R.C. Sproul (3) Holiness and Justice

Watch Part 1 – RC Sproul- The Holiness of God

Watch Part 2 – The Holiness of Christ

From the 2007 Desiring God Conference. For notes or audio file click here – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/the-holiness

Text – Leviticus 10:1-7

The Sin of Nadab and Abihu

10 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.  And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “It is what the Lord spoke, saying,

‘By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy,
And before all the people I will be honored.’”

So Aaron, therefore, kept silent.

Moses called also to Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come forward, carry your relatives away from the front of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp.” So they came forward and carried them still in their tunics to the outside of the camp, as Moses had said. Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “ Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, so that you will not die and that He will not become wrathful against all the congregation. But your kinsmen, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the burning which the Lord has brought about. You shall not even go out from the doorway of the tent of meeting, or you will die; for the Lord’s anointing oil is upon you.” So they did according to the word of Moses.

My notes from the introduction:

  • Charles Allen once remarked: God had only one Son and He made Him a preacher. After I had taught seminary for a while, I spent 2 years on the staff of a church and went back into education, the Ligonier Study Center and back to the seminary classroom and one night a student came to me with stars in his eyes and he said, „What was it like for you when you were just a preacher?  And I was apoplectic. I said, „What do you mean just a preacher? I said, „Don’t you understand that there is no higher calling on this planet than the pulpit ministry? And I said, „I’m not a preacher because I don’t think I have what it takes to be the shepherd of a flock. The demands are excruciating, the appreciation minimal and there’s nothing that I desire more in the latter years of my life than to try and be an encouragement to pastors, to ministers. Ten years ago, I answered the call to become the minister of preaching and teaching at St. Andrews Chapel in Florida. And I have to tell you, in all the different things that I’ve been involved in my lifetime, this has been the most fun and the greatest joy and delight. There is nothing like the opportunity of having to speak to the same people week in and week out, to preach through whole books of the Bible and to not worry about trying to impress anybody when we’re meeting again on the Lord’s day and we’re coming to the Book, to hear, not my opinions, not my agenda, not the latest pop psychology or current events, BUT TO HEAR A WORD FROM GOD.
  • Before the apostle Paul died and he wrote his final letter to his number 1 student and protege, Timothy; when he got to the end of that letter, explained to Timothy that he was about to be poured out  and he gave his last instructions- he didn’t write to Timothy: Hey Timothy, preach! He said, „TIMOTHY, PREACH THE WORD.” „Preach the Word in season and out of season. That’s what our vocation is. And, we are only as faithful as we are to that task.  (min 4:21)

Notes from DesiringGod.org:

There are a series of passages categorized as „The Hard Sayings”–those sayings that make us say, „How can God do something like this?”

In this passage, sons of Aaron indulged in a little experimentation. They came to the altar and offered unauthorized fire. God’s response was immediate, dramatic, and severe. He executed them on the spot. How do we respond to a story like this?

In the denomination I was ordained in, the P.C.U.S.S.R…er…I mean the P.C.U.S.A., they used curriculum that warned high schoolers not to take the OT literally. They used this text to show that if the stories were literal, then God must have a dark and evil side. It taught that, since we know this is not how God is, these stories must be explicable by natural events, and God didn’t do it.

It is shocking how understated the Bible is sometimes. Two of Aaron’s fall dead and no emotional reaction is recorded. You can imagine Aaron’s response–„I’ve been faithful and is this the thanks I get?” But what is significant is Moses’s reply–„Don’t you remember the commandment: „By all who come near me I will be regarded as holy. I will tolerate nothing less.”

Lots has changed since Moses and Aaron’s conversation, but not the character of God. He has never, and will never, negotiate his holiness.

Another understatement: „And Aaron held his peace.” You better believe it. What else could he do? Was he going to fight with God? Tell him he was overreacting? Ask for some latitude? Is he going to call god silly or inane? Can’t we just play a little? No–Aaron shut his mouth.

Moses has the corpses of Nadab and Abihu carried out of the camp from the tabernacle in the center of the camp. God did not just want these guys killed; he wanted them all the way away, outside the borders, in outer darkness. For heaven’s sake don’t let them lie there in the sanctuary!

