Getting to Know a Holy God - Part 1|
I'm convinced that there's nothing more important in life than getting to know the God we worship. Let me list just a few reasons why I believe this:
It shapes our moral and ethical standard.
It directly affects our response to pain and hardship.
It gives us strength when we are tempted.
It keeps us faithful and courageous when we are in the minority.
It enhances our worship and prompts our praise.
It determines our lifestyle and dictates our philosophy and beliefs about life.
It gives meaning and significance to relationships.
It sensitizes our conscience and creates the desire to be obedient. It enables us to know what to reject and what to respect while we live here in this world.
It is the foundation upon which EVERYTHING rests!
How do we use the word, "holy"?
Remember our key thought in this series: We can only worship someone we love, and we can only love someone we know. Nothing is more important about us than what we think and know and experience about God. But have you ever noticed that there a few attributes of God from which people tend to shy away? An attribute is a word or phrase expressing the essential nature of a person or thing. So when I say that there are a few attributes of God we shy away from I'm saying that there are some characteristics of God that just, flat out, make us somewhat uncomfortable. And, at least to me, it's understandable why they make us uncomfortable. Right off the top, two or three attributes of God that come to mind are the righteousness of God, the justice of God and the holiness of God. Those are words with very unique spiritual implications.
What's even more peculiar to me is that even though we tend to shy away from these concepts about God because they make us uncomfortable, we still won't hesitate to use those same words. And it's in their use that we find how little people know about those God-concepts to begin with. For the purpose of this message on worshipping a holy God, do we really know what "holy" means when we find ourselves using phrases like, "holy cow"? Just what is a holy cow outside of any other context but the Hindu religion? How about the phrase, "holy smoke", just what does that mean? And then there are phrases like "holy moley," "holy Toledo," "holy mackerel," and "holy roller." There are a lot of other ways in which the word "holy" is used in our culture but those are just the ones I could mention.
When we take words with very unique spiritual implications and abuse, overuse, misuse, misapply and misunderstand them we dilute and pollute their meaning. No wonder the concept of God's holiness has been all but lost in the modern church. To many, it's nothing more than a slang term or a descriptive expression. It's no wonder that many believers today have lost touch with the concept of holiness. It's as I mentioned last week, because we have failed at getting to know the God we worship, we've developed a theology of convenience where we view God as sort of a lenient grandfather who winks at our indiscretions from his big barka-lounger on high.
If you study church history from the book of Acts onward you will see that almost every major revival in the history of the church was influenced by people getting in touch with the concept of God's holiness. Great Church leaders like John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Andrew Murray, F.B. Meyer, Oswald Chambers, and Amy Carmichael kept the holiness of God at the center of their ministries and writings.
What does the word, "holy" mean?
In this series on getting to know the God you worship, we're going to be exploring many of the attributes of God. I want to begin with the holiness of God because it is one of the primary attributes of God. If there is any word to describe God that is used more than any other it would be the word "holy." Nearly every book of the Bible touches on the holiness of God in some way. Exodus 15:11says, "Who among the gods is like you O Lord? Who is like you - majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?" Leviticus 19:2 says, "Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them, 'Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.'" 1 Samuel 2:2 says, "There is no one holy like the Lord." Psalm 22:3 says, "You are enthroned as the Holy One You are the praise of Israel." And in Revelation 15:4 the Scripture says, "Who will not fear You, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For You alone are holy."
In order to regain a real good understanding of the holiness of God, we need to understand this Biblical term. Holiness involves a range of meanings perhaps best summarized in the idea of complete purity, goodness, unique beauty and perfection the absence of anything dark or sinful or evil at all, and the total presence of purity. That's how John uses it in 1st John 1:5 "This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you: God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all." But there is more to holiness than the presence of purity and the absence of evil. "Holy" comes from a word that means "to cut apart" or "set apart." Therefore, holiness refers to something that is separate, not attached to, or different from anything else we know or understand. God is like a foreign being compared to the sinful nature of humanity. He is totally set apart and different in His nature.
What can the experiences of five Biblical characters tell us about the holy nature of God?
It's certainly difficult and nearly impossible for us to completely get our arms around the concept of the holiness of God. But in the Bible we have the accounts of several individuals who found themselves in the presence of the holy. They didn't define "holy", but their responses provide clues to what it means. Let's look at the experiences of five prominent Biblical characters who can tell us something about the holy nature of the God we worship.
Before the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, Moses found himself on holy ground when he encountered the burning bush on Mount Horeb (Exod. 3). Most of us are real familiar with that experience. But later, Moses had another experience with the holiness of God that is not as well known.
After the Exodus, Moses was on the same mountain receiving the Law from God when he made an unusual request of God: "Please, show me Your glory" (Exod. 33:18). In other words, "God, I'm begging you to be allowed to see your glorious presence!" You might think that Moses had a lot of examples of God's glory and uniqueness in Egypt - the plagues, the Passover, the crossing of the Red Sea - but that wasn't enough. He wanted to see more he wanted to see God's glory, God full on - face to face. Look at Exodus 33:19-23 (read).
It was a good thing Moses did not see the full glory of God, or he would have died. As it was, when he came down off the mountains, the people were afraid of him because his face so radiant. His face was aglow with the reflected glory of God. Look at Exodus 34:29-33 (read).
Many of us are familiar with the trials and sufferings of Job. After Job went through his own life-changing experience of suffering, he experienced a revelation of God that changed him even further. At the end of the book of Job, we read his response to what he learned about God. Look at Job 42:5-6 (read). "My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes"
Job found himself too unworthy even to speak in God's presence. That's a pretty remarkable statement when you consider it in the light of what God said about Job back in Job 1:8 (read). "Then the Lord said, 'Have you considered My servant Job? There is no one on earth like him he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.'" Seeing the holiness and power of God causes even the most blameless and upright person to be speechless.
