and feet.”  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, 1 John 1:9.

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“Beginning at Jerusalem”: Preparation, part 1.

Scripture references:  Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-20; Luke 24:36-53; John 20:19-23; Acts 1:9.

When we get into the study of individual passages in Acts, we’ll return to printing them at the beginning of each post.  For now, we trust you will read the references yourself.  Remember, our attitude must always be, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

Introduction:  We cannot divorce the Book of Acts from what goes before it.  As we noted in our first post, Pentecost happened less than 2 months after what seemed to be the absolute crushing of the disciples’ hopes and expectations, cf. Luke 24:17-21.  We believe it will be helpful to see how the Lord instructed His disciples in the days between His resurrection and His ascension.  We have 5 records of such times.  Each record seems to have a different emphasis, so we’re going to look at each one of them separately over the next two or three posts.

1. Matthew 28:16-20, The Master’s Command.

The Master’s Authority.  Verse 18b reads literally, “has been given to Me all authority (“exousia,” the right to command, jurisdiction) in heaven and on earth.”  This emphasizes that it is the Lord Who has the authority.  Nowhere in Scripture is it said that He’s given or transferred it to anyone or anything else.  There is no “head of the church” on this world.

In some circles, we hear a lot about “church authority.”  I spent some time among folks like this in earlier days, and this seemed to be their whole thing.  If something wasn’t done under “church authority,” it couldn’t have been of the Lord.  Now, I’ll admit, I have some reservations about “para-church” organizations.  I know the rationale is that such organizations can do more than the local church, and that may be true, but it seems to me that the churches in Acts did pretty well without mission boards, Bible colleges or denominational hierarchies.  The problem with such things is that they take time, talent and money from the local church to support themselves.  I may be wrong, but it could be that if we’d quit depending on human wisdom and ingenuity and do things the way the Lord laid them out, we might be surprised at the results.

So what did the Lord “lay out” for His church?

The Church’s Ministry.  The church is to “disciple” all nations…..  We seem to understand that this simply means “to evangelize” all nations.  And, certainly, that’s where it starts.  The problem, it seems to me, is that is also where it ends.  But the word translated “disciple” means “student,” “learner”.   Cf. Matthew 11:28-30.  This doesn’t mean that every convert has to go to “Bible College,” but rather that, through the local church, they are to be taught by word and example what it means to be a Christian.

I admit.  Just a few month after I was converted, I left for Bible college.  And I’m thankful for that experience.  If nothing else, it indirectly led to the young woman I married nearly 47 years ago.  But there were many other things, as well.  But I was “adrift” in a manner, as well.  There were 800 students in the freshman class.  There was no one there to “mentor,” to “disciple” me, a young believer.  The NT pattern is that the older believers in the church teach the younger.  And there is the “gift” of pastor-teacher.  The man who stands behind the pulpit has an obligation which affects eternity as he teaches and preaches.  Spurgeon said that the idea of standing before the thousands in his church crushed him into the dust.  In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul wrote to Timothy, And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others.  I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed under the ministry of that godly elderly pastor – at least, he seemed elderly to me at the time.  

According to our text, “discipling” has three parts:

1. baptizing, v.19  Among other things, New Testament baptism is an identifying of believing sinners with their Savior, even as He was identified with them, Isaiah 53:12; Matthew 3:5, 6, 13-15.  I know there’s a lot of teaching about baptism and its saving power, etc., and it’s not really our purpose to get into all that here.  But baptism is supposed to be an evidence of our salvation and our willingness to obey our Savior.  It was never intended to be the means of being saved.

2. teaching, v. 20a.   This isn’t to be just some theoretical or academic exercise.  I have nothing against “books,” but the problem I see with most of our instruction is that it’s out of books, which are what some man says about the Bible.  These may be useful, but how much better would it be if we simply let Scripture speak for itself? Further, it’s to be some teaching that relates to life.  We do need to know about “doctrine,” what we think about God affects how we think about everything else.  But what does it say about marriage, about the family, about how I relate to God and to others?  And is this life “all there is”?

