Feb 21st 2016

listen to last Sunday’s worship set.

THE LORD’S PRAYER:Behind the Veil  Matthew 6:9

In 1939, Hollywood took a novel and turned it into a movie.  The novel was by L. Frank Baum.  It was a novel about a girl who’s in this sorta magical land called…..anyone?  Oz!  Dorothy is on this journey through Oz trying to find her way home.  As she goes along the yellow brick road, she picks up a few traveling companions along the way….the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, Scarecrow.  It’s this journey to try to get into the Inner Chamber to meet with the Wizard of Oz.  When they finally get there, encountering all sorts of resistance along, they meet the Wizard of Oz.  They step into his chamber and see a floating head, fire, smoke and hear a voice.  While the Wizard of Oz is speaking to them—you may remember this from the movie, this very climatic scene—after each of the people steps forward to talk to the Wizard of Oz…..    The Wizard of Oz is portrayed as this character that’s filled with a little bit more anger than he should have been.  He’s got some smoke behind him.  He’s got this booming voice that strikes fear and terror into all four of the people standing before him.  As he’s speaking to them, Toto goes and pulls the curtain back.  Behind the curtain is this little old man, whose hot air balloon had landed him in Oz and he assumed the role of the Wizard of Oz.  He’s speaking into a microphone and pulling some levers that cause the fire to happen and the smoke to happen.  When they pull the curtain back, there’s not a whole lot there.

L. Frank Baum was asked over and over again: what’s the book really about?  What’s the deeper meaning to the Wizard of Oz?  Each time he was asked, he denied any sort of allegory whatsoever and said it’s simply just a kids’ book.  If you’ve read that kids’ book, I think you would agree that he’s either lying or he’s a bigger genius than he knew.  Here’s what he’s saying essentially: when the curtain was pulled back and nothing was there, the Wizard of Oz has this conversation with Dorothy and her traveling companions.  For the Cowardly Lion, he says you’ve just got to look inside and everything you need is already there.  The courage you’re looking for is already inside you. And Tin Man, you already have a heart and look over the course of your life, you’ve displayed this.  The message is essentially, regardless of who’s behind the curtain, even if nothing is behind the curtain, you have everything you need.  So, who really cares what’s behind the curtain?  In fact, the thing behind the curtain causes us to live in fear.  Causes us to live in trepidation that we don’t necessarily need to have.

If you were to sit down with an ancient Hebrew person and talk about the same concept….what lies behind the curtain….their answer would have been very, very different.  Their worldview would have been very, very different.  Here’s what they would have said about the God who stands and lies behind the curtain.  They would have had one word that would have described what this God was like.  Their one word?  HOLY.  They would have said no, no, no, no, no.  There IS a God behind the curtain and this God behind the curtain is more holy, more breathtaking, more beautiful, more awe-inspiring than anything you could possibly imagine or lay eyes on. If you did lay eyes on Him, you’d be dead!  That’s what they would have told you.

But I think this idea of God’s holiness has been lost on us as modern people just a little bit.  In fact, one author writes this.  He says: “For many American evangelicals, “holiness” conjures up musty images of revival meetings, gospel trios and old-time religion—along with the stern prohibitions against drinking, dancing and playing cards.” I would venture to say that when we picture God’s holiness, when we imagine what that word looks like epitomized in the Creator God, we have some of the same images in our mind, don’t we?  Primarily, when we talk about God’s holiness, we’re going to talk about prohibitions against things that we aren’t allowed to do. Because God is holy, we can’t…..then we have this list of things that may or may not be found in the Bible….of things we can’t do because God is holy.  What’s happened is there’s this pendulum that’s swung THAT direction, back sorta of…..I would argue sort of in the days of the Puritans and that time period.  That was a strong, predominant thought about who God was, in the early Americas.  The pendulum, in our day, has swung BACK to:  God’s just sorta this cosmic teddy bear.  You can sorta snuggle up in His lap and He’s soft and He’s encouraging and He’s like well, you really blew it there, but that’s all right, good job, no big deal.  And He’s this cosmic teddy bear that we’re encouraged to climb up in his lap.

