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Evan Earwicker: God is Holy, Isaiah 6:1-7

September 25, 2023

Audio Recording

God’s holiness is so intense that impurity in His presence is dangerous, as seen in stories like Moses and the burning bush, Isaiah’s vision in the temple, and Ezekiel’s river vision. Jesus demonstrates a different expression of God’s holiness throughout his ministry. His holiness and power don’t condemn the impure but transform and heal those approaching him in faith.

Discovering God
Discovering God
Evan Earwicker: God is Holy, Isaiah 6:1-7
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Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

We've been taking these weeks looking at different characteristics of the nature of God, looking at them through the lens of the Gospel, the lens of Jesus'life and his teachings to understand who the God of the Bible is. And it's been really rich and I've enjoyed it. I hope today is that way as well. As we talk about the holiness of God, when I say holy, we don't have a lot of non religious reference for this idea of holiness, right. Most of our attachments to the word holy have to do with a sense of religiosity, except for maybe like, oh, holy cow. You might say no one says that, but you might say something like that as an exclamation. But we don't really have a lot of reference for this idea outside of this sense of heightened religiousness right.

If you've heard the phrase holier than thou, that's not usually a positive connotation, right? Holiness is seen as this looking down at your nose, looking down your nose at someone else of this inflated sense of righteousness. And oftentimes that's a negative. And so as we look today, really the root of this idea of the holiness of God, we understand that for the ancients, they were standing there and worshipping a god who they believed was the creator of all things. Worshipping a god who they believed had all wisdom and understanding, who was the embodiment of beauty and the intense creative power that caused everything to have life and exist. And as the ancients are considering the greatness of God and the frailty of humanity and of themselves, they needed a word to describe this chasm, this gap between the greatness of God and the reality of the human condition. And so we see this word holy really be an expression of the gap between humanity and the greatness of the divine God.

And so when we have this idea of holiness, mainly as a kind of morality or a religious purity, that's maybe a part of it, but like a small part of it, okay, that is accurate, and that is what's encapsulated in the idea of holiness. But if that's your whole idea of holiness is just that you act right in a religious way, that's not the full picture of the expansive nature of the holiness of God is what we find in the Bible. And so if you have a Bible, it's going to be two Timothy 220 is where we start. It'll also be on the screen. If you don't, no worries.

But Paul was talking about this idea of how we embody the holiness of God, how we live in the holiness of God. And this kind of gives us a little glimpse, a little hint towards what our idea of God's holiness is. Two Timothy 220 says in a large house, there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay. So he's saying there's a difference. There's some vessels that are very high end, and there's some vessels that are not so high end. Some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy useful to the master, and prepared to do any work, any good work. So this past Christmas, we were at home one evening, we were watching a Christmas movie. It was just a nice evening with our kids, and I was opening a can I think of something? Anyway? And I got a cut on my finger. And so I wanted to tend to the cut, and so I went and I grabbed a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and I wanted to clean the cut before putting a band aid on. And so I didn't have anything. So I grabbed a drinking glass, put it on the counter, put hydrogen peroxide in it, and then treated this little cut on my finger. Problem was, my wife Alyssa was upstairs at the time, and I finished with the cup, but I left it out on the counter.

So she comes just I'm sitting with the kids, we're watching the movie, and I look out of my peripheral and I see her reach for the glass. And before I could say anything, she took a full drink of the hydrogen peroxide. Only one, though. I mean, you don't go back for a second. It was very clear, very quick that that was not drinking water. And after the fear that she would be very poisoned by this subsided, she was okay. There was just a lot of unpleasant feelings from her directed at me for the next, like, six months or so. But we're here, we're good.

It was a mistake. I owned up to that. And she just couldn't believe after we calmed down, she couldn't believe, why would you use a drinking glass for that and then leave it out, right? It was a case of using something that is really set aside, set apart for one purpose and using it for something else. Not even a bad purpose, just the wrong purpose. And so Paul is talking to us in two timothy he says, we want to actually live holy lives because there are purposes that God has set aside for us, unique purposes that we would enter into if we are following after Jesus. But it requires something of us. And it's this sense of uniqueness, this uniqueness of purpose, this uniqueness of calling that starts to get at the idea that the ancients had about the holiness, the otherness, the uniqueness of almighty God. And so we're going to get into this. Will you pray with me? Father? We thank you for your presence among us today and the way you reveal yourself in your word. We pray that as we talk about your holiness, Lord, that there would just be such a sense of awe, of the way that you are at work in our world and at work in your church. We receive your word today. Change us as we hear it. We pray in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen.

