It seems like every week someone in our church recommends a book for me to read, and I always ask a few simple questions before adding it to the list. “How long is it going to take me to read this thing? How dense is it? Will I need a dictionary nearby while I read… See more
It seems like every week someone in our church recommends a book for me to read, and I always ask a few simple questions before adding it to the list. “How long is it going to take me to read this thing? How dense is it? Will I need a dictionary nearby while I read it? Does it have an audiobook version?” But despite filtering what books get added to my “Need To Read” list, the list has gotten very, very, very long.
One of the books recommended to me last year was Letters To The Church by Francis Chan. One of the chapters made me stop and consider everything about my own faith. I’ve learned over the years that you should pay careful attention when something you read stirs in your heart. The chapter was called Sacred Things, and the line that stood out to me the most in the chapter was this: “The stories in scripture are meant to show us that there exists something of greater value than our own existence and rights. There are things that belong to God. Sacred things.”
The scriptures are pointing to something that is of greater value than our experiences, our lives, our own rights. There is something about the scriptures that are holy, sacred.
This is hard to take in, but will bring you tremendous comfort. The question you and I need to ask ourselves is, “do I really know what it means for something to be sacred?”
We live in a human-centered world where the moment after we give thanks, we go shopping for ourselves. We are the highest authority of life, and the most important thing on the planet at any given point. We often push aside the more religious things the scriptures teach but love the practical things it teaches.
Our faith can sometimes be more about what God can do for us, than who God is. We are great cultural Christians, but we forget to be just Christians. We pray to God and ask him for favor as if He were a genie in a bottle. We ask for a parking spot in a crowded Costco parking lot. We ask for healing over our children. We pray that our coworkers would change. That God would grow our business overnight. And then, when he doesn’t do it, and we get mad because we feel entitled.
We believe in our own rights as human beings, but we give little thought to the rights God deserves as God.
The scriptures teach us that God has supreme rights. That he touches something and He makes it sacred. His rights trumps our rights. This shouldn’t surprise us, but it should humble us and cause us to tread very carefully to a discussion of the holiness of God.
God gifted Solomon with more wisdom than any other human that had walked or would walk the earth. Here’s what Solomon said about entering the presence of holy God: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1) What he is saying is to not be quick with your mouth. Do not be hasty in your heart. Guard your opinions to utter anything before God. God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so let your words be few.
Be careful when you talk to God. Don’t come with ego, with pride, with lots of words, with all your rights. Come quietly. Come respectfully. Because this isn’t a game and it isn’t a show.
Some of us foolishly come to God like a child who needs to be disciplined. “Oh, I can’t do that God. Or what? I’m going to do what I want to do. What are you going to do?” We push the line to see what we can get away with.
The Bible is filled with examples of humans who tried to do what was right in their eyes but suffered the consequences from a sacred, almighty God.
In 2nd Samuel, chapter 6, Uzzah and group of other men were instructed by King David to carry the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The ox pulling the cart stumbles, and Uzzah holds the Ark of the Covenant to not let it fall on the ground.
You must be thinking, “Wow, Uzzah is a good man for not letting the presence of God touch the ground. Surely God must give him a pat on the back in the next verse.” No, instead, God kills him. He wasn’t supposed to touch the ark. The rights of God trump the rights of man.
That’s not very fair. What’s not fair? That the man touched what he wasn’t supposed to touch, or that God killed him.
Another example is found in Numbers, chapter 20. Moses and the Israelites are roaming the desert and they haven’t had a drink of water in days. After pleading on behalf of the people, God instructs Moses to speak to a rock and water would start flowing. Moses, however, in frustration, hit the rock with his staff instead of commanding the water to spew water. Water still comes out, however God tells Moses, “because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:12)
God is saying “I told you do something and you didn’t do it.” Moses’ whole purpose in life was to bring the Israelites into a new place, but because he did something that God saw as unholy, he was not allowed to finish his mission.
You may be thinking, “But Pastor Tony, that’s the Old Testament God, I worship the New Testament God.” Well, let me tell you about the New Testament God.
In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira, sold a field to give as an offering to the church, an amazing thing, but they lied about how much they were giving. The apostles questioned them, however they continued to lie. God killed both of them instantly. This feels terrible doesn’t it?
Why do these stories bother us?
We are all tempted to overvalue man’s rights and undervalue God’s rights. When God says not to touch something, He means don’t touch it. When He says to do something, He means do it. But we are so rebellious in our nature. We continue to push the envelope.
