Deuteronomy 19-20, John 19
So you shall purge the evil from your midst. – Deuteronomy 19:19 ESV
Sin within the community of God’s people is like a cancer in the human body that, if left unchecked, will rapidly metastasize, infecting the entire organism and resulting in destruction. Oftentimes, the removal of cancer from the human body requires drastic measures. It can require invasive and seemingly destructive measures to preserve life. But the longer the disease is left unattended, the more radical the cure will need to become. When we see the commands of God concerning the destruction of the nations occupying the Promised Land, we can sometimes become appalled at the radical nature of the genocide He seems to be commanding and condoning. But God’s intentions are clear, if not always understood. “But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18 ESV). The reality we often lose sight of when studying the history recorded for us in the Old Testament is that the entire human race was destined for destruction because of sin. Ever since the fall or man, recorded in the opening chapters of Genesis, sin had separated mankind from God, and left them condemned to the penalty of death. But God had not left mankind without hope. He had a plan for dealing with the effects of sin. In Genesis 3, in God’s pronouncement of His curses on Satan, the woman and the man, He gave us a glimpse of what He had planned. “I will put enmity between you and the woman,and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV). This is the protevangelium or first gospel. It is a prophetic picture of God’s plan to destroy the enemy and his hold on mankind through the death of His own Son. Eve’s eventual offspring, Jesus, would ultimately bruise or crush the head of Satan by conquering sin and death through His own sacrificial death on the cross.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God had chosen the people of Israel as His possession and commissioned them to live according to His law. They were to be radically different from the other nations. They were to remain set apart and pure, uninfected by the other nations around them. God had wanted the nation of Israel to be a living, breathing example of what men and women who lived in obedience to the will of Almighty God would look like. But to be effective witnesses of God’s glory and power, they needed to remain holy, distinct and pure. So God, knowing the power of sin and its infectious characteristics, demanded the complete destruction of those nations occupying the land He had promised to the descendants of Abraham. Why? So that they would not cause the Israelites to sin against God by tempting them to worship false gods or mimic their immoral behavior. Purging was necessary. The infection had to be removed. It appears radical and harsh, but it provides us a picture of just how dangerous and destructive sin can be. It is not to be taken lightly, either in the life of an individual or a nation. God had demanded that the Israelites put to death any prophets who claimed to be speaking for God, but who sanctioned the worship of false gods. If a man or woman was caught worshiping false gods, they were to be stoned to death. “So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 17:7 ESV). If an individual refused to obey the decision of the priest or judge who was ordained by God to render judgment regarding disputes, they were to be put to death. “So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deuteronomy 17:12 ESV). God gave this instruction over and over again. Evil was to be removed. The cancer was to be eradicated from the body.
What does this passage reveal about man?
It is fascinating to read the gospel record of John and his first-hand account of the death of Jesus. Standing on this side of the events of that day, we know that Jesus’ death was intended by God to solve man’s sin problem. He was the cure for the cancer that had infected mankind. His death was intended to provide payment for the sins of man. And yet, the people of Jesus’ day saw Him as the problem, not the cure. Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest had said of Jesus, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48 ESV). In his mind, Jesus was a problem that needed to be removed. He had to be purged from their midst or He would bring destruction to the nation of Israel. He went on to say to his colleagues, “You know nothing at all, Not do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (John 11:49-50 ESV). John tells us that from that moment on, the Jewish religious leaders sought to put Jesus to death. They wanted the cancer in their midst removed. At His trials, Jesus was accused of everything from insurrection to blasphemy. He was labeled as a troublemaker and rebel against the rule of Rome. When Pilate asked the Jewish leadership, “What accusation do you bring against this man?”, they simply replied, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you” (John 19:29-30 ESV). In their eyes, Jesus was evil and needed to be purged from the midst. He was a threat to their way of life. The sad irony of this event is that Jesus was actually the cure for what ailed them. He was the solution to their sin problem. But they simply saw Him as a threat. And while they believed that if they could have Jesus put to death, their troubles would be over, they failed to understand that they were sealing their own death warrants. They were rejecting the very One who could have saved them. When Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?”, they vehemently responded, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15 ESV). They were the infected ones. They were the diseased and dangerous ones. Jesus had warned the disciples about these men. “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1 ESV). The religious leaders, thinking themselves to be doing the people of God a favor by eliminating Jesus, were actually sealing their own fate and condemning the people of God to destruction.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Because Jesus was the cure for the sin of mankind, I have been given a chance to receive healing from sin’s infection and release from my death sentence. I have been cured and made whole. And I have been given the power to continue to process of removing sin from my midst. I have the Holy Spirit within me who provides me with the power I need to extricate any remaining sinful behavior from my midst. It is a lifelong process that will require constant vigilance on my part. God’s Word exposes the sin in my life. God’s Spirit convicts me of residual sin and empowers me to remove or purge it from my life. But I must take sin seriously. I must understand that Jesus’ death was required because of the devastating and destructive qualities of sin. Peter reminds me, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). I have been healed, but I must live in constant awareness of the power and presence of sin in my midst. Not only in my own life, but in the life of the body of Christ. Together, we must purge sin from our midst. If left unnoticed and unchecked, it can become invasive and pervasive, spreading like a cancer in the body of Christ. The sins of one can affect all. We must care about the spiritual well being of one another. We must be concerned about the spiritual state of our brothers and sisters in Christ and not tolerate sin in our midst. We have been called to live lives that are set apart and distinctively different than the rest of the world. We have received the cure and we must do all we can to remain spiritually healthy and whole, with the help of the Holy Spirit and through a mutual concern for one another.
Father, thank You for providing the cure for what ailed me. Your Son healed me from the devastating and deadly effects of sin. He provided salvation when I was in a hopeless and helpless condition. Now give me the strength and motivation to remain pure and whole. Help me listen to the promptings of Your Spirit and confess the sins of which He convicts me. Give me a growing concern for the spiritual health of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t allow us to tolerate sin in the body of Christ, but do all we can to purge it from our midst. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men