A Holy God - A Holy People
16 Jul 2005, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
A HOLY GOD - A HOLY PEOPLE
All through history man has had the desire to worship something, and there was no greater opportunity to put this into practice than to live during the time of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt. There were more Gods worshipped in this place than in any other location known to man. This type of worship practice became known as Polytheism - believing in many Gods.
THE GODS RULED EVERYTHING
If the Nile flooded a God willed it or if it ran low a God was displeased. There were Gods of the cosmos such as Ra, the sun God and Osiris, master of the underworld and ruler of the dead. The multitude of local Gods worshipped in Egyptian homes were mostly identified with animals such as cats, crocodiles and frogs (Patrick, 1972: 43-46).
The Egyptians during this period of history had confused the creator with his creation
They believed that the Gods were totally involved with all aspects of life and, ultimately, were behind every event. Nothing ever happened by chance.
Natural explanations were never given because the Egyptians made no distinction between the secular and the sacred.
Each God was treated as a king in its temple. They were often symbolically awakened, washed, dressed, and then fed. This latter practice was carried out in the form of a food offering and if the idol was small enough it would even be taken for walks and put to bed.
These common practices were to be in direct contrast to the beliefs held by the Israelite people who, while believing that God was the force behind everything, only believed in one God. - And this God was not identified with any part of the natural world. This singular type of worship was to be known as Monotheism and was outlined clearly in the Old Testament. Deut 6:4 tells us unequivocally that 'The Lord our God is ONE God'.
Further contrasts in worship were found in the Jewish Temple. While sacrifices were carried out, they were not to provide food for their God. They were used only to represent the removal of man's sin.
While the God of Israel was considered by the Jewish people to be King and head of the nation, He was, however, to be separated from the priests and the people in the Holy of Holies. The High Priest was the one exception.
Hence, this God was one to be reverenced. He was seen by them to be HOLY.
It is interesting to note that the statues or images made by the Egyptians, representing the powers they worshipped, were known as representative idols. As such, their worship practice was termed idolatry. In contrast to this, the Israelites were expressly forbidden to make any images of the God they worshipped.
Once again this practice emphasised the fact that their God was set apart or exalted above other things. He was to transcend all of His created works. He was seen as the supreme God, in whom nothing could equal.
The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 9:6 tells us that '…His name will be called WONDERFUL, COUNSELOR, MIGHTY GOD, EVERLASTING FATHER, PRINCE OF PEACE.
He was seen as a God of GOODNESS as well as GREATNESS, a God of LOVE as well as WISDOM, a God of MERCY as well as JUSTICE. He was seen to be a God of the POOR and the MEEK, the WEALTHY and the GREAT.
What a wonderful picture this gives of our God.
Let me tell you this morning, that there are some attributes about the God of heaven that you and I can never have, BUT being HOLY is not one of them and God desires to communicate this special attribute to you.
The scriptures are very clear that God desires and deserves a holy people
If this is true then we need to understand more about what it means to be HOLY.
WHAT DOES THIS WORD MEAN?
The Oxford dictionary suggests that to be HOLY means:
To be Morally and Spiritually perfect, to be revered
To be saintly and free from all moral evil
To be consecrated or sacred
However, the Scriptures use the terms GODLINESS along with the word SANCTIFICATION.
Therefore, it suggests that being holy means to be 'sanctified' or 'set apart' for divine service. This concept of growing into God's likeness and being consecrated for His use is frequently referred to in the Scriptures.
If we turn to the book of Exodus we see the Children of Israel being taken out of Egypt to become God's HOLY Nation - a people 'set apart'.
Why was it necessary for them to leave? Why couldn't they remain in Egypt and still be a holy nation?
It would seem that they were in danger of becoming just like the Egyptians and if they remained they would be continually exposed to the God's of Egypt and all their worship practices.
We are told that they needed to be sanctified or set apart.
In order to bring about this separation God found it necessary to call down the plagues upon Egypt. This miraculous event was:
- To contrast His power with the power of the Egyptian Gods.
- To make Pharaoh let God's people go. (We need to remember that Pharaoh was also looked upon as an Egyptian God.)
