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Holiness and Justice

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
August 18, 2021 12:01 am

Holiness and Justice

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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August 18, 2021 12:01 am

If we treat the holy God lightly, it may result in our undoing. Today, R.C. Sproul explains why we must never presume upon the mercy and grace of our Creator.

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Do you remember the Old Testament account of the ark of God being returned to Israel?

It was being carried on an ox cart, and the oxen stumbled. Involuntarily, Uzzah stretched forth his hand to study the ark. Then what happened? The heavens opened, and a voice came down saying, Thank you, Uzzah.

No. As soon as Uzzah touched the holy ark of God, God struck him dead. Well, with that, we welcome you to the Wednesday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb, and I remember the first time I read that account in 2 Samuel. My first inclination was, That's not fair. Certainly, Uzzah had good intentions. He didn't mean to offend God. In fact, he was trying to help. This story seems to be an instance of the punishment outweighing the offense.

But today, Dr. R.C. Sproul helps us see that when we understand God's character, we can avoid the very real danger of taking His grace for granted. If we look at the 18th century in the American frontier, we notice that there was a recurring motif during the Great Awakening in the preaching that was found at that time, and there was a sort of a dual emphasis. On the one hand, the message of the preachers was that man is very bad and that God is very, very mad. In other words, there was such an emphasis on the sinfulness of man and the wrath of God that almost what some have called a scare theology that dominated that period. And then in the 19th century, we saw a dramatic reaction against that kind of accent in preaching so that now the message was, well, man's not quite so bad, and God's not really quite so mad. And there the emphasis was upon the love of God and the goodness of man. Well, at the turn of this century, the beginning of the 20th century, there was a response to that reaction on the continent in the world of theology with the advent of a theology called crisis theology.

And it was called crisis theology because it borrowed the term from the Greek word kresis, which means judgment. And these theologians on the continent said that if we're going to take seriously the biblical portrait of God, we must once again take seriously what the Bible says about the wrath of God. Now, there were some extremists in that group who said that what we see in the Scriptures, particularly in the Old Testament at certain times and places, is an expression of something that is irrational in the character of God Himself. In other words, they said this, yes, we do see unavoidably and unmistakably a manifestation of the anger of God in the pages of the Old Testament. But that anger is not so much a manifestation of God's righteousness or of His holiness as it is a manifestation of a defect within God's own character.

Believe it or not, I've read some theologians that speak about the shadow side of Yahweh, saying that there resides within God the element of the demonic. And this demonic aspect of God shows itself, displays itself by sudden unprovoked manifestations of a whimsical, capricious, arbitrary anger. Some of the passages that are in view would include a narrative that we read in the book of Leviticus, which I'll read briefly for you. At the beginning of the 10th chapter of Leviticus, we read this account. Now Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, took their censers and put fire in them and added incense, and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to His command.

So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Now in this understated terse description of the deaths of the sons of Aaron, it seems to indicate for us an example of this swift and capricious manifestation of God's wrath. When I read this, I try to read between the lines, and I ask myself, how did Aaron react to all of this?

Imagine it. You remember earlier in the Scriptures the elaborate ceremony that God ordained when He consecrated Aaron as the high priest of Israel. How God ordered the minute details of the design of the garments that were to be worn by the high priest, that were designed for glory and for beauty. And then we can imagine how Aaron felt when he saw his own sons consecrated to the priesthood. And here are these young priests, who they do something that we're not exactly sure what it was, but somehow they came to the altar, and they did as young clergy will often do, try a little experimentation, innovation, play a little almost adolescent type pranks as they're fooling around in their job and in a sense of immaturity, and without warning and without rebuke as they offer this strange fire in the altar, wham, God strikes them dead instantly.

Can you hear Aaron? He goes to Moses, and he says, what's going on here? What kind of a God is it that we serve? I'm devoting my entire life to the ministry and to the service of Yahweh, and what are the thanks that I get? Like that, He takes my sons for a small transgression.

What kind of a God is this? Listen to what Moses said. Moses then said to Aaron, this is what the Lord spoke of when He said, among those who approach me, I will be regarded as holy, and in the sight of all of the people, I will be honored. And then we read these words, and Aaron held his peace.

You better believe Aaron held his peace. When the Almighty comes down and said, look, Aaron, I know that this is crushing to you that I have taken the lives of your sons, but do you remember when I established the priesthood? Do you remember the day I set you apart and consecrated you for that holy task, that I said that there are certain principles I will not negotiate with my priests? I will be regarded as holy by anyone who dares to presume to minister in my name. And before the people, I will be treated with reverence. And when God spoke, Aaron shut up.

But there are other occasions like that, aren't there? One of the most blood curdling stories in the Old Testament is the story of Uzzah, the coethite. You all know the story of Uzzah.

