First Mennonite Church
October 12, 2014
The Attributes of God (I)
The Holiness of God
Texts: Isaiah 6:1-3; Exodus 15:11
Our user-friendly oriented society steers clearly away from everything that looks or sounds complicated. But life can be complicated. Human relationships can be complicated. But the demand to user-friendliness goes beyond the material world or to human relationships; we also would like our understanding and relationship with God to be user-friendly. And because of this we have oversimplified the images or portraits of God as given in the Bible and those given by Jesus. In the Bible we find images of God such as the Shepherd, the Rock, the Father, and the Creator. These images of God, although very useful to our understanding about the nature of God, very often have led us to domesticate the Divine. God in the first place is a Holy God. None of his attributes is exclaimed three fold as his holiness is: holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty, (Qadosh, Qadosh, Qadosh Adonai Zebaoth! –Hebrew) declare the seraphim.
The meaning of holy
What does “holy” mean? What is meant when the Bible declares that God is Holy? What comes to your mind when you hear that God is Holy? The immediate response we have is that God is without sin or that God is morally perfect. And although this is true about God’s holy nature, yet at the center of this word is the reality that God is more than just being sinless and complete moral perfection. Holy means completely separated, transcendent, totally distinct, and unique as is communicated in the Latin expression sui generis. That is, one of a kind; the only one existing of its kind. That is why in the triumphal song Moses was singing he poses the rhetorical question: Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?
Dear friends, if we only realize that each of God’s attributes declares his holiness, we would be in complete awe and full of reverence before Him every moment of our lives. If we could only get the slightest glimpse of God’s holiness we would be overwhelmed with fear and a sense of sinfulness as happened to Isaiah. Let me ask you, do you know someone who is as righteousness as God? Do you know someone who is as perfect as God is? Do you know someone who is as all-knowing as God? Who is eternal? Who is omnipotent? Do you know someone who is as faithful as God? The answer is a resounding no! There is no one like our God–majestic in holiness. God’s holiness is what makes God completely distinct. Not a million of the best men or women can equal God’s holiness. Not the purest of all elements can compare to God’s purity. You see, God’s holiness is not quantitative but qualitative, that is, His nature is not based on how much better, purer, or more righteous He is in comparison to us. God’s holiness is simply because He is completely different in nature and quality.
This should lead us to realize what a great privilege we have, my dear brothers and sisters! What a great privilege we have that in the hour of our troubles, in the pain of our guilt, in the moment of our confusion, we can come to someone who is completely different from anything or anyone we know and we can open before Him our little troubled heart. We have this marvelous privilege to come to the Almighty, Eternal, Righteous and Merciful God in full assurance that regardless of his awesome majesty He bows down and looks at us and hears our plea. That is why David could not contain his amazement before God when he wrote Psalm 8.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (8:1. 3-4)
When life buffets us or throws at us a curve ball or when the ground seems to dissolve under our feet, the knowledge and relationship with our Holy God can make us pray like Hannah:
“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. 1Samuel 2:2
Regardless of the fact that God is majestic in holiness, He humbly and lovingly bows down to listen to our mumbles and fumbles. And the simple reason is because God is not like humans. His kindness and mercy towards us are not because we merit them, but because God is steadfast love.
My dear friends, the God we have approached today is majestic in holiness! God is beyond anything or anyone we have known or will ever know here on earth. And the only reason it is possible for us to approach such The Absolutely Otherness of a Being, is because we have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ. This act of mercy on the part of Christ has given us the boldness and freedom to approach God’s holy throne by faith (Hebrews 10: 19-22). Being able to come before this awesome God is something we should not take lightly. Coming before God should move us to fear and trembling, just as it did to Moses when he went up to Mount Sanai (Hebrew 12:21). Coming before God should be such an overwhelming experience that it should be impossible for our minds to have a moment of distraction from Him. It should be an experience in which our brain should be unable to give in to slumber or get lost in drifting thoughts. A glimpse of God’s holiness should be powerful enough to draw us to Him just like light draws to itself a moth. A glimpse of God’s holiness should move us to evident and palpable awe and reverence as we gather before his presence.
If we can develop this vision of our God, our mind will be captured by it and we will have no need of crutches to expand our attention when we come and together in worship. However, every so often preachers need to produce shows and give entertainment in order to keep their audiences awake and focused. And what happens when something other than God keeps our attention and focus? The result is a bunch of people who relate somehow to Christianity but not to the Holy God and his Son Jesus Christ. The result is that there are many who go to church but live a life that fails to give evidence that they know God. But if it is God who captures our heart and mind with whom He is in his holiness, we should a life in constant desire to obey and to express our love to Him. Our lives outside these four walls would become reflectors of the glory and majesty of God. And that is what God wanted to do through his people Israel.
God reveals His holy nature so that the people he calls might aspire to be like Him.
God chose the children of Abraham to be his people. In Exodus God told the Israelites: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…” (Exodus 19: 5, 6). Israel was chosen by God to be his “treasured possession” and a “holy nation.” But that is not all. God wanted to care, to provide, but most importantly God wanted to live among them. In the book of Leviticus chapter 26, God gives a list of promises to Israel–If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season…and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land. I will grant peace in the land, and … no one will make you afraid… I will look on you with favor … and I will keep my covenant with you.
But then God made this amazing promise: I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people (Leviticus 26: 3, 11, 12). God so very much loves his people that he would not put them under the care of another. He would not allow his people to be under the care of a super nanny. He wanted to look after his people and dwell and walk with them and be their God! Remember what Jesus said: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand (John 10:27-30).
There is nothing else the Holy God desires more than wanting to dwell among us and in us. God desires us more that we might desire Him. And that is not the will of God for us. He wants us to desire Him above all things. God wants to walk among us, be our God and wants us to be his holy people.
In the case of Israel the Bible tells us how fast and far they went away from the Lord. Through his prophet Isaiah the Lord cried:
“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.
They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. (Isaiah 1:2b, 4b)
God lamented that his chosen people had rejected Him. But not even rejection after rejection dissuaded God from desiring Israel to come back to Him. Yet God knew that the only way for Israel to love Him was through a change of heart, which God so willingly offered to do. The truth is that the only way Israel and we too can love and fear God is by God changing our hearts. God changes our heart. God’s desire to change Israel’s heart is revealed in Ezekiel 11, verses 19 and 20.
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
And again in Jeremiah 24:7 God reiterates this promise. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
God’s desire has not changed. This is the same message the apostle Paul communicates in 2Corinthians 6:14-18.
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate (holy), says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
My dear brothers and sisters, God is a holy God. What he desired for Israel is what he desires for us and from us: to be His holy people. He offers to change our heart and mind. He offers to walk with us and live among us. He wants to be our God, but we need to come out from everything and anything that defiles us. He wants us to stay away from what is unclean. He wants us to be separated from anything that pulls us away from his loving arms. He wants to receive us. If we could only but have a slight glimpse of God’s holiness, we would run with all our might into his holy embrace. Let us do that in prayer, now. Amen!