Well, in the Bible, the concept of God's holiness really comes front and center in the Book of Exodus, chapter three. The book of Exodus tells the story of Moses. He is a Hebrew baby that is born in Egypt in slavery. And there's a decree that goes out because the multiplication effect of the Hebrew slaves, the Egyptians begin to be fearful that the Hebrews will overpower them. And so they send out a decree by Pharaoh to kill all of the male babies that are born to the Hebrew women. And Moses is one of these babies. And so in desperation, his mother hides him among the reeds in a basket, and he is found by Pharaoh's daughter. And so Moses is raised in the palace in Egypt as a son or a grandson of Pharaoh. When that relationship falls apart, Moses actually leaves Egypt, and he goes out into the wilderness, where he becomes a shepherd. And it's while tending to his flocks out in the wilderness that something remarkable happens. Moses comes upon this bush that is burning, but it is not consumed. And we pick up the story in Exodus, chapter three, verse two, where it says, moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn't burn up. This is amazing, moses said to himself.

Why isn't that bush burning up? I must go and see it. And when the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, god called to him from the middle of the bush. Moses. Moses. I love this description. Like, God's, like, how am I going to get his attention? I got an idea. Sets the bush on fire, then watches. He's like, yes, it's working. It's working.

Have you been online? And, like, the clickbait thing where they do something that makes you want to click on it to see what the rest of the story is? This is like the original clickbait. This is God clickbaiting, moses, to come check out this burning bush. Moses comes over to the bush and he says, Here I am. Moses replied, verse five. Do not come any closer to the Lord. Warrant. Warrant. Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing on is what? Holy ground. I'm the god of your father, the God of Abraham, the god of Isaac and the god of Jacob. And when Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.

So we find that God declares of the space even around his presence to be holy ground. A good metaphor for this is the sun. Is the sun good or bad?

Depends on your complexion, right? But the sun is good.

It's our source. Of light and life and warmth. And of course, nothing would be here without the power of the sun. But depending on how close you get to the sun, it starts to go from good to dangerous, right?

And if we were too close to the sun, of course everything in its path would be annihilated, not because the sun is evil or bad, but because the sun is so intense.

And so we have this idea of the holiness of God, especially as revealed in this story, as something that is dangerous, not because it's evil or bad, but because of its intensity. It's the holiness of God. And so God warns Moses to not come any closer. Until what? Until he takes off his sandals. Now, why would God tell Moses to take off his sandals?

Well, Moses is a shepherd, so what's probably caked on those sandals, right?

I asked that in the first service, and it was silent. And then one of our ladies was like sheep poop, just like, can I say that in church? Well, that's what was on there, right?

This is a shepherd doing shepherd things in the ancient wilderness that represented something that was not pure enough. It needed to be left behind. In order for Moses to step out of his normal, common world into something that was altogether other, to step into the holiness of God, it was required that Moses leave something behind in order to come near to the intensity of God's perfection and otherness. And so, Moses, you gotta leave your sandals behind. And this would have been the moment that frames and gives the Israelites and the Jewish people their understanding of who God is. For generations, they would have told this story about Moses at the burning bush as a way to understand and frame the idea of the holiness of God. To get close to the intensity of the holiness of God, they would have said, purity is required. And even as the story goes on, moses leads the children of Israel out into the wilderness. And God gives them instructions to create this tabernacle, this temple in the wilderness. And at the center of the camp is this tent. And at the center of the tent is this room called the Most Holy Place. And every level of closeness you get to that most holy place, there is a higher standard of purity, a higher standard of ritual cleansing that has to happen before you are able to come into the presence of God. This is the understanding that they would have had. And if you read the Book of Leviticus, it's a real page turner. If you read the Book of Leviticus is chapter after chapter, not only how to live morally pure lives, but also how to live ritually pure lives. So, sir, you touched mold today. You got to wait ten days and then you can go into God's presence. It was these ideas that anything that had to do with death or decay. It was not fit to be in the presence of a holy God.

This idea keeps developing through the story of the Old Testament, and we get to this moment the prophet Isaiah prophesies. In Isaiah, chapter six, he has this vision, this dream. And here's what Isaiah saw in Isaiah six, verse one. It was the year that King Uziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, these strange creatures, each having six wings. With two wings, they covered their faces, with two, they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And they were calling out to each other, holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heaven's armies. The whole earth is filled with his glory.

Their voices shook the temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke. And then I said it's all over. I am doomed, for I'm a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. And yet I've seen the king, the Lord of heaven's armies. And then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar. With a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it. He says see. This coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed and your sin is forgiven. What a strange vision, right?

