Holiness is not simply a single attribute, but it captures and gathers together all of the attributes of God together, because the holiness points to the transcendent majesty, the superlative greatness, the otherness that characterizes God and makes Him unique and makes Him worthy of our worship. Ask a random Christian how they would describe God, and what answers do you think you would get? I often hear Christians' first impulse is to describe God as a God of love, a God of mercy, a God of grace. How would you describe Him? Welcome to the Wednesday edition of Renewing Your Mind.
I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. In Isaiah 6, we get a glimpse into what R.C. Sproul called the anthem of the angels, their declaration that God Almighty is holy, holy, holy. Now, we mustn't pit one attribute against another, so why is it that it's God's holiness that the seraphim highlight in Isaiah's vision?
Here's R.C. Sproul with a key message from his widely beloved Holiness of God series. It was in the eighth century B.C. when Isaiah was called by God to be a prophet, one of the most important prophets of Old Testament history.
We have seen that in the eighth century that it was the year that King Uzziah died, the same year that the Roman Empire began with the establishment and founding of the city of Rome along the banks of the Tiber River. It was in that time in history that Isaiah had his experience where he was able to see into the very inner chambers of heaven itself. And as we've already examined in the text that records this history, the sixth chapter of Isaiah's book, Isaiah was able to see the Lord Himself exalted and seated upon the throne. And we've described the experience of the seraphim who were endowed with two wings to cover their faces, two wings to cover their feet, and two wings to fly. Now, in our last session, we looked at the significance of the structure of the seraphim, but I ended by saying that it wasn't so much the nature of the seraphim that grips our interest here as it was their message. We are told in the sixth chapter of Isaiah that the seraphim sang one to another, holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.
The whole earth is full of His glory. And as I've said many times, we could read this passage over and over again and miss the weighty significance of this anthem of the angels, because there's something that occurs in it that is unusual in Scripture, though not absolutely unique. The Jewish people had various ways to express emphasis or importance in their literature, just as we do.
If we're writing and we want to bring out something that is specifically important, we may underline it, or we may set it in quotes or in italics or in boldface print or string a list of exclamation points at the end of the phrase to say to the reader, this is super important. Well, the Jewish people did all of those things as well. They used that kind of technique to communicate emphasis, but they also had another interesting literary technique to communicate importance, and that was the simple method of repetition. There's one place in the Old Testament, for example, where a large pit is being described. And I've read several different translations of this passage, some of which speak about a great pit or an asphalt pit or a tar pit or a bitumen pit. And as I read these various translations, I said, now what kind of a pit was it actually? Well, in the Hebrew, all we have is the Hebrew word for pit mentioned twice in a row. The simple word for pit is repeated. And so if we were to translate the text literally, we would read that this was a pit pit. Now what in the world is a pit pit? Well, what the Jewish writer is trying to say is that there are pits and there are pits. A pit pit is some kind of a pit. A pit pit pit is the pittiest of all possible pits.
If you ever fall in a pit, make sure that the pit you fall in is not a pit pit. Well, that's just one of these strange and unusual forms that the Jewish folks use to communicate emphasis or importance. Jesus did it. Whenever He would be teaching His disciples, frequently He would preface His sayings by the phrase, amen, amen, I say unto you. And that's usually translated by the words either in the old translation, verily, verily I say unto you, or in the more recent translations it's rendered, truly, truly I say unto you. Now, beloved, everything that Jesus ever taught His disciples was important. There was never a desultory word to escape from the lips of Christ, nothing that we would regard as utterly insignificant.
And yet within the context of His own teachings, there were those occasions where He called His disciples to special close attention. It would be something like on board a naval vessel when the intercom would sound and the whistle would blow and the words would come through the communication system, now hear this. This is the captain speaking. Every ear perks up.
Everyone's attention is riveted on the forthcoming announcement. That's what would happen when Jesus would preface some of His teaching to His disciples by saying, amen, amen, truly, truly I say unto you. Of course, you've probably already recognized the Aramaic expression that I've used here, amen, amen, which comes over into the English language with our word, amen. But normally when we say amen, it will be, for example, at the end of a prayer, or maybe there'll be congregational response to the preacher. When the preacher makes a salient point, the congregation may shout out in the middle of his preaching, amen. That's why we have an amen corner in certain congregations. And what does amen mean?
