Well, I have to tell you that I got an email earlier this week, and it turns out I’m gonna be retiring early… in just a few weeks… because I found out from a Nigerian prince that I won the lottery…
Have you ever been tricked before? Have you been the victim of a hoax?
Tricking someone doesn’t have to be a negative thing. I love playing tricks on my kids. One of my favorite ones is when me and my kids are running around the house and I’m the monster… and when they see me I growl and they run away, and when they’re not looking I sneak into a different room than I was in before… and when they come back for more, they’re looking into the room they thought I would be in, but I tricked them… and I grab them from behind and scare them until they pee their pants. They love it!
When we’re tricked or pranked, we believe something is true… and we act accordingly… Just the other day, I wanted to go hang out with my friend Scottie Showers… but he said he was having family time and wasn’t able to, so I texted his wife, LeAnn, out Children’s Ministry director, and I said, “I got my car stuck in a ditch… can you send your husband out to help? It’s going to take a few hours at least.”
And she was like, oh my gosh! Scottie you have to go help David! Now… Scottie’s a good guy and he laughed and told her that I was tricking her…. But that’s what makes a good prank… misinformation that causes a person to behave in a way they wouldn’t normally behave.
…Sometimes we get tricked into believing things about God that just aren’t true… but it’s not a prank someone is pulling on us for fun, it’s a lie that is meant to keep us from the fullness of life God has for us.
In this message series we’ve been looking at the reign of King Asa, whose story is found in 2 Chronicles 14-16. And one of the things we see in King Asa’s story is that he and all of Judah were tricked into believing something about the character of God. They missed part of God’s character that we’re going to talk about today and it impacted their living and their worship of God, and if we miss it, there will come a day when we evaluate our lives and wonder, what was I thinking?
King Asa was the King of Judah when Israel was a divided kingdom, the north and the south, the north being Israel and the south being Judah. And when Asa inherited the throne, he immediately made some changes.
2 Chronicles 14:2-5 – Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. 3 He removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles.[b] 4 He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and to obey his laws and commands. 5 He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him.
One of the first things Asa did was reform the worship of God. The Jewish people had their temple and their God, but they kind of got in the habit of seeing the cultures around them, like in the neighboring country of Canaan… and they saw some of Canaan’s gods, like Asherah… and it seemed like she was helping them sometimes, so they decided to put up an Asherah pole to seek guidance and protection from her. And they set up incense altars and sacred stones. And it seemed like every time something claimed to have power and authority, God’s people bowed down to it and put it up alongside of the One True God… I mean, couldn’t hurt, right?
But Asa remembered God’s law that he gave to Moses that said there were to be no other gods but God alone. Anything claiming to offer you power, anything wanting to have authority in your life that isn’t of God is a sham. It’s a trick. It’s no different than an email that says you’ve won the lottery.
But they bought into the lie… they thought bringing in a little bit of idol worship wasn’t a big deal… and so Asa started to reform their worship, got rid of the idols and commanded Judah to seek the Lord and obey his commandments.
And then Judah experienced a season of peace, and during the season of peace they fortified their cities to protect themselves from the enemy, and when they were invaded by Ethiopia, they were successful in battle. And then we find that they slipped back into old ways. Just a little idol worship in our lives won’t hurt, right?
But God called Judah back to him through a prophet and Asa continued the reformation of the nation’s worship.
2 Chronicles 15:8 – 8 When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of[a] Oded the prophet, he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the portico of the Lord’s temple.
See, by allowing in just a little bit of idol worship… by putting other gods beside the One True God, Judah wasn’t just breaking one of God’s commands about worshipping idols. At a foundational level they missed one of the most important qualities of the essence of God. God is holy.
And it might be true for us today that God is more holy than we thought.
