God displays His holiness (Exodus 19)

Our God is a holy God, and His holiness requires wrath and judgment against all that is unholy. Therefore, all sin receives His full wrath in judgment. Because our God is holy, we should not be surprised that the Bible presents us with occasions when the wrath of God breaks into time and space.

As the children of Israel fled the Egyptians into the wilderness, they quickly arrived at Sinai where God was going to give them His Law (Exodus 19). This giving of the Law was the first time that God had explicitly manifested His holiness to His people, stating in a moral code the expression of His holiness in commandments and ordinances. As stated, His Law was inflexible and uncompromising, and every violation received a just recompense (Hebrews 2:2). It was a Law of condemnation and judgment that required blood sacrifices if there was to be any forgiveness. The Law was terrifying and awesome and was meant to instill fear and reverence in the people.

When God delivered His Law and displayed His holiness, everything about the occasion brought feelings of awe and fear. The LORD told Moses,

Let the people be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:11-12).

Then, in 19:16:

16 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud over the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him with thunder.

The LORD is holy, and whenever He manifests Himself to sinful man, man is overwhelmed and undone (Isaiah 6). But here, not only is the LORD coming down from heaven to speak to His people, but He is also delivering His holy Law, the Law of condemnation, the Law that every one of His people will violate (Romans 3:23), the Law that will result in judgment, the Law that will require the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. So here, on Mount Sinai, everything evokes awe and fear. There is thunder and lightning flashes and thick cloud. There is a loud trumpet sound coming from heaven (19:16), and this eerie, heavenly blare of the trumpet grows louder and louder (19:19). The entire mountain is engulfed in smoke and fire. The smoke ascends like the smoke of a furnace, and the entire mountain is quaking violently. “Our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).” Abject terror is the response from the people, which is entirely appropriate. God is manifesting His holiness in Law and judgment, and it evokes terrified reverence.

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. – Hebrews 10:31

But there was another occasion even more awesome than this day at Mount Sinai when God again manifested His holiness. This occasion involved a hill instead of a mountain, and there was no thunder or lightning or fire or billowing smoke like a furnace. There was no eerie heavenly trumpet blast getting louder and louder. The scene was fairly quiet, just some bystanders looking on as three men endured the agony of crucifixion. Then something changed.

When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. – Mark 15:33

Darkness. There was darkness over the whole land, the darkness of judgment, the darkness of condemnation. Darkness as the expression of God’s holiness. And now the Man on the middle cross seemed to be enduring an agony much deeper than mere physical pain. This is Jesus Christ, the Chosen One. This is Jesus, the only One worthy to bear our sin, the only One able to bear our sin, Jesus Christ the Holy One enduring the full fury of the wrath of God against the sins of His people.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Corinthians 5:21

So, for three hours on this Friday, Jesus Christ became sin for me and received the punishment that my sins deserved. He encountered the holiness of God in judgment.

At the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” – Mark 15:34

But Jesus’ suffering did have an end, for there was a goal in view. By His awesome work on the cross, Jesus propitiated God’s wrath. In John’s gospel, after the agonies of God’s wrath, Jesus shouts a victory cry.

Therefore, when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. – John 19:30

Because Jesus died on the cross, we no longer stand terrified at the foot of the mountain, dreading the wrath of God and His judgment. Now, because of Jesus, God’s holiness is our holiness. Because of Jesus’ work on the cross and our faith in Him, Jesus’ perfect righteousness is our righteousness. Because of God’s grace, by our transformed lives we are now displays of God’s holiness.

SDG                 rmb                 4/7/2021

I saw the LORD, high and lifted up (Isaiah 6)

The genesis of this series of articles began back in February of this year as I began thinking about the many pictures that the Bible presents of people of faith encountering the Lord. As I considered these biblical episodes, I thought about how these experiences are often shared by many modern-day Christians. Yes, we will not experience all of these encounters with the Lord and we will not experience them to the same degree, but if our life is devoid of these types of encounters with the living God, then at some point we must question whether we truly know the Lord. In other words, these types of encounters are part of the very fabric of what it means to be a Christian. The Lord relates to His people, not only in the next life, but also in this life. He delights to be with His people and we delight when we experience Him in an intimate and personal way. This is the second of these articles.

The prophet Isaiah had a personal experience with the Lord that is recorded for us in Isaiah 6, and this experience determined the course of his life. “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple (Isaiah 6:1).” The seraphim are covering their face and covering their feet and are calling out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” The foundations of the thresholds of the temple trembled and the whole temple filled with smoke. With a cry of abject misery, Isaiah cries out (6:5), “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the LORD of hosts.”

No doubt Isaiah was as morally pure as anyone in Israel at the time. No doubt his friends would have called him ‘blameless’ and would have considered him a righteous man. But that would be just comparing one sinner with another sinner. When we measure our righteousness by other sinners, there are some who will stand out as pretty good. But Isaiah was not in the presence of another sinner. Rather, he was in the presence of the thrice holy Lord of all the earth, and in that place, Isaiah could only cry out in woe, seeking some shelter or some covering to hide his filthiness. The blazing glory of the LORD rendered all of Isaiah’s most righteous deeds as filthy rags (64:6). In the presence of the holiness of the Lord, all of Isaiah’s sins were open and laid bare and were exposed for all to see in all their vileness and their wickedness. Isaiah the sinner was fully exposed by the dazzling light of the LORD and all he could do was utter a plea for mercy.

Have you ever encountered the Lord in this way? That is, has there ever been a time when you saw the dazzling glory of the Lord and His pristine, perfect holiness and fell on your face in utter misery? When you have contemplated the power of the Lord and the beauty of the Lord and the holiness of the Lord, has there been a time when you felt your own sin in the depth of your soul and longed with all your being to be cleansed and purified and to have your filthiness and your sin washed away as far as the east is from the west? This is a normal experience for the Christian to have. You could go so far as to say that this is an expected experience in a believer’s life, for this is what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness. The life of the believer is marked by both an acute awareness of my own sin and unworthiness and, simultaneously, an experiential knowledge of the LORD’s absolute holiness.

And so this is what it means to see the Lord on His throne, lofty and exalted. So I ask you again, “Have you see the Lord in His temple, lofty and exalted?”

Soli deo Gloria                        rmb                 9/4/2019