|What's God Really Like? | Holy|
|July 29, 2007|
Part 5 of 8 | July 29, 2007
This is the fifth session in our What’s God Really Like? series. In this series, we’re seeking to know more of who God is. We’re seeking to experience him on a deeper level. Simply put, we want more of him in our lives. To do that, we have to know him. He knows us inside and out, through and through. It’s impossible for us to fully know or fully comprehend God, but he has revealed some of himself to us in the Bible. And in this series, we’re seeking more truth of who he is. And in our pursuit of God’s true nature, our lives will be touched and changed.
Today, we’re going to talk about a guy who had this very kind of life-altering experience. It happened when he, for the first time, really experienced our holy God.
For most of you, the thought of listening to a message on God’s holiness isn’t exactly going to light your fire. You’re not champing at the bit. You’re not on the edge of your seat. You’re slipping into ho-hum mode.
But I think by the end of this message, you’ll see things differently. Honestly, this is the message that I’ve been dreading in this entire series. How in the world do I talk about this without putting everyone to sleep? That’s what I’ve been asking myself in the weeks leading up to this message. But I’ve got to tell you, I repented of that sinful attitude this week. As I dug into God’s Word and started exploring the truth, I was blown away by my holy God. There is nothing ho-hum about God’s holiness. And I’m praying that we all see that today.
So let’s jump into this. If you’ve been a part of the church more than five minutes, you’ve heard the word holy. You’ve heard God described as holy. We sing about it in our praise songs. We read it in our Bibles. We preach about it in our sermons. And yet most of us know diddley-squat about what it means.
Psalm 99 tells us that, “the LORD our God is holy.” (Psalm 99:9, NIV) What does that mean? We know that the Bible says that God is holy, so we need to try to wrap our minds around what that means.
When we say that God is holy, it means that God is set apart. RC Sproul said, “The primary meaning of holy is ‘separate.’ It comes from an ancient word that meant, ‘to cut,’ or ‘to separate.’ Perhaps even more accurate would be the phrase ‘a cut above something.’ When we find a garment or another piece of merchandise that is outstanding, that has a superior excellence, we use the expression that it is ‘a cut above the rest.’” (RC Sproul)
God is holy, meaning that he is separate. He is set apart. He is a cut above everything else.
This separateness of God is two-fold. First of all, God is set apart from his creation because he is uncreated. In the first message in this series, we talked about God’s supremacy. The fact that there is no beginning or end to God. He is uncreated and he is eternal. This sets him apart from anything or anyone else.
Colossians 3 teaches us that, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before God made anything at all and is supreme over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15, NLT)
God is supreme over his creation. He is holy, meaning that he is set apart from all creation.
Secondly, God is set apart from sin. There is no hint of evil, no trace of sin in God’s character. He is totally, completely, utterly separate from sin.
The Bible says, “It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.” (Job 34:12, NIV)
As day is to night, God is to sin. As black is to white, God is to sin. As life is to death, God is to sin. As heaven is to hell, God is to sin. There is not even a trace of sin in his character because he is holy, he is absolutely separate from sin.
Now that we’ve been able to break down this idea of God’s holiness, I want to check out a story that really just rocked my world this week. These definitions of holiness are essential to our understanding of God, but they probably haven’t really got your motor running. I think this story will change that.
In the Old Testament, we meet a guy named Isaiah. Isaiah was called by God to be his prophet, meaning that he called Isaiah to be his spokesman, his messenger. And our story is all about how God issued this call to Isaiah.
In chapter 6 of his book, Isaiah writes, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, 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."
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
"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."
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.
With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." (Isaiah 6:1-7, NIV)
There is so much in this story when you dig beneath the surface a little bit. So we’re just going to work through it a verse at a time and allow the truth to speak to us.
Isaiah writes, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1, NIV)
King Uzziah was loved by the people. He had been king of Israel for 52 years. When he died, it was a time of national crisis. The king was dead. And it’s during this time that Isaiah goes to the temple, possibly seeking comfort and consolation from God after this tragedy. He gets much more than he bargained for.
He sees the LORD on his throne, with the train of his robe filling the temple. The train of a ruler’s robe was a measure of his status. God’s robe comes over the edge of his throne and down into the sanctuary and fills the temple where he is seated. It was a symbol of his sovereignty and supremacy.
The king of the land was dead, but the King of kings is alive and on his throne.
Next verse from our story. “Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” (Isaiah 6:2, NIV)
In this part of Isaiah’s vision, he sees seraphs, these angelic creatures flying above God’s throne. And these creatures used two of their wings to cover their faces, because they couldn’t look at God’s face. The Bible consistently says that no creature can see our holy God’s face.
They also covered their feet. When Moses encountered God in a burning bush, he was told to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground. It was holy ground because a holy God was there. In the same way, these angelic creatures cover their feet. It’s a symbol of the creature being in the presence of its holy Creator.
Now we get to the good stuff in the story. These creatures called to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3, NIV)
Three times in succession, the seraphs said that God is holy. In our cultural context, it’s really easy to miss the significance of this.
