The Cleaner (Hebrews 1:1-4)

I remember a rather grim film a few years back called The Cleaner. The “hero” of the title had the unusual occupation of running a crime scene cleanup company, with many of the duties performed by himself.  One day he is called in to sterilize a wealthy suburban residence after a brutal shooting, but later realizes that he may have unknowingly erased crucial evidence, and become entangled in a dirty criminal cover-up….

The thick plottens…

The film came to mind whilst I was reading the Greek text of Hebrews 1, where the writer is describing the person and work of Jesus, with the phrase “After he had provided purification for sins.” The word used for “purification is the  term katharsis. In ancient Greek, it simply meant “cleansing” in the familiar laundry-type problem of modern advertising: “Do you have problems with those really stubborn stains?” It particularly related to blood stains or…um…bodily fluids (which recalled the film). Later on, Aristotle (in Poetics) used it as a metaphor for emotional cleansing and spiritual release. We use “catharsis” that way today.

And that’s how Jesus is described in Hebrews 1: he is the Cleaner par excellence. He visits the crime scene of our lives and is a witness to the devastation that sin has caused, and begins his cleansing work.

The context of this operation is of vital importance. The verses (1-4) make a number of huge claims about Jesus.  First, he is real and personal.  It seems to have become a little old-fashioned now to ask “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” But I sill think that the question is crucial. If God is personal, then that means that he can be known personally. The question takes us into that point.

Second, Jesus is the creator of all things. He is described fully in this way in the opening verses of John’s Gospel. He is the Word of God through whom the whole of creation was spoken into being.

Third, he is the “Radiance of the Father’s Glory.” So if you want to know the glory, the moral beauty of the glory of the father, read the gospel and behold the person of Jesus because he’s the radiance (the streaming out) of the glory of God.

Fourth, he is the Exact Character or Representation of the Father’s Divine Nature. Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father.”

Fifth, he upholds the universe “All things—by the word of his power.” So today this person is infinitely powerful.

Six,  He Sat Down at the Right Hand of the Majesty. That is a claim that Jesus reigns over all he has made, even over heart attacks and cancer and Parkinson’s disease. He reigns now.

Seven, he is therefore greater than the angels. This may sound somewhat anti-climactic, but the rest of the chapter is devoted to this—to the utter superiority of this person over all other spiritual beings except Father God.

So that’s number one—we are dealing  with a person. He’s alive. He’s real and all seven of those facts are true about him. That’s the person who made purification.

Now think of the problem he dealt with: “He made purification for sins.” Again, “sin” is a term which many today would pooh-pooh. But sin is a terrible reality. It’s a power in the world. Anyone who has difficulty with that statement need only read the newspaper or study history. Karl Marx (no less) said “Original sin is everywhere at work.” And so it is.

The writer of Hebrews had a particular perspective on sin. He saw it as a totally negative way of understanding life. To this writer, sin was essentially unbelief, and, concomitantly, it was disobedience.  God has a way for us: he wills that we take it.  Any movement against that will is a rooted disobedience, a rejection of his fellowship.

The consequence of that willful, disobedient lifestyle, is the anger of God. G0d is angry with sin, there’s no two ways about it. We hear so often that God is love and that God is loving, but we hear it so much that we forget God’s anger at sin. God is angry every day, Psalm 2 says. He is angry every day at sin.

And the cross of Jesus is the outflow of the anger of God—not just of the love of God, but of the anger of God.—we’re sinners and God is angry at sin. Sin is a great offense against him.

All these things must be fairly stated before we get to the crunch: Jesus has provided a purification for sin.  A total clean-up.

Crucially, that clean-up is not a present activity in the way that we think of spring-cleaning, or our Saturday morning spruce-up. It is not a present activity, but a completed reality. “After Jesus had provided a purification for sin, he sat down…” It corresponds to the word from the cross: “It is finished.” This is a past, completed, action.

Imagine if you had a terrible debt and every day you got those dreadful warning letters, informing you of incipient court action, fines, imprisonment. And then you heard that a relative -someone you hardly knew!- had paid it off for you. You were free and clear. Sign here.

Do you see the point? The job is done. It can’t be undone.

Its PAST TENSE

One offering. Once for all. For all sin. And it is finished.

And yet, there is always further to travel: “By one offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).

The Cleaner has completed his grim task. It was costly, but it’s complete. But the only way we can maintain that condition is by his taking up permanent residence.

But it takes an invite.

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