As I was exploring God’s holiness this week, the first places I went was to Isaiah 6 when Isaiah is having a vision in the throne room of God and flying around God on the throne are thesecrazy heavenly beings called Seraphim… and these seraphim have 6 wings. And in this vision, these Seraphim are circling the throne and they’re praising God and calling to each other “LOVE LOVELOVE” is the Lord God almighty!” No that’s not right… they’re calling to each other MERCY MERCYMERCY!” No… that’s not it. They’re calling to each other “HOLY HOLYHOLY is the Lord God almighty! The whole earth is full of his glory!”
We see in this vision that the one thing that these heavenly beings in the throne room of God are calling out to worship him and give him honor is calling him Holy, and they say it in a series of 3. In fact, the only words we see used to describe God with an emphasis of three is the word Holy.
God is Holy and it’s perhaps his most important characteristic. So what’s God’s holiness all about?
Many times, when we think of the word holy, we think about being morally perfect. Like, I was sitting around a lunch table earlier this week and someone made the comment, “oh, I didn’t realize this was the holier than thou table.” We think of holy as moral superiority. And that is part of holiness, but that is just one small piece of the puzzle cause in the Bible, God’s holiness is much richer than moral perfection.
God being holy means that God is on a completely different playing field than us. Not only does he have the power and strength to bring the whole universe into existence, He’s the one and only one who has the power and strength to bring the whole universe into existence. He’s THE creative force behind everything that exists. There is no flaw in his grace and mercy. He is indescribable and completely set apart from us. And he’s completely unknowable by men and women except that he chose to reveal himself to us. He is completely different, there is no one like him, no one beside him. And this makes God completely unique. Holy.
If we think of holiness as nothing more than moral perfection, we might think that the opposite of holy is sinful, but the opposite of holy is actually common. Regular. A dime a dozen. But God’s not common… God is holy.
Think about the sun as a metaphor for God’s holiness. In our solar system, the sun is a unique element. The sun is powerful. And the sun is the source of life on our planet. We’ve all heard that if the sun stops burning, what… we all die. We NEED the sun to survive.
We even believe that dinosaurs went extinct because the sun was blocked by smoke and ash caused by an asteroid. We need the sun.
But not only is the sun itself holy, but the area around the sun is holy in a way, too. We can’t even approach the sun. If you get too close to the sun, you’ll combust because the energy from the sun is strong even as you approach it.
Think about that, the very power and energy that gives and sustains life in our world is also dangerous to be around. If you’ve ever sat outside without sunscreen for a very long, you know what I’m talking about..maybe that should be the next sermon in the series… “what was I thinking” sunscreen is more important than I thought.
We need the sun, but if we get too close, we’ll die. And this same paradox is true about God. We see in the Old Testament that if you’re impure, God’s presence is dangerous to you. And it’s not dangerous because it’s bad, it’s dangerous because it’s so so good. Again, we’re back to the complexity of holiness. Can you imagine something being so good that it’s dangerous to be around?
Imagine being covered in mud head to toe… boots still on… mud everywhere… and you walk into a house and everything is perfectly white. White carpet, white furniture, white walls, white lamp shade… even a white dog. If that was me, I’d look at the room and I’d look at myself and I’d think, “I can’t walk in there. That room is clean and I’m so dirty… I’m too muddy to walk into that kind of room.”
We see this played out when Moses encounters God at the burning bush. If you remember, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. It was burning, but it wasn’t being consumed by the fire. And when Moses goes to check it out God tells Moses, “don’t come any closer. Take off your shoes for this whole area is holy ground.” And Moses takes off his shoes and covers his face even though God doesn’t tell him to cover his face because Moses doesn’t want to look at it because it’s so… holy. Like the white room. Like the sun.
God’s holiness means that if we’re unclean, we can’t be in proximity to him.
Now,this was a problem in the time of Asa because in the inner most room of the temple was the holy of holies… this is where the fullest presence of God dwelled on the earth at the time. And so if you’re a Jewish person living in the area around the temple or if you were working right in the temple you were in proximity of the full holiness of God, and so it was dangerous to be around because it was so holy… so good.
