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Living in Light of God’s Holiness

Text: Isaiah 6:1-8

Preached by Phil Layton on January 21, 2007 at Gold Country Baptist Church

www.goldcountrybaptist.org

C. S. Lewis was a well-known and respected Oxford literature scholar and professor and a Christian.  Some of his best-known writings for children include The Chronicles of Narnia, which present spiritual truth in fictional allegory.  There is a scene from chapter 3 of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where:

At Mr. and Mrs. Beaver’s house, the four children are told that “Aslan is on the move.”

And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken [his name] everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it has some enormous meaning – either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words …  At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror.

Note: In the story, by the way he talks to the children about Aslan, even without knowing anything about this person, they sense that there is enormous meaning and importance and weightiness about him just by the way he is spoken of.  [Is this true of how we speak of God?]  The mere name alone provokes fear or freedom or hope in those who hear; each child experiences Aslan in relation to his or her own unique personality and current attitude toward Aslan. Later back at the house, Peter talks about how he hopes they can rescue Mr. Tummus:

“It’s no good, Son of Adam,” said Mr. Beaver, ‘no good your trying, of all people. But now that Aslan is on the move---”

“Oh yes! Tell us about Aslan!” said several voices at once, for once again that strange feeling – like the first signs of spring, like good news – had come over them.

“Who is Aslan?” asked Susan.

“Aslan?” said Mr. Beaver. “Why, don’t you know? He’s the King. He’s the Lord of the whole wood, but not often here, you understand. Never in my time or my father’s time. But the word has reached us that he has come back. He is in Narnia at this moment. He’ll settle the White Queen all right. It is he, not you, that will save Mr. Tumnus.”

“She won’t turn [Aslan] into stone, too?” said Edmund.

“Lord love you, Son of Adam, what a simple thing to say!” answered Mr. Beaver with a great laugh. “Turn him into stone? If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face it’ll be the most she can do and more than I expect of her. No, no …”

“Is — is he a man?” asked Lucy.

“Aslan a man!” Mr. Beaver said 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.”

Side note: The Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea is never directly portrayed in any of the seven Chronicles of Narnia.  It’s thought that “Lewis thought it wiser to simply refer to the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea, suggesting numinous majesty and transcendent inaccessibility without trying to show it.” Of course Aslan is the incarnate representation and embodiment of the holy God, He is a picture of Christ in this allegory.

The discussion continues with one of my favorite sections from the book:

“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? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Aslan is neither a harmless grandfather figure nor a beastly tyrant. Instead, Aslan is both awe-ful and good. He inspires fear and love. He can be joyously embraced but he must also be reverently approached …  [as the line in the movie says, “He is not tame”] He is mysterious, and yet approachable. He is not safe, but he is good. Like the old hymn, God is both “merciful and mighty.” In the book, the narrator says, “People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.” In Aslan – just as in God – we see that this is possible, indeed, necessary! One of the reasons that Aslan is such a fascinating character is Lewis’ amazing ability to hold these two tensions in balance. … In Romans 11:22 Paul says, “Behold the kindness and severity of God” (Romans 11:22). [adapted from article at theocentric.com]

TURN TO ISAIAH 6

The Chronicles of Narnia are fictional, of course, but there’s a fact behind that dialogue that Lewis believed and I want to affirm tonight: God is not safe, but He is good, He’s the King. I want to show you a true story, Isaiah’s, that I think also illustrates the fact that Lewis wanted to portray in fiction: our Lord is both lion and lamb, both merciful and mighty, He is kind but also the King, He is our Savior but He’s not safe.


1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

King Uzziah died in 739 B.C.  He had fallen into sin in his latter days of Israel, but was a good king compared to most. He reigned over 50 years, so much so that the people’s identity was tied with their ruler. (U.S. history perspective: timeframe covering Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush). More than instability and uncertainty, it was a time of national mourning.

The word for “Lord” in this passage (Adonai) refers to the sovereign rule of God. The human king had died, but here Isaiah sees the real King. Uzziah was dead but Yahweh is alive, and Israel’s trust and focus needed to be on him, not their political ruler.  The world might seem to be falling apart but Isaiah needed to see that God is on His throne.

