Like Dr. Ward said a few minutes ago, this is the Cox Deeper Life Series. I think it used to be called the “holiness” lectures, but I’m not sure whether too many of us know what that word means, “holiness.” When I was growing up, a lot of people thought it meant this:
I doubt many of you have any idea what I’m talking about. But in the mid-1900s, a lot of people acted like holiness meant that you wore so much clothing that you couldn’t see any skin. You didn’t wear jewelry, not even wedding rings. Some people didn’t even wear watches. Women only wore dresses. That’s what some people used to think about when they heard the word “holiness.”
Of course that’s not what it meant even then and there were plenty of people who knew it. If you don’t get anything else from today and Friday, get this--when Wesleyans talk about holiness, we’re talking about loving God and loving others. It’s about loving God with every part of you that you know about. It’s about choosing to do the loving thing every time you have a choice.
So now you can go to sleep if you have to. In the meantime, I want to talk today about the idea that Jesus himself showed us what it means for a human being to be holy. Then on Friday I want to strategize with you on a way for us to live a holy life like Jesus.
There’s a key verse in the New Testament about holiness. It's found in 1 Peter 1:16. In that verse, Peter quotes the OT where God says to “Be holy, for I am holy.” Apparently, whatever this holiness is, it's something that God is and it's something that God expects us to be.
We don't really use the word holy at all in our ordinary conversations. That makes sense because holiness is about God’s stuff. It’s about the stuff that blew up all the Nazis’ heads at the end of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's about the sacred, and we don't have much of a sense of things being sacred in our world.
When you say God is holy you're basically saying that God is God. At first glance you may say that I'm not saying anything when I say God is God. but think of it this way. What if I were to say watch out that's 10 million volts. Would you behave a little careful around that? Would you be careful about touching it, whatever it was?
That's what it means to say that God is God. it's to say watch out you're dealing with someone who could blow up not just Jupiter or not just the Sun but the whole universe all at once. If I were around an elephant I’d be kind of careful where I stood. God is a lot bigger than an elephant.
Of course God doesn't want to step on me. At least I don't think so. But we probably take God a little too lightly in our day and age. God's pretty important stuff. I don't get to decide whether God exists or not. I think most people here today believe God exists. If God exists, that it goes without question that he is the most important thing, period.
To say God is holy is to say that God is God. And then you fall on your face, like Isaiah did in Isaiah 6.
When I was in middle school there was a bully whose locker was near mine for PE. Let's just say but I generally didn't want to go to my locker when he was there. The space around his locker was special space, “sacred space,” if you would. You're careful when you were entering that space. you didn't play with his stuff.
Of course God's not a bully. But at the same time we probably move on too quickly from the verses that talk about the “fear” of the Lord. There is something fearful about a being that can create a universe with a word. It is really quite amazing how cozy we are with God and at how little a role he plays and so many of our lives, we who claim to believe in him but act as if he doesn't really exist.
What does it mean for me to be holy?
So for God to be holy means for God to be God. What does it mean for me or for us to be holy? It basically means for us to be God’s, for me to belong to God. You might have heard that it means for us to be set apart to God. That means that we’re special.
It also means that we’re “representing.” When you represent something or someone, you’re not just going as yourself. You’re going as the person or group that sent you. I remember a couple years ago when one of the athletic teams of IWU was somewhere or another and someone thought that they had completely torn up a room and made a horrible disturbance in the middle of the night. But the IWU coach knew there was a mistake because the team just didn't do stuff like that. and as it turned out, he was right. It was some other team that it done it.
IWU athletic teams do a great job of, shall we say, “representing.”
To be holy is to represent when it comes to God.
The first glance that sounds rather scary. That sounds like something I'm not sure I want to sign up for. How could I ever hope to do a good job at representing God?
Not to worry, because God doesn't ask of us anything that he doesn't give us the power to do. And even better, God is not looking for perfection. God is looking for our commitment to the task, not accomplishment of the task.
Jesus showed us the way.
On the one hand, it might seem like another scary thought that Jesus showed us how to be holy. After all, is Jesus God? We would expect him to be able to represent pretty well. He's representing himself!
But this morning I would like to suggest 3 reasons why Jesus actually takes the pressure off the thought of us representing God.
1. Jesus sanctified the ordinary
In case you’re wondering what that is in the picture, it's a trash can full of dirty diapers. Have you ever stop to realize that Jesus pooped his pants when he was a baby? In fact they didn't even have pants and diapers. He just pooped. I'm sorry. As a New Testament scholar I should know what they did with baby poop in ancient Israel, but I just don't know. [Actually, I googled it--think swaddling clothes]
|Image credit: Inga Mun, used under Creative Commons license|
Sometimes we have this picture of Jesus that he was just completely different then we are. But that's not how his brothers apparently felt. Apparently, that's not how the people he grew up with felt. I was reading in the Gospel of John this week how the people that Jesus grew up with were completely shocked to see Jesus doing the things that he was doing. Isn't this the carpenter's son? We know this guy. He's just a guy. We grew up with him! There's nothing special about this guy. Or so they thought.
