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ENCOUNTER WITH A HOLY GOD
I have been under real spiritual attack this week because of the message I believe God wants me to bring to you this morning. The pressure was so strong that I wanted to ring Ross and opt out, but God gave me the strength to keep going.
What does it mean to fear God?
It is not like fearing a cruel dictator who knocks people off whenever he chooses.
If you lived in Uganda when Idi Armin was president you would have lived under that kind of fear because he tortured and murdered anyone he took a disliking to.
The best way to describe what it means to fear God would be like the attitude children have towards a loving, yet a firm father. The father loves his children very much and gives them lots of encouragement and affection, but he has also made it very clear that there is certain behaviour that is not acceptable and if they behave in this way they will be punished.
The children love their father, but they also respect him, and because of that they do not want to offend him, but they also know that if they do wrong they will have to answer to him and will face punishment.
I believe that in any healthy parent-child relationship there must be this balance of love and respect.
The children need to know they are loved but they also need to know that there are moral boundaries they must stay within for their own protection and for their good and that there will be unpleasant consequences if they cross those boundaries. And parents must be consistent in enforcing these, otherwise, children will become morally confused, they won’t know where they stand, they will lose respect for their parents.
God loves us very much and He has demonstrated His love for us when He sacrificed His own Son so that we could be forgiven and received into His eternal family, but He has made it clear that there are certain behaviours and attitudes that are offensive to him and He will not tolerate them.
The Bible calls this stuff sin. It is the most deadly virus that is infecting and destroying the whole human race and God hates it and will not tolerate it.
And if we really love and respect God we will not want to offend Him and we will also know that if we knowingly and deliberately continue to do wrong we will be disciplined. Hebrews 12:6 “Those who the Lord loves He disciplines.”
Another way to understand the fear of the Lord is to think of fire. God is often likened to fire in the Bible. In Hebrews, we read that God is a consuming fire.
Fire is something we appreciate and if we work with it in a careful, respectful way we greatly benefit from it, but if we misuse it there can be some very painful consequences. We need to have healthy fear and respect for fire.
So in our relationship with God, we must have that balance of love and respect. That is the healthy fear of the Lord.
Unfortunately, the church in the western world has largely avoided the whole subject of the fear of the Lord.
For three reasons:
- Many Christians believe that we don’t need to fear God. After all, they say that God is love and a loving God would never harm anyone.
- Many Christians view the love of God as something that is sentimental, sloppy, romantic, overlooks our mistakes and wrongdoing.
- Our view of God has been powerfully influenced by the lenient, tolerant, permissive culture in which we live.
This is why there was such a negative reaction to Israel Falau’s comments on Facebook. A God who hates sin and punishes sinners is not acceptable in this day and age.
So many Christians have re-created God so that He will look favourably upon our lenient, tolerant, permissive desires and immoral behaviour.
We no longer fear God because we don’t see Him as holy, morally perfect and we don’t see ourselves as sinful and morally corrupted.
In 1984 the British Anglican Church appointed Rev. David Jenkins as the new Bishop of Durham. David Jenkins was a liberal theologian of the worst kind: he believed that Jesus was born out of fornication, that Jesus isn’t God, and that he never rose up from the grave.
Less than 3 days after Jenkins’ consecration in York Minster cathedral in Durham, a single 1 million volt bolt of lightning hit this largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe – and burnt the entire south transept down to the ground. The newly appointed bishop smugly remarked, ‘If it was God, he missed.’
Here are the facts: The cathedral had just been renovated costing millions of pounds. It was specially equipped with state of the art fire alarms and lightning conductors – which failed. It had been a cloudless day, except for reports of a small cloud that had circled the cathedral. Shortly after midnight, 1 million volts of lightning struck the Cathedral and it burst into flames. Everyone in the weather office believed it was an act of God. Even the insurance company called it an act of God, but the liberal bishop refused to do so.
At the end of 1984, the religious ‘Photo of the Year’ in the secular press was a picture of the burnt-down cathedral, entitled ‘The Wrath of God’.
In the book of Acts, we read that the believers walked in the fear of the Lord.
We believers today do not have a healthy fear of the Lord because we have majored on the love of God and largely ignored the holiness, the purity, the judgement of God.
Even in our modern Christian songs we sing only about the love, kindness, compassion, tenderness of God and ignore His holy, righteous, sin-hating character.
