Sunday, December 6, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The God I Wish You Knew
#7—God is holy
Introduction and offering:
We just sang, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” Where did we get those lyrics? They are found two places in the Bible. First, in the Old Testament, Isaiah had a vision of God.
Isaiah 6:1–5 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “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.”
Isaiah sees the Lord, high and exalted, and the creatures around His throne are singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” And Isaiah is undone. One glimpse of God’s holiness and he cries out, “Woe to me! I am ruined!” He realizes how sinful he is.
The second place is in the New Testament, and the apostle John has a vision of God sitting on a throne, and around the throne were four creatures.
Revelation 4:8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”
John sees into heaven where God is worshipped constantly, and the creatures around His throne are singing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty.” In both stories, the three-fold repetition of “holy” is meant for emphasis: God is HOLY!
What do we mean that God is holy?
That’s what we’re going to talk about today in part 7 of “The God I Wish You Knew.” We are looking at God as Jesus revealed Him. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” God is like Jesus. And when you look at Jesus, you’ll see that God is holy.
The Big Idea: The God I wish you knew is love, and He is holy, and we desperately need both!
At the bottom of your outline are two important questions: what will I do and who will I tell? I hope that sometime this week you will tell someone in your own words what you learn today. If God speaks to you, pass it on. I said last week that you learn best when you hear it out of your own mouth, and not just mine. So tell someone—you’ll benefit them, and you’ll benefit. And then do something about it. Put what you learned into practice. That’s the ultimate learning. We are disciples of Jesus, and disciple means “learner”—and you haven’t really learned anything until you’ve used it, put it into practice. So as I go through this talk and God gives you something to do, write it down, and then do it this week. Be a learner, a disciple!
- What do we mean that God is holy?
The Old Testament was written primarily in Hebrew, the New Testament in Greek. Both the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated “holy” fundamentally mean “separate, different, unique.” When used of people or things, it means they are dedicated to God, set apart for Him, and so they are sacred or holy as opposed to common. When used of God, it means that He is completely different from us: morally pure and perfect, majestic, glorious.
God is holy. He is absolutely different and unique. There is no other like Him. God is utterly Other. God is not just a little bit better version of you! He is as different from you as you are from a slug—actually, more so! He is perfect righteousness, perfect love, perfect goodness. Have you ever been around someone who is really good? It can be unsettling.
ILL: The late professor Jacques Monod, the famous French geneticist and Nobel prize winner, was shooting a television special in Toronto with Mother Teresa. Monod spoke of how in his opinion all our destiny is locked up in our genes, which shape and direct our character and outlook, thus destroying the idea of the individual. You’re simply a biochemical machine.
As he held forth on this theme, Mother Teresa sat with her eyes closed and her hands folded, deep in prayer. When the program’s host asked if she had anything to say, she replied: “I believe in love and compassion,” and resumed her prayers.
As Dr. Monod was leaving the studio he was heard to mutter: “If I saw much more of that woman I should be in bad trouble!”
In the presence of someone good, we feel our own inadequacy and weakness. I’d feel that way with Mother Teresa. But Mother Teresa felt that far more when she died and stood before a holy God! In the presence of a holy God who is pure goodness, even Mother Teresa looks bad!
Have you ever thought about how you might feel the first time you see God face to face?
When Job saw God, his response was:
Job 42:5–6 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
When Daniel saw a vision of God, he was terrified and fell on his face. He said:
Daniel 10:8 I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless.
When Ezekiel saw a vision of God, he fell facedown, prostrate before God. And when the apostle John saw a vision of Jesus, he wrote:
Revelation 1:17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.
Hmmm…do you see a theme here? Seeing God was a terrifying experience! Nobody sauntered up and gave Him a fist bump. “Hey bro, how you doin?” Everyone who sees God hits the deck and is terrified. Why? Because He is holy, utterly Other, different from us, awesome in the truest sense of that word: striking awe in our hearts.
How would you feel if you walked out your front door and saw this? I doubt that you’d try to pet it and say, “Nice pussy cat!”
ILL: In C.S. Lewis’ fabulous series, The Chronicles of Narnia, he uses a lion to represent Jesus. In the first book, the Pevensie children find themselves in Narnia, and are hearing about Aslan, the great lion, for the first time from the Beaver family.
“Is—is he a man,” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
It’s not a perfect image, but it gets the point across. God is not our pussy cat; He’s a lion! He’s not safe, but He’s good. He’s holy—He’s different from us, and when we see Him, our knees will knock and we’ll fall on our faces. In His perfect light, we’ll see ourselves as we really are, and realize how unworthy we are to be in His presence.
God is holy!
