Sunday, February 4, 2018

looking for Jesus in Leviticus: "holy," part 1

The Word for today: Leviticus 12:1-13:46

mark this:
I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.  (Leviticus 11:45)

If there is one word in Scripture which sums up the character of God better than any other, that word would be “holy.”

But what does ”holy” mean?

Today we will attempt to convey a sense of that beautiful and awe-inspiring word. Tomorrow, we will offer some practical suggestions about how we might fulfill God’s command to “Be holy, for I am holy.”


“Holy” is the highest description in the Bible. It is a word that literally stands by itself -- because when applied to God it means “like no other.”

God is holy because he is like no other god; he is like no other God because there is no other God. God used the First Commandment to tell us that the greatest spiritual mistake we can make is to think  of him as unholy (by lumping him in with other “gods”)-- "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3)

He cannot be grouped with any others; he is absolutely distinct. (Distinct is probably the single English word which comes closest to conveying what ‘holy” means in the Hebrew Scriptures. But it doesn’t come close enough!) The following quotation (from the NLT Study Bible) begins to give us a truer sense of the word:

Holiness is the fundamental descriptor of who God is. It is not merely one of his many attributes; it is the key to his very being. Calling God “the Holy One” speaks to the transcendence of his nature, in sharp contrast to the finite creation, whose creatures are bound by time and space. God speaks of himself as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14), defining himself by himself. God is the Wholly Other, the One who is completely self-sufficient and distinct from the created order.

As the passage says, God’s most all-encompassing name (as revealed in Exodus and variously translated Jehovah/Yahweh/LORD) conveys the idea that he can only be described in terms of himself. That is holy!

He’s not only holy, he’s holy, holy, holy! (1) He’s other-ly and Only. And then --oh, dear--he has to go and tell us to be holy, too:
I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:45)

How can we fulfill that? Where would we even begin? How can finite creatures who have fallen into sin be holy?

The answer is that our holiness does not refer to our own nature and character. Instead, our holiness is wholly dependent upon our relationship with him.

He is like no other, so the more we are like him, the more unique we become. We were ordinary, but now our relationship to him makes us something else!

Because God has designated us for his own purposes, we have a unique, special, extraordinary--holy—role to play. Come on back tomorrow, and we’ll see what holy does, and does not, look like when applied to you and to me.

(1) Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8

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