I think our inability to preserve the tension between God as Father and God as distinctly good, as loving, as the One who welcomes us home regardless of how far down the wrong road we’ve gone…..to hold that view of God in TENSION WITH God as holy, God as distinct and God as other….our inability to hold that tension has eroded our desire to pray.  It really has.  And here’s how Jesus, in his ultimate prayer, the pattern he gives us of what it looks like to be people of prayer, he says this—in the very beginning, he says:  Pray then like this:  “Our Father in heaven  {So we have this view of God as the good, good Father.  That’s who He is and we know that we are distinctly loved by Him. He says start like that.  But right after that, He says….} ….hallowed be your name.   In the Greek, what’s going on here is something different than what we would normally read or say. It’s God, make holy your name.  It’s the first of three petitions that Jesus invites us to pray back to God that are ultimately for God’s glory and for the sake of His own name.  So He says pray like this…our Father.  Then on the other hand say make holy, God, your own name.  Before we think of anything we need….before we think of our daily bread or the call to forgive…before we think of the new Apple watch that we want or the new car that we desperately need…whatever it is….before we think of anything WE need, we’re invited to pray God, make YOUR name distinct and make YOUR name holy.

The question is what does this word mean, because we’re praying God, making holy your name.  It literally means to set apart.  To sanctify.  To make perfect or to declare as perfect or to be perfect.  It shows that God is completely other, completely distinct and completely unlike you and me.  Pray that way, Jesus says.  Pray our Father…remember God’s love, remember God’s goodness and then pray who art in heaven hallowed, or make holy, your name.  Here’s what he’s saying that God is set apart and distinctly different on one hand and yet intimately close and near on the other.  If we don’t regain an ability to hold the tension of “Father” and “holy,” we’ll never become people of prayer.  We’ll swing one way or the other, but neither one of those things…we need both to drive us to the throne.

It’s an interesting thing, if you were to think of the curtain and the holiness of God lying behind the curtain, the ancient Israelites would have had a picture in their mind that that imagery evoked. If you would turn with me to Leviticus 16.  While we have arguably lost some of what it means for God to be holy in our culture and our day, and we’ve sort of turned God into “buddy Jesus” or “Jesus Is My Homeboy” t-shirts, I would propose to you that the ancient Hebrew people would not have viewed God in the same way.  There wouldn’t have been a market for “God is My Homeboy” t-shirts among the ancient Israelites.  And let me show you why.  Leviticus 16:1 says this:  The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron (his two oldest sons), when they drew near before the Lord and died.  {Hence, there being no market for “Jesus is My Homeboy,” right.  Here’s what the author of Leviticus is referring to.  If you go back a few chapters to Leviticus 10:1-3, here’s the story.}  Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them.  {This is not a good idea, because of what’s going to follow.}  And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.  {They have been given clear instructions on this is how you approach God.  This is how you have relationship with God and they went you know, that’s really nice and that’s a great idea and God, you should have asked us because we have some good ideas, too.  Here’s how we think you should make fire and here’s how we think we should approach you.  When Nadab and Abihu approached God and tried to enter the Holy of Holies, the holy God behind the curtain consumed them with his perfection and with fire.   Now, if you are a part of the nation of Israel at this time when this happens, this would form your view of God, would it not?  Distinctly.  My guess is you don’t stop talking about…hey, do you remember when Nadab and Abihu were going to offer prayer to God, they were going to interact with God and they didn’t do it the right way and they were struck dead?  Do you remember that?  And they go how could we forget something so distinct.  Verse 3.} Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified  {I will be made holy.  I will be set apart.  I will be distinctly different and other, held above the rest, held above it all.} ….and before all the people I will be glorified.'”    {So God says listen, if you want to come and interact with me, you’ve got to approach me in the right way.  If you don’t, my perfection will consume you.  It’s not that God is necessarily angry with Nadab and Abihu, it’s just that they are imperfect trying to stand before a perfect God and God will either consume you or refine you, but it’s only one of the two.  It would be like trying to go stand on the surface of the sun in your underwear!  Good luck!!  Completely unprepared for the place that you’re trying to stand.}

So, the instruction given in Leviticus 16 is for the explicit purpose that the High Priest can meet before God, meet with God, and not die.  Here’s the way it goes, verse 2:  …and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. {That God’s holiness wouldn’t consume him.}  For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.   Here’s the picture of what’s going on.  The Day of Atonement, which we’re reading about, would happen one time, every year in the nation of Israel.  And there would be only one person, the High Priest, that would be able to enter the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place.  It was where the manifest presence and glory of God dwelt.  It was where the people met with God, through the High Priest, face-to-face.  It only happened once a year and he (the High Priest) had to get ready to go into the Holy of Holies.

This is a picture of the entire tabernacle.  You’d walk in through a curtain here and then you’d walk into the Holy Place here and you’re getting deeper and deeper into the presence of God, where finally you would enter the Holy of Holies, behind the curtain, as it’s referred to in the book of Hebrews and throughout the book of Leviticus as this picture of meeting and intimacy face-to-face with God.

