We are Set Free to be… Holy?

Holy is an interesting word. I always think of the 60’s Batman television show where every exclamation by Robin started with “holy” and your choice of a normal phrase that was intended to be a pun on the situation. Like “holy kidnappers, Batman” or “holy bank robbery, Batman”. So is Holy just an exclamation in a bad joke? The second thing I think of is the 70’s movie Monty Python and the quest for the Holy Grail that also included a skit with a holy hand grenade. In this scene King Arthur calls on the Church and all its formal rules to help him slay a wild animal that is terrorizing the adventurers. Maybe holy is just part of a funny joke at the expense of church formality? So what is Holy?

but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16 ESV

What does it mean to be “holy”? Holy in all my conduct, does that mean being a good person? I need to be a holy roller? I know those people; holier than thou types. I do not want to be part of that group so I hope that is not what holy is all about. Peter is quoting what the Lord told Moses in Leviticus 19:2 we, the people of God, need to be holy because God is Holy. So maybe this means I need to be more like God. I need to be like God in my thinking and my actions. How can this be? I can’t be omniscient, or omnipresent. I can’t be like the atheist who thinks of himself as God. How can the imperfect and finite like me be like the perfect and infinite God?

Hold on it is time to dig deep. I need to know and understand what it means to be holy and to conduct life as holy if that is who God is and what he wants of me. The Hebrew word in Leviticus 19:2 for holy is קָדוֹשׁ (Qadowsh) and the root meaning is “set apart”. Let me retranslate 1 Peter 1:15-16 replacing “holy” with “set apart” and see if any new meaning comes to light.

but as he who called you is set apart, you also be set apart in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be set apart, for I am set apart.” 1 Peter 1:15-16

God has called me to be set apart in my conduct and He wants me to be set apart because He is set apart. “Set Apart” is an interesting phrase and since life is motion then that leads to the question “set apart for what purpose”? How do I conduct myself as set apart? Whatever that purpose is it must be very special since God has set himself apart.

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Hebrews 9:14-15 NIV

The author of Hebrews tells us why God wants us to be set apart (holy). I am to be holy so that I may serve the living God. Jesus died to give me a new life and eternal inheritance. Jesus has set me free from my sins that caused my death and set me free for one purpose. That purpose is to be set apart to serve God now and for eternity.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9 ESV

Holy servant of God, Batman. My purpose in life is to serve God because he saved me? Maybe I need to reevaluate all that serving myself that is going on.

Jesus was Human too

We often talk about Jesus as a great prophet or leader or some master Sherpa that has all the right answers. The famous WWJD, what would Jesus do, question still finds meaning for many people trying to figure out life and how to live it. The thing we forget is that Jesus was a man who was flesh and blood. Better than WWJD would be “what was Jesus doing”. The reality is that while Jesus was God in the flesh that means that Jesus was also a man with all issues that come with being human. All the problems I face he faced. All of the aches and pains of life he faced. All of the money problems he faced. All of the problems of family, life, death, work, government, church, and friends he faced. He understands what it means to be human.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Hebrews 2:14-16 ESV

Jesus was created as a man to “share in flesh and blood”. When we think of Jesus we think of the powerful individual that walked on water (Matthew 14:25), but Jesus also got tired (John 4:6), he got hungry (Matthew 4:2), he paid taxes (Matthew 17:24-25), he had fights with his brothers (John 7:5), he went to parties (Matthew 9:11), he wept (John 19:41), he had compassion (Luke 7:13), and he was even betrayed by a close friend (Matthew 26:14-16). Jesus was a man just as much as he is God in the flesh. While it is right for me to elevate Jesus to the place he belongs as God I must not forget that he is also a man that experienced joy, love, betrayal, anger, and even the pain of death.

Know and understand that everything we face that is human he has experienced in some form. The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was human in order to be a “merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God”

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:17-18 ESV

We can take our pain, our trials, and our joys to him because he understands. He is not some remote ruler or distant entity that cannot possibly understand what our lives are like. He is the perfect high priest because “he himself has suffered when tempted”. When we pray and take our prayers and petitions to him we know that he understands. He will have compassion on us. He will weep with us. He will have joy with us. Most importantly he has already died in our place so that we can trust in him with everything.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 ESV

Christmas: The World Blessed

After the fall of man and the entirety of creation falling under a curse, God chose Abraham to start the plan to restore the creation. God wanted to move forward with a grand plan to bless the world and He wanted to use Abraham to accomplish that purpose.

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

By way of Abraham God promised that all the families of the earth would be blessed. However the promise does not work out the way I or Abraham might have envisioned. The Old Testament documents the struggles of that chosen nation and only briefly in a few instances can we see where that vision for Israel to be a blessing or an ambassador of blessing is realized in some small way. Most of the energy of Israel is spent in rebellion refusing to be that blessing. God however being God has a plan that no child of Adam can undo and that plan is Jesus.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-20 ESV

Jesus is here to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham. Jesus is here to reconcile God’s creation to God. Jesus tells the people that it is in him that Israel will perfectly fulfill the promise of being the blessing to all nations and all people.

