Podcast Transcript. To listen to the audio version click HERE
This past weekend I was contemplating what it means to keep the Sabbath holy and really began to wonder how much I understood the concept of holiness.
Was I really keeping the commandment or was I just going through the motions of habit and ceremony each week I went to church.
I mean what is holiness really?
It is not a word that comes up much except when it is used in the pejorative sense to describe someone who is self-righteous.
The truth is, in our society today holiness is something of a foreign concept. The Information Age has gone to great lengths to remove mystery from our consciousness. I mean when was the last time you saw a sign that read “holy” in your everyday life.
Without any real world examples of holiness our minds instead drift to scenes like the one at the end of the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indiana discovers a room full of cups all pretending to be the Holy Grail.
Choosing the wrong cup will bring certain death while choosing the right cup will save his fathers life.
The mystery of the Holy Grail is equated with fictional magical power. But, since we all know magic isn’t real isn’t it logical to conclude that holiness isn’t either?
The crazy thing is – this concept of holiness is not just a problem for the non-religious to grasp – but even many in the church today have struggled grasping it – I know I do even now.
Could it be, in our attempt to make God more accessible and user friendly that our desire for holiness has been replaced by our desire for happiness.
However, Assuming that we can only have one or the other puts us in an unenviable position.
For instance, if we choose happiness over holiness then everything associated with God becomes common, casual, light-hearted and fun. My religion becomes all about me and God becomes an indulgent grandfather who just winks and smiles at me when I misbehave.
On the other hand if we choose holiness over happiness then everything associated with God becomes fearfully high and mighty. God becomes this impersonal Judge I must please through my behavior lest through one misstep I invoke his wrath upon me.
What If this idea of having to choose between happiness and holiness is a false dichotomy?
What if God wants us to be both happy and holy?
So what exactly is holiness?
Let’s discover this concept together through a story in the book of Exodus, chapter 3 that records Moses first encounter with God.
“Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”” (Exodus 3:1–5 ESV)
So what was it that made the ground holy?
Think about it. For forty years Moses had led his flock through this path, by this bush. Why now was it holy? Why now was he commanded to keep it holy by removing his sandals?
I think you know the answer, right?
It was God’s presence is what made it holy.
This is a fundamental concept
Nothing is holy unless somehow His presence is connected with it.
If Moses wanted to engage in a relationship with God he had to repeat the command to take off his shoes. To fail to do so would have been a clear indication that he was not interested in communing the divine.
However by respecting what God had made holy through his presence Moses was then invited into that same holiness.
And through that imparted holiness Moses was empowered by God to accomplish a specific mission: to deliver God’s people from slavery.
Now God no longer needs a burning bush for Moses has become its incarnation in human flesh: burning but not consumed by the holiness of God.
Interestingly enough, out of all Ten Commandments only one contains a command to keep something holy in a similar manner ground around the burning bush.
The 4th Commandment.
In the first part of the commandment we read:
““Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God.” (Exodus 20:8–10 NKJV)
Why the seventh-day? Well in order to understand we have to again go back to the beginning to the story of Creation in book of Genesis.
In chapter 1 we read how he first forms the earth on the first three days (light water, air, land) and then fills it on the next three days (sun, moon, stars, fish, birds, animals and people).
But then in chapter 2 we find this curious addition to the creation story – a seventh-day is added on to the week where it appears God creates nothing – but a deeper look unveils this assumption as superficial
“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2–3 ESV)
What did God do on the seventh-day?
God made the seventh-day holy!
How did he do it?
How did he make the ground holy that Moses was standing on?
Through his presence!
But in this case it is not space that God is making holy, but rather time.
Time itself has now been connected to God. And not only connected but made holy through His presence.
Just as the Jewish sanctuary was declared holy because it was the dwelling place of God on earth, so the seventh-day becomes in essence a sanctuary in time.
Now even though the holiness of the seventh-day centers around time rather than space, we can still benefit from it the same way Moses did when he communed with God on holy ground.
Because just like God made the ground holy in order to enter into a deeper relationship with Moses, he does the same with the seventh-day.
The Seventh-day was gift to mankind from the beginning showing that it has always been his will to be in relationship with us.
Jesus himself said,
““The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”” (Mark 2:27–28 ESV)
The day was never meant to be one of burden and restriction. In fact Jesus spent much of his ministry clarifying the true meaning of the seventh-day as a day freedom and happiness.
Jesus brought the holy and happy together.
It was always meant to be that way – holiness when rightly understood brings happiness because happiness is simply the natural result of being made holy as we commune with God.
You see the Sabbath is God’s invitation to lay down our burdens and rest. It is a day to trust in his work and not our own. It is time for renewal – but more than that it is a time to connect with him.
Speaking about this concept to his disciples – Jesus said:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28–30 ESV)
You see true rest only comes through unity with God.
The invitation is similar to that which Moses received from God.
We can only come to that which God is present in.
The seventh-day is holy time. Instead of taking off our sandals he asks us to keep and honor the Sabbath by not doing any secular or unnecessary labor.
When we stop our work to rest on the seventh-day we are displaying to God and to the world our recognition of his presence and dependence on him for our very life.
What if Moses had refused to take off his shoes? Then he never would have been invited into relationship with the divine. He would have missed out on having all the questions of his childhood answered. He would have missed out on his purpose and meaning of life.
What about you?
This podcast is all about being ready for Jesus.
But how can we be ready for Jesus without knowing him?
And how can we really know him if we refuse his invitation to commune with him on the day he has made holy for the specific purpose to make us holy?
How do we keep the Sabbath holy?
How did Moses keep the ground holy?
God said take off your shoes.
He says to us – cease from your labors and lay down the burdens of your week.
Take time with me and I will take care of you.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
To view the seventh-day as a restriction is again to misunderstand its purpose.
Holiness is not merit. It is being.
Thus keeping the seventh-day holy is not a task, not a chore, but a relationship
Keeping the seventh-day holy then can only be viewed as a restriction when our hearts no longer want to be in a relationship with God.
There are not too many things in the world that are holy today.
But there is day.
A day when the God who created you wants nothing more than to spend some uninterrupted time talking to you.
I don’t know the plans God has for you – only he does.
But I can guarantee you this, if you spend time building a relationship with him using the vehicles of his presence he has provided, like Moses, he will reveal those plans to you, and you may just discover yourself along the way.