It comes from the Hebrew amut, which means truth, so that amen means it is true. But Jesus did something extraordinary. He didn't wait for the consent of His disciples to affirm that what He was saying was the truth. He introduced His teaching with the words, amen, saying, amen, amen. He repeated it, and the disciples knew that that was this technique of emphasis in order to underscore something that was of utmost importance. Another occasion where we see this is in the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Galatians when he is dealing with the intrusion of a dangerous heresy that threatens to destroy the foundation of the church. Paul had been teaching the gospel of justification by faith alone, but a group called the Judaizers came in and wanted to mix in with this announcement of the good news of justification by faith alone, a mixture of works of the law with the free offer of grace, and also to tie salvation to the rituals and to the rights of the community. And Paul saw that as a serious threat to the gospel, and so he said to the Galatian believers, he said, I'm astonished that you have so quickly removed yourself unto another gospel which is not another gospel.
Then he goes on to say what? If anyone preaches unto you any other gospel, even if it's an angel from heaven, if they preach any other gospel from the one that you have received, let him be anathema, let him be accursed, or let him be damned. And after he gives this very strong warning and admonition to the Galatians, he follows it immediately with these words.
Again I say to you, if anybody preaches unto you any other gospel than that which you have received, let him be an anathema. So we see that Paul uses this technique of repetition for the sake of importance and emphasis. Well, when we go back to the text of Isaiah, and we look at the song of the seraphim, which is uttered in antiphonal response, one seraph to the other, holy, holy, holy. This antiphonal response is called the trishagion, or the three times holy, where the one word holy is repeated not once but twice. This is the only time in Scripture that an attribute of God is repeated to the third degree.
And you understand that the third degree is the superlative degree, the ultimate degree, the nth degree of importance. What we read in Isaiah 6, let me read it for you again, is this, that the one, that is the seraphim, one cried to another and said, holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory. Now what is important is that the song of the angels is not simply holy, holy is the Lord. Nor do they sing, holy, holy is the Lord.
But the song is this, that God is holy, holy, holy. Again, nowhere else in Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to this degree of importance. The Bible doesn't say that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or justice, justice, justice, or wrath, wrath, wrath, but that He is holy, holy, holy. Now as a theologian, I am aware that it is bad theology to try and pit one attribute of God against another, or even to assemble a hierarchy of attributes within the Godhead, which is an error that many of us make from time to time. I've had discussions with people about the character of God, and speaking of His sovereignty, or of His justice, or of His wrath, those dimensions of God's character that are frightening to people.
And I've had people say to me, I don't believe that. My God is a God of love. Well, surely the Bible teaches that God is a God of love. But we can't come to the Scriptures as if it were a cafeteria buffet, a smorgasbord, where we can pick and choose those attributes of God, put some on our plate that we find delectable, and then leave the others on the table that we are uncomfortable with. Because God is His attributes, and He is all of His attributes, so that His love, for example, is always a holy love, and a just love, and a sovereign love. In like manner, His holiness is always a loving holiness, a just holiness, a sovereign holiness.
And so we cannot construct a hierarchy of attributes and say that one is more important than the other. But if we were to do that, surely in light of the biblical revelation of the character of God, the attribute that would stand out among all others is the attribute of holiness. In fact, there are many scholars who believe that holiness is not simply a single attribute, but it captures and gathers together all of the attributes of God together, because the holiness points to the transcendent majesty, the superlative greatness, the otherness that characterizes God, and makes Him unique, and makes Him worthy of our worship. Now I want us to notice that in this text, the activity of the angels day and night in the presence of God, to which Isaiah was privileged to behold, was the activity of worship. There's is an attitude of reverence, of honor, and of giving glory to God.
It is the nature of these angels to adore and to worship God. We were created with a nature that was designed to adore, to honor, to reverence, to worship the majesty of God. But now, after the intrusion into our souls of sin, such worship and exaltation of the character of God is no longer natural to us.
It is foreign to us. This is something that has to flow out of a renewed soul. Only when God, the Holy Spirit, changes the disposition of our hearts are we able to worship Him in spirit and in truth. When Jesus gathered with His disciples in the New Testament and His disciples said to Him, Lord, please teach us how to pray. You know what He did. He didn't simply direct Him to the Old Testament, to the Psalms, and say immerse yourself in the Psalms and learn from David the proper attitude and practice of prayer.