The book of Isaiah was originally written in Hebrew. This repetition is a common literary tool in Hebrew. It’s a form of emphasis. When we want to emphasize the importance of something in English, we have different ways of doing it. We can underline the word, print them in italics or boldface type. We may attach an exclamation point following the words or put them in quotations.
In Hebrew, when you wanted to emphasize something, you repeated it. Usually you would repeat the word twice to emphasize it. However, when you wanted to emphasize something to the extreme, you said it three times.
Only one time in scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession.
The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that His is holy, or even holy, holy. God is holy, holy, holy.
This is the only character trait of God that is mentioned in this triple succession. The Bible never says that God is wrath, wrath, wrath; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or love, love, love. But it does say that he is Holy, Holy, Holy.
This is the characteristic of God that is the most important to him. God’s biggest concern is not his grace, his wrath, or his love. His greatest concern is his honor. His holiness. Everything that God says, everything that God does, everything that God is is all about upholding his honor. It all springs from the fact that he is a holy God.
And now check this out. Isaiah tells us that, “At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:4, NIV)
A recent survey of people who used to be church members revealed that the main reason they stopped going to church was because it was boring and didn’t meet their needs.
It is difficult for many people to find worship a thrilling and moving experience. It becomes routine, ordinary, and even boring.
But notice that when God appeared in the temple, the doors and the thresholds were moved.
The inanimate doorposts and thresholds, the wood and stone structures that could neither hear nor speak were moved by the presence of God. The literal meaning of the text is that they were shaken! They began to quake where they stood in the presence of a holy God.
Do you? A lot of times we come to worship so distracted by all the junk in our lives, we’re so blinded by our sin, our hearts are so hard and calloused that we are not moved in worship. But when a true encounter with a holy God happens, things start shaking and quaking.
Isaiah found this out, because he wrote in the next verse, “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.” (Isaiah 6:5, NIV)
The doors of the temple were not the only things that were shaking. The thing that was shaking the most was Isaiah. When he saw the living God, the reigning monarch of the universe displayed before his eyes in all of His holiness, Isaiah cried out, “Woe to me!”
The cry of Isaiah sounds weird to us. We don’t use the word “woe” very often. When we hear whoa, we think of a cowboy who is trying to stop his horse. Or we think of Joey Lawrence. “Whoa!” This is a different “woe” here in Isaiah.
This is another tool from the Hebrew language. Specifically from God’s prophets. When a prophet delivered a message from God, it was called an oracle. The oracle could be good news or bad news. If it was good news, it would usually start with the word “blessed.” But if it was bad news, the oracle would begin with the word “woe.” This is consistent throughout the Bible. When you see the word “woe,” it’s an oracle of doom and destruction from God.
This is really significant here, because Isaiah says, “Woe to me!” In other words, he is calling down the curse and wrath of God on himself. It’s one thing for a prophet to warn someone else of God’s anger and wrath by saying, “Woe to you.” But it’s something completely different when a prophet actually invites that anger and wrath on himself.
Why did Isaiah do that? Because he had a vision of a holy God. And because of that vision, he said, “Woe to me! I am ruined!” Literally, Isaiah said, “I am undone!” To be undone means to come apart at the seams, to be unraveled.
Isaiah was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man around. He was respected and admired for his good life. Everybody looked up to Isaiah.
But Isaiah caught one sudden glimpse of a holy God. In that single moment, all his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness.
As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other people, he was able to see himself as a good guy. But the instant he was measured by the ultimate standard, the instant he saw himself in comparison to God’s holiness, he was destroyed. He was undone. He flew apart.
He recognized his own sinfulness when he said, “I am a man of unclean lips.” Our mouths are symbolic of how sinful and broken we are. How many times everyday do you say something that is hurtful? Something that you wish you could take back? Something that you regret saying? Our inability to control our mouths is symbolic of how screwed up our lives really are. That’s why Isaiah cried out that he had “unclean lips.” He recognized his brokenness in the presence of a holy God.
But watch what happens next. “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7, NIV)
Here’s Isaiah, groveling on the floor. He is so overwhelmed that he is praying to die. He can’t take it. He is overcome with guilt. Guilt is one of the most powerful emotions that we can experience. When you are experiencing true guilt, there is nothing else that compares. Nothing else like it. It is all-consuming. And Isaiah is wracked with guilt. Relentless guilt screamed from every pore of his body.
Yet this holy, perfect, Almighty God is also a God of grace. He refused to allow Isaiah to continue suffering in this guilt. So God takes immediate steps to cleanse Isaiah.
God commands one of his seraphs to go get a coal from the altar. The seraph jumps into action. The angelic creature flies to the altar with the tongs and took out a coal. And then he took this glowing coal, which was too hot even for an angel to touch, and flew to Isaiah.
The seraph pressed the white-hot coal to Isaiah’s lips and seared them. Your lips are one of the most sensitive parts of your body. Imagine having a white-hot coal being pressed against your lips. The pain would be excruciating. You can almost hear the flesh of Isaiah’s lips sizzling. You can hear his muffled screams of pain.
But there was a point for his pain. This was not meaningless torture. Isaiah’s wound was being cauterized. He was being refined by holy fire.