Peter one of the Disciples of Jesus and a thoroughly Jewish man grew up in that inwardly turned culture. In a famous narrative the Holy Spirit reveals to Peter a feast of food, animals that would not be acceptable in the Jewish diet. The Holy Spirit tells Peter that nothing is unclean that God has made clean and then the vision ends. That vision was preparing Peter not about food, but about being a blessing to other people and nations just as God had promised Abraham. After that vision Peter is asked to travel to a certain man’s home and breaking all social norms Peter enters the home of a Roman and is witness to God saving a non-Jewish family.

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. Acts 10:34-35 ESV

Later Peter challenges the church reminding us that we are to be a blessing to all peoples of all nations confirming lessons he had learned and practiced throughout his ministry.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9 ESV

This Christmas we remember that Jesus is God’s blessing and peace to all creation.

The Greatest Gift

The weeks leading up to Christmas are busy. Wrapping up school before the break begins, winding down projects at work, or beginning the always insane shopping season for gifts are just starters. In the quiet before sleep at the end of a crazy day I want to contemplate the greatest gift ever given since we are in the middle of this giving season. Personally that might be the gift my wife gave me at Christmas years ago, a copy of Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss, as way of telling me we would be parents for the first time eight months from that Christmas season. While memorable it is not the greatest gift ever. There is something greater than that gift. It is a gift even more personal, more lasting, and more amazing. I am reminded of this gift in a powerful way by the classic carol Hark the herald angels sing

“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

I am hit by the words “God and sinners reconciled” and I realize that line sums up the greatest gift ever given from one person to another. God the Creator wraps Himself up in the flesh of a man, humbling Himself as a servant, to reconcile Himself to His Creation. Yes you heard that right. God became a man, Jesus, to reconcile you and me to Himself.

Satan called Jesus the “Son of God”

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Matthew 4:3 ESV

Jesus called God his Father.

In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:17-18 ESV

It is this claim that got him killed.

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” John 19:7 ESV

How is it that Jesus, whom we celebrate in the Christmas season reconciles God and sinners? Because Jesus is God in flesh giving Himself up in our place. We have rebelled and run from God. God’s perfect love provided a way to reconcile what God’s perfect judgment had condemned. As a gift God provided Himself as punishment on our behalf.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. John 5:24 ESV

That is right, God’s gift of Jesus once accepted is reconciliation which is life itself. I have accepted Jesus and therefore the gift made me, a dead man, alive. Have you accepted this gift? We celebrate this gift every year as the most joyous time of the year for good reason. Do not reject, leave unopened, or ignore the greatest gift ever given.

Awkward

Jesus did not act as many people might expect, he certainly did not act as the people of his own time expected. Jesus challenged everyone around him. He challenged the sinner to stop sinning and he challenged the religious to stop being religious. That challenge to stop being religious stands even today. Being religious for me is comfortable. There are rules, I know the rules, and I can for the most part comfortably slide through life picking the rules I like. That is because religious rules are manmade rules. Rules like what one can wear at Church or how to worship in Church. Rules like these really have nothing to do with God.

Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13 ESV

Jesus speaking to the religious leaders tells them his purpose, resolve, and intent is mercy. There is no place for mercy in a religious mindset because the rules are more important than people. When the non-religious mix with the religious that lack of mercy makes everyone uncomfortable. Jesus was comfortable spending time with sinners and many sinners appear to have wanted to spend time with Jesus.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Matthew 9:10-11 ESV

So how did Jesus avoid the awkward? How did he cross the divide of someone who appeared as perfectly religious and hang out with people who appeared without religion? How did cultures and people who would not normally share a meal together sit and eat? Jesus cuts through the uncomfortable cultural divide because he loves people even where they are at the moment. He loves his children. He created people (John 1:3) and the good Shepherd has moved heaven and earth to restore the relationship. Eating with sinners is a result of that love in action. It is real, genuine, and trustworthy compassion and the sinners that Jesus ate with recognized it. That kind of love could never be awkward.

Jesus became a servant who interacted with people as they are. He has provided and pointed to the way one should go. What do you think they talked about at this dinner? Did he talk about sports? Did they bad mouth the religious leaders? I imagine that he talked about what was important to those tax collectors and sinners. I imagine that the conversations were similar to others recorded in the gospels where Jesus with compassion would tell them about their future and the better way that only God can provide.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:10-11 ESV

He loved them first. He befriended them. He showed compassion by being willing to spend time with them in their home. He allows sinners to come as they are without judgment. Religion only judges and has no room for love.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 ESV