- It was also to show that God is above His created works - That He is supreme and it was - To allow God's people time to change - TO BECOME HOLY.
DID THE ISRAELITES RECOGNISE WHAT GOD HAD DONE FOR THEM?
As we listen to the victory song that Moses and the people sang after they crossed the Red Sea, the answer at that time would seem to be YES.
Listen to what they are saying in Ex .15:11:
'Who among the Gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you -
Majestic in holiness
Awesome in glory
The Israelites not only recognised that god was working miracles, but that he was majestic in holiness.
A further illustration of the Holiness of God can be found in Moses' experience at the burning bush.
We read this in Exodus 3:5. Listen to what it says:
'Do not come any closer, God said. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is Holy Ground. YOU ARE STANDING ON HOLY GROUND.
What made it Holy?
It was the presence of God. Wherever God is and whatever is dedicated to the Lord becomes Holy or set apart. Ps 65:4 tells us that the temple was Holy. Rev 21:2 says that the New Jerusalem is called the HOLY CITY. Ps 20:6 describes all heaven as HOLY.
We are reminded that if all nature trembles at His presence, then how much more should sinful human beings enter His presence with Holy fear.
The Scriptures make it clear that there is a difference between that which is hallowed or Holy and that which is common and we ignore those differences at great peril or risk to ourselves.
I am reminded again of the words of a contemporary song that many of you would know and I would like to share the words with you. Listen to what it's saying:
As I walk through the door, I felt His presence,
And I knew this was a place where love abides,
For this is the temple to God Almighty,
And we are standing in His presence on Holy ground.
We are standing on Holy ground,
And I know that there are Angels all around.
Let us praise Jesus now,
We are standing in His presence on Holy ground.
In His presence there is joy beyond all measure,
At His feet peace of mind can still be found.
If you have a need, I know He has the answer,
Just reach out and claim it, You are standing on Holy ground.
We are standing on Holy ground,
And I know that there are Angels all around.
Let us praise Jesus now,
We are standing in His presence on Holy ground
Dear friends, when we come into the presence of the King of the Universe we need to approach Him in humility and reverence.
It is interesting to note that with all the laws that are recorded in the Scriptures, there is only one set that are referred to as God's Holy Law. These were The Ten Commandments given to God's Holy Nation to lead them into Holiness. They were designed by God to enable us to be free and to enjoy life and enjoy it to the full. Jesus summed up God's Holy Law when he said in Matt 22:37-40 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind' This is the first and greatest commandment' The second is like it. 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'
God's laws were to lead you into holiness. They were to outline to you the basic principles of life
The fact that these laws originated from God made them different.
They were seen to be totally just and perfect.
If followed they were to provide blessings and happiness, and as noted by the Psalmist in Ps.19: 8 '… they were to give joy to the heart.'
Found at the centre of these commandments was the instruction to 'Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it HOLY.'
- This was a day set apart to remind us about our Creator God. It was a memorial of Creation.
- It was a day in time that God promised to spend quality time with you and with me.
The Jewish Theologian Abraham Heschel calls the Sabbath a 'Cathedral in Time' because it is set apart for worship.
WHAT MAKES IT HOLY?
God's presence in time from sunset to sunset makes it Holy
God originated it. It is God's special day - IT WAS SET APART FOR HOLY USE
Let me repeat again: Does God wish to have a holy people?
Let me answer this in part by sharing with you the verses of an old familiar Hymn based on the words of Scripture taken from 1 Peter 1:16.
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, And feed on His word;
Make friends of God's children, Help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy, The world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret With Jesus alone;
By looking to Jesus, Like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy, Let Him be thy Guide,
And run not before Him, Whatever betide;
In joy or in sorrow, Still follow thy Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, Still trust in His word.
Take time to be holy, Be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive Beneath His control;
Thus led by His Spirit To fountains of love,
Thou soon shall be fitted For service above (Brooks, 1985: 500).