Jesus wasn't born in a palace. They didn't put him in Mensa when he was in elementary school. There are some stories about a boy but they're all made up. From all appearances in Nazareth Jesus was just another boy.
And in fact I think there was scandal concerning this boy. Can't you hear the people of the town gossiping about how Mary got pregnant before she was married to Joseph? Can't you hear the children taunting Jesus as a child, calling him names that I will repeat here?
Jesus sanctified the ordinary. Indeed Jesus sanctified the scandalous.
The word sanctify is like the word holy. It's not something we use very much in the cafeteria. In fact that makes sense because the word sanctify means to make holy. If you knew Greek, you would know that is the same word and the English has just messed us up by giving two words that don't look the same in English.
When I say that Jesus sanctified the ordinary, I'm saying that he showed us how to “represent” as ordinary human beings. The ordinary can indeed represent the holy.
One thing you'll explore when you take theology here is the fact that we often have a faulty view of Jesus. We have this view of Jesus to where he is barely even human. There was a Christian thinker lived around the year 400 who represents the way we act when Jesus very well today. His name was Eutychus. Eutychus believed that Jesus’ divinity was so vast--just think divinity-- but his humanity couldn't possibly compare. it would be like taking a drop of vinegar and putting it in the Pacific Ocean. It just is pretty negligible.
So for Eutychus, We can pretty much just say that Jesus was divine. His humanity is negligible. It doesn't play any real role. We can just ignore it.
Christianity rejected this position. And with good reason. Jesus is humanity counts.
The Gospels do not portray Jesus as all powerful. The gospels do not present Jesus as all knowing. Mark says that there are some things Jesus is not able to do when he is at Nazareth. In Mark 13 Jesus himself says that he does not know when he's coming back.
How do we fit these facts with the fact that Jesus is God? As God of course he can't stop being all powerful and he can't stop being all knowing. This is the theological problem not the question of whether he's human. We can solve it of course. We can simply say that he in some way did not access these aspects of his identity while he was on earth.
Jesus learned stuff when he was on earth. Luke says that he grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and humanity. apparently, he didn't come out of the womb speaking Aramaic. Wouldn't that have freaked Mary out?!
There are some Christian traditions who believe that Jesus had full knowledge as he walked around Galilee. but that's not really the impression we get from the Gospels. Did Jesus ever forget where he left the keys to the camel? I suspect he did.
Jesus sanctified the ordinary. When we say that God calls us to be holy, we are not saying that God has called us to be perfect. This is simply not the standard that the New Testament expects, regardless of what you've been told.
Sometimes our translations even mess us up here. For example, I actually really like the New Living Translation, the one place where I think it really messes it up is in Romans 3:23. in the NLT, Romans 3:23 says all have sinned and fallen short of God's glorious standard, as if what we fallen short of when we sin is absolute perfection. This is a false understanding of what the New Testament has to say about sin. There is and listen to me carefully there is nowhere in the New Testament where sin is equated with anything short of absolute perfection. There is only one place in the entire New Testament where sin is something that is committed in ignorance and in that place it's talking about Old Testament standards for sin.
A much better translation of Romans 3:23 is that all have sinned and are lacking the glory of God. What Paul is saying is that, in accordance with Psalm 8, God created humanity to have glory and honor in the creation. But as Hebrews 2 says, we do not yet see humanity having that glory and honor. Why? Because all have sinned all have sinned and are lacking the glory that God intended for humanity to have.
So it is bad theology and bad New Testament interpretation to think that's in mean something like “to miss the mark.” I'm not sure where that idea even comes from. You certainly won't find any verse in the entire Bible that says that sin is missing the mark. I get the impression that someone who knew a little too much and just not enough found some obscure reference in Homer to someone shooting an arrow in missing a target and then assumed that every place that that word is used everywhere in Greek literature for over a thousand years was talking about archery. That's just plain nonsense from any informed point of view.
It would be like someone taking some obscure example from Shakespeare and assuming that every time I used a word today, I was using the word that way. It's just plain nonsense.
Jesus was a human being like all of us are human beings, and he showed us that you can be human and be holy.
2. Jesus sanctified struggle.
Jesus not only sanctified the ordinary, he sanctified struggle. Indeed Jesus sanctified temptation. You can see that first from Hebrews 4 up on the board, that Jesus was tempted in every way just like we are and yet was without sin.
