Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Holiness and the Presence of God
And you shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine. Leviticus 20:26NKJV
Today’s article comes from Question 117 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “How is the sabbath or the Lord’s day to be sanctified?” It gives the answer, “The sabbath or Lord’s day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the publick and private exercises of God’s worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.” Last time we considered the propriety and change of the Sabbath, from the seventh to the first day of the week. This week we look at what it means to keep one day holy.
The word “holy” means two things: that which is morally pure and free from sin, and that which is set apart and above the common. Thus, Moses has to take the shoes off his feet when he is on holy ground (Exod. 3:5); not because his shoes are sinful and his feet were not – quite the contrary! But because holy ground is not to be treated like ordinary ground that you step on without giving a thought to it. When you are on holy ground you are to have a special care for the dirt, plants, and rocks of which it consists. It is like when Robin has just washed the floor – I take my shoes off before stepping on it! I set it apart and treat it differently when I’m present on it because it has previously been made clean and pure. Interestingly, when God calls the ground holy at the burning bush it is just the opposite. The ground is made clean and pure because God appears on it. God’s presence makes the ground holy. Consider. The eternal, all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of the universe chose that particular bush and that particular patch of dirt, sand, and rock for that moment in time to manifest His special presence for a salvific purpose: to appear to Moses and call him into the ministry in order to deliver His people from the cruel bondage of Egypt.
So also the Ark of the Covenant is holy because God’s special presence was manifested there. The priests were holy because they ministered in the special presence of God. The sacrifices were holy because God’s presence was brought near the repentant sinner through them. All of the utensils used in the sacrificial system were likewise holy because they were set aside by God so that He could draw near to the people without consuming them. That which is holy is made holy because of the special presence of God. Thus, the priests always had to have holy bread before the sanctuary in the temple. Yet, it is almost never called “holy bread” in Scripture. All but twice it is simply called “the bread of presence,” which God commanded was to be set “before me at all times,” (Exod. 25:30). The bread, like everything else in the temple, was made holy because of and by God’s presence. It was not made holy and then brought into the presence of God. Only God is inherently holy. He alone is separate and above all creation, which compared to Him is all equally finite, temporal; common. Only God, therefore, can make anything holy. When God comes near to any part of His creation, that part of His creation is, in that use and for that time, holy.
What does all of this have to do with keeping the Sabbath Day holy? Well, if you did not see it already I hope you can now! The Sabbath Day is the day we worship God, the day He comes near to us in a special way. It is the day His Spirit goes forth through His preached Word to His people who are called by Him to hear as also the preacher is called by Him to preach. The day God comes near to His people is holy, therefore we should treat it as holy. Keeping the Lord’s Day holy is something the Christian should do in expectant faith. God has promised to be near His gathered people in a special way on this one day in seven. I believe that promise, so I set aside the whole day for Him. God is coming near today! The day is too significant to do my normal common work on it. It is too exalted to spend it looking to entertain myself on it. God is here. He has come near. He has promised to meet me and to bless me on this day if I but believe Him and draw near to Him. Why in the world would I want to do anything else?