I admit, the Bible has a lot to say.  It takes a while to get around it – something I think isn’t possible in this life.  After all, Ephesians 2:7 tells us that its going to take God Himself the ages to come to show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  This means in no way that He will have difficulty in this, just that we’ll never get to the end of it.  There used to be a TV show that promised “a world of never-ending wonder.”  This is it. 

3. understanding, v. 20b.  This is about our understanding.  It’s simply to remind us that it is the Lord with whom we have to do and not simply with church or some religious organization.  It’s not about “us” as all.  But it’s also an encouragement – He’s always with us.  The task we’ve been given is truly a “Mission Impossible.”  I know we don’t really think that:  it’s just a matter of the right approach or the right atmosphere or the right something else, but it’s not.  As well go to a cemetery and tell the people there to live.  (If you’ve recently lost a loved one, I’m truly sorry.  I don’t mean to add to your sorrow.)  Especially with the lost, we’re talking to people who are spiritually dead and at enmity with God, Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 8:7.  Even with believers, we’re dealing with people who are involved in many things which make it hard sometimes to concentrate on what really matters.  But He is with us to strengthen and encourage us. The battle truly is the Lord’s, 1 Samuel 17:47.

2. Mark 16:14-20, The Manifestation Commending the Churches.

I know there is a lot of discussion over the authorship of these verses.  We’ re not going to get into all that.  It’s enough for our purposes that they don’t disagree with the apparent intent of this Gospel and there are many who distort them to their own discredit and to the discredit of the Word of God.

There is a three-fold “manifestation,” if you will, in these verses.

1. through “preaching,” v. 15.  Again, the thought of Matthew 28:18-20 in intensive preaching of the Gospel, not just in “evangelism,” but in discipling.  Evangelism is only the start.

2. through “profession,” v. 16.  Some cults us this verse to “prove” their doctrine of salvation through baptism.  That’s not what it and the other NT verses about baptism are talking about.

Baptism is important, but not because that’s how we’re saved.  Remember, baptism is to be an identification with our Lord; we’re trusting Him with our souls.  In Matthew, He commanded believers to be baptized.  It’s the first step in the Christian life.  Many “believe” who “draw back to perdition,” Hebrews 10:38, 39; John 2:23-25.  There’s much more that could be said about this.  We did so in our study in Hebrews, but for now, baptism is one evidence, if properly done, that a person has truly believed.

This verse also goes against the Reformed view of infant baptism:  “The baptism [of an infant] becomes a seal of the blessing which rightfully may be expected when in later years the child confirms his baptism by an act of personal faith.  Dwight Hervey Small, The Biblical Basis for Infant Baptism, p. 47, emphasis added.)  According to the Lord and the subsequent teaching of Scripture, baptism is the confirmation of faith, and not the other way around!  Baptism is our profession of faith.

3. through “proof,” v. 18.  This is the verse which causes most of the controversy, as some with more zeal than knowledge handle poisonous snakes and drink strychnine as “proof” of their “faith.”  This is not what the Lord meant.

Notice that these signs “follow” believers; they aren’t to be “sought out” by them or deliberately performed as “proof.”  Cf. Acts 28:3-6 and Paul’s experience along this line.

The teaching seems to me to be that there will be evidence that the message preached by the disciples is not just another religious message.  There were plenty of those in the Lord’s day and there are plenty of those in our day.  The Book of Acts abounds in miracles done to substantiate the message of the early church.  However, notice Acts 14:3; 19:11 and others.  These miracles were not “automatic.”  See also 2 Corinthians 12:12, where Paul speaks of the signs of an apostle. Evidently, miracles (and tongues and other manifestations of the Spirit) were apostolic only, and were not passed on by them.

Verse 20 seems to help our understanding.  If you notice, the word “them” is in italics, as not being in the original language, but added by the translators.  If we leave it out, the verse reads like this:  And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.  Amen.  (emphasis added). There was abundant evidence of a supernatural power behind the message.  Now, we believe that the age of supernatural miracles has passed, but we also believe that when the Word is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, it is evident, and the conversion of a sinner is as dramatic as any miracle in the New Testament.