This is why we are studying the attributes of God, because we all need to get a vision of God as He really is, ruling on His throne, and exalted and magnified. 

Not only is He sovereign “on the throne” He is SUPREME (see the phrase “high and lifted up”). And this is one of the best passages in scripture in giving us a glimpse of God and what Isaiah needed to know in His day and what we need to know in our day as well. When the text says the “train of his robe filled the temple” the idea is that God is big, we can’t contain Him. In verse 1 we see that God is sovereign, and He is supreme, but in verse 2 we move to what is the main attribute of God here and our study tonight, God is sanctified – holy.


2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.

The seraphim are only mentioned here in scripture – they cover their feet which some say is modesty but it may represent that everything around God is holy (cf. Moses’ feet in presence of burning bush).  What’s interesting is that they cover their faces.

If these perfect beings, with no sin, cover their faces in God’s presence, how much more do we imperfect sinful beings need to recognize and revere God’s holiness!

3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

The Hebrew tenses indicate the angels were continually doing the actions of verse 2 and 3. And Revelation 4 (written over 800 years later) indicates that when John gets a glimpse of the throne room, angels are still saying “holy, holy, holy” – they never get tired of worshipping, in fact God is so holy and so worthy of worship, that eternity is not enough. The attribute of God we will focus on today is THE HOLINESS OF GOD.

Outline:

  1. Definition of Holiness
  2. Importance of Holiness
  3. Application of God’s Holiness

1. Definition of holiness

- Majestic transcendence (v. 3 “whole earth is full of his glory”), also supremely unique

"“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?" (Exodus 15:11, ESV)

- Awesome presence and unapproachable light, a consuming fire

Isa 6:4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.

Note: Smoke can represent sacrifice / worship or God’s wrath or unapproachableness

- “Holy” also means absolutely pure and clean, set apart, a cut above

Lev. 20:26 "Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine."

            Isaiah recognized God was absolutely holy and pure and he was not

5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

What does “WOE” mean?

** See use in prior chapter – Isa 5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22

            It is God’s judgment / curse

10:5 “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath

33:1 “Woe to you, O destroyer … as soon as you finish destroying, you will be destroyed

“Woe to you” is the common theme of prophets announcing God’s wrath, but here Isaiah says “woe to me” - It’s one thing to pronounce a curse on pagan nations to be destroyed, but here Isaiah is pronouncing a curse on himself, he thinks it’s all over

“ruined” = Hebrew for “I’m toast” or “it’s all over.”  It’s translated in other places “cut off” or “destroyed” or “perish” – in other words, “I’m dead.”  It means to cease, to come to an end, usually a violent end (TWOT). 

Other renderings: “I am shattered and overwhelmed. I am devastated and dismantled. It’s over. I cease to exist.” (Ryken, Discovering God, 135)

R.C. Sproul summarizes the meanings: to come apart at the seams, to be unraveled, personal disintegration, all his self-esteem was shattered.

He writes in his book The Holiness of God, “As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to sustain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed – morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. His sense of integrity collapsed.” (p. 29).

For the first time in his life, Isaiah understood who God really was, and at the same moment, Isaiah for the first time really understood who Isaiah really was. 

“Unclean lips” – Isaiah was a prophet whose mouth spoke for God, and was one of the holiest human beings on the planet, but in light of God’s holiness and seeing the angels praise His glory, he rightly recognized what he would explain later:

"For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment." (Isaiah 64:6)

The word for “unclean” is the word used for those with leprosy (note: Uzziah died that same year of leprosy and had to go around saying “unclean, unclean”) – when you really understand God’s holiness you recognize that we are all spiritual lepers, the filthiest word in the Hebrew language represents the very best things we do

Jerry Bridges writes:

Isaiah’s understanding of God’s holiness brought an overwhelming sense of his own uncleanness, his own guilt and shame. That is when most of us want to run. It’s unpleasant. It strikes at the very heart of our self-esteem and self-worth. We feel threatened, insecure, rejected, and condemned. So in a desperate attempt to protect our fragile egos, we cry out, “Don’t tell me any more about God’s holiness. I don’t want to hear it.”