But God gave his people a solution for this paradox. His people needed to be morally and ritually pure to be in certain proximity to him. Now, being morally pure had to do with obeying the law… following the 10 commands… don’t steal… don’t lie… don’t commit adultery… but being ritually pure had nothing to do with sin. And if you’ve ever read through the book of Leviticus or Numbers, that’s a lot of what’s happening in these books. God gave instructions to be ritually pure by telling his people to distance themselves from anything related to death. Diseased skin, dead bodies, certain bodily fluids.
Here’s an example in Numbers 5 – “Command the Israelites to send away from the camp anyone who has a defiling skin disease[a] or a discharge of any kind, or who is ceremonially unclean because of a dead body.
That’s an example of the seriousness of ritual purity. Now, being ritually impure isn’t a sin, but it is a sin to waltz into God’s presence in that state. And so God gave very specific and clear instructions to his people about how to become and remain ritually pure.
Let’s pause for a moment, because it’s possible I lost you there for a minute… but I want to make sure you catch this before we move on. God is so unique and other in his essence that we can’t even be around him unless we’re morally and ritually pure. So the Jewish people had to make themselves pure before they could enter God’s presence.
Kind of like an astronaut. Before an astronaut goes into space she has to go through physical training and endurance tests to make sure she can handle it, but she also has to put on a space suit because space is just different than what our bodies can handle.
And God’s holiness is so overwhelming and different and other that the Jewish people had to prepare themselves before entering it.
That’s how it was and that’s how it is for Jewish people in our world. But 600 years after Moses, we see a glimpse of something different. Coming back around to Isaiah’s vision in the throne room when the Seraphim are singing Holy Holy Holy, we see something change. So Isaiah finds himself in this vision in the throne room and he sees the Seraphim and, as we would expect, Isaiah is freaking out. He’s terrified because closer in proximity to God than anyone should be.
Isaiah 6:4-5 – At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
To use our metaphors from earlier, Isaiah realizes he’s out in space and he’s WAAAYYY too close to the sun… and not only is he physically unfit, he also doesn’t have his space suit on and he’s scared because you know what happens if you get too close to the sun… you die!
He’s walked into the house in the dark, covered in mud, but when he turns on the lights he finds himself in the perfectly white room with the dog rubbing up against his muddy jeans… and you know what happens if mom finds you in the white room with muddy clothes on… you die!
But here’s what happens…
Isaiah 6:6-7 – Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Do you see what happened here? There’s a glimpse of ritual purity laws beginning to be turned on their heads. Before this, if an impure person touches someone pure, the impurity is transferred and both are impure… but here something changes… Isaiah enters God’s presence in this vision and he’s touched by something pure… something like a burning coal taken from the altar… and this coal isn’t made impure by Isaiah… Isaiah is purified.
Do you see that change? Impurity had always been transferred through touch and proximity. But now, purity is transferred through touch and proximity.Isaiah is in the presence of God’s holiness but it doesn’t destroyhim, it transforms him.
This points us right to Jesus, doesn’t it? Because a while later, we see Jesus, God’s holiness in the flesh… and he demonstrated the same thing.
Earlier we looked at Numbers 5:2 and it said that people with skin diseases, people with a discharge of any kind, and people unclean because of a dead body are unclean.
But here’s what Jesus does with those exact same unclean people.
In Matthew 8:1-3 we see Jesus in this encounter – When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. 2 A man with leprosy[a] came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.
Everyone standing around would’ve been like, “JESUS what are you doing! Don’t touch him, he’s impure.” But Jesus touched the leper and Jesus wasn’t made impure, the man was made pure.
In Matthew 9:20-22 we see this encounter - 20 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
A woman with a problem that should’ve made Jesus impure was made pure by the touch of the Holy One.
And in Matthew 9:24-25 we see this encounter… Jesus went to the house of a dead girl and he said to the people standing around, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.
Jesus turned ritual purity on its head. Everyone else was avoiding unclean people to avoid becoming unclean, but not Jesus. Because Jesus is in the business of purifying the impure.
