At the Grand Canyon in Arizona there is a glass walkway that has been built at one location so that visitors can look straight down into its depth. The walkway allows people to get a true perspective of the depth of that gorge. If one only looks across the gorge to a sunset or the beautiful colors of the rock they do not see the tremendous gulf that separates them. There is something of a parable for life here. We live our day to day routine that we see as normal. This is what life is. Some good days. Some not so good days. It is like looking across the expanse of the canyon. What we don’t fully realize is the depth that sin has cut a deep gorge into human life. There is a tremendous gulf that separates the sinful nature of our earthly life and the majestic holiness of Almighty God. It is only the Lord Jesus Christ, the Redeemer God has given, that can bridge that gorge, and bring us into the beauty of His holiness.
We say that our God is a holy God. Do we really have any idea what holiness is? One image from Revelation 4 says, “there before me was a throne in heaven … and the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne… from the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God… In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, … Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”(vss.1-8) No earthly image can fully depict the true holiness, and awesome magnitude and majesty of our God. We must never think that we are worthy in ourselves to stand before this God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”(Romans 3:23) Only by the blood of Christ can we approach that throne. It is only in the righteousness He alone gives that we are worthy to enter. Our life is in humbly kneeling before the cross with the greatest of thanksgiving on our lips.
Do we know what the word Holy means? When we read the Christmas account it is an aspect of God that is presented clearly. “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Terrified at the glory of the Lord… “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'”(Luke 2:9-14) A great company of heavenly host…praising God and saying Glory to God in the highest heaven. This is a realm of absolute perfection, where “not too bad” or “almost” just doesn’t make it. I don’t think there is anything we know of on earth that can be called absolute perfection, or truly holy. We have become so accustomed to the “almosts” and the “no body’s perfect” that it has become our normal. Yet the whole point of the Christmas account is that God has come among us in order to bring us into His holy life. He has come that in Jesus we may be cleaned of sin and given His righteousness. We can’t do it. We will never be holy in ourselves, but in Jesus we can stand cleansed by His blood, in perfect righteousness before the Father. The manger in Bethlehem is the only place we can find our holiness.
Do we really understand the magnitude of God’s holiness? Holiness is absolute purity, perfection, the epitome of all that is good and right. Do we really understand the depth of our own sinful nature? Sin is our rebellion from God, our putting our desires, our will above that of our Creator. Do we really understand the fullness of God’s love? Love that is not a feeling, but a total willingness to give, even to self-sacrifice for the good of another. Do we really understand the magnitude of God’s grace? Grace is a free gift, something we receive which we do not deserve, did not earn, and have done absolutely nothing to merit. I’m not sure we really understand the depth of any of these. I know I don’t. We hear these words frequently in our churches – holiness, sin, love, grace. As we meditate on the meaning of each of these, and far more than I’ve expressed here, we begin to see something of who God is, who we are, and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We owe our life, now and eternally, to the One who has loved us so much that He freely gave the life of His only begotten Son to redeem us from sin and death, to bring us into His holiness. As we think about the magnitude of God’s act we come before Him in humble worship.
Ancient Israel was instructed in worship. God gave instructions for the sanctuary, the festival days, and the pattern of sacrifice. From the birth of the Church at Pentecost, worship has been central for Christians. Liturgies developed over the years with great meaning and purpose. However, worship is more than the form we use. Worship is a matter of the heart seeing clearly who Jesus is. In Matthew 14 the disciple saw Jesus calm the storm at sea, and “those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” It was not only that they had had their immediate need met and their fears calmed. They realized that they were in the presence of Most Holy God. The Creator stood before the created. There was no other possible or fitting response than to pour out the heart in worship. Our services and liturgies are helpful, but it is a heart realizing that it is in the presence of Holiness that brings forth true worship.