This is a very vivid and odd thing for Isaiah to see. And yet what we learn about it is that Isaiah finds himself all of the sudden in front of the holiness and the presence of Almighty God. And he realizes that in comparison to that perfection, he's not going to make the cut.

And Isaiah, like anybody else in his community, would have known what happens if you try to enter the presence of God, the holiness of God, and you're not pure enough, you're not ready enough, you're not holy enough. You haven't done all the things it requires to get perfect before God. You're not going to survive it.

And so, naturally, Isaiah says, I'm doomed. And what's so interesting, I think, represents in the Old Testament, this moment of shifting, where we begin to look towards the coming of Jesus, is that instead of being consumed by the holiness of God, in this vision, something happens to Isaiah. And this strange winged creature flies to Isaiah with this burning coal from the altar, and it touches Isaiah's lips. And instead of consuming Isaiah, what does it do? It makes him clean. It makes him clean.

One more story from the prophets that I want to share with you that kind of gets us onto the on ramp towards the coming of Jesus is in Ezekiel 47. Ezekiel 47. Another prophet around the same time named Ezekiel, sees another vision. And in this vision, he sees the temple of God, much like Isaiah did but this time he's standing outside the temple and he sees this water flowing from the door of the temple and out from the temple it begins to puddle and pool. And then as it begins to run down, it becomes a creek and then a stream. And then eventually it becomes wider and deeper and the stream becomes a river. And in Ezekiel 47 seven, this is what he sees in the vision. He says, when I returned, I was surprised by the sight of many trees growing on both sides of the river. And remember, the holiness of God up to this point is not something that brings life. It's something that's so intense it consumes everything.

But then he said to me, this river flows east through the desert into the valley of the Dead Sea. And the waters of this stream will make the salty waters of the Dead Sea fresh and pure. Let me ask you this. Does fresh water make salt water clean? Or does saltwater make fresh water salty?

I know it's a lot to say, but it's the second one, right? You're like salt water makes it's the second.

Salt water would contaminate the freshwater. A stream coming into the Dead Sea is not going to transform the water that is salty and make it fresh. And yet here in the vision, we see the river of God coming from the temple is making the Dead Sea fresh and pure. Verse nine. There will be swarms of living things wherever the water of this river flows. Fish will abound in the Dead Sea, for the waters will become fresh and life will flourish wherever this water flows.

Isn't this fascinating that for a people who for their entire history have known that the holiness of God is such that you better be ready when you approach it? All of a sudden we begin to see these visions, these pictures of something shifting where the coal is now making Isaiah pure in the presence of God, even though he has no business being there. The waters are beginning to bring life, not centered in the temple, but outside the temple. Now life is happening because the water is undoing the death.

Man, Moses is not going to like this, right? This is not the understanding that we have in Exodus chapter three, because normally if you touch something impure, it will transfer its impurity to you.

But now here's this new idea that God is going to be on the move to bring holiness and purity to those who do not have it.

Jesus went around touching people who were impure.

He would encounter people with horrible skin diseases, people who were ritually unable to come near to the temple because of the sickness in their body.

He would sit down and have meals with people whose behavior had put them so far outside of what was lawful and righteous and holy.

He would interact with those that the religious leaders of his day would have nothing to do with. And when he touches them, their impurity should transfer over to Jesus.

But instead something else happens. And I want to look at this one last story in Luke chapter eight.

Jesus at this point has performed many miracles. And so word has spread about this guy Jesus from Galilee. He's a miracle worker. He's teaching in a way that they've never heard before. And so the crowds have formed around Jesus and this important person comes to Jesus, gets word to him, my daughter's sick, will you come and heal her? And so we find this story of Jesus being rushed through the temple to get to this very important person, this VIP's daughter, to heal her. And he's got his entourage of disciples and they're kind of like trying to get him through the crowds and the crowd want to see him and be near him, but he's got something to do. He's busy. He's busy.

And in Luke chapter eight, verse 43, it says a woman in the crowd has suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding and could find no cure.

One of the other gospels that says she spent everything she had trying to find a cure. And coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe and immediately the bleeding stopped. She was healed.

Who touched me? Jesus asked. Everyone denied it. And then Peter said, master, and this whole crowd is pressing up against you. I appreciate that. Peter's always trying to explain things, to know.

Well you see Jesus, I feel like my five year old has got a little Peter in him.

But Jesus said, someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me. And when the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. Why is she so afraid? Well, one, she's being called out. She thought she was being sneaky, right? And she's being called out. But more than that, because of her ailment by the book of Moses, it meant that she was ritually unclean and unable ever in that state to enter into the temple and be part of the community that would go to worship that through no fault of her own, she was actually excluded from God's presence in the temple.

