I was in the eighth grade when I traveled with my family to War. War, West Virginia. Dad kept our Buick Skylark in low gear as we slowly descended into the valley. Halfway down the mountain, we encountered a debilitated tractor-trailer. Beside the road, the driver was attempting a repair, his too small, grease-covered shirt and Wrangler jeans revealing more man skin than I’d seen to date.
As we pulled into the small town, I realized War was made up of just one street. That’s it? I dreaded the thought of spending a whole weekend in that place until I remembered why we were there—for my oldest brother’s wedding. This was the hometown of the tiny darling he was marrying. Months before, when she called and asked me to be one of her bridesmaids, I squealed. I’d never worn a fancy, long dress before.
In front of the town’s only five-and-dime store, Dad parked so we could buy snacks to tide us over until the rehearsal dinner. As I browsed the aisles, I glanced at the bins of socks, t-shirts, and underwear. They weren’t bright white like the undies and socks sold in my town. They were gray. In the school supply aisle, the packages of loose-leaf paper wore a gray tinge also. Same thing with the toilet tissue and paper towels. It took me a minute to figure out why. There in coal country, a skim of coal dust coated everything. The dark grit snuck inside each sealed plastic pouch to turn the factory-white fabric dingy. There was no escaping it.
Where I’m from is better, I thought. Everything there is whiter and brighter, bigger and prettier too. And much cleaner.
When Jesus came down from heaven, I wonder if he thought, “Heaven is so much better, way cleaner, and a whole lot brighter. Down here everything is so imperfect.”
The tarnish on this world is not coal dust. It’s sin, and no matter what we do, we can’t get rid of it. We might be able to hide our sin from other people, but we can’t hide it from God. Even if you’re doing a decent job at “being good,” compared to Jesus, you’re irrevocably stained.
Remember The Transfiguration? Mark 9:3 says “His (Jesus’s) clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Perhaps God provided The Transfiguration so Peter, James, and John could see how very different Jesus was from any other human. According to Strong’s Concordance, that’s what “holy” means—different. Jesus is different from us because though he was tempted, he never sinned. No other human has ever accomplished that and no other human ever will.
At the end of my brother’s wedding weekend, I returned home with my family, leaving War the way I found it, coal dust everywhere. Not Jesus. Before he went home, he did something about our stains, something only he, the sinless one, the Son of God, could do. With his own blood, he washed us clean. And when you acknowledge what He did, you don’t just become clean, you become different, holy.