Our concept of God will always affect the way we relate to Him and the way we live. If we view God as a big softy, someone who is lenient and tolerant of anything, we will tend to be flippant and disrespectful towards Him and we will think that He will ignore a lot of our wrong behaviour and stink attitudes.
That is largely what has happened in the church in the western world. We tolerate all kinds, un-Christlike behaviour and attitudes in our lives and churches.
Because we have ignored the holiness of God we think that God is less righteous than He really is and we are more righteous than we really are. I guess Isaiah felt this way to some extent.
In chapter 5 Isaiah had been preaching against the evils he saw in His nation.
If you look at Isaiah 5:8-23 you will see what they were:
v8. Materialistic greed.
v11. Obsession with drinking and alcohol.
v18. Unashamed sinful behaviour.
v20. Moral perversion.
v21. Moral and spiritual blindness.
v22. Corruption in leadership.
Isaiah was looking at the people living around him and he was criticising them and judging them because of their godless sinful behaviour. And don’t we do the same? How often do we Christians get together and criticise, judge and condemn the behaviour of the unbelievers in our nation and in the world at large?
We even think we are better than them because we don’t do some of the things they do. When we compare ourselves with the people out there we think we are pretty good.
That’s how Isaiah felt until he was confronted with the dazzling moral purity and sinless perfection of a Holy God.
When the godly King Uzziah died, it was a time of uncertainty and anxiety and Isaiah the prophet went into the temple to get a word from the Lord for the nation. But he encountered something far greater than he expected.
He saw the Lord.
He was shaken by God’s presence v.1-4
He was shocked by his own sinfulness v.5
He was spared by the sacrifice v.6-7
He was sent by the Triune God v.1-13.
HE WAS SHAKEN BY GOD’S PRESENCE v1-4
Isaiah was given a genuine vision of God that day in the Temple. He obviously did not see God’s face, because God had said in Exodus 33, “No one can see my face and live.” But what he saw was enough to know that it was the Lord.
“I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and His train filled the temple.”
He saw the overwhelming, awesome majesty and grandeur of Almighty God….saw that He was high, exalted over all creation and the blazing glory of His presence filled the temple.
v2. Above the throne hovered an army of 6 winged angels. With two wings they covered their faces….the holy, awesome, blazing presence of God was too dazzling for even them to look upon.
With two wings they covered their feet…because they were on holy ground.
With the other two wings, they hovered waiting for the Lord’s commands.
v3. And they were calling to one another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.”
This very interesting. The one quality that is proclaimed and praised in heaven above all others is the holiness of God. Nowhere in scripture do we read that God is love, love, love or faithful, faithful, faithful. The one characteristic of God that stands above every other is that He is holy. That means that God is uniquely different from everything else that exists. He transcends us in perfect moral purity.
God is so morally and spiritually pure that if any human being stood for a fraction of a second in the actual presence of God they would be incinerated by the blazing fire that radiates from His person.
Everything that God does flows out of His holy character. It is this aspect of God that separates God from people and makes Him utterly unlike us. Pure, undefiled, unable to even look upon evil.
v4. Everything was shaken in the presence of God and the place was filled with smoke from the fire of His Holy presence….Hebrews 12: “Our God is consuming fire.” Nothing unclean, impure, sinful or evil can exist in His presence.
This would have been the most terrifying, fearful experience any person could have. Isaiah would be shaking with fear and trembling.
Somehow we have ignored the fact that God is before anything else, holy, absolutely morally pure, completely different from us in character.
We have reduced God to someone more like us and when we read this passage we can’t grasp the seriousness and the enormity of it. All too often we think God is less than He really is.
The Old Testament people understood the holiness of God because God constantly revealed how holy He was throughout their history. When His people treated Him or His word flippantly or carelessly He punished them. When they refused to take Him seriously and rebelled against His commands He destroyed them.
God is so holy that He will not even tolerate the slightest violation of His Law. And that is why the very best human being this world has produced will never be good enough to enter God’s Holy presence and live there.
Because we have reduced God to someone more like ourselves we imagine that God is like us….easy going, lenient, permissive, tolerant, accommodating and that somehow He won’t be hard on anyone who disobeys Him. God is not like that and He never will be.