Moses told Aaron to not mourn for these men. They are not worthy of being mourned.

It was the Lord who killed Nadab and Abihu. He brought down the fire. It was not a terrestrial accident but the judgment of a holy God.

Consider now the story of Uzzah. The ark of the covenant was being carried in a cart. This was not the way it was designed to be carried. It should have been on the shoulders of priests. When one of the oxen stumbled the ark looked like it was going to fall. Uzzah keeps it from tipping in the mud. God’s reaction was not, „Thank you, Uzzah!” No, God killed Uzzah instantly. Uzzah believed that mud would desecrate the ark, but mud is just dirt and water obeying God. Mud is not evil. God’s law was not meant to keep the ark pure from the earth, but from the dirty touch of a human hand. Uzzah presumed his hands were cleaner than the dirt. God said no.

Now in the New Testament. Ananias and Sapphira lie to the Holy Spirit and die without a second chance.

Sometimes it seems like God boils over in temper tantrums that are inexcusable. From our perspective, we can think the God of the Old Testament was brutal–some kind of a demiurge. Just look what warranted the death sentence in the Old Testament. But in the New Testament, God seems to have become more easy-going.

Our view is so distorted. Let’s go back to creation where the list of capital offenses was unending. Any sin was death–„The day you eat of it, you shall surely die.” The slightest sin–the tiniest infraction–the smallest peccadillo–is an act of cosmic treason. Any infraction says to God that we believe that our will trumps his and that we can do whatever we want.

We are so accustomed to grace. Like the Israelites, we need God, ask for grace, receive it, forget it, and go back to sinning–despising God’s holiness without fear of his judgment.

Now to Luke 13. Two disasters: Pilate kills worshipers and mixes the blood with the sacrifices, and the tower of Saloam falls killing 18 innocent bystanders. Question for Jesus: „What’s up with this? Where was God?” But on 9/11, God was in the same place he was in 9/10–sovereign on his throne.

Jesus did not say that these two events happened while God was asleep. Jesus did not say that God was diverted by counting the hairs on someone else’s head.

Jesus gave the same answer regarding each disaster: „You’re asking me the wrong question. If you really wanted to know about the providence of God, you would ask the real question–why didn’t the temple fall on my head? Why wasn’t it my blood.”

We are shocked by justice and presume upon grace.

I’ve been asked every conceivable theological question except, „Why did God save me?” We all harbor the idea that we deserve it. We think that heaven just wouldn’t be heaven without us. This is the greatest lie in the history of the world.

We are no longer amazed by grace and we are shocked–in total consternation–by justice.

The essence of grace is that God is not required to give it to us. If you ever feel like God owes it to you, let a light go off in your mind that reminds you that you have just mixed up grace and justice.

The hand of God holds us over the pit of hell. And you can’t give any reason for God to not drop you into that pit. That was Jesus’ message when he said that unless you repent it will be your blood mingled with the sacrifice.

If on the day of judgment I look at Jesus and he says to me, „I don’t know who you are. Please leave.”–if that happens to me–I’ll be surprised, but I also know this: I would have no ground for complaining about it. He is holy and I am not.

Our only relationship with God is by grace.

By John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org

R.C. Sproul – The Holiness of Christ

From the 2007 Desiring God Conference – for audio or notes click here – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/holiness-and-justice

Text – Mark 4:35-41

Jesus Stills the Sea

35  On that day, when evening came, He *said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd, they *took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. 37 And there *arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.38 Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they *woke Him and *said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 And He got up andrebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. 40 And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”


Notes from DesiringGod.org website

Holy is a nuanced word. It has two primary meanings. It’s secondary meaning is moral purity („be ye holy as I am holy”). It’s primary meaning is transcendent majesty, otherness.

There was a push in 19th century theology to deny God his transcendence and reduced him to only imminence. In response to this there was an overreaction that made him only transcendent. Not just other, transcendent, but wholly other. Ganz ander. This came from a zeal to protect his majesty, but in the process rendered God unknowable. In the middle, where we want to be, God is supremely different, but not totally different.

