Readings: Psalm 1, Ex 31:12–17, Acts 2:37–42, Matthew 27:57–66
Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bremen, KS || AUDIO
INI + AMEN.
((5. Oops!: There’s no self-made holiness.))
There’s no self-made man in the Lord’s eyes. That’s a problem for us because we idolize those sorts of people. There’s something so amazing, something so American about them. The gruff cowboy who made it out west. The frontier family who wagon-trained their way across vast swaths of land, built a house with their bare hands, out of the logs they chopped down with their bare hands, planted crops with their bare hands in the field they cleared with their bare hands, they harvested those crops—you guessed it—with their bare hands.
Before the Lord none of that sort of stuff counts. It counts for those around you, benefits them, but, with the Lord, there’s no such thing as the self-made man. There’s no self-made holiness. In fact, you don’t get to decide what’s holy and what’s not. It doesn’t even matter if you think you’re holy. You don’t choose. He does. He’s the Lord, after all—not you.
Our problem is that we think holiness is all about morals. That if your goodness, your being nice outweighs your bad, your being naughty —if that happens, you’re holy. At least holier than the next person. That’s how we think. But that’s not how the Lord defines holiness. You’re either holy or you’re not. There’s no percentages. It’s not that you’re 49% holy one day, and if you work really hard, you can be 50% the next. That’s not how it works, no matter how much we think or feel that it does.
((4. Ugh!: There’s only God’s own holiness.))
There’s only God’s own holiness. He’s the only One who’s really and truly holy. That’s what we sing “For Thou only art holy.” So, you’re either holy like God is, or you’re not. There’s no in between holy and unholy, no mostly holy, no somewhat holy, no “I’m not yet, but I’ll get there someday.” That’s wrong!
Jesus Himself says, “You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” You can’t be mostly perfect. You’re either perfect or you’re not—anything else is a delusion. The Lord also says in Leviticus: “You shall be holy, for I, [Yahweh] your God, am holy.” Perfection and holiness go together. If you’re one, then you’re also the other, and the Lord is both: perfect and holy.
If you’re not holy, well, then you’re in big trouble, eternal trouble, judgment-seat-of-God trouble. We sang about that in our Psalm this evening. You’re either righteous or wicked. No in between. If you’re wicked, if you’re a sinner, well, then “will not stand in the judgment,” then your “way will perish.” We also heard about it in our Old Testament reading: “Everyone who profanes [the Sabbath] shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” Consequences that foreshadow and proclaim the eternal judgment of God on all who despise, His Sabbath, His Rest, really, those who don’t care about His Word.
((3. Aha!: The Lord’s holiness is giveable.))
So, that’s our problem. You’re either holy or you’re not, and there’s no working your own way to more holiness. You can’t say, “Yes, I should cherish God’s Word, but at least I’m a fairly nice person.” You also can’t say, “Yeah, I shouldn’t gossip or have a temper or desire those around me like I do, but at least I go to church.” You can’t do that. That’s the way of percentages and scales, of moving your own holiness in stages. That won’t do. That’s the “way of the wicked.”
If we can’t get holiness that way, then what? We need holiness or we’re lost! We need it…to be given to us, and that’s exactly what the Lord does! He gives holiness! His holiness is giveable, and so He gives. He gives the gift of the Holy Spirit, whose job is to make people holy. “I, Yahweh, sanctify you.” “I, Yahweh, make you holy.” “I, Yahweh, give you My own holiness, the holiness you so desperately need.”
((2. Whee!: THE LORD MAKES YOU HOLY.))
That’s our comfort. THE LORD MAKES YOU HOLY. That’s what the Lord’s all about, making you holy. That’s what His Sabbath is all about. That’s why He has a Sabbath at all! So He can make His people holy. In and of themselves they are unholy. They try and pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make themselves holy or at least holier than the people around them. So, the Sabbath we so often use as a way of working and showing our holiness, the Lord Jesus uses to make us holy, as holy as our Father is. That’s why He says for His people to keep, that is “to cherish” “my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.”
His Sabbath is the means of making His people holy because on the Sabbath His Word and Gifts are given. The Word and Gifts that deliver the gift of the Holy Spirit who makes you holy. The Lord set apart a holy time that His holy Word and His holy Sacraments would be given so that His people would be made holy, so that you would be holy.
That’s why forgiveness is such a big deal to the Lord. It’s why He died and truly kept the Sabbath. He rested, He Sabbathed in a tomb because we treat His Word and Gifts not as the life-giving, holiness-bestowing things that they are. We so often view them as dead things, which we try and fill with our own meaning.
But, take heart, dear Christians, it is THE LORD WHO MAKES YOU HOLY. He does it. His holiness is a gift to you that you would be holy as He is holy.
((1. Yeah!: So we cherish the Sabbath.))
This is why we cherish the Sabbath. Why we make use of His Sabbath, His Word, His Gifts, calling, inviting others to receive and cherish these same things. That’s what it means to cherish, to guard, to keep the Sabbath: to make use of it. Not because doing it gains you anything, though doing it is God-pleasing. No, we make use of it because there the LORD MAKES YOU HOLY.
We cherish the means of holiness, the means of the Spirit. Holiness isn’t earned but received. So we heard in Acts that “those who received his word were baptized.” They were baptized because in Baptism there is “the forgiveness of your sins, and…the gift of the Holy Spirit,” as Peter says. But we also heard that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
All the means of holiness were used. The Scriptures, “The Apostles’ teaching.” This is why Bible Study and the preaching is important. Not only for knowledge, some new Bible tidbit for Trivial Pursuit, but because through the Scriptures the Spirit speaks Christ into you. We gather, “fellowship,” around “the breaking of the Bread” where the means of hoiliness, Jesus’ own holy body and Blood are given for our forgiveness, our holiness. So also “the prayers,” worship together because “where two or three are gathered, there I am.” He’s really Here right now, making you holy.
Yeah, THE LORD MAKES YOU HOLY. The only way to be unholy is to avoid the means and tools He Himself uses to make you holy. Apart from Him and His holiness, which He freely, fully, and continually gives in His Word and Gifts, there’s unholiness. There’s no in between. You’re either holy or you’re not. But the Lord died and rose, and He’s THE LORD WHO MAKES YOU HOLY. So, you are! His Word, His preaching, His Body and Blood not only say so, they make it so!
INI + AMEN.