The Holiness of Christ

Desiring God 2007 Conference for Pastors

The Holiness of God

[These are notes taken during Sproul’s message.]

Mark 4:35-41

Holy is a nuanced word. It has two primary meanings. It's secondary meaning is moral purity ("be ye holy as I am holy"). It's primary meaning is transcendent majesty, otherness.

There was a push in 19th century theology to deny God his transcendence and reduced him to only imminence. In response to this there was an overreaction that made him only transcendent. Not just other, transcendent, but wholly other. Ganz ander. This came from a zeal to protect his majesty, but in the process rendered God unknowable. In the middle, where we want to be, God is supremely different, but not totally different.

Rudolph Otto explored cultures to see how various religions understand what it means to be holy and how they respond to the sense of the presence of the holy. His book is called Das Heilige, or The Idea of the Holy. He found that every society has some idea of the holy built into its religion. Otto reduced the sense of the holy to two words: mysterium tremendum--that which we do not comprehend producing a sense of dread, horror, and terror whenever we draw near to it. The common response to the supreme alien is trembling, quaking.

One last prolegomena:

If you analyze the writings of distinguished 19th and 20th century atheists, you will see that not many took time to argue against the existence of God--that was taken care of by the Enlightenment. Their question was, since there is no God, how do we account for the fact that mankind is incurably religious. Every culture is steeped in some kind of worship of a transcendent being. They all came to the same conclusion: the driving force of religion is psychological weakness and need. Creatures are afraid of what can destroy them. In fear, they create gods in their own image. Freud summed it up, saying that we are terrified of death. And since nature is not a respecter of persons, we must learn how to deal with nature's hostility. We personalize nature in order to deal with nature's indifference. And we then take it one step forward and we make nature sacred by attributing to it a personal deity who has the power to protect us. This, Freud believed, was the cause of religion.

With that in view let's look at Mark 4.

While a terrible tempest was tearing the boat apart, Jesus was asleep. Disciples were scared and annoyed at Jesus--"Don't you care that we're perishing?"

Jesus did not rebuke them. He rebuked the very forces of nature instead.--"Peace! Be still!" Imagine this. You wake your leader up and ask for help and he starts talking to the water and wind. But this is the one by whom, through whom, and for whom all things were made. And he used his authority over the forces of nature. Instantly the wind stopped--not a zephyr in the air--and the sea was like glass.

What reaction would you expect from the disciples. Perhaps, "Thank you, Jesus!" But, no. They became greatly afraid. Now their terror was not of the wind and sea but directed at Jesus. "What manner of man is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

We pigeonhole people in our minds. We look at them and making instantaneous judgments. We divide people into categories, species, and genus. And for the first time in their lives, the disciple met a person for whom they had no category. They were in the presence of a man in a class by himself. His otherness was so alien they were terrified.

One of the top ten phobias in America is xenophobia, the fear of foreigners. The disciples were xenophobic with a vengeance. Christ was an alien. At the heart of his difference was that he was holy. There is an aversion built into the heart of man against anything holy.

Try to get inside Peter's mind when Jesus told them to throw their nets on the other side of the boat. He must of thought it was a joke--perhaps "He is the Lord, humor him." They obeyed and every fish in the Sea of Galilee jumped in. If you were Peter what would you do--"Tell you what, have I got a deal for you!" An astute business man would cut a deal with Christ. But Peter looked at Jesus and said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man." Jesus hadn't given a sermon on repentance, he just said where to throw the net. But in the presence of the holy, Peter became aware of his own sinfulness.

In response to Freud and the others, then: why would we invent a God more terrifying than the nature we hope he will protect us from?

Listen to unbelievers talk about Jesus nowadays: great teacher, terrific humanitarian. But this kind of opinion can only be kept from the safe vantage of 2,000 years. Why did his contemporaries kill him? Jesus was not crucified because he said to consider the lilies how they grow, but because he said to consider the thieves how they steal. The world could not endure the holy one of Israel.

Who hated Christ the most? The ones who the public deemed as holy. But their holiness was counterfeit, and counterfeit is exposed by the genuine. The first to recognize Jesus were the demons and they were terrified. Even the demons quake at holiness.

We are in leadership.--What kind of Jesus do we teach? Do you only want a blessed Jesus--meek and mild? Or do you want Jesus the stranger and Jesus the commander of nature? Are you declawing and defanging Christ? People don't need that. They need to see him in the fullness of his Glory, in the majesty of his power, in the authority of his command. Nothing less will do for a dying world but a redeemer who is altogether holy.

We don't know what Christianity is until we worship God and love him for what he is and not only for what he gives.

I am not obsessed with holiness because I am holy. I love the holiness of God because it is my only hope. Without his mercy and holiness there would be no restraint to my wickedness.

But we cannot only love him for his holiness. We must also know and love him for his loveliness and his excellency in his holiness.

(@RCSproul) (1939–2017) founded and chaired Ligonier Ministries, pastored Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, and authored more than one hundred books.