Do you see why God’s holiness is so important and practical? Not only are we unable to be in proximity of God because he’s so holy, but Jesus made a way for us to do just that. And when we miss the holiness of God, if we think of him as a dime a dozen, or just another part of life, or regular and common, we might be tempted to set him up alongside many other authorities in our lives. That’s what happened to Judah. They missed the holiness of God and worshipped other idols alongside God.
But when we realize that God is like no other… that he’s the one and only one… that he’s holy… that nothing compares to him… we would never set up anything beside him. We’d worship him and him alone. We would give ourselves completely to him. And we would do it with joy. Because we would realize that there’s no other life we’d rather live than a life completely devoted to the Lord.
Even when we get tricked into believing that a little bit of sin in our lives are like sweeteners to make our lives better, God’s holiness shows us that those little additives are like poison that aren’t good for us.
Here’s the good news. In Christ, we are made pure before God the Father. We’re like the leper that Jesus reached out to and made clean, just like that. But not only has he made us pure, he is continuing to transform us in a purifying process right now.
And I’m willing to bet that if we’re open and honest with ourselves, there are parts of our lives that have fallen prey to the trick that “just a little bit is okay.” We’ve added in some things that we’ve been told would be like sweetener to our life, but it’s actually more like poison. But here’s the beautiful thing, just like Asa removed the unholy things from among Judah and repaired their worship of God, every day is an opportunity for us to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us.
This story is an invitation to all of us to consider what we might need to remove and what we might need to repair.
For some of us, we may need to remove a way of thinking from our lives. If you just had a little more money… if I just had a slightly bigger house… or just a few more friends… then I’d have more joy.
Some of us need to remove a habit we’ve formed in response to our circumstances. It might be the way you cope with disappointment and heart ache… if you turn to prescription medication or alcohol, you need to know that there’s something better out there… the Holy One who invites you to cast your heart ache and hurt on him so that he can bring you real healing and full life.
Some of us need to repair our reverence. You might know this but devout Jews don’t say God’s name out loud or write it down. Out of reverence for God, they won’t even say his name. I’m not saying we should stop saying God’s name, but maybe you need to repair your reverence of God by not saying his name flippantly as an exclamation. Some of us are accustomed to using God as a prefix to the thing beavers build in a stream. Maybe a step for you to repair your worship is by honoring God’s name and not using it flippantly.
Some of us need to repair our calendar. Maybe you’ve gotten so wrapped up in work and activities and social opportunities that you aren’t pouring love and faith into your kids. Or you’ve been telling yourself that you want your life to be directed by the Bible, but you haven’t repaired your calendar to make spending time with God in His word a priority.
Some of us need to repair our worship by forgiving someone. You’ve been holding on too long, and it’s keeping you from a strong relationship with God and it’s keeping you from the full life God has for you.
See, God is more holy than we thought…. And in light of God’s holiness, King Asa removed the unholy things and repaired his worship… and we’re invited to do the same in our lives because God isn’t common… he isn’t one among many good things… he isn’t a dime a dozen. God is HOLY.
- Think about a time when you were tricked or pranked. Was it funny or not? What was the behavior that resulted?
- Read 2 Chronicles 14:2-5; 15:8. Judah added in a little bit of idol worship to their lives. What kinds of things do Christians today add into their lives that may not be seen as a big deal? What kinds of things have you added into your life in that past that you didn’t think was a big deal?
- Reflect on God’s holiness. Write down some characteristics or explanations from the sermon that helped you better know that God is holy.
- Read Matthew 8:1-3. What do you think the people around Jesus were thinking when the leper approached him? What was the people’s opinions of the leper? How do you think the leper the leper felt approaching Jesus, who he believed could heal him?
- In light of God’s holiness, Judah removed unholy things and repaired their worship of God. What’s one thing that you want to remove or repair in your life as you allow God to continue in his purifying process?
- What can you do this week as a first step toward that goal?