You are walking on thin ice when you disrespect the rights of God. You do not grasp the holy. You do not grasp the sacred.
Rudolf Otto described the idea of the holy as “the Mysterium Tremendum,” which is latin for dread inspiring mystery. The definition of dread is to be afraid, terrified, awe(ful). Inspiring means to be motivated, to be pushed forward. Mysterium Tremendum means that holiness is both scary and inspiring. It all depends on how you approach holiness.
Some of you are attracted to God’s ultimate power. Some of you are appalled by the God previously mentioned. You are drawn to His truth, but are afraid of His intensity. You are drawn to His promises, but you are afraid of His intensity. God’s holiness fascinates, but it also terrifies.
The picture of God’s holiness is not often described or talked about in the church. Sometimes I try so hard to make God seem approachable, that I forget to show how He is also unapproachable.
Here is how Isaiah describes seeing God:
“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.” (Isaiah 6:1-3)
The angels covered their faces because they were not worthy to see God. They covered their feet as a symbol of uncleanliness. They covered themselves before God because of who He is.
In Hebrew, the word calling means to scream. So, imagine this scene: There is a being filling an entire room. Angels are flapping their wings and screaming. HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE LORD ALMIGHTY; THE WHOLE EARTH IS FILLED WITH HIS GLORY.
This scene is so chaotic that “at the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:4)
What would you do? I’m sure none of us would go, “Hey God, it’s good to see you. I’ve been praying to you for so long. It’s great to finally meet you!” We would react like Isaiah did, “‘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 6:5)
To be ruined means to be destroyed. So, Isaiah sees the King of Kings and says, “I am destroyed. I’m going to die.” This is terror. This is also holiness.
The first thing you and I will be struck with if we ever come face to face with God is our sinfulness. We will fall apart. We see how perfect He is and how terrible we are. We see how sacred, and how holy, and how powerful He is. Isaiah is as good of a person that you could be, a righteous man, and even he says, “I can’t even stand before You. He is going to kill me.”
In Mark, chapter 4, the disciples had a similar reaction.
“That day when evening came, he (Jesus) said to His disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took Him along, just as He was, in the boat. There were also other boats with Him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.”
A hurricane-like storm comes. The disciples are freaking out. And the Bible says that Jesus is taking a nap on a cushion.
The disciples wake Jesus and say, “‘Teacher! Aren’t you afraid if we drown?’ He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”
In a moment, the cosmos obeyed. “‘They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this?’”
Rather than being afraid of the natural forces in life, there is something in our human heart that we fear more. That is the power and the presence of the holy. You are afraid of the holy, and you should be.
Similarly in Luke 5 when Jesus tells Peter to throw his net on the other side of the boat and they catch so many fish that the boat begins to break, Peter’s response is not one of victory, it is one of terror. “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” (Luke 5:8)
He is immediately uncomfortable. There is a dread in holiness.
How does God respond to those who humbly approach a holy God?
“Then one of the seraphim 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)
That response must have brought Isaiah to tears. Isaiah feels unworthy to be in the presence of a holy God, but God says, “No, no, no. You can be near me.”
Isaiah doesn’t see his rights of more value than God’s rights, and God notices that. He takes away Isaiah’s shame and in exchange gives him glory. This is repeated over and over and over again in the scriptures.
People who believe they hold a candle to God, who don’t stand in awe of his glory, those people are crushed by the holiness of God. They will be brought to their knees. Either you bow down or are made to bow down.
But those who are humble in heart, who quiver in His presence, they receive comfort. Somehow instead of destroying them, God lifts them up. Instead of destruction, they receive grace. Instead of damnation, they receive life. Instead of torment, they receive joy evermore.
God draws near to the humble. But the point of this discussion is if you decide you want to be proud in the face of who God is, one day God is going to crush you. And I say that with all the love in my heart as possible.
Like God gave Isaiah freedom from shame, Jesus looks at Peter, and says, “let your burden come upon me and I will give you peace. I will give you rest.” Without God you are nothing, but with God you have everything. When you humble yourself the worst of divine storms and the troubles this world has to offer will be silenced forever because the peace of God will be upon you.
We are invited to come into the presence of a holy God after acknowledgment of our own utter decay. If today you think you’re good, there is a chasm between you and what God expects of you. But if you come before Him humbly, you are welcomed into the presence of a Holy Father. You are embraced by Him. It’s amazing to be in the hands of God when you realize you are an utter mess.