This verse is meant to be very encouraging to us. It tells us that Jesus knows where were coming from. I don't know if any of you ever had a teacher who is so brilliant that he or she is very unsympathetic when you have trouble getting your work done. Jesus is not that kind of priest.
Of course he has a right to be. Every time he faced temptation he beat it out. But it says that he's a sympathetic priest. We can go to him when we're struggling to do the right thing and he identifies with us. He genuinely struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane and trying to decide whether to go through with the cross or not. He knows what it's like to “learn obedience,” Hebrews says. Hebrews doesn't mean that he ever disobeyed, but that he struggled with what he knew God wanted him to do.
The one thing is very clear. Being tempted, struggling to do the right thing, is not send. After all, Jesus struggled, Jesus was tempted, and Jesus did not sin. you can be holy, you can be God's, and still have to wrestle with temptation.
Again, this is a faulty view that if we wrestle with something, if we are tempted by something, but therefore we have sinned and are not pleasing to God. That's just bad theology.
The book of James in the New Testament says that it's when our desire has conceived and giving birth that temptation becomes sin. I don't think we realize how introspective our culture is compared to the culture of the Bible or pretty much any other time in human history. We are expert navel gazers. We are so focused on ourselves that we we hardly even notice other people.
So some people when they read Matthew 5 where Jesus says if you even look at a woman you've committed adultery in your heart, some of us can mistakenly think that even having a thought is the same as adultery. But that is not the standard that Jesus is saying here. You can't keep thoughts from coming in and out of your head. temptation in and of itself is not yet sin. Temptation has to give birth for it to be come soon. You have to do well on the phone. You have to fantasize about the thought. You have to move in your mind for the thought.
Jesus shows us that you can be tempted, you can struggle, and still be holy. Jesus has sanctified struggle for us and showed us that we can still “represent” and yet struggle. Indeed sometimes we show that we are gods stuff best when we show others how to struggle and yet still do the right thing.
3. Jesus showed us a Spirit-filled life.
The final aspect about Jesus and holiness that I want to mention this morning is the fact that Jesus showed us how to live a Spirit filled life. The verse I have up for Acts 2 has always been a really interesting verse to me. It’s in Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost. Jesus is risen from the dead. Jesus has appeared off and on to his disciples for 40 days. Jesus has ascended to heaven. Then God sends the Holy Spirit on the disciples for them to begin their part of the mission.
But what is always struck me about this verse from Acts 2 is how ordinary Peter makes Jesus sound. of course, peter is saying that Jesus did miracles. He did signs and wonders. But look how it's worded. Jesus was a man, Peter says. Peter says that God did things through Jesus. If any of us had been saying or writing this, we would have said that Jesus did stuff not that God did stuff through Jesus.
It's as if Peter is telling us that Jesus did things through the power of the Holy Spirit just like God does stuff through us through the Holy Spirit.
I very much believe that this is the case. When Jesus was on earth, he played it by the human rules just show us what it was possible for us as human beings to do through the power of the Holy Spirit. He was not only representing God to humanity. He was representing humanity to God. He was showing us how humanity can “represent.”
There is no miracle that Jesus did while he was on earth that we cannot also do through the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no wisdom that Jesus had while he was on earth that we cannot have through the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no prophecy but we cannot give through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And yes just as Jesus resisted temptation and lived above sin, so we also can live above sin. of course, Jesus had a head start on the same thing. Jesus lived above sin his entire life. None of us have done that. We've already failed at that one. But in theory, we could do it by the power of the Holy Spirit going forward. Yes, perhaps few of us will. But by the power of the Spirit Jesus has shown us how it would be done.
The key here is to realize that the New Testament does not talk about sin in terms of accidents. The New Testament talks about sin in terms of things we know and behave wrongly anyway. John Wesley believed in sins of negligence, sins of weakness. Theologically, we don't believe that Jesus ever did any of those. That is one big difference between Jesus and us. Jesus did not commit what Wesley called “sins of infirmity” or sins of weakness.
But the New Testament doesn't care much about that kind of sin. The kind of sin that the New Testament is concerned with is when you know the good to do and you don't do it or when you know you shouldn't do something and you do it anyway. Wesley said this was sin properly so called, “a willful transgression against a known law of God.”
That’s the kind of sin God is really concerned about, and that’s the kind of sin that Jesus showed us we could “lick” by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus showed us that you could be human and be holy. He showed us that holiness wasn't this unattainable goal that no human being could ever possibly reach. He brought holiness down to us. On Friday, we'll talk about how God wants to take us above anything we could imagine. God wants to empower us to love more than we could possibly imagine.