Then we settle back into a comfortable substitute for real Christian living. We go through the forms, use the right language, and do the bare minimum of what we think is expected of us. We talk about God’s love, which is vital to an understanding of His person. But we seldom ever mention His holiness or think about what it means for us to be holy. Isaiah did not try to run and hide from God’s holiness. It exposed his sin and that was not very pleasant, but he did not turn away. Neither did he try to excuse himself by blaming his parents or his spouse or his poor circumstances in life. He admitted it and accepted the responsibility for it. The only way he could ever be holy was to see himself as God saw him, acknowledge his sin, and admit that he deserved divine judgment. “Woe is me!” he cried. (Joy of Knowing God, ch. 11)

Isaiah was devastated by God’s holiness, but the Lord did not leave him that way. 

READ 6:6-7 -> This is a picture of forgiveness for a repentant heart

Sinclair Ferguson says:

Isaiah was right: we are moral wrecks, and only by the grace of God are we daily preserved from total self-destruction. When . . . God’s holiness breaks upon our spirits, we are delivered from all superficial and inadequate thoughts about our own sanctification. We are also preserved from any cheap teaching that encourages us to think that there are short cuts by which we may more easily obtain holiness.

Holiness is not an experience; it is the re-integration of our character, the rebuilding of a ruin. It is a skilled labour, a long-term project, demanding everything God has given us for life and godliness (A Heart for God [Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987], p. 91).

To summarize, God’s holiness is His

-          majestic transcendence, He is supremely unique

-          awesome presence, unapproachable light, a consuming fire

-          absolutely pure and clean, set apart

2. Importance of holiness - Why holiness first in our series on the attributes?

Someone has said that this is the most common description of God in the Bible – “holy”

The word “holy” appears about 700x in the Bible, far more than any other attribute that I know 

God is oftener styled Holy than Almighty, and set forth by this part of His dignity more than by any other. This is more fixed on as an epithet to His name than any other. You never find it expressed “His mighty name” or “His wise name,” but His great name, and most of all, His holy name. This is the greatest title of honour … (Stephen Charnock).

Another Puritan writes that holiness “may be said to be a transcendental attribute, that, as it were, runs through the rest, and casts lustre upon them. It is an attribute of attributes” (John Howe, 1670, both citations by Pink, Attributes of God, 41).

From a technical standpoint, one scholar has pointed out that “God’s ‘name’ is qualified by the adjective ‘holy’ in the Old Testament more often that by all other qualifiers put together.” (Motyer, Isaiah, 77, italics mine).

Holiness is so much linked to God that the place of His presence in the O.T. temple was called “the holy of holies”

Holy is part of a name of each person of the Trinity

-          Over and over God is referred to as Holy. When we pray to the Father, what’s the first thing we are to say?  (“Our father who art in heaven …”)

-          Jesus is called the Holy one (Acts 3:14; even the demon’s called Him the “Holy One” – Mk 1:24)

-          And when it comes to 3rd person of Trinity, you almost never see Him referred to without the word “holy.”  Holiness is so much a part of God’s essence that it becomes more than an adjective and is really the proper name of the 3rd person of the Trinity: The Holy Spirit

Interesting side note: Trinity hinted in Isaiah 6 (more than “holy, holy, holy”)

            - Isa 6:8 “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

            - God the Father is described as sitting upon the throne, ex: Dan 7:9,13

- John 12:41 quotes this passage and says Isaiah saw Christ and spoke of him

- Acts 28:25 quotes what the Lord says in Isaiah 6 and says it was the Holy Spirit who said these words

Holiness is so much of the essence of God that God Himself swears by His holiness.

"I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David." (Psalm 89:34-35, ESV)

Now humans often swear by exalted things – like the country song “I swear by the moon and the stars in the sky, I’ll be there” – the idea is to find the highest thing to appeal to stake your word on.  People in court are asked to put their hand on God’s Word and swear on it to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. When God is swearing about the truthfulness of something, there’s nothing above Himself to appeal to – it’s interesting that He swears by His holiness. As Pink says, “God swears by His “holiness” because that is a fuller expression of Himself than anything else” (p 41). 