There are a lot of lessons about the holiness of God and how it should impact our lives from Job's experience.
Next, I want us to look at…
Isaiah's experience of the holiness of God was possibly the most impressive of all who encountered God (Isa. 6). God called Isaiah in the year that king Ussiah died, a great king in Israel who'd been on the throne in Israel for over five decades. Ussiah had been a godly king and had served God faithfully right up until just before the end of his time in power. But tragically, in a moment of pride and arrogance, he foolishly and forcefully took on the role of priest in the temple which was a total offense to God. As a result, Ussiah broke out in leprosy, which meant he had to be quarantined away from the people. Soon thereafter he died. When he died, the entire nation grieved because he had been a righteous king up until that foolish and final mistake at the end of his life. This is the context of Isaiah's vision in chapter 6 open your Bible there.
During that year, as Isaiah was at the temple asking the Lord for guidance on behalf of Israel because she had lost her king, he saw the Lord "seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple" (Isa. 6:1). The seraphim - holy angels around God's throne - cried out, "holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty the whole earth is full of His glory" (6:3). Stop for just a minute and consider something here: the holy angels - the seraphim - had to cover their faces and cover their feet in God's holy presence. They're not even touched by sin the way all mankind is. There's a big lesson there. In response to this vision of God in the temple, Isaiah cried out, "Woe to me…I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty" (6:5). One of the seraphim then took a live coal from the altar and touched Isaiah's lips and said, "See, this has touched your lips your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for" (6:6).
In the Hebrew culture and language, when you wanted to emphasize something you would repeat or duplicate a word. For example when Jesus spoke at he would often start out by saying, "Truly, truly I say to you…" when He wanted to emphasize that what He was about to say especially significant. Triplicates were rare, and were a sign of intense emphasis, as when the angels cried, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." We don't find "loving, loving, loving" or "gracious, gracious, gracious" in the Bible, but we do find "holy, holy, holy" - the only attribute of God repeated three times for emphasis.
And Isaiah's response was like the response of every other person who has ever had a true view of the Lord - an intense sense of unworthiness. When he says "I am ruined" or "I am undone" it means that he felt like this was it for him, he's finished and about to destruct in the presence of the Holy One."
Take a note here: This was a time of great spiritual and moral decay in the nation of Israel - the decay was at its peak. And what they needed most of all was a view of the holiness of God to shock them and show them their true spiritual condition. We desperately need that picture of God's holiness too! The daily frustrations we experience, the pressures and temptations we encounter by living in our society and our own sinfulness blur our vision and constrict of view of God. We need the Bible's view of God as high and lifted up to strengthen us to deal rightly with our problems and concerns. When we view God's holiness - His infinite, incomprehensible, unique, and unapproachable moral perfection - it will really set in motion the purging of sin from our lives and the cleansing of our mind from problems. Moreover, it will truly and effectively enable us to know, love and worship God like we should.
Those are the clues Isaiah leaves us from His experience of God's holiness.
Next there's the experience of…
Before he was Paul the Apostle, he was Saul of Tarsus. He was a very devout, orthodox Jew, appointed by the Jews to find and persecute Christians (Acts 9: 1-16 22:1-21 26:9-18). As he traveled on the road to Damascus, we find his experience recorded for us beginning in Acts 9:1-9 (read). [A bright light from heaven appeared and Paul fell to the ground in response. Though he didn't realize it immediately, Paul was being confronted by the risen and living Christ in all His glory. Paul was temporarily blinded by the experience, but he ultimately placed his faith in Christ.] When He saw the glory of the Person he had been persecuting, Paul surrendered to that glory with all his life and became, what many people consider to be, the greatest of the apostles.
Paul's encounter with the glory - the absolute holy presence of God - is possibly the most life-changing example recorded in Scripture.
And finally, the person who is our fifth clue to grasping the holiness of God is…
When the apostle John was given the opportunity to peak into heaven, he saw a picture of the enthroned Lord. In Revelation 1, John describes the awesome appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at Revelation 1:12-18 (read). Notice again that John's reaction is almost identical to Isaiah's, "When I saw Him I fell at His feet as though dead" (1:17).
The consistent response to being in the presence of the holiness of God is an immediate recognition of our own unworthiness - even when we're saved and serving God. Moses had to be shielded in the crevice of a rock and shielded by God's hand Job put his hand over his mouth (Job 40:4) Isaiah - the prince of all the prophets and preachers - saw his own sinfulness Saul fell to the ground John fell down as if he were dead. After seeing these responses, I am more certain than ever that none of us has really experienced the holiness of God. All people - including those of us who know Christ as Lord and Savior - are a sinful people. If we ever saw our holy God, we would know it like never before.
What should our response be to what we learn from these men's experiences with the holiness of God? We'll look at that next time we meet.
For now, let me leave you with a quote from the late A.W. Tozer about the holiness of God:
"Caught in this dilemma [the holiness of God], what are we Christians to do? We must like Moses cover ourselves with faith and humility while we steal a quick look at the God whom no man can see and live. The broken and contrite of heart He will not despise. We must hide our unholiness in the wounds of Christ as Moses hid himself in the cleft of the rock while the glory of God passed by. We must take refuge from God in God. Above all we must believe that God sees us perfect in His Son while he disciplines and chastens and purges us that we may be partakers of His holiness."
(The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer, pp. 106-107)