Listen to what the High Priest had to go through.  Now remember, it’s the High Priest only and it’s one time a year ONLY.  Here’s what he went through in order to enter.  Verse 3:  But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place {That’s behind the curtain.  This is the way that Aaron, and only Aaron, enters to have face-to-face interaction with God.} ..with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.  He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments.  He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on.  And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.   Here’s what’s going on.  In order for the High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies, just this one day a year, to make atonement for the sins of Israel, he has five animals with him. He’s got one bull.  He’s got a ram and those are both for him and he’s unholy and in order for him to enter the Holy of Holies, he needs to make atonement for himself.  He has two goats that he’s going to offer on behalf of the community of Israel to make atonement for sins.  They’re going to cast lots over the two goats.  One goat is going to be called the Azazel.  It means to make separate or distinct.  It was the goat that was the scapegoat. They would take this goat, towards the end of the ceremony, over to the entrance to the tabernacle.  The High Priest would lay his hands on the scapegoat’s head and they would lead him out into the wilderness where he would, in a very metaphorical way, carry the sins of the people away from the camp.  {You don’t want to see this goat grazing in your front yard the next morning.}

Listen to what Aaron would do to enter the Holy of Holies.  Verse 11.  Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house.  He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself.    He would take a bull, kill it, take some of its blood—something has to die because of sin—into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it over the Ark of the Covenant seven times, all the while interacting with and meeting with the King of kings and the Lord of lords.  If he goes in on Monday and does the same thing, he dies.  Can you imagine what it might have been like to interact with or even to think about interacting with this God.  He would leave the Holy of Holies.  He would come back into the Holy Place, he would kill the other goat—the non-scape goat—and he would take his blood and seven times sprinkle it over the altar, so that he would make atonement for the sins of the nation of Israel.  This happened one time a year.  Only the High Priest was able to enter.  My guess is that when they thought of what God looked and what God was like, (in their heads) because they didn’t have this beautiful picture of Jesus yet, my guess is God felt a little bit distant.  My guess is that God’s holiness stood above any other attribute that God has because it was THE thing that they were most aware of.

Here’s the thing, friends.  You and I, though we don’t have that same awareness of God’s holiness, interact with and pray to the exact same God.  We pray to the same God that when they walked into the Holy of Holies, unprepared with unauthorized fire, knocked them dead purely by His perfection and by His holiness…..when you and I pray—you gotta get this today—-when you and I pray, we come face-to-face with THE SAME GOD!!! It’s no different.  The only thing different is the access we have.  Through prayer we step behind the veil. That’s what happens when we pray.  This is not a trite thing.  This is not a light thing. We come face-to-face with THE God who stands alone.  He stands distinct.  He stands completely holy, completely separate and completely other.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think we have all that good of an awareness of just how holy this God is, number one.  And just how significant the access that you and I have is.  {Ryan singing…} “Boldly I approach the throne…..”  The nation of Israel would be going whoa, whoa, whoa whoa, whoa!  Let’s approach the throne after we’ve taken the right bath, put on the right clothes, done the right rituals and on the right day.  Boldly you approach the throne???  They would have gone….no way!!  You can’t do that.  {Singing} “Blameless now I’m running……”  NO!  No way!  You cannot do that.  We have ZERO awareness of how significant it is when we get to go to God in prayer boldly and stand before his throne.  Before a holy, perfect God…..to stand before His throne.  We should have this feeling in us like………I just….I don’t deserve to be here.  I don’t deserve….God, I don’t have it in me to have this conversation.

When Kelly and I moved to California, shortly after that the bottom fell out of the housing market and there was a foreclosure on every street.  Typically, they would be foreclosed and the people would leave.  At the same time, we were looking to buy a home.  There were a number of foreclosures we would drive by and Kelly would be….I mean, she seems sweet and innocent, but she’s like pull over.  I want to look at that house. I’m like hey, is our realtor in the car?  I didn’t see him back there.  She’s like no, no, no, pull over!  We’d pull over and she’d go up to front door and I’m standing on the sidewalk like this (head turning around and looking).  She’d wiggle the handle of the front door and if it were locked, I’d be like thank you, Jesus!  She’d say come here.  I need you to give me a boost.  I’d hold her foot and she’d jump over the fence and the whole time I’m looking around like….I’m the pastor of a church.  Sort of a smallish town.  Big church. Small town.  I could lose my job for this.  Trespassing.  Breaking and entering.  She jumps over and I’m like oh, dear Jesus, please don’t let there be any doors open in the back.  A few seconds later, she’d pop out from the inside of the house, open the door and say come on in!!  I’d be I don’t see our realtor….I don’t think we should do this.  She’d be like oh, come on. Just come in here, pastor-boy!  We’re walking around and the whole time I’m like are those sirens?  Is that for us?  Am I going down?  The whole time I’m thinking we’re gonna get caught!