Holiness is so important that no one can see the Lord without it – Heb. 12:14

A minister took a trip to Ukraine during the 1990s. He was so impressed with the Christian work being done among university students that he asked for their philosophy of ministry. A young woman named Masha said, “You must understand, we are not afraid to [offend] them in order to show them that God is more holy than they think he is and that they are more sinful.” This approach to Christian witness shows profound respect for God’s holiness. (Ryken, 140)

It’s been pointed out that much of the O.T. is God revealing His holiness and character. In the Ten Commandments he reveals his utter separatedness and moral purity in the holy law he gave – no other gods, keep the Sabbath day holy, don’t use His holy name in vain, but keep it holy, set apart. God would later give them instructions on how to keep him holy in worship, how things were to be kept holy, there was a Holy Place and the Most Holy Place to teach that God is separate from all His creation.

God also issued his sacrificial law in Leviticus which revealed His holy standard – He is so holy that He cannot be accessed without a sin covering, Hab. 1:13 says His eyes are too pure to look on evil, He cannot tolerate it.  His holy justice demands capital punishment for sin.  There were 613 detailed laws for how Israel was to be holy, set apart from other nations

There’s another reason Holiness is important, right out of Isaiah 6 …

Sometimes a is word repeated back to back, 2x in a row for great emphasis:

It is a common and powerful way of emphasizing a particular word, by thus marking it and calling attention to it. In writing, one might accomplish this by putting the word in larger letters, or by underlining it two or three times. In speaking, it is easy to mark it by expressing it with increased emphasis or vehemence. How important for us to notice, in the Scriptures, the words and expressions which the Holy Spirit has thus marked and emphasized in order to impress us with their importance! (Bullinger, Figures of Speech in the Bible, 183)

Examples of word used twice in a row in scripture:

Ps 22:1 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Eloi, Eloi in original)

Jer. 6:4 – false prophets say “’Peace, peace,’ [i.e., plenty of peace, much peace] when there is no peace”

Jesus:   verily, verily / Truly, truly I say to you

Christ told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). By repetition He emphasized the importance of His statement

            Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem – much pathos

“Holy” is the only word for God repeated 3x back-to-back “holy, holy, holy” (never love, love, love, good, good, good, omnipotent, omnipotent, omnipotent)

Motyer says “Hebrew uses repetition to express superlatives or to indicate totality. Only here is a threefold repetition found. Holiness is supremely the truth about God, and his holiness is in itself so far beyond human thought that a ‘super-superlative’ has to be invented to express it.” (76-77).

We see “holy, holy, holy” more than once for God – not only here but also in Rev. 4

These are all biblical reasons why God’s holiness is a good attribute to study first in our series, but there’s also a very practical one – I desperately need to know God’s holiness. I need to live in light of his holiness.  I know a lot about God, but that’s not the same as knowing God.

3. APPLICATION OF GOD’S HOLINESS:

What kind of impact should it have on our life when we have a right view of God’s holiness?

  1. Holy living – v. 8 “here am I, send me”

Isaiah had been crushed. But once he was rescued from his ruin and reconciled to God, he became a spokesperson for God’s holiness. He calls God “the Holy One” thirty times in his book, more than any other writer in the Bible. This is what he wrote, much later in life:

For this is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. … I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips.” (57:15, 18–19a)

That was Isaiah’s experience precisely, right down to the lips. He never forgot what he saw in the throne room of heaven. He never lost his sense of God’s majestic holiness. And he never stopped telling people that there was a way for unholy people to be reconciled to a holy God. (Ryken, 137)

  1. Prayer focused on God’s name and holiness

Matt 6.5 “Hallowed be thy name”

“If we take Jesus’ sequence of petitions as indicative or priority, then recognizing God’s holiness comes before even the coming of His kingdom or the doing of His will” (Bridges, Joy of Fearing God, 65).

  1. Humility

Again, think of the seraphim in Isaiah 6 – if even they as perfect beings covered their faces in the presence of the Lord, how much more should we as imperfect and sinful beings?

  1. Worship

Psalm 96:9 says “O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.”

Tozer said: In my opinion, the great single need of the moment is that light-hearted superficial religionists be struck down with a vision of God high and lifted up, with His train filling the temple. The holy art of worship seems to have passed away like the Shekinah glory from the tabernacle. (Keys To The Deeper Life, 87 & 88). 

May any superficial or light-hearted religion in us be beaten down by this vision of God high and lifted up, and by God’s grace let us live more in light of the holiness of God revealed here.

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