TAKE TIME TO BE HOLY, TAKE TIME
The Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:15,16 says:
'…Just as He who called you is Holy, so be Holy in all that you do. Be holy because I am Holy'
The Scriptures make it very clear that it is ESSENTIAL that God have a HOLY PEOPLE before HE can take them into His Kingdom.
In other words, if you are without holiness you are going to miss out on the kingdom.
2 Peter 3:11 makes it abundantly clear that we are to '…live HOLY and GODLY lives…' as we look forward to the day of God and speed it's coming.
How is all this possible?
Let me tell you this morning that this is only possible through the grace of Jesus Christ.
Paul makes the following statement in 2 Timothy 1:8,9 where he says:
' …Do not be ashamed to testify of our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the Gospel by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a HOLY life - not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.
Jesus also said in John 17:19 that He sanctified Himself in order that we might be sanctified or Holy.
Jesus is the key. No man or woman goes to the kingdom unless it is through Jesus Christ.
When we accept him:
We become his dedicated people
A people set apart
We become saints
We become god's holy people
Every person who takes the Lord into their lives represents one of the greatest changes possible in our human existence. This change is a miracle of God's saving grace.
Wherever God dwells, that place becomes holy, even including the human heart. You become holy
We need to recognise that our Holy God is dedicated to the cause of having a holy people
To have this happen:
We need to make an entire surrender to the will of god
We need to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of god
We need to trust god in trial, in darkness as well as light
We need to walk by faith and not by sight
We need to rely on god with unquestioning confidence
And we need to rest in his love
If ever there was a person who wanted to be HOLY, it was MARY FAHRNER.
Mary was born on the south side of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on September 9, 1904. She was the eighth child of a family of thirteen. Coming from a good Catholic home she was taken one week later to St. Peter's Church where she was to be christened 'MARY' in honour of the holy blessed mother of Jesus (Fahrner, 1977: 7).
Mary's parents were middle-class German immigrants who were known by all their neighbours as being not only kind, but who were also considerate and forgiving. It was only natural that their children were taught these values and also to show special reverence for the local priests and nuns (Ibid).
Life was full of fun in a large family and this formed the background to her growing up years. She loved reading Bible stories. She loved singing and praying in German with the rosary and spent many an hour at school standing in contemplation before the statue of 'Our Lady' instead of playing. While communion was received by her brothers and sisters at age 12, which according to Pope Pius X was considered to be the age of reason, Mary was referred by her pastor to take communion at the age of seven. So on Ascension Thursday Mary proudly went off in her first non-hand-me-down dress to take part in this special service. Daily communion was then to commence during the sixth grade and continued to take place all through the holiday months (Ibid: 8,9).
At grade eight Mary asked to join the preparatory class with the Franciscan nuns at Mt. Alvernis. Here they would scrub floors, clean bedrooms and in the evenings they did needlework, crocheted or tatted presents for their families.
It was at this time that Mary commenced her training as a teacher for the Catholic School System. She graduated in 1919 at the age of fifteen and during that year became a postulant fulfilling a long awaited dream. Wearing a black dress with wide sleeves reaching to the wrist, a small black belt, a stiff, small white collar and a black bonnet, she now became known as 'Sister Mary' (Ibid: 13).
Eventually the great day came in 1921 when Mary along with eleven other sisters were to be promoted to the first stage towards taking their final vows for life.
On the morning of the great day, at five o'clock, the large community bell was rung thirty times in memory of the years they believed Jesus spent on the earth. Wearing the long bridal veil with train, and flowers each of the girls moved single file down the main isle where they prostrated themselves before the black death cloth signifying their 'death to the world'. After being blessed with holy water the girls assumed the title 'Brides of Christ'. Mary was now to be known as Sister Cecilia Marie. Recognising that from this hour they would be cut off from their families and the world there were many tears. They were now to belong wholly to Jesus, to share their life with Him, in Him and through Him (Ibid: 26).
In looking back on this period of her life Mary believed fully in the benefits of Christ's death. However, she felt she needed to do things to help obtain it. She recognised that her thinking was not clear on this subject and did not understand that works were entirely apart from justification by faith alone (Ibid: 29).