He may well have done that. But on this occasion, instead He gave them a model prayer saying, when you pray, pray like this. And then He gave the Lord's Prayer.
A question I often ask my students in the seminary is this one. I said, what is the first petition found in the Lord's Prayer? What's the first request? What is the first thing that Jesus instructs His disciples to pray for? Well, you think back over the Lord's Prayer, and you realize that it begins, our Father who art in heaven.
That's the formal address. That's how we open a prayer, stating and uttering our respect for God, acknowledging Him as our Father who is in heaven. But the first petition is what follows, hallowed be Thy name.
What does that mean? Jesus said, when you pray, the first thing I want you to pray for is that the name of My Father will be regarded as holy. Then He goes on to say, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, as it is in heaven, and so on.
And though Jesus doesn't say this, I wonder if there is a logical progression here. I wonder if what Jesus is implying is that unless or until human beings begin to regard the name of God as holy, His kingdom will not come on earth, and His will will not be done as it is done in heaven. The seraphim understand the kingdom of God in their heavenly dwelling because they are there above the throne of God, singing daily, rejoicing over the enthronement of the King. There the kingdom is a visible reality, and the angels in heaven every single minute do and do perfectly the will of God. But the angels in heaven also understand that God is holy, and they sing that anthem every day. When the Scriptures speak of the corruption of civilization and even of the church, they describe a situation in which there is no fear of God among the people. Now that description is not simply a description of the fear that expresses being scared or frightened, but the import of that idea is this, that there is no fear in the sense of awe or reverence before God. And we live in a world like that where the name of God is not honored in a frivolous, cavalier, capricious way.
The name of God is used every single day in our culture as a curse word, as an expletive, as anything but a stimulus to worship, to honor, and to adoration. This is what Isaiah beheld, not the city of man, but the city of God. He stepped through the veil. He stepped across the threshold, and for a moment was able to gaze into the inner sanctum of heaven and to see reality as it is lived out on a different plane in a different realm in heaven itself, where every single moment there is an acute awareness and a joyous celebration that God is holy, holy, holy. I'd like us to go away from this moment thinking about the character of God.
We know that ideas have consequences, and I don't think there is any single idea more foreign to our lives and yet more necessary to bring about an entire transformation of our personal lives and of our society than an awakening to the holiness of God. Because it's not until we understand who God is that we will be able to grasp the standard, the norm by which everything else in this universe, including ourselves, is to be measured. The creed of the humanist is homo mensura, man the measure. Man is the measure of all things. That's not the measure of sacred scripture. In sacred scripture, the measure of you, the measure of your life is not what other people do or who other people are, but the ultimate standard by which you will be measured is the very character of God, which character is altogether holy.
You're listening to Renewing Your Mind, and that was R.C. Sproul from his series The Holiness of God. You heard Dr. Sproul mention at the end of today's message his desire to see an awakening to the holiness of God, to the true character of God. He labored and prayed to that end, and we at Ligonier and thousands of you continue to pray for such an awakening. When you visit PrayForAwakening.com, you can download a free weekly prayer guide to help more and more believers from around the world join together in prayer.
That God would open the eyes of the lost and even grant believers a clearer understanding of his holiness, especially as we're on this pilgrimage through what can be described as Vanity Fair. Request your free copy at PrayForAwakening.com and pray with fellow believers every week. Today's message was from the extended edition of The Holiness of God, and all 15 messages can be yours for a donation of any amount at renewingyourmind.org.
These messages can be downloaded and streamed in the free Ligonier app and at Ligonier.org. In addition, when you give your gift at renewingyourmind.org or by calling us at 800-435-4343, we'll send you a special 25th anniversary edition of The Holiness of God. If you already own a copy, this is a great addition to give away as a gift, so visit renewingyourmind.org while there's still time. Tomorrow we continue the extended edition of The Holiness of God series.
Here's a preview. So join us tomorrow, here, on Redevelopment. There is no encounter a human being could ever have that is more relevant to daily life than meeting up with the living God. If people are bored in church on Sunday morning, what that tells me is that somehow the presence of God, the character of God, the God who really is, is not made manifest there. So join us tomorrow, here, on Renewing Your Mind. you
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