All of us have seen those adds for laundry detergent or all-purpose cleaning spray or some newly imagined delivery system for dish soap that claim to be so powerful at cleaning, that dirt just flees as soon as it is applied. The close-up camera angles show the little bubbles of dirty grease repelled, as if under their own accord and you think, “Wow, I should try that.” Of course, if you do buy the product, often it is more the elbow grease you apply than the product used, that does the work. But there is a clean that is miraculous.
There has always been a part of the story of the prodigal son that has bothered me. I have heard many ministers give their thoughts on the story of Luke 15 from just about every vantage point possible. All good sermons, with very applicable truths in them, but there is this one detail that always troubles me. You see, I have raised hogs on my little homestead and processed them for food as well. My father-in-law owns and operates a butcher shop in Maryland. I have helped many a pig turn into pork at his shop as well as help friends here in Tennessee process the wild hogs they have hunted. The thing about pigs, especially male pigs, is they have a very distinct odor. I think it is the testosterone of the boar pig that has a particularly unique staying power. If one has been among the pigs, one cannot just simply wash one’s hands and be clean. A full shower and stripping of the clothes must happen, or one will smell of pig all day long. You cannot go halfway on this, spot clean and only change your clothes, because the pig smell is so strong and so resilient, that it will make your clean clothes smell of pig.
Pig stench is almost an entity to itself. When my husband and I were first married, we lived next to my in-laws and the family butcher shop. Sometimes, after helping with a pig butchering, my husband would call to me for a kiss before he had showered, as a way to tease me. After the first few times of “Ew, gross!” I called his bluff, and decided to run into his arms. Shocked, he ran from me telling me that he had to shower first or we would both smell like pigs. Apparently the thought of me smelling like pigs all day, was enough to stop him from teasing me that way ever again.
Now the prodigal son had certainly been among the pigs, many pigs. As you recall, his sin had impoverished him, and the only job he could get was that of pig feeder. It was while he was starving and wanting the scraps he was feeding to the pigs that he came to himself and decided to return to his father. He reasoned that even his father’s servants were better treated than how he was. Having spent all that time in the pig pen, I am sure that he absolutely reeked of pigs; however, when he repentantly returned to his father, his father told the servants, ”Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him: and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.”
Um, gross! If I was the Dad, after having just fell upon my dirty kid’s neck and kissed him, I would have been like, “Servants, draw a bath for my boy, and another for me as well. Take his clothes and burn them and then we will talk about a wardrobe change.” But the Dad did not do this.
I believe the bath was purposely left out of the story because it shows us something about the righteousness God exchanges with us when we become his children. Isaiah 64:6 says we are all unclean things and our righteousness is as filthy rags. When we come to Jesus, he gives us his robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10) in exchange for our filthy rags. Instead of our filth contaminating the clean robe, the clean of our Lord’s robe of righteousness is so powerful, it removes even the stench of our sin. We are like the unclean leper. Instead of our touch making Jesus “unclean,” his righteous touch cleanses us, heals our disease and removes even the devastating effects of our sin.
Now that is a powerful clean!
Perhaps there is someone reading this blog that feels they must clean themselves up a bit before coming to God. You might be engaging in a destructive habit you feel you must get a hold of before approaching Jesus. Don’t think that way, friend. You cannot “white knuckle” your way into the kingdom of God. Not one of us is strong enough to overcome sin. We need a savior. We need his robe of righteousness, that is so powerfully clean, it swallows up our unrighteousness and makes us continually smell of him.