This act of cleansing went beyond the purification of his lips. He was cleansed throughout, forgiven to the core, but not without the pain of repentance.
He went beyond cheap grace and the easy utterance “I’m sorry.” He was mourning for his sin, overcome with moral grief, and God sent an angel to heal him.
This is the story of what happens when a sinful person meets a holy God. It is an experience that will shake you to your core. It is an experience that will change the course of your life from that moment on. You will be forever changed.
So where do we go from here? That was Isaiah’s story. What about your story? In every message in this series, we’ve been exploring what I call impact points. Places where the truth of who God is impacts our lives. There are three impact points we can draw out of Isaiah’s encounter with a holy God.
First, because God is holy, I must be humble.
Have you ever been around somebody who was just infinitely better at something that you are? You know, maybe you think you’re a good golfer. You’re getting the feeling that you are just the mack daddy on the golf course. But then you go golfing with a friend who can out drive you, out chip you, out putt you, and just flat outplay you. It’s a humbling experience because you realize that, by comparison, you stink.
This is Isaiah’s story. Most of God’s prophets came from poor and humble backgrounds. They were peasants, farmers, and shepherds. They were more or less nobodys in their culture.
But Isaiah was different. Isaiah was a man of nobility. He was a recognized statesman. He had access to the royal court. He hung out with kings. As far as status or political clout were concerned, Isaiah had made it. People looked up to him. They respected and revered him. It would have been very easy for Isaiah to start thinking that he was all that and a side of fries.
But then he met God. He met God’s holiness. And he cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! I am undone!” He saw himself in a completely different light when, instead of comparing himself to other people, he compared himself to God.
That’s why later on in his book, Isaiah wrote, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6, NIV) Literally, the Hebrew text says that all our righteous acts are like a menstrual cloth. That’s how our good deeds look when compared to the holiness of God.
So many Christians today are consumed with putting in their time and doing their religious duty. If I do enough good stuff, then I’m good to go. Someday they’ll tell God, “Hey, I was good. I was a good father or mother. I was a good employee. I was a good member of my church. I bought lollipops for children and helped little old ladies across the street. I was good.”
And Isaiah here literally says that you can take all those good deeds, combine them together, and they are like a used tampon compared to the holy perfection of God.
That’s a good dose of humility, isn’t it? If you’re really beginning to think that you’ve got this Christianity thing down, you’ve really become a good person, so much so that you kind of look down on other people who aren’t as good as you are…stop. Just stop. Stop the religious beauty pageant that you’re trying to win. Stop looking down your spiritual nose at everyone else because they’re not as good as you are. Just stop. Stop and compare yourself to the holiness of God. All of your goodness, all our religiousness, it’s a pile of filthy rags in the light of the Lord’s holiness. God’s people are a humble people because they serve a holy God.
A second impact point: Because God is holy, he defines my standards. Because God is holy, he becomes the standard. He is the one who gets to define the standards in our lives.
There is a great trend in our culture to make truth relative. It’s true for you, but it may not be true for me. It’s wrong for you, but that doesn’t make it wrong for me. There’s a very subjective approach to truth. There is a whatever-you-feel-like approach to right and wrong.
But God’s holiness makes his Word the standard. I don’t get to decide what’s right and I don’t get to decide what’s wrong.
Isaiah wrote, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20, ESV)
Catch the first word? Woe. This is another oracle of doom from Isaiah. And this one is directed at those who want to subjectively decide what is right and wrong themselves. The plain fact is that it’s not up to you and me to decide. God gives the standard.
This is a cancer in God’s church. There are liberal churches who have watered down the truth. They have decided that what God has clearly labeled as evil isn’t so bad after all. They call evil good.
And there are legalistic churches that call good evil. God has given us great freedom in Christ, and yet the legalists try to take these good things that God has given us and make them evil.
Both the liberal and the legalist are under this very same curse. Because they don’t get to decide the standard. That’s the job of a holy God.
One more impact point: Because God is holy, the cross is my only hope.
Here’s what is so scary about our holy God: he has commanded us to be holy, too.
God said, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2, NIV)
Wow. Let those words sink in for a minute. We’re in the major leagues now, aren’t we? This is basically the same thing that Jesus said in the New Testament.
He said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48, NIV)
At this point, any of us with any sense at all are saying, “Ok, I’m out. Be perfect as God is perfect. That ship has sailed a long time ago. I’m done.”
It sure sounds as if Jesus is giving us an impossible command here. And if we were left on our own, it would be impossible. But here is the beauty of the gospel: we’re not on our own.
The Bible says, “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14, NIV)
Take in the sweetness of this promise. Because of one sacrifice, Jesus’ death on the cross, he has made you perfect and holy. If you accept Jesus’ grace gift, your flaws, imperfections, screw ups, and sins are erased from God’s memory…permanently. He looks at you and he sees holiness. Absolute perfection.
Some of you have drug a load of baggage in here with you this morning. Baggage filled with hurt and pain. Baggage filled with sinful choices that are still haunting you everyday. You brought that baggage with you, but you can leave without it. God invites you to experience his grace. He is a holy God who desperately wants to make you holy through the blood of his Son.
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