There are two false notions about God that are very common. The first is that God is angry or wrathful. Some people think that God is angry all the time, that because God is holy and we’re sinful, He is always ticked off. On the other extreme is the false notion that God doesn’t really care about our sin. God is like a kindly old grandfather who simply smiles and looks the other way. This God would never judge anyone or send anyone to hell. Two false ideas about God: the Teddy Bear God and the Always Angry God.
We may be tempted to think that since God is love, He doesn’t care about our sin anymore. But God is also holy: He is sinless, different from us, unique and pure. A holy God judges sin and expresses His wrath against sin.
God is holy. The Bible is clear that this holy God feels wrath or anger. Why? Because He loves us. He hates sin because it harms us. God’s wrath is His consistent opposition to sin and evil. It is the necessary reaction of a holy and loving God to evil. If there were no sin, there would be no wrath. God’s wrath is His consistent opposition to sin and evil. You should be glad that God is holy and hates sin. You don’t want a God who doesn’t care, who let’s evil slide.
ILL: Miroslav Volf is a Christian theologian from Croatia; he used to reject the concept of God’s wrath. He thought that the idea of an angry God was barbaric, completely unworthy of a God of love. But then his country experienced a brutal war. People committed terrible atrocities against their neighbors and countrymen. He reflects on the necessity of God’s wrath in his book, Free of Charge. (Zondervan, 2006), pp. 138-139
My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry.
Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them?
Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.
Let’s make it personal. Think how you feel when someone hurts your kids. Do you get a little fired up?
ILL: When my 4 oldest kids were teenagers, they were driving home from youth group one night when four young men in a car decided to chase them down. Andy wisely pulled into a well-lit gas station and ran in for help. Jeff got out and the four guys jumped him and beat him up—four against one. When those boys learned that the police had been called, they headed for their car. But Jeff beat them to it, jumped on the trunk and kicked in their rear window. The boys fled, the cops came, and when I got home and heard the story, I was…happy as could be. Of course not! I was furious! They had ganged up on my kids, and beaten my son! I wanted to hunt those boys down and beat the crap out of them! When the driver’s father called me the next day and wanted reparations for his window, I was still mad. I told him what had happened and said he wouldn’t be getting a dime, and that he better warn his boys to be watching over their shoulders, because I was coming for them. I calmed down…eventually.
Can anyone identify with this? You hurt my kids—I get mad. That’s how God is. He loves us and He is holy, so He hates sin because it hurts us.
Is God wrathful all the time? No, but He is holy and He is angry at the sin that hurts us. Does God not care about our sin? He cares because He is holy and He loves us and wants the best for us.
God is holy. One day we’ll see Him in all of His holiness and glory and splendor, and we’ll fall on our faces in awe. This is the God I wish you knew.
“But,” some of you are thinking, “how did Jesus show that God is holy?” So glad you asked.
- How did Jesus show that God is holy?
In two ways:
- Glimpses of glory.
What do I mean, “glimpses of glory”? It’s Christmas, and we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus, the miracle of the incarnation. Incarnation means “in flesh”. God came to earth in human flesh. The holy God—utterly Other—became one of us. Imagine cramming the ocean into a child’s bucket. Or jamming the sun into a lightbulb. These barely begin to compare to the holy God indwelling a human body.
One of the lyrics in “Hark the herald angels sing” goes like this:
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell
Jesus our Emmanuel
Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king!
(You’re not going to want to miss our Christmas Carol sing on Dec. 15-16. Christmas carols, cider and cookies, a Christmas story, and we all don our gay apparel—wear your most festive and fun Christmas gear! And it’s a fun Find-Tell-Bring event—bring a friend with you!)
“Veiled in flesh”—the holy God was veiled in flesh. But every now and then, the veil was pulled back and people got a glimpse of God’s glory.
In Luke 5, Jesus tells Peter and his partners to push off into deeper waters and let down their nets for a catch. Peter is a professional fisherman and he’s just finished working hard all night and caught nothing—got skunked. The fishing’s no good. Now here’s an amateur—a carpenter, a preacher for Pete’s sake—what’s he know about fishing? But after protesting, Peter reluctantly pushes off and lets down the nets—and they take a miraculous catch. It’s so many fish that his nets start breaking; it’s so many fish that it fills his boat, and then his partners’ boat so full that the boats start to sink and they have to throw fish back! Peter drops on his knees before Jesus. “Depart from me, Lord; I’m a sinful man.” Sound familiar? It’s like Peter just got a glimpse of glory behind the veil. He realized he was in the presence of a holy God and the only response is to hit the deck and confess.