I think in prayer, that maybe we should have a little bit more that type of feeling.  Like to step into a place….to step into a place and stand in a place that we have absolutely no right standing.   That’s what prayer is.  Face-to-face with a distinctly other, holy God.  And I think our “buddy Jesus” mentality may have eroded our ability to see just how holy God is.  And in turn, it’s cut us off at the knees as far as what it looks like and means to be people of prayer.  Because if God isn’t holy, he’s not powerful.  And if God isn’t distinctly other, there’s no reason to go to him.  When the nation of Israel would go to God, when they would pray to God, they had this keen awareness of You are holy and You are other and it fundamentally changed the way they viewed God.  Here’s what the author of Hebrews writes:  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain. (Heb. 6:19)   That’s the hope that we have.  That’s the hope that you and I live in and it’s just the air that we breathe and it’s so normal that we don’t realize that it is absolutely supernatural, significant and crazy that God would invite us behind the curtain.  Here’s the way that John Piper put it: “When you live in the blazing brightness of the light of God’s holiness, everything will be different.  When you feel the weight of the rock of God’s holiness like the ballast in your boat, you navigate the storms of these troubled times and become a refuge for millions who are perishing.”  He says an awareness of God’s holiness forms and shapes the people of God like no other.

When we’re talking about God’s holiness, what are we talking about and what do we mean?  Here’s what we mean first and foremost.  God stands alone in his majesty.  You can’t even imagine something as beautiful and glorious and the splendor of the King….you can’t even imagine how significant and beautiful He is.  We can try. We live in Colorado and it’s a beautiful thing to go and climb a 14,000 foot peak and look out over the vastness of God’s creation and just to worship Him.  That’s a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t even come close to painting for us of just how significant He is.  And if we lose the ability to imagine God’s majesty, we lose the impetus for worship.  This is where the heart of worship comes from.  God, you are distinctly different.  You are distinctly other and you are beautiful!  In the book of Isaiah 40:25, the prophet records the words of God saying:  To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him?  says the Holy One.  It’s a rhetorical, you’re right. The answer is no one.

Second, what does it mean for God to be holy?  It means that God stands, not only alone in His majesty, but distinct in his perfection.  It’s his perfection that evokes the need for my repentance.  Because when I see God as perfect, I immediately realize that I am not.  It’s Isaiah in the throne room of God, seeing the smoke and hearing his voice and sensing the trembling and saying: Woe is me!  For I am lost; for I am a nam of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!  That’s what that perfection of God stirs in the human soul.  He is distinctly holy, completely perfect.  You may go well, I’m not sure I’m exactly loving that God is perfect and that I am not.  This is where God’s justice flows from.  This is where God’s desire to make right, and he is making right and will make right and the renewal of all things, that flows from the fact that he is perfect.  And the need for justice flows from the reality that you and I are not.

Third, God not only stands alone in his majesty, distinct in the his perfection, He stands supreme in his value. That’s what it means for God to be holy.  He is the most valuable thing in his creation.  He has not created anything more valuable than himself.  For you and I to be in relationship with a penultimately, supremely valuable God means that we are interacting with the ultimate thing in the universe.  So the Apostle Paul will write to the church at Philippi:  But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ. (Phil. 3:8-9)   He goes it’s the best thing in my life.  If we lose sight of God’s holiness, we inevitably lose sight of God’s value and if we lose sight of his value, we will not be able to sing and declare that “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”  We’ll start to latch our lives to trinkets, instead of the distinct treasure that lies at the center of the universe, who’s inviting us to be a part of all that he’s doing.

He stands alone in his majesty.  He stands distinct in his perfection.  Supreme in his value. And unique in his love.  The Scriptures say over and over again that his steadfast love stands from generation to generation.  The Scriptures say that he is a jealous God.  Why is that?  Does he have image issues?  Is he insecure?  What’s the deal there?  No!  Here’s the deal:  He is ferociously, passionately loving.  If he weren’t, he wouldn’t be jealous. His jealousy for you is an outflow of his heart and love towards you.  It would be akin to a spouse saying (if he weren’t jealous): I don’t really care if you sleep around.  I don’t really care if you come home at night.  I don’t really care…..you just go do your thing and I’ll do mine.  God says that’s not me!  I love my creation.  I’m for my creation.  I’m passionate about my creation and therefore, I am a jealous God.

