As a group, discuss some of the ways God’s holiness is similar to the dangers and benefits of the sun. Review the video [0:36-2:05], or read Exodus 3:1-12, Leviticus 9:23-24, and Leviticus 10:1-3 to explore more.
Let’s read Leviticus 15:25-30 and Numbers 19:11-12. How does God provide a way to be purified from these two examples of ritual impurity?
Read Isaiah 6:1-7 and discuss God’s reply when Isaiah admits his impurity. What does this tell us about God’s character?
When Jesus arrives, he touches diseased and dead people. What is going on? Read Matthew 9:20-26, paying attention to what happens to Jesus and others. How does Jesus mirror God’s response to Isaiah in Isaiah 6:1-7? How is Jesus also like the priest in Leviticus 15:25-30 and the cleansing water in Numbers 19:11-12? What does this tell us about the identity of Jesus?
Take time to discuss other themes, questions, or key takeaways from what you learned together.
Jon: You’ve probably heard the word holy before, or at least sang it in a church song once or twice. And for most people, this idea is really just connected to being a morally good person. So God is holy because he is morally perfect.
Tim: Yeah. That is part of it. But in the Bible, the idea of holiness is even bigger and more rich. What it’s really describing is how God is the creative force behind the whole universe. He’s the one and only being with the power to make a world full of such beauty and life. And so all these abilities, they make God utterly unique, which is the meaning of the word holy.
The Source of Life [00:36-01:29]
Tim: So a helpful way to think about God’s holiness is by using the sun as a metaphor. The sun is unique, at least within our solar system, and it’s really powerful. It’s the source of all this beautiful life on our planet, and so you could say that the sun is holy. And you can actually take this metaphor even further in that the whole area around the sun is also holy.
Jon: Yeah. Because the closer you get to the sun, the more intense it gets.
Tim: Yeah. Exactly. So that very power and goodness that generates all this life is also dangerous. I mean, the sun, if you get too close, will annihilate you. And in the same way, there’s this paradox at the heart of God’s own holiness. Because if you’re impure, his presence is dangerous to you. And not because it’s bad but because it’s so good. And so the first time we see this paradox of God’s holiness, it’s in the story of Moses and the burning bush.1
Moses and the Israelites Encounter God’s Holiness [01:30-02:52]
Jon: So God tells Moses to take off his sandals because he’s standing on holy ground.2 And Moses covers his face in fear, and God says, “hey, don’t come any closer.” It’s intense.
Tim: Actually, it’s that intensity of God’s holiness that’s explored even more in the stories about Israel’s temple, which was the main place where God’s holy presence was located.3 And at the center of the temple was this room called the “most holy place.” It’s the hotspot of God’s presence.4 And whether you’re an Israelite living in the land around the temple or a priest working right in the temple, you’re in proximity to God’s holy presence, which is dangerous.5
Jon: Yeah. This is a problem. So how’s it supposed to work?
Tim: Well, in the Bible, the solution is that you need to become pure.
Jon: So like being morally pure.
Tim: Yeah, and that’s easy enough to understand. But the Bible spends a lot of time talking about another kind of purity––being ritually pure, which is a state where you separate yourself from anything related to death, like touching things like diseased skin, or dead bodies, or even certain bodily fluids. All these make you impure.6
And becoming ritually impure isn’t necessarily sinful. What’s wrong is waltzing into God’s presence when you’re in an impure state.7 And so that’s why God gave the Israelites very clear instructions for knowing when they were impure, steps to become pure, so they could go into the temple again.8
The Prophets Encounter God’s Holiness [02:53-04:29]
Tim: Right, but it doesn’t stop there. This idea keeps developing. So later in the Scriptures, we find this really interesting story by a prophet named Isaiah9. And he has this crazy vision where he’s in the temple and he’s right in God’s presence. He is totally terrified.10
Jon: Yeah. He knows the rules. He shouldn’t even be in there, and he’s worried about being destroyed.
Tim: And then this crazy creature called a seraphim...11
Jon: Yeah. That is a crazy creature.
Tim: Totally. So it flies over with a hot coal, and then it sears Isaiah’s lips with the coal and says something really weird. “Your guilt is taken away, and your sin is atoned for.”12
Jon: So this burning coal somehow makes Isaiah pure.
Tim: Yeah. It’s remarkable. Because normally if you touch something impure, it transfers its impurity to you. But now here’s this new idea where you have this coal––this very holy and pure object––and it touches Isaiah. And it transfers its purity to him. Isaiah is not destroyed by God’s holiness; he’s transformed by it.13 I mean, the implications of this are just huge.
But there’s one more development, this time from another prophet Ezekiel. And he has this vision where he is standing at the temple, and he sees water trickling out from it.14 And then that water turns into a stream, and then it grows into a deep river that starts flowing through the desert leaving this trail of green trees behind it. And then it flows into the Dead Sea making everything fresh and alive.15
Jon: So instead of becoming pure first and then going into the temple, here God’s holiness comes out from the temple making things pure and bringing them to life. What does it all mean?
Jesus Embodies God’s Holiness [4:30-05:24]
Tim: We don’t know. Until we meet this man Jesus. And he claims that he is fulfilling all of these visions but in surprising new ways. So Jesus, he went around touching people who are impure––people with skin diseases,16 a woman with chronic bleeding,17 or dead people.18 And when he touches them, their impurity should transfer over to Jesus. But instead, Jesus’ purity transfers to them and actually heals their bodies.
Jon: Jesus is like that holy coal in Isaiah’s vision.19
Tim: Right. And Jesus claimed that he was the human embodiment of God’s own holiness20 and that he and his followers were now God’s temple, so that through them God’s holy presence would go out into the world and bring life and healing and hope. And so this is why Jesus described his followers as having “streams of living water flowing out of them.”21
Jon: So this is our part of the story where we find ourselves now, but where’s this all heading?
Tim: So the last pages of the Bible end with a final vision about God’s holiness, and this time it’s by a guy named John. And in his vision, we see the whole world made completely new. The entire earth has become God’s temple.22 And Ezekiel’s river is there flowing out of God’s presence, immersing all of creation, removing all impurity, and bringing everything back to life.23