And so for her to leave her house and to be in that public space and especially near the temple would have been an outrage to the religious law.

And so here she is having broken more than a few rules to be there.

And then Jesus stops in the crowd and she thinks like, yes, I got what I needed and no one will see me. By the way, if your personality type you kind of feel that way coming to church like, I'm going to sit in the back and get what I needed and no one will see me. Maybe today Jesus is going to be like, hey, stop for a second. You in the back.

Because that was the sense, right?

That she was so desperate, she was willing to break the rules, but she really didn't want to be noticed.

And so Jesus stops, and he says, who touched me? Who was it? And so she falls down, and she's trembling in front of him. And then it says the whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. And here is a moment with this next word that is spoken by Jesus that flipped centuries of understanding of the holiness of God on its head.

Daughter, he said to her, your faith has made you well. Now go in peace.

What would have been the expectation? The expectation would be that Jesus would have scolded her for how she went about this moment.

He would have condemned her for breaking the rules and breaking the law. He would have quoted Moses and condemned her, just like probably some of the religious leaders that were watching this go down were doing in their minds. He would have cast her away just as she had been cast away year after year.

And yet in this moment, we have someone who is ritually unholy, unable by the law to enter into the temple of God.

And when the law says, you can't, in her desperation, she places her hope, her last hope in this man Jesus.

And she sneaks her way into the crowds. She reaches for him, and she touches just the hem of his robe.

And when he finds out he calls her daughter, he restores to her what was lost not only in her body, but also in her standing in the community. He says, you're welcomed back here. Your faith has made you well.

Not your perfection, not your ritual purity, not the way that you figured all this out and went to the best doctors and got the best treatments, and now you climbed your way back into God's good graces. No, it was in your desperation and your hopelessness that you came to me, and you came to the right person. Daughter, your faith has made you well.

I am just so convinced that if we are relying on our ability to act good enough for God, we will always come up short.

But if we are relying on our last hope being placed in the man Jesus, that if we could reach for him and get to him, that his response to us would be one. Daughter, son, you're welcome back, then we will find for our souls the rest. We are looking for a crazy thought that the holiness of God, like a river, would come and find us far from God and make what was impure and unholy righteous and in good standing with God.

Recently, I heard a pastor talking.

He was saying that because of his views on sin and certain issues of sin, that he would never allow a sinful person into his home on Christmas, because that was the day that we set aside to honor when God came into the Earth. God came to earth as Jesus. And honestly, you guys, it broke my heart.

Because if the coming of God through Jesus Christ is not about sinners being welcomed into the house of God, I don't know why we're here.

Let's quit.

Let's be done. If the doors of our homes and our hearts are not reflecting the reality that when we were far from God, when we were unable to access his presence, when we were never going to be holy enough, that Jesus stood in holy places and he says, you don't belong here except that you've come to me. You've put your hope in me. You've put Your desperate last chance for healing and restoration and redemption in me. And because you've done that, the doors of God's house are wide open to you.

And I know when we talk about things like holiness, and it can stir up feelings of guilt and shame. And I'm telling you, the message of Jesus to the woman in Luke, chapter eight, and to all those who came to Him trembling and afraid, is that shame has no place when Jesus is in the room.

And so today we're going to take communion together as we do every week. And I was thinking about this, and there's so many facets to when we join together at the table of Jesus, and we remember the cross, we remember his sacrifice for us. But I thought, man, would it be today that we could take the bread and take the cup? And much like that coal in Isaiah's vision, that as we receive the body and the blood of Christ today, we would receive it as that thing that doesn't bring shame onto our lives, but actually brings purity and wholeness and healing and forgiveness to our bodies and our minds and our souls.

Would we receive today that river of living water coming from the very presence of Jesus?

I want you to pray with me, if you would, Lord jesus, we are all here, not of those who have graduated from making mistakes and somehow now we lord it over others. No, we are here in need today of Your mercy, in need today of Your forgiveness and Your cleansing.

And Lord, for those places where we feel guilt and shame, I trust today, Jesus, that we've come to the right place.

I pray that somebody today, maybe for the first time, would put their hope, even in their desperate moment, they would put their hope in You, Jesus, that they would reach for Your robe today.

They would reach for Your healing and Your redemption today.

Lord, I pray that our church would be so convinced of our need for the mercy of Jesus and not for our ability to be perfect, that we would cling to You, Jesus. We would run to you. We would model in our lives and in our community reliance on the man Jesus.

And that even today, Lord, as we gather the table and we take the bread and the cup that we would receive in our bodies, in our spirits, forgiveness of sins, your healing, your holiness.

Pray all this in Jesus name. Amen.