Rudolph Otto explored cultures to see how various religions understand what it means to be holy and how they respond to the sense of the presence of the holy. His book is called Das Heilige, or The Idea of the Holy. He found that every society has some idea of the holy built into its religion. Otto reduced the sense of the holy to two words: mysterium tremendum–that which we do not comprehend producing a sense of dread, horror, and terror whenever we draw near to it. The common response to the supreme alien is trembling, quaking.

One last prolegomena:

If you analyze the writings of distinguished 19th and 20th century atheists, you will see that not many took time to argue against the existence of God–that was taken care of by the Enlightenment. Their question was, since there is no God, how do we account for the fact that mankind is incurably religious. Every culture is steeped in some kind of worship of a transcendent being. They all came to the same conclusion: the driving force of religion is psychological weakness and need. Creatures are afraid of what can destroy them. In fear, they create gods in their own image. Freud summed it up, saying that we are terrified of death. And since nature is not a respecter of persons, we must learn how to deal with nature’s hostility. We personalize nature in order to deal with nature’s indifference. And we then take it one step forward and we make nature sacred by attributing to it a personal deity who has the power to protect us. This, Freud believed, was the cause of religion.

With that in view let’s look at Mark 4.

While a terrible tempest was tearing the boat apart, Jesus was asleep. Disciples were scared and annoyed at Jesus–„Don’t you care that we’re perishing?”

Jesus did not rebuke them. He rebuked the very forces of nature instead.–„Peace! Be still!” Imagine this. You wake your leader up and ask for help and he starts talking to the water and wind. But this is the one by whom, through whom, and for whom all things were made. And he used his authority over the forces of nature. Instantly the wind stopped–not a zephyr in the air–and the sea was like glass.

What reaction would you expect from the disciples. Perhaps, „Thank you, Jesus!” But, no. They became greatly afraid. Now their terror was not of the wind and sea but directed at Jesus. „What manner of man is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

We pigeonhole people in our minds. We look at them and making instantaneous judgments. We divide people into categories, species, and genus. And for the first time in their lives, the disciple met a person for whom they had no category. They were in the presence of a man in a class by himself. His otherness was so alien they were terrified.

One of the top ten phobias in America is xenophobia, the fear of foreigners. The disciples were xenophobic with a vengeance. Christ was an alien. At the heart of his difference was that he was holy. There is an aversion built into the heart of man against anything holy.

Try to get inside Peter’s mind when Jesus told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat. He must of thought it was a joke–perhaps „He is the Lord, humor him.” They obeyed and every fish in the Sea of Galilee jumped in. If you were Peter what would you do–„Tell you what, have I got a deal for you!” An astute business man would cut a deal with Christ. But Peter looked at Jesus and said, „Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus hadn’t given a sermon on repentance, he just said where to throw the net. But in the presence of the holy, Peter became aware of his own sinfulness.

In response to Freud and the others, then: why would we invent a God more terrifying than the nature we hope he will protect us from?

Listen to unbelievers talk about Jesus nowadays: great teacher, terrific humanitarian. But this kind of opinion can only be kept from the safe vantage of 2,000 years. Why did his contemporaries kill him? Jesus was not crucified because he said to consider the lilies how they grow, but because he said to consider the thieves how they steal. The world could not endure the holy one of Israel.

Who hated Christ the most? The ones who the public deemed as holy. But their holiness was counterfeit, and counterfeit is exposed by the genuine. The first to recognize Jesus were the demons and they were terrified. Even the demons quake at holiness.

We are in leadership.–What kind of Jesus do we teach? Do you only want a blessed Jesus–meek and mild? Or do you want Jesus the stranger and Jesus the commander of nature? Are you declawing and defanging Christ? People don’t need that. They need to see him in the fullness of his Glory, in the majesty of his power, in the authority of his command. Nothing less will do for a dying world but a redeemer who is altogether holy.

We don’t know what Christianity is until we worship God and love him for what he is and not only for what he gives.

I am not obsessed with holiness because I am holy. I love the holiness of God because it is my only hope. Without his mercy and holiness there would be no restraint to my wickedness.

But we cannot only love him for his holiness. We must also know and love him for his loveliness and his excellency in his holiness.

By John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org

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