Day 315

Beauty

Wisdom Psalm 122:1-9
New Testament Hebrews 10:1-18
Old Testament Ezekiel 19:1-20:44

Introduction

‘The serene beauty of a holy life is the most powerful influence in the world next to the power of God,’ according to Blaise Pascal. Holiness is beautiful and it has nothing to do with outward beauty. It is a beauty that radiates from within. This is the way the world will be changed. It starts with you and me. St Francis of Assisi said, ‘Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.’

Holiness is not an optional extra. It is not just for saints and special Christians. It should be something we all aspire to in this life. Holiness is not the same thing as intensity. Intensity is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit! The ability to laugh at yourself is key to holiness. Take Jesus seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. A sense of humour is the link between holiness and humility.

Holiness is not boring. As C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing... it is irresistible.’

Wisdom

Psalm 122:1-9

Psalm 122

A song of ascents. Of David.

  1 I rejoiced with those who said to me,
   “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
  2 Our feet are standing
   in your gates, Jerusalem.

  3 Jerusalem is built like a city
   that is closely compacted together.
  4 That is where the tribes go up—
   the tribes of the Lord—
  to praise the name of the Lord
   according to the statute given to Israel.
  5 There stand the thrones for judgment,
   the thrones of the house of David.

  6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
   “May those who love you be secure.
  7 May there be peace within your walls
   and security within your citadels. ”
  8 For the sake of my family and friends,
   I will say, “Peace be within you.”
  9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
   I will seek your prosperity.

Commentary

Where do you find holiness?

For the psalmist, the source of his joy was the chance to worship God in the temple. This was the place where the people went ‘to praise the name of the Lord’ (v.4b). This is why Jerusalem was of such great importance for the people of God and why the psalmist was so passionate about the peace and security of the city (vv.6–9).

Jerusalem was the holy city. It is described in our Old Testament passage for today as ‘my holy mountain’ (Ezekiel 20:40). The temple was God’s home. This is what made it holy.

Now, the church is God’s home. It is the new holy place ‘with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day... a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home’ (Ephesians 2:20–22, MSG).

The people are the new place. Through Jesus, you are a new house of God – you are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer

Lord, I long for your holy presence. I long to praise the name of the Lord. Thank you for the peace and security that comes from your presence in the house of God.

New Testament

Hebrews 10:1-18

Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All

10 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

  “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
   but a body you prepared for me;
  6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings
   you were not pleased.
  7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll —
   I have come to do your will, my God.’”

8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” —though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

  16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
   after that time, says the Lord.
  I will put my laws in their hearts,
   and I will write them on their minds.”

17 Then he adds:

  “Their sins and lawless acts
   I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Commentary

When do you become holy?

Holiness is now possible for you through the sacrifice of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit who comes to live within you. In one sense, you can experience ‘instant holiness’. But, in another sense, holiness is a very long process that will never be complete in this life.

One of the questions frequently asked in an Alpha small group is, ‘What happens to all the people who lived before Jesus? Isn’t it unfair that Jesus came at a particular point in history and made forgiveness possible?’ The assumption behind the questions is that the cross can only work forward in time and cannot be effective for those who lived before Jesus.

However, the writer of Hebrews says, ‘But when this priest \[Jesus\] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God’ (v.12). The sacrifice of Jesus is effective for all time. The cross is effective for those who lived before Jesus and for those who live after him.

‘The old plan was only a hint of the good things in the new plan’ (v.1a, MSG). In other words, it only foreshadowed something superior that was to come.

The law could not perfect (v.1b). The proof that it could not perfect people is that the sacrifices had to go on being offered (v.2). People continued to feel guilty for their sins (v.2c) ‘Because the blood of bulls and goats is powerless to take sins away’ (v.4, AMP). Only the blood of Christ can take away your sin. He alone was the perfect sacrifice, since he alone lived a perfect life.

His voluntary sacrifice brought an end to the old order and established the new one (vv.5–9). The result of his sacrifice is that you ‘have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (v.10).

This is in stark contrast to the law: ‘Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! ... It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people’ (vv.12–14, MSG).

The expression ‘he sat down’ is very significant. The Aaronic priests never sat down to rest in the sanctuary (v.11). Their sacrifices were never complete. On the other hand, Jesus ‘sat down at the right hand of God’ (v.12). It showed that his work had been completed: ‘By one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy’ (v.14).