You tell it to your fuzzy Uzzah. No, that's about a bear. It's the story of the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant. Remember, the Ark of the Covenant was the throne of God. It was the most sacred vessel in the Holy of Holies. And it had fallen into the hands of the Philistines, and then through a series of amazing incidences, it had been returned to the Jewish people and kept in safekeeping for a while until the appropriate time had come to pass for the Ark of the Covenant to be restored to its place in the sanctuary. And David ordered a celebration and called for the Ark of the Covenant to be transferred into the city. And the people lined the streets, and they danced, and they sang as they moved as they moved and saw the procession of God's throne before them. And we are told that the Ark of the Covenant was transported by virtue of being placed in an ox cart. And the Bible tells us that as the cart was moving down the road, the coethites were walking along beside it, protecting it, watching over it, one whose name was Uzzah. And in the midst of the procession, suddenly one of the oxen stumbled, and the cart began to teeter and to tilt, and it looked as if this holy vessel of Israel was about to slide from the ox cart and fall into the mud and be desecrated. And so instinctively, involuntarily, Uzzah stretched forth his hand to study the Ark to make sure that this throne of God would not fall into the mud. And what happened? The heavens opened, and a voice came down saying, thank you, Uzzah.

No. As soon as Uzzah touched the holy Ark of God, God struck him dead. I remember reading a Sunday school curriculum in one of the denominations I used to work with, came from our headquarters, and I looked at passages like this, and it said, now we understand that these kinds of stories that we read in the Old Testament, like Uzzah and Nadab, like God's destroying the whole world with a flood, men, women, and children, of God's ordering the Harim, telling the Jewish people to go into the land of Canaan and to slaughter all of the inhabitants of Canaan, men, women, and children, that this can't possibly be a manifestation of the real character of God. But we have to understand these stories in the Old Testament simply as ancient, primitive, pre-scientific, semi-nomadic Jewish people who interpreted the events that they saw in light of their own peculiar theology. Probably what happened was that Uzzah had a heart attack, and he died, and the Jewish writer attributed the cause of his death to an unmerciful expression of this vicious wrath of God.

In other words, it was unthinkable to the authors of this curriculum that God Himself could actually have anything to do with the death of Uzzah. Yet if we look carefully at the Old Testament and see the history of the Kohathites, I think the answer is made apparent to us. You remember that in the Old Testament that the twelve tribes of Israel were given certain tasks and certain allotments of the land, and the tribe of Levi was set apart from God as the family that would be responsible for the priesthood and the matters of the temple and of education and so on. And Levi was the tribe, and within that tribe of Levi there were certain other major families, and each family was given a particular task. Now, Kohath was one of the sons of Levi, and the family of Kohath were separated by God for a specific task. Their job, their whole reason for being, their life's vocation was to take care of the sacred vessels, and they were trained and disciplined from children with all of the prescriptions and the meticulous details of the law of God about how these sacred objects and vessels were to be treated.

And the one absolute non-negotiable principle that every Kohathite had drummed into him from the time he was a child was this, never, never, never, never, never, ever touch the throne of God. And God said, if you touch it, you die. First place we wonder why in the world the ark was being transported in an ox cart.

It was to be transported on foot. There were loops at the edge of the throne through which staves were inserted to make sure that no human hand touched that throne. But instead they were in a hurry, and they put it in the ox cart, and they're going down, and Uzzah did the unthinkable. He touched the throne of God.

But we say, so wait a minute. Why did he do it? His motive was pure. He was trying to preserve the throne of God from being desecrated by the mud.

But the presumptuous sin of Uzzah was this, ladies and gentlemen. He assumed that his hands were less polluted than the dirt. There was nothing about the earth that would desecrate the throne of God. The earth was lying there on the ground doing what God has called earth to do, being dirt, turning to dust when it's dry and turning to mud when it's mixed with water. It obeys the laws of God day in and day out doing exactly what dirt is supposed to do.

There's nothing defiling about the earth. It was the hand of man that God said, I don't want on this throne. In a word, Uzzah broke the law of God, and God killed him. I've had help in dealing with this from the writings of a very important theologian who's very controversial in the Roman Catholic Church, and his name is Hans Kung. In one of his earlier and most important writings written in German under the title Rechverdung, translated in English under the title Justification, Dr. Kung deals with this very question of the seeming injustice of God's wrath that we find in Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament.

And he makes this point. He said, you know, the real mystery of iniquity, the real puzzle is not that a holy and righteous God should exercise justice. What is mysterious about a holy creator punishing willfully disobedient creatures? He said the real mystery is why God through generation after generation after generation tolerates rebellious creatures who commit cosmic treason against His authority.

