Do you try to fit Jesus into your schedule? Or do you work your schedule around Jesus?
God cannot fit into our plans, we must fit into his,’ writes Eugene Peterson. ‘We can’t use God – God is not a tool or appliance or credit card. Holy is the word that sets God apart and above our attempts to enlist him in our wish-fulfillment fantasies or our utopian schemes for making our mark in the world. Holy means that God is alive on God’s terms, alive in a way that exceeds our experience and imagination. Holy refers to life burning with an intense purity that transforms everything it touches into itself.’
The Hebrew word ‘holy’ (qadosh) probably originally meant ‘separate’ or ‘set apart’. It came to be used to describe the ‘otherness’ of God, and how his character and nature are so much greater and more wonderful than any other person or thing. For something else to be ‘holy’ simply means for it to be dedicated to God. You are holy to the extent that your life is devoted to him and your actions reflect his character. Holiness and wholeness are closely related, and God wants the whole of your life.
1. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness
How do you live a life without fear?
David had plenty of reasons to be afraid. He was surrounded by ‘vandals’, ‘bullies’ and ‘toughs’. Yet he said, ‘I’m fearless, afraid of no one and nothing’ (v.1). ‘I’m calm as a baby… I’m collected and cool’ (v.3,). How can you be confident in the face of opposition and attack?
The focus of his life was worship. He focused on ‘one thing’ (v.4). This was his number one priority. Don’t try to fit God into your plans. Make your plans around the priority of worship.
David gives a wonderful description of worship. What he wants to do more than anything is ‘to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple’ (v.4b). There he will ‘sacrifice with shouts of joy;
will sing and make music to the Lord’ (v.6b).
I love the expression ‘the beauty of the Lord’ (v.4b). The Greek word for ‘beauty’ (kalos) is the word used to describe everything that Jesus did (Mark 7:37). Dostoevsky described Jesus as ‘infinitely beautiful’. Jesus had no outward beauty (Isaiah 53:2–3); he had a different kind of beauty, it’s the beauty of holiness.
As you seek the Lord and gaze upon the beauty of the Lord in worship he lifts you above all the distractions, fears and temptations. As David puts it, ‘That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world, God holds me head and shoulders above those who try to pull me down’ (Psalm 27:5–6).
Lord one thing I ask, that I may dwell in your house all the days of my life, to gaze on your beauty.
2. Serve the Lord in a life of holiness
What should our attitude be to other Christian ministries and other Christian churches?
Divisions among followers of Jesus started very early on! The disciples started arguing about who was the greatest (9:33–34). In this context, Jesus speaks to them about the characteristics of a life of holiness.
Jesus tells them not to compete to be number one. It is always a temptation to compare. Envy and rivalry are great dangers. Jesus says if you are going to compete it should be to get the last place. If anyone wants to be first, they ‘must be the very last, and the servant of all’ (v.35). Leaders are called to humble service.
‘He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me”’ (vv.36–37). Love and welcome everyone, even those who are unable to do anything for you – the very young, the weak, the poor – in doing so you are loving and welcoming Jesus.
Jesus tells the disciples not to dismiss or judge others who do things ‘in Jesus’ name’ just because they are not part of your group (vv.38–39,41) or do things in a different manner to how you do them. It is a mistake to dismiss other Christians, other denominations or other organizations because they are not ‘one of us’ (v.38).
We sometimes tolerate sin in our own lives but are intolerant towards other people’s sin. Jesus teaches us to be tolerant towards others, but intolerant about sin in our own lives (vv.42–49).
Of course, Jesus is not speaking about literal maiming. Rather, he uses figurative language about what we do with our hands, v.43), places we go (with our feet, v.45) and what we look at with our eyes, v.47). Be disciplined, uncompromising and radical about sin. It is often sin that leads to division. Jesus calls us to be ruthless about living a life of holiness.
Jesus tells them not to argue but to be at peace. Jesus longed for his disciples to get along with one another, to stop arguing and to ‘be at peace with each other’ (v.50). Later, he prayed that we may be one in order that the world would believe (John 17:21).
Jesus calls us to faithfulness in marriage. He points out that Moses’ permission of divorce was a concession and not a command. God’s intention for marriage is life-long faithfulness. Husband and wife are so closely united that they become one flesh: ‘So they are no longer two, but one flesh’ (Mark 10:8). This is the origin of the wonderful words in the marriage service, which follow the joining of hands and the exchange of vows: ‘Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate’ (v.9).
3. Be holy as the Lord is holy
How can you live a holy life when the world around is unholy?
As the people of God are about to enter the promised land, there is what Eugene Peterson describes as a ‘narrative pause’; an ‘extended time-out of instruction, a detailed and meticulous preparation for living “holy” in a culture that doesn’t have the faintest idea what “holy” is.’
‘First’, he writes, ‘every detail of our lives is affected by the presence of this holy God.’ You are called to holiness in every aspect of your day to day life.
Second, he continues, ‘God provides a way (the sacrifices and feasts and Sabbaths) to bring everything in and about us into his holy presence, transformed in the fiery blaze of the holy.’
The language of Leviticus sounds very strange to our modern ears. The law required that the sacrifice be perfect; ‘without defect’ (1:3). Through the sacrifice, ‘atonement’ was made (v.4). Symbolically, through the laying on of hands on the head of the bulls, goats and lambs (for example 3:2,8) the sin passed to a substitute who would be sacrificed on behalf of human beings. The blood of the sacrifice was extremely important (1:5; 3:2,8,13).
All this can only be understood fully in the light of the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews tells us that ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’ (Hebrews 9:22). He tells us that the law is a ‘copy’ (v.23) and a ‘shadow’ (10:1). In other words, this is just a foreshadowing and a picture of something far greater and more wonderful.
He writes, ‘The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the realities themselves… It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins’ (vv.1,4).
All this was leading up to ‘the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (v.10). ‘By one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy’ (v.14). We receive total forgiveness; ‘sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary’ (v.18).
So, the New Testament tells us none of these sacrifices are needed anymore. However, they form the background to the sacrifice of Jesus and help us to understand just how amazing it is. Holiness starts by putting your faith in what Jesus has done for you and asking his Holy Spirit to come into your life to help you to begin to live a holy life.
In gratitude for all that God has done for you, by the sacrifice of Jesus on your behalf, offer your body as ‘a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship’ (Romans 12:1–2).
- Lord one thing I ask, that I may dwell in your house all the days of my life, to gaze on your beauty..
- Lord, help me through the power of your Holy Spirit to live a holy life and to develop the characteristics of humility, love, tolerance, discipline, peace and faithfulness.
- Lord, full of thankfulness and praise, I offer you my body as a living sacrifice. Help me, through your Holy Spirit who lives in me, to be holy as you are holy.
Amen and God Bless you.