Or how about the story we told last week in Matthew 8 and Mark 4 about Jesus and the disciples getting caught in a storm at sea. The disciples are bailing for all they’re worth and are terrified, but Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat. Panicked, they shake him awake and say, “Don’t you care that we’re about to drown?” Jesus asks, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” And then with a word, stills the storm. Now they are really terrified! They say, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him? Why are they terrified? Because they realize that there is something greater than the storm in their boat! They just got a glimpse of His glory and they realize that they are in the presence of a holy God.
Later, the apostle Paul would have his own glimpse of Jesus’ glory on the road to Damascus when a bright light blinded him; he fell to the ground and Jesus called him to stop fighting and start following. And still later, the apostle John in exile on the isle of Patmos would see a vision of Jesus—the veil would be completely pulled back and the vision John saw was so overwhelming that John fell at Jesus’ feet as though he were dead.
But while Jesus was on earth, the best example of the veil being pulled back was what we call the Transfiguration. Jesus took Peter, James and John, his inner circle up on a mountain to pray.
Matthew 17:3 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
The word “transfigured” translates the Greek word metamorphoo. We get the English word “metamorphosis” from it. Think of a caterpillar being transformed into a butterfly: metamorphosis. Transformation. Jesus was transformed in front of them. For a moment, the veil of His humanity was pulled back and they got a glimpse of His glory. His face shone like the sun! His clothes were as bright as a flash of lightening! It must have been dazzling, overwhelming! Then Moses and Elijah—representing the Law and the Prophets—appeared and spoke with Jesus about His upcoming exodus in Jerusalem. The disciples were speechless. Well…almost. Peter, not knowing what to say, and not smart enough to just keep his mouth shut, offered to build three shelters, one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Really? While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them and a voice spoke and said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.” The disciples’ response to all of this?
Matthew 17:6 …they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.
And when they looked up, there was Jesus—only Jesus. No Moses, no Elijah, no shining clothes or face. Just Jesus—the veil was back. But in that moment, they’d had a glimpse of His glory—and they fell facedown before him.
God is holy. He is utterly Other—different from us. And yet this holy God took on human flesh and became one of us. “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” But every now and then, the veil was pulled back, and we got glimpses of glory.
Here’s the second way Jesus showed that God is holy.
- Holy grace.
I said that we make a mistake if we think that because God is love, He is soft on sin. God hates sin because He is holy and sin hurts us. And you can see that same holiness in Jesus. But here’s the interesting thing. The people that Jesus gets after are the religious, and the sins that He blasts are self-righteousness, pride and hypocrisy. This story is a prime example.
Luke 18:9–14 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.
Both the Pharisee and the tax collector were sinners. One recognized it and begged for mercy; the other didn’t and went home still caught in the sin of his self-righteousness. You’ll never find in the gospels a story of Jesus blasting a tax collector, or a prostitute. It’s not that He didn’t think they were sinning—He did. And He offers them forgiveness and grace. In fact, Jesus always called sin “sin”, and called people to repent and offered forgiveness. He was never soft on sin. He was holy. But He was holy with grace.
This holy grace is perhaps best seen in the lovely story in John 8 of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was teaching in the Temple courts when the Pharisees dragged in a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. “Where was the man?” you might wonder. “Doesn’t it take two to tango?” Yes, but this was part of the double standard of the day: punish the woman, let the man go. They dumped the woman in front of Jesus and said, “We caught this woman in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses told us to stone such women. What do you say?” They thought they had Jesus in a trap from which He couldn’t escape. If Jesus said, “Stone her,” they would turn Him into the Roman authorities who reserved the right to capital punishment. If Jesus said, “Let her go,” they would accuse Him of ignoring God’s law.
Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with His finger. We don’t know what He wrote. Maybe it was other commandments that these men had broken. Maybe it was the names of these men who had committed adultery or other sins. Finally, he looked up and said, “All right, but let the one who is without sin throw the first stone at her.” And then he bent down and started writing again.
One by one, beginning with the eldest, they dropped their rocks and melted away, until finally, it was just Jesus and this poor woman.
“Ma’am, where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
“Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
There it is: holy grace. Holy: go and sin no more. Jesus called sin “sin” and called for repentance. Grace: neither do I condemn you.
Jesus was holy. He was utterly different from everyone else, yet was one of us. He was different from the judgmental crowd, and different from the woman. He was holy. He hung out with sinners, but no one could accuse Him of sin. He was holy. And He was gracious. This is the God I wish you knew.
Conclusion: We’re going to worship this God who is holy. One day, we’ll all stand before Him, and I don’t think anyone will stand with their hands in their pockets. We’ll fall on our faces and cry, “Holy, holy, holy”. We’ll lift our hands and declare our love and gratitude. Why not get started now. Let’s worship our holy God.