Here you can see how holiness takes place in your life:

  1. Pronto (immediate) holiness

    As far as the past is concerned, the penalty for sin has been paid: ‘We have been made holy… he has made \[us\] perfect for ever’ (vv.10,14). This is justification. Jesus’ sacrifice has made possible total forgiveness and a perfect relationship with God. You are totally forgiven. Therefore, forgive others and, most difficult of all, forgive yourself. There is no need for any further sacrifice for sins (v.18).

  2. Process holiness

    In the present, the power of sin is being broken. Sanctification is a process of ‘being made holy’ (v.14). In my case at least, it seems to be a very slow and challenging process. Jesus is setting me free from the power of sin. Holiness is the work of the Holy Spirit who ‘testifies to us about this’ (v.15). Through the Holy Spirit coming to live in you, God’s laws will be in your heart and on your mind (v.16).

  3. Perfect holiness

    In the future, even the presence of sin will be removed. One day it will be seen that evil has been totally defeated. Jesus ‘waits for his enemies to be made his footstool’ (v.13a) and the process of ‘being made holy’ will be complete (see also 1 John 3:2).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that by your sacrifice you bring me into a holy relationship with God. Thank you that through your Holy Spirit I am in the process of being made holy and that, one day, there will be perfect holiness for ever.

Old Testament

Ezekiel 19:1-20:44

A Lament Over Israel’s Princes

19“Take up a lament concerning the princes of Israel 2 and say:

  “‘What a lioness was your mother
   among the lions!
  She lay down among them
   and reared her cubs.
  3 She brought up one of her cubs,
   and he became a strong lion.
  He learned to tear the prey
   and he became a man-eater.
  4 The nations heard about him,
   and he was trapped in their pit.
  They led him with hooks
   to the land of Egypt.

  5 “‘When she saw her hope unfulfilled,
   her expectation gone,
  she took another of her cubs
   and made him a strong lion.
  6 He prowled among the lions,
   for he was now a strong lion.
  He learned to tear the prey
   and he became a man-eater.
  7 He broke down their strongholds
   and devastated their towns.
  The land and all who were in it
   were terrified by his roaring.
  8 Then the nations came against him,
   those from regions round about.
  They spread their net for him,
   and he was trapped in their pit.
  9 With hooks they pulled him into a cage
   and brought him to the king of Babylon.
  They put him in prison,
   so his roar was heard no longer
   on the mountains of Israel.

  10 “‘Your mother was like a vine in your vineyard
   planted by the water;
  it was fruitful and full of branches
   because of abundant water.
  11 Its branches were strong,
   fit for a ruler’s scepter.
  It towered high
   above the thick foliage,
  conspicuous for its height
   and for its many branches.
  12 But it was uprooted in fury
   and thrown to the ground.
  The east wind made it shrivel,
   it was stripped of its fruit;
  its strong branches withered
   and fire consumed them.
  13 Now it is planted in the desert,
   in a dry and thirsty land.
  14 Fire spread from one of its main branches
   and consumed its fruit.
  No strong branch is left on it
   fit for a ruler’s scepter.’

“This is a lament and is to be used as a lament.”

Rebellious Israel Purged

20 In the seventh year, in the fifth month on the tenth day, some of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord, and they sat down in front of me.

2 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 3 “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Have you come to inquire of me? As surely as I live, I will not let you inquire of me, declares the Sovereign Lord. ’

4 “Will you judge them? Will you judge them, son of man? Then confront them with the detestable practices of their ancestors 5 and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On the day I chose Israel, I swore with uplifted hand to the descendants of Jacob and revealed myself to them in Egypt. With uplifted hand I said to them, “I am the Lord your God. ” 6 On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of Egypt into a land I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands. 7 And I said to them, “Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. ”

8 “‘But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in Egypt. 9 But for the sake of my name, I brought them out of Egypt. I did it to keep my name from being profaned in the eyes of the nations among whom they lived and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites. 10 Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. 11 I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, by which the person who obeys them will live. 12 Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them holy.

