Sermon for 23rd Sunday after Pentecost October 28, 2018
Text: Leviticus 19:1-2 (15-18) ILCW-A 18:2091
Theme: Oh, To Be Like God!
What does the Lord mean when He says things like, “Be the light of the world,” or “Be the salt of the earth,” or when the Apostle Paul wrote that the Thessalonian Christians were ringing out to the world? You are not a physical beam of light made of energy waves, nor a tiny grain of salt made of a chemical compound, nor a bell made of metal. You are made of flesh and blood, having skin, hair, and millions of living human cells. So, what does the Lord mean when He tells you to be these things?
Obviously, the Lord is speaking figuratively, using picture language to illustrate your purpose to that of the purpose of such objects. So, ask yourself, “How am I like light, salt, and a bell?”
Well, light helps people see. It drives away the darkness and guides people safely in the way they go. Similarly, Jesus says that as one of His disciples, be a light to the world. Shine forth with the Gospel. Let the message of salvation shine through you to those who are still living in the darkness of sin and unbelief so that they, too, will see the Savior’s redeeming love by what you say and do.
Likewise, as salt flavors food, so, by your Christian faith and life, flavor the world around you in good ways. And as you live your life to the Lord, you, by your words and actions, keep this world from descending into the corruption and evil of sin.
And, like a bell ringing out that calls to people, you sound forth the Good News, inviting them to come and know the Savior. When the Bible uses such metaphors, it helps us grasp a little better what our purpose as Christians is in this world.
Our text states another purpose for our Christian lives. But this is not a metaphor, nor any form of figurative language. You are to be exactly what God says here: “holy, because He is holy.” It’s a command; it’s an obligation that you owe Him, your Creator.
I. It’s an obligation – failed.
That raises a question. If we are to be holy like God, what is holy? We’ve got to know what we’re talking about because as an obligation it must be carried out. So, what does it mean to be holy?
Maybe some words describing holy that come to mind are sinless, perfect, righteous, doing nothing wrong – never an impure thought, never a cross word, no gossip, or speaking bad things about others, as the rest of this text indicated (vv.15-18). That’s holiness – moral perfection in thought, in word, in actions. Who has done this – perfectly? Raise your hand if you have been holy. But before you let your hand go too high, there’s more.
Holiness describes more than what is done or not done; it also describes who God is in relation to us and everything else on this planet. It describes His nature as being beyond us, distinct, set apart from common activity, separate from worldly things. Not a drop of the profane touches Him. If it did, He would no longer be holy, no longer God.
Think of it this way. You have a can of pure white paint and a can of black paint. In order to preserve the white paint as pure, you can’t mix any of the black with it. Even just a drop or two and the white is no longer perfectly white. It has lost its purity. Pure – that’s the way it is with God, and that’s the way He commands it to be with us. He says, “Be Like Me – holy. It’s your obligation.”
Notice this is not a suggestion; it’s not a wish on His part. It’s a command: “Be holy.” If we don’t fulfill that obligation, He not only remains distinct from us, but He rises in opposition.
For example, do you remember the story of Isaiah’s call to be a prophet? In a vision Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a throne high above him, extending upward in what seemed to be a vaultless temple. The Lord wore a robe that swirled throughout the entire building in which He was sitting. Fluttering about Him were glowing angels, each of which had 6 wings. They were singing back and forth to each other: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” The sound of their voices was so powerful that the doors rattled, the walls vibrated, and the whole building shook in the presence of this holiness.
As Isaiah saw and felt the holy atmosphere he cried, “Woe is me! I am undone! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips!” He perhaps expected a lightening bolt to come hurtling from that presence to wipe him out on the spot because he was not holy.
Isaiah’s reaction not only reveals that God is distinct from us in His holiness, but it implies that His holiness takes action against any departure from it. And He does not excuse me in my departure from it. He does not say, “Try to be like me. Give it your best shot and be happy with what you come up with. I’ll overlook it if you fall short.” No! He commands, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
Who can be this? Raise your hand if you’ve been holy. I can’t raise mine, even though I’m a pastor. Whoever got this impression that pastors are holy anyway? They’re not close to it. Only 1 is holy, God. Oh, to Be Like God! It’s my obligation. But I’ve failed.
II. It’s my reality in Christ.
In myself I’m not like God. Just look at me; look at yourself. Look at your life – what you are and what you’ve done that goes against the Commandments. He is sinless; in us we see so much sin. He is perfect; in us there is so much imperfection. He is above everything that is profane in this world; we so often mix with the ungodly, live in it, and even desire it.
For example, in both the O.T. and Gospel Lessons today we heard God say: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Is that your reality? If I loved my neighbor as myself, I would treat him as I want to be treated.
The other day in driving down the highway, I came to a place where the lanes narrowed because work was being done. The cars were backing up and the line was moving slowly. Impatience began to rise in me because I had to be somewhere at a certain time. Suddenly I saw a car approaching in my rear view mirror, looking for a place to get in line. But instead of letting him in, I pulled up because I wasn’t going to let him get in front of me. What if he had been me? Wouldn’t I have hoped a Good Samaritan would treat me kindly? Was that loving my neighbor as myself?
Even if most of the time I looked out for my neighbor, even if I could somehow say most of the time I never talked back to my parents; most of the time I never hit anyone; most of the time I never hated anyone; most of the time I never had impure thoughts, most of the time I did not take anything that wasn’t mine, most of the time I was content with what I had, still if any moral deficiency happened once, just once, then black paint fell into the white and contaminated it for the Bible says, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (Jm.2:10). Holiness? It’s not my reality.
How could we ever stand before a God who demands perfection like His or otherwise punishes us with death? We can’t. But Jesus can and did. And He did it for us who couldn’t do it.
The Bible declares, “But now a righteousness from God…has been made known….This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Ro.3:21f)…Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro.8:1).
That which is right before God, that holiness which is our obligation becomes ours through faith in the Savior who did it for us. How paradoxical is that! The holiness that is not my reality in myself becomes my reality in Christ.
To human reason it doesn’t make sense. But that’s the glory of the Gospel; that’s what the good news is. What we failed to bring about in our lives, Christ brought about for us. So, the very holiness that He demands is ours. Oh, to Be Like God! It is my reality….in Christ. Robed in His holiness, I am at peace with Him, my conscience is at rest, and I will be blessed to live with Him forever.
III. It’s my goal for life.
Amazing! If that doesn’t touch my heart and life, what will? Christ has given me new life and a new vigor for life. My life is changed if my reality is found in Him. How? It becomes a holy life, set apart for Him. In other words, in gratitude I will try with all my might, as the Holy Spirit gives me strength, to be holy. It’s my goal for life.
That means I will love God above myself and my pleasures. I will strive to do what He says. It means that I will love my neighbor as myself. I will not do anything against him, say anything bad about him, think anything dirty of him, but do only good. Although I may fail at times since I am not yet in heaven, when I fail I go to the cross for God’s forgiveness in Christ, and I try again to do it right. Where did we ever get this perception that we don’t have to try anymore to be holy, to be like God? On the contrary, it’s my goal for life. Not to save me; only Christ can do that. But as we find our salvation in Him, we will strive to live holy lives. And we will try to do it with all our might. Oh, to Be Like God! That is the Christian’s goal.
God grant it in our lives for Jesus’ sake. Amen.