The God who destroyed priests for fooling around in His holy Temple, who killed Uzziah for touching the sacred ark, who sent fire from heaven to consume those who rebelled against His Word, who caused the ground to open up and swallow those who murmured against His servants, who struck down Ananias and Saphira because of their deceit….He is the same God that every one of us will face as their judge and executioner. He is a holy God.
The Jews got the message. Whenever anyone in scripture encountered God it produced in them fear and terror. They believed they would die because the blazing purity of His holy presence was too much for any human being to endure.
When His holy presence came upon Solomon’s temple, the priests fled from the building in terror. They couldn’t minister at the altar for one second longer.
You may read through the scriptures and ask yourself, “Why did God kill people, destroy them, plague them and obliterate them?” Because He was demonstrating that He is serious when He says, “I hate sin.” He was making it abundantly clear that evil is the most destructive force in the world and must be eradicated. Allow it to go unchecked and it will destroy everything.
If that is the case, the question we should be asking is not, “Why did God kill those people?” but “Why didn’t God kill everyone?” After all, every one of us has sinned.
God is a perfectionist. “Be perfect as your Father is perfect” – Matthew 5:48. When a perfectionist makes something and it is spoiled or marred, he will get rid of it and start again. [Josiah Wedgewood]
When the human race became ruined and polluted by sin, God should have wiped it out and started again but He didn’t.
We read about God’s judgement upon sinful people in the Old Testament and say that God was being unfair and cruel. The most amazing thing is not that God punished sinful people but that He spared some. You and I are alive only by the grace and kindness of God because none of us deserves even to live, we have all rebelled against God and become defiled by our sin.
We have accepted the aspects of God’s character that suit us and rejected the others. We have created in our mind a god who is not the God of the Bible but one of our own making, one who is like us…..tolerant, lenient, compromising, permissive.
In Romans 1:21-5 we read that because we have rejected the truth about God we have created a god just like ourselves. God is not like us. When God punishes sinners, He is not being unfair and unjust, He is justly fulfilling His perfect moral law.
But in spite of all this God has chosen to be gracious to some out of the undeserved kindness of His heart. [Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy and compassion on whom I will have compassion.”] That’s not fair. It wouldn’t be fair if we deserved to God’s love, mercy and kindness, but we don’t.
When God shows mercy, forgiveness and kindness to people He is going way beyond what we deserve and what is expected of Him.
Now the first believers had a fear of the Lord that is largely missing in the western churches today. Even Jesus brought fear and trembling into the hearts of people when they discovered who He was. When Peter discovered who Jesus was, he cried out, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
When the disciples saw Jesus calm the wind and the waves they became more terrified of Him than they were of the storm.
When the woman with the haemorrhage discovered Jesus knew she was healed, the Greek says she was absolutely petrified, because she knew she had touched God.
Whenever people in the NewTestament realised that Jesus was God in human flesh they were terrified, because they knew that God was holy and they were not.
HE WAS SHOCKED BY HIS SINFULNESS v5
When Isaiah realised he was in the presence of Almighty God, do you know what his response was? I’m finished, there is no hope for me, this is the end. I’m ruined, I am going to die. This was the hopeless, despairing cry of a man who was about to be destroyed.
Isaiah knew instinctively that he couldn’t survive in the presence of God. He suddenly became acutely aware of how vile, filthy, wretched and sinful He was. The absolute purity, the dazzling white holiness of God exposed him for what he really was and he knew he was finished.
If we compare ourselves with others we tend to think we are not too bad, and Isaiah may have felt that way. Compared with the other people in Judah he would have regarded himself as a saint ………..but when he stood in the presence of the Holy, morally perfect God, he was filthy.
Illustration of Lisa and the sheep in the South Island.
If we are ever to be the people God intended us to be we have got to stop comparing ourselves with others and place our lives before the Lord as He really is, not as we have imagined Him to be.
Until we do this we will never think we are as bad as we are and therefore never truly repent and continue to tolerate stuff in our lives that will bring us down and make us ineffective and powerless as believers.
Look at Isaiah’s reaction. He was totally devastated by the Holiness of God and utterly shocked and shattered by his own sinful condition. We haven’t grasped just how Holy God is, how holy Jesus Christ is and because of that, we don’t realise how unholy we are.