13 “‘Yet the people of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not follow my decrees but rejected my laws —by which the person who obeys them will live—and they utterly desecrated my Sabbaths. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and destroy them in the wilderness. 14 But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out. 15 Also with uplifted hand I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land I had given them—a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands — 16 because they rejected my laws and did not follow my decrees and desecrated my Sabbaths. For their hearts were devoted to their idols. 17 Yet I looked on them with pity and did not destroy them or put an end to them in the wilderness. 18 I said to their children in the wilderness, “Do not follow the statutes of your parents or keep their laws or defile yourselves with their idols. 19 I am the Lord your God; follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 20 Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God. ”

21 “‘But the children rebelled against me: They did not follow my decrees, they were not careful to keep my laws, of which I said, “The person who obeys them will live by them,” and they desecrated my Sabbaths. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness. 22 But I withheld my hand, and for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out. 23 Also with uplifted hand I swore to them in the wilderness that I would disperse them among the nations and scatter them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my laws but had rejected my decrees and desecrated my Sabbaths, and their eyes lusted after their parents’ idols. 25 So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live; 26 I defiled them through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn—that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the Lord. ’

27 “Therefore, son of man, speak to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: In this also your ancestors blasphemed me by being unfaithful to me: 28 When I brought them into the land I had sworn to give them and they saw any high hill or any leafy tree, there they offered their sacrifices, made offerings that aroused my anger, presented their fragrant incense and poured out their drink offerings. 29 Then I said to them: What is this high place you go to?’” (It is called Bamah to this day.)

Rebellious Israel Renewed

30 “Therefore say to the Israelites: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Will you defile yourselves the way your ancestors did and lust after their vile images? 31 When you offer your gifts—the sacrifice of your children in the fire—you continue to defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. Am I to let you inquire of me, you Israelites? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will not let you inquire of me.

32 “‘You say, “We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone.” But what you have in mind will never happen. 33 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will reign over you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. 34 I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered—with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. 35 I will bring you into the wilderness of the nations and there, face to face, I will execute judgment upon you. 36 As I judged your ancestors in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will judge you, declares the Sovereign Lord. 37 I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. 38 I will purge you of those who revolt and rebel against me. Although I will bring them out of the land where they are living, yet they will not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

39 “‘As for you, people of Israel, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Go and serve your idols, every one of you! But afterward you will surely listen to me and no longer profane my holy name with your gifts and idols. 40 For on my holy mountain, the high mountain of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord, there in the land all the people of Israel will serve me, and there I will accept them. There I will require your offerings and your choice gifts, along with all your holy sacrifices. 41 I will accept you as fragrant incense when I bring you out from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will be proved holy through you in the sight of the nations. 42 Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the land I had sworn with uplifted hand to give to your ancestors. 43 There you will remember your conduct and all the actions by which you have defiled yourselves, and you will loathe yourselves for all the evil you have done. 44 You will know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt practices, you people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord. ’”

Commentary

How do you become holy?

The key to holiness is found in your relationship with God. God says, ‘I am The Holy’ (20:40, MSG). Through your relationship with him, he wants you to become like him. He says, ‘I, GOD, am in the business of making them holy’ (v.12, MSG).

This was the reason for the ‘holy rest days’, the Sabbath (v.20, MSG). It was to give the people time to develop their relationship with God. Giving God the first day of the week symbolised giving God priority over everything.

God’s desire has always been for a holy people. In this passage, we see once again the frustration with the lack of holiness of his people. God’s people are intended to be a reflection of God’s holy character.

Today’s passage begins with a lament for the last kings of Judah (19:1). The ‘lioness’ refers to Judah and the last kings are described as her lion cubs.

The image changes to that of an uprooted vineyard (19:10–14), but the message of the lament is constant. Any empire we build for ourselves may seem strong, but it will be easily and quickly destroyed.

The rest of the passage then goes on to explain why Israel was uprooted and judged, and what their actions should have been. God describes how the people have ‘defiled’ and ‘profaned’ his holiness, but looks forward to a time when that will no longer be the case.

The key factor in what makes the people holy or not seems to lie in their relationship with God. His complaint against them centres on their following other gods, and the way in which they defiled themselves by the images they looked at (20:16; see also vv.7,24,28,30). This is in stark contrast to what should have been a close relationship with God, in which ‘I the Lord made them holy’ (v.12).

All the way through, we can see that God’s longing is for a holy people who will reflect his character. He had a plan to make this kind of holiness possible. That moment only came with the sacrifice of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

You have been made holy. The Holy Spirit lives in you. Put God first in your life and avoid anything that spoils your relationship with him. The serene beauty of your holy life will be influential and irresistible.

Prayer

Father, I want to put you first in my life and to avoid anything that spoils my relationship with you. Help me to lead a holy life.

Pippa adds

In Hebrews 10:14 it says:

‘It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people.’ (The Message)

And I am one of them!

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References

C. S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady (William B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1971).

Tony Castle, The Hodder Book of Christian Quotations (Hodder & Stoughton, 1982), p.146.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

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