In 1925 Mary had completed her three-year probation and she again was to walk to the Altar to receive the silver ring signifying her final allegiance to the bridegroom 'until death do us part'. Visits were now permitted to her parents once in every three to five years (Ibid: 30).
For the next fifty years Mary carried out the role of a Franciscan Nun, passing through the major changes that took place in the Roman Catholic Church as a result of Vatican II. No longer was their mail read by mother superior, off went the old starched veil and collar for a new light veil and shorter habits, no more afternoons of silence, watches could be worn, nuns could come and go from the convent without asking permission from their superiors. It was a major revolution affecting all aspects of their lives (Ibid: 32-34).
After many years of praying and meditating it would seem that not much more could be added to Mary's life. Her devotion to the Holy Spirit had deepened through the years. She knew the Bible, in a limited sort of way, and believed it was God's message for her. However, even after fifty years of teaching children the Bible stories, she felt she needed an in-depth study of God's HOLY book.
When her name appeared on the convent retirement list she felt that the time had come to know the Word of God more fully. IT WAS AT THIS POINT THAT MARY ASKED THE HOLY SPIRIT TO HELP HER.
She didn't have to wait too long for the Holy Spirit to take up the challenge. A card arrived offering a Bible Correspondence course. Who had sent it she was never to find out. However, she filled out the form and, as a consequence, her life was about to be turned upside down. During the course she was visited on two separate occasions by some folk who offered to help her with the lessons if she felt the need. Before they left the first time they provided her with a copy of the book 'Steps to Christ' and on the second visit 'The Great Controversy' (Ibid: 37-39).
Mary had, up to this point of time, been taught that the priest through his ordination, became 'another Christ' and, as such, his teaching was considered gospel truth and no one dared to doubt his teaching. The Bible as the True Word of God was never publicized and while being taught about the Bible, Bible truth was never a part of it (Ibid: 41,42).
On discovering the great doctrines of the Bible through these correspondence lessons, Mary's eyes were now being opened to God's great plan for enlightening the earth with His glory. These truths sunk deeply into her subconscious mind leaving a lasting impression (Ibid: 46).
It was on Sabbath October 12, 1974 that Sister Cecilia Marie was ready to be baptised by immersion in the Fenton Seventh-day Adventist Church. As she entered the font she removed her veil, crucifix and the silver ring and then was buried with Christ in baptism and resurrected with Him in a new life. A chain had been broken and Mary was now free to keep all of God's Holy commandments (Ibid: 47,48).
It had never been in Mary's heart to be a dissenter after seventy long years in the Catholic Church, but she had prayed that the Holy Spirit would lead her one step at a time in the right direction. This path led her into the Seventh-day Adventist Church and she went without any hesitation (Ibid: 56).
Mary had always wanted to live a Holy life. A life set apart. One that was dedicated to Jesus Christ and while she had pleaded for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, He had led her in a marvellous way.
With her newfound truths Mary could now live by every word that proceeded from the mouth of God. She could rely on Him with unquestioning confidence as she looked forward to the day of God and to speed it's coming.
Let me summarize by saying that:
We worship a Holy God - a distinct and separate god above all his created works
And our god now calls a holy people so he can take us into his kingdom
This is possible only through the grace of Jesus Christ who said that he sanctified himself that we may be holy
Paul's prayer for the saints at Thessalonica could be applied to you and I today.
In closing let's read what he says in 1 Thess 3:12-13
'May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.
May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones'
Dear Friends, my prayer for you this morning is for you to accept Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. It is also my prayer that we may all indeed become a part of GOD'S HOLY NATION, HIS HOLY PEOPLE and be ready to enter that HOLY CITY being prepared for you and me.
Brooks, C. L. (1985) Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal. Warburton, Victoria, Signs Publishing Co: Review and Herald Publishing Association
Fahrner, M. (1977) Way of the Cross-Where it Led Me. The Story Of a Franciscan Nun. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
International Bible Society (1978) New International Version of The Holy Bible. East Brunswick, New Jersey: International Bible Society
Patrick, R. (1972) All Colour Book of Egyptian Mythology. London W1: Octopus Books Limited.
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