Did you ever think of it like that? And Kung goes on to say this. He said, remember that even though there are 30-some capital offenses in the Old Testament, that doesn't represent a cruel and unusual form of justice at the hands of God, it already represents a massive reduction in the number of capital crimes. He said, remember the rules that were set forth at creation. When God, the omnipotent ruler of heaven and earth, breathed into dirt the breath of life and shaped a creature in His own image and gave that creature the highest status in this planet and the greatest blessing and gift that He owed them, not at all the very gift of life, and stamped His holy image on that piece of dirt and gave them life, He said, the soul that sins shall die. All sin was viewed in creation as a capital offense and not that the punishment would be death sometime after you've had your three score and ten.

But what are the terms of creation? The day that you eat of it, you shall surely die. Now I know people look at that and they say that what the text is saying there is that the day the transgression takes place, we suffer spiritual death. That's not what God said. That may be true, that man suffered spiritual death the day he transgressed the law of God. But the terms of creation were the day that you eat, you die.

Biologically, it's over. Now is there anyone who could convict a holy, perfectly righteous Creator who out of sheer mercy creates a creature, gives Him all of this blessing? Is there anything wrong with that God extinguishing a creature who has the audacity to challenge God's authority to rule His creation? Have you ever stopped to consider what is involved in the slightest sin? In the slightest sin, beloved, I am saying that my will has a right that is higher than the rights of God. It terrifies me in our culture that people do things like abortion and say they have the moral right to do it. If I know anything about God, I know God never has given anyone the moral right to do something like that. And I shudder to think of what will happen when a person stands before God and said, I had the right to do that.

Where did you get that right? In the slightest sin, never mind a heinous sin like abortion, in the slightest sin, what we would call a peccadillo, in that thing I defy the authority of God. I insult the majesty of God. I challenge the justice of God. But we are so accustomed to doing that and so careful to justify our disobedience that we have become recalcitrant in our hearts. Our consciences have been seared, and we think it no serious matter to disobey the King of the universe.

I call it cosmic treason. But what God did was this, as Dr. Kung points out he says, that instead of destroying mankind, in the moment of that act of revolt and rebellion against God's authority, God reached forth and extended His mercy. Instead of justice, He poured out His grace. And the history of the Old Testament, beloved, is the history of repeated episodes of the manifestations of God's gracious forbearance and merciful forgiveness towards a people who disobey Him day in and day out.

And Kung speculates. He said, now granted I don't know the secret counsel of God. I can't read the deity's mind. But he said, I wonder if what it is that why we find periodically in Scripture this swift and sudden exercise of justice. Perhaps God finds it necessary to interrupt His normal pattern of long-suffering, forbearing grace and mercy to remind us of His justice. He Himself complains that His forbearing mercy is designed to give us time to repent.

But instead of repenting, we exploit it. The minute you think that God owes you mercy, a bell should go off in your brain that warns you and tells you that you're no longer thinking about mercy. For by definition, mercy is voluntary. God is never obligated to be merciful to a rebellious creature. He doesn't owe you mercy as He has said, I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy.

And I'll close with this. A holy God is both just and merciful, never unjust. There is never an occasion in any page of sacred Scripture where God ever, ever punishes an innocent person. God simply doesn't know how to be unjust. I thank Him every night that He does know how to be non-just because mercy is non-justice, but it is not injustice. And so I'll leave you with this. When you say your prayers, don't ever ask God to give you justice.

He might do it. And if God were to deal with us according to justice, we would perish as swiftly as Nadab and Abihu and Uzzah and Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament. But we live, beloved, by grace, by His mercy, and let's never forget it.

God is never unjust, and it's so helpful when we understand that our own limited definition of justice doesn't come close to God's perfect justice. When we begin to lose perspective on this, it's important to return to these great truths. We've been listening to a message from Dr. R.C. Sproul's series, The Holiness of God, today on Renewing Your Mind.

This is a thread that ran throughout R.C. 's many years of ministry, and it's why we're so eager to get today's resources into your hands. When you contact us today with a donation of any amount, we will send you the hardbound edition of R.C. 's book, The Holiness of God.

You'll also receive the two-DVD set of the teaching series by the same title, plus a digital download of the study guide for the series. You can make your request and give your gift online at, or you can call us. Our number is 800-435-4343.

Studying God's holiness gives us a clear picture of who we are in light of God's perfection, and it helps us more fully appreciate His unmerited favor towards us. I hope you'll take advantage of this resource offer. We won't be making it available after today, so call us and request The Holiness of God, both the book and the teaching series.

Our number again is 800-435-4343, and our web address is Well, all around us we see efforts to suppress the truth about God. I hope you'll be with us tomorrow for a message that debunks the most common and forceful arguments against God and His Word. Join us Thursday for Dr. Sproul's series, Silencing the Devil, here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-14 22:35:55 / 2023-09-14 22:44:08 / 8

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