Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
‘You shall be holy as the I the Lord your God am holy.’ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Wow! What incredible demands God makes on us. That’s not just setting the bar high, that’s setting the bar as high as heaven. God has high standards, in fact, the highest standards. We would gladly settle for something less than holiness and love. But not God.
In the beginning, when God was making the world, every once in awhile He stopped along the way and see what He had made and, ‘it was good.’ (Gen.1:10). When God says, ‘it is good,’ that means that it meets His standards. It was just they way He wanted it to be. It was exactly what He had in mind and nothing less.
And then God said, ‘let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’ ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him.’ (Gen.1:26-27). So, what does that mean that man was created in ‘image of God’? How does the Bible describe the ‘image of God’? Well, God is holy.
When the prophet Isaiah is given a vision of God in heaven, the angels are gathered around the throne where He is seated, and they’re all singing the Sanctus, right out of the Lutheran Service Book ‘ ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of your glory.’ God is ‘holy.’ When God made man in His image, He made man ‘holy,’ ‘perfect,’ ‘pure.’
When God made man in His image, ‘He saw that it was good’ too. Man not only reflected the image of God’s holiness to God, but man was created with that unique vocation of bearing the image of God’s holiness to the rest of creation. All of creation was to look to the man and conclude, ‘that’s what our creator must is like.’
But of course, the man didn’t like the image in which He was created. He wanted a different likeness. He exchanged the image of God for the likeness of a serpent, if you can believe it. This was not good, not pure, not perfect, and unholy. This is not what God had in mind when He created the man.
By the time that we get to our Old Testament reading for this morning from Leviticus, a long time has passed since ‘the beginning.’ But the human race has not recovered. Thing’s have not gotten better. Man has not reformed his ways and improved his image. In fact, things have gotten worse, much worse.
As soon as Israel is able to catch their breath from crossing the Red Sea out of Egypt, God has a word with Moses. ‘The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’ (Lev.19:1).
This is incredible really. God has not lowered His standards. He has not taken our fallen nature into account and revised His expectations of us. As bad as things are, as far as man has fallen, God has not given up on His creation. He has not thrown in the towel on the man of His dreams. He will be satisfied with nothing less than ‘it is good.’
‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’
Who would have been surprised if the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, ‘I’ve had all of you I can take. You are never going to be what I had in mind when I created you. So, to hell with you. I’ll try again on the moon or Mars.’
But no, He said, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’ He has not given up on us.
Now fast-forward a thousand or so years and you see that things haven’t gotten better. Man has not progressed. Life had not gotten safer, man has not become more honest or loving.
Yet, even here, the standard has not been readjusted and lowered. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind.’ Not a half hearted or semi-committed love, whatever that is. But an ‘all or nothing love.’
And ‘You shall love your neighbor.’ And there will be no debate over ‘who is my neighbor.’ He is everyone you come into contact with from your parents and spouse and children, to your co-worker and your teacher and the clerk at the grocery store, the immigrant and your enemy on the other side of the world. You shall love everyone, because God made man in His image, in His likeness. And God is love.
Impossible? Yea, it certainly is. But that’s not an acceptable excuse. ‘I’m only human,’ will not win you any sympathy or relief with God. He’ll only tell you, ‘No, you’re certainly not human. I made human and I know human. Human is holy as I am holy. Human is loving as I am love. You are non-human. You are inhuman. If you want to be human, then, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.’ ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
The Law doesn’t get any stricter and more demanding than this. And if we try to soften this in any way, we simply compound our sin and add crime on top of crime.
It’s impossible, not simply because we can’t live up to the standard that God has set for us, but impossible because neither holiness nor love can be commanded. You can command actions and deeds and behaviors. You can command someone to sign up to bring a meal to the homeless shelter. But you can’t command someone to love. In fact, when you try to command someone to love, what you get is exactly the opposite. You either have it or you don’t, but you can’t command it. You either are or you aren’t. And we aren’t.
But there is One who is. There is One who is holy and who is love. Jesus asks the lawyer the question that we must all one day answer. ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he’? ‘They said to him, ‘the son of David.”
True enough, his lineage can be traced to David, but that’s not the whole answer. But for them, that was the whole answer. So Jesus asks another question, ‘why is it then that David, in the spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord” ‘If David calls him Lord, how is he his son’? And no one was able to answer him a word” They couldn’t answer His question.
But it is critical that we are able to answer His question. For it is the answer to this question that changes everything. The proper answer to this question changes the demands of the law into the promises of the gospel.
‘What do you say about the Christ? Whose son is he’? He is the Son of man and the Son of God. He is both ‘true man,’ the human descendent of David and ‘true God,’ the One whom David rightly calls ‘LORD.’
He is true God. Fully God. 100% God. And He created the world. ‘Apart from Him, nothing was made that has been made.’ It was His hands that made the man out of the dust of the ground and His breath that breathed life into his body. He gave the man life, ‘abundant life;’ life to the full, full of holiness and full of love.
But He is also man. In the Nicene Creed, we say, ‘He was made man.’ The words that we say are important as the words that we do not say. It’s a bit strange what we say. ‘He was made man.’ It would be much more natural to say, ‘he was made A man.’ We say, ‘he became A man,’ ‘he became A farmer,’ ‘he became a plumber.’ But of Jesus we say, ‘He became man.’
He is mankind. And all mankind is wrapped up in this One Man. He is man as He created Man to be. He is holy and He is love. Not because anyone commands this of Him. This is who He is. ‘I am who I am.’
And He entered into His own creation to restore and renew it to the ‘goodness’ that He originally intended for it. And this He has done by the cross. Because He is God, the whole earth with all its sin is drowned in the flood that flows from his hands and feet and side.
Because He is Man and not A man, all mankind awakens to a new day and a new life when He rises from the dead.
In his classic book, ‘Mere Christianity,’ C.S. Lewis points out that when we hear the Lord say, ‘you shall be holy as I the Lord your God am holy,’ our natural reaction is either fear or rejection. It terrifies us because we mistakenly hear them as though the Lord were saying, ‘these are my terms for you and unless you meet them you have no place with me or in my kingdom.’
Lewis goes on to say that what the Lord means here is, ‘the only intention that I have for you is that you be holy. You may want something less; but I will give you nothing less. I have no intention of sewing a new patch on an old wineskin. Whatever it costs, whatever it takes, I will never rest or be satisfied until you are perfect, pure, holy. I have no intention of settling for anything less.’
The high and impossible standards that God has set for us, that leave us helpless and hopeless before Him, He has fulfilled through His Son, Jesus Christ ‘ the God /Man. The ‘new creation’ has been inaugurated in the resurrection of the son of David. The ‘great commandment’ has become the ‘great promise.’ ‘You SHALL BE HOLY as I the Lord your God am holy.’ ‘You SHALL love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and you SHALL love your neighbor as yourself.’ And you shall bear the image and likeness of God. And God shall yet look at all He has made and say, ‘It is good.’