Often we pray, “Lord let your presence fill this place, let revival come upon us.” I suspect that what we mean is, “Give us some exciting and tingling warm fuzzies.”
If the genuine holy presence of God, not some mass emotionalism truly filled this place we would be flat on our faces crying out for mercy, broken, overcome with fear and trembling….like John on the Isle of Patmos who fell prostrate at Jesus feet afraid to look up.
Illustration of the Solomon Islands Revival in 1970.
Ross has been speaking about being filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is Holy and we expect Him to fill and indwell our lives while we continue to behave and talk and think in ways that are sinful and offensive to God. It’s like inviting our Holy God to live in a filthy pig sty.
Before we can be filled and empowered with God’s Holy Spirit we have got to see God as He really is not as we want Him to be and to see ourselves as we really are and repent of all the filth and moral corruption we have allowed into our lives and cry out to God for mercy and forgiveness.
This morning we are coming to the communion table and Paul says that before we partake we need to examine ourselves before that Lord. We are coming before a Holy, morally perfect, sin-hating God and we are going to pray the prayer that David prayed in Psalm 139, “Search me O God and know my heart….”
Lord, have I allowed behaviour and attitudes into my life that has morally polluted and defiled me and grieved your Holy Spirit?
Would I allow someone to come into my home and use filthy language and blasphemy, and yet I have done it through my TV set?
Would I allow an unmarried couple to have sexual relations in my lounge and yet I have done it through my TV?
Have I allowed myself to give way to the cursing, swearing and filthy talk of the world?
Have I allowed myself to indulge in lustful thoughts and behaviour?
Have I been passing on unkind and damaging information about others?
Have I been dishonest in dealing with others?
Do I hold resentment, grudges and unforgiveness in my heart?
Do I hold critical, judgemental, condemning attitudes towards others?
Am I proud and arrogant and insist on getting my own way?
Do I reject others because they don’t agree with me?
Do I expect the Holy Spirit to co-exist with all this filthy, sinful, pollution in my life? No more than I would expect our Holy God to live in a brothel or a pig sty.
The time for treating God and sin flippantly is over. If we are truly serious about following Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, if we are truly serious about seeing God move in and through our church and lives, we have got to take drastic action or we risk facing the painful discipline of a Holy God. When God can’t get us to deal with this stuff in our lives by His Word or the Spirit He may have to resort to discipline.
That is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11 that if we partake of the Lord’s Supper with ungodly and unloving attitudes in our hearts we eat and drink judgement upon ourselves and that is why some of you are weak and sick and some have died. Not all sickness is the result of God’s discipline but sometimes it is.
Let’s move quickly to the last 2 points: If the awareness of God’s holy presence and the consciousness of his sinful condition brought Isaiah down then the next two factors lifted him up.
HE WAS SPARED BY THE SACRIFICE v6
When Isaiah saw the utter hopelessness of his condition he confessed his sinfulness before God and God provided cleansing from the altar where a sacrifice had been offered.
It is not until we see how holy God is and how sinful we are that we realise unless God has mercy on us there is no hope for us.
Praise God there is mercy, forgiveness and cleansing available from an altar where a sacrifice has been offered for our sin. That altar is the Cross, and the sacrifice is none other than God’s own Son.
Now Isaiah could stand in God’s presence with confidence because God had made him morally and spiritually clean. Only God can make us clean and pure enough to stand and live in His presence.
Now that Isaiah had been made clean by God, he could hear the voice of God clearly. Our sin too often prevents us from hearing God clearly.
HE WAS SENT BY THE LORD V8-9
When Isaiah heard God’s voice saying,” “Whom shall I send, whom will go for us.” It was a humble, broken man who responded. “Here am I, send me.” If you feel I can be of any use….I’m available.
When you have encountered the holy presence of Almighty God and been shaken by His purity and power and shocked by your own sinfulness and spared by the costly sacrifice of Jesus, you won’t go on playing around with sin.
You will hate it and when you fail you will feel absolutely rotten.
You will walk in the fear of the Lord.
You will never feel you are any better than anyone.
What kind of people is God looking for?
God doesn’t need our abilities, cleverness, our talents.
God wants humble, broken people who have seen the holiness of God and sinfulness of their own sin and regard God with deep respect and holy fear and are willing to offer their lives in adoring, grateful worship and service to Him.
Search me O God