When Jesus prays “make your name holy,” he’s picturing walking behind the veil and this God, who is distinctly other and distinctly good, who stands alone in his majesty, who stands distinct in his perfection, who stands alone in his love and his goodness….and says what we’re praying is we’re standing face-to-face with THIS God and saying God, make all of this true about you visible in your world.  That’s the prayer.

In just a few weeks, we’re going to have the chance to celebrate Easter.  I’d encourage you, before we get to Easter, to read through the different gospel accounts of the trials, the death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus.  As you do that, you’ll come to Matthew’s account of the death of the Messiah.  Here’s what it says in the book of Matthew (27:50-51):  And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. {Notice that he gives it up, it’s not taken from him. He yields up his spirit on the cross where he’s paying for your sin and mine, making a way back to the Father and notice what happens at the same time.}  And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.    This was the curtain that it would have taken a few hundred priests to put up.  Horses couldn’t pull it apart.  The curtain was as thick as your palm, four inches wide.  Sixty feet tall.  From top to bottom it tears in two.  As if to say, that now, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, you have access to a perfectly, holy God.  That the same clothes that the priest was dressed in….he washed himself, he had on the right outfit, put it on in the right order and only then was able to come and to stand before the throne of God…..Jesus says I am the great High Priest and I have gone in with my own blood and I’ve made a way for you, that you can come and meet face-to-face with a holy God without dying.  Praise the Lord!  You are clothed in his righteousness.  It has been given to you.  Every time you pray you step behind the veil to meet with a God who is completely distinct and completely other and completely perfect and completely holy.  Every single time you pray you should be reminded of the gospel….that Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice gives you and I uninhibited access.  Unless we’re able to regain an awareness of God’s holiness, we will never become people of prayer.  We’ll never realize just how significant what we’re doing is when we bow our heads and our hearts and approach the throne of grace with boldness.  We’ll never realize unless we regain an awareness of just how distinct and how holy God is.  Hear me on this:  In Christ, God does not relax his righteous standard.  He does not relax his holiness.  He does not relax his righteous standard; he extends his righteousness to sinners.  That’s what happens.  By faith in Christ, God is not relaxing his standard or shrinking back from his nature or back from his character.  What he’s doing is giving you the righteousness to come before the throne of God with boldness and confidence to hear from him, to hear his voice and to see his face!

Because that’s true, friends, that God has given us his holiness and we have the chance to interact with him and meet with him, we should have boldness in approaching the throne of God.  The author of Hebrews says in 4:16 — Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  Let’s have confidence, friends, that this God not only made a way for us, but is still distinct and is still holy and he moves in his world.  He stands alone.  When I go in prayer to him, I stand amazed!

Finally, we have hope—we not only have boldness, but we have hope—in approaching God. The book of Hebrews 6:19-20 says it like this:  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.    Because of the blood of Jesus, I can stand before God, trusting that he hears me, knowing that he sees me and interacting with him face-to-face in a way that our forefathers of the faith couldn’t have any idea that it was even possible.  Here’s my encouragement to you, friends.  You live on the other side of the cross.  You live on the side of the torn curtain, where his presence and holiness has been released to his people, by the Spirit, that anytime you want you can interact with this God.  Here’s the thing.  Let’s not lose sight of the fact that our God is “Father” and that he is loving and that he is good.  Let’s hold in tension and preserve the tension….let’s not resolve it…some tensions are not meant to be resolved, they’re meant to be maintained.  Let’s hold the tension in the fact that he’s not only Father, but that he is distinctly holy and completely other.  Our tendency to diminish God’s holiness has led to a deficiency in prayer and I pray that we would be the type of people that God would use to change that.  Let’s pray.

Father, hallowed be your name.  Make holy your name, Lord God, through our lives, in our lives for the glory of your name, we pray and for the joy of all of us as we walk with you.  Would you remind us of your holiness today.  Your greatness.  Your splendor.  The fact that every time we pray we enter into this “behind the curtain” interaction with you that our forefathers could have never even imagined being possible.  Lord, let us not neglect that gift.  Father, let us make the most of it.  We love you and we long to see your name lifted high.  In Jesus’ name.  And all God’s people said…..Amen!