Holy and Jealous God

Psalm 99

1 The Lord reigns,
let the nations tremble;
he sits enthroned between the cherubim,
let the earth shake.
2 Great is the Lord in Zion;
he is exalted over all the nations.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name—
he is holy.
4 The King is mighty, he loves justice—
you have established equity;
in Jacob you have done
what is just and right.
5 Exalt the Lord our God
and worship at his footstool;
he is holy.
6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel was among those who called on his name;
they called on the Lord
and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud;
they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.
8 Lord our God,
you answered them;
you were to Israel a forgiving God,
though you punished their misdeeds.
9 Exalt the Lord our God
and worship at his holy mountain,
for the Lord our God is holy.

1.  The great Lord, the one who makes the nations tremble and the earth shake, the Creator of the Universe, is fully present in a particular place.

The power of place. There is something good about having a place to worship. For Israel, it was also political and economic concentration. It is like the Vatican, or Jerusalem or Mecca. There is something special about being in St. Peter’s when the Pope speaks or performs the Mass. The haj is a requirement for Muslims. “Next year in Jerusalem” is the dream of Jews around the world. We long for a place to worship.

It was so important that the great sin of Jeroboam was dividing people’s loyalties between Jerusalem and the shrines he created. It was the sin of making worship convenient for people and allowing an innovation to become an idol. There was no other place where God resided.

I think there is something in us that longs for a particular place to which we belong. That is how I feel about Tyler and it is difficult to explain to people who are new here or those who come to visit. For me, it has always been a strong sense of call to this community. If you grew up here, it might be hard to understand being called here but, on the other hand, you may sense it even more than me. So many people pass through Tyler in the course of their careers and many times I will meet people who tell me this is where they want to return. There is something unique about living here.

Wendell Berry: “The important thing to do is to learn all you can about where you are and if you’re going to work there it becomes even more important to learn everything you can about that place to make common cause with that place and then resigning yourself, becoming patient enough to work with it over a long time. And then what you do is increase the possibility that you will make a good example and what we’re looking for in this is good examples.”

We, on the other hand, celebrate our independence from place. We never really settle. We are always looking for a better place or a better church. We are always in the search for better programs, music, preaching, services and people. We are disenchanted with the sin and imperfections of the local church – but that is not new. Just read the descriptions of the priests and Levites in the Old Testament and the New. Read the Psalms about David’s fellow worshippers.

Still, there is something holy and perfect “between the cherubim” where the Lord sits. We won’t find a perfect church but that does not keep God from dwelling in the imperfection.

God “sits enthroned” in the same way Jesus was fully God in human form. Not compressed but his full nature was present between the cherubim. When you approached the throne of God you were not dealing with a “concentrate” but the full nature of an infinite God. All his DNA was present in that one place. Great is The Lord but not just in size or scope.

But, what is the trade-off when God no longer resides and we have no need to travel to get to Him. We say we “worship in Spirit and in Truth” but is that really how we see it? Have we, in a sense, divided the people between churches, parachurches, various ministries, and all the options available to us? It’s not how we like to think of church, is it? We don’t like to be tied down and constrained because worship has become something almost completely personal and private. Of course, that is why there is a danger in the current movement toward defining “freedom of worship” as something private and distinguished from the free exercise of religion. We have the freedom to private worship (and that includes what we do in churches on Sunday) but we may no longer have the right to exercise the freedom of religious beliefs.

2.  But all that size and scope – all that greatness is ultimately expressed in the nature and form of human beings, isn’t it? What we are looking for is good examples as Wendell Berry says.

“The King is mighty, he loves justice – you have established equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right.”

Gary Haugen’s story of Rwanda and IJM:

“At the time of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Gary Haugen, a senior trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, was given an assignment to serve as the Officer in Charge of the U.N.’s genocide investigation in Rwanda. He had seen a lot of injustice in the past, working to combat human rights abuses around the world. And in Rwanda, he stood amid it. He led a team in gathering evidence against those who perpetrated the genocide. He didn’t just fight a legal battle from afar; he stood at the sites of mass murder and mass graves, and looked into the ugliness of this world.

And his response to it was quite surprising to me.

“When you are standing in a mass grave in Rwanda, the question that came to my mind was not the question that was coming to everyone else’s mind perhaps. I’ve had people ask me, ‘Where was God in the midst of all of this?’ But I could sense, at least from Scripture, what I knew of my heavenly Father, was that I knew where God was: He was right in the midst of all that incredible suffering. The more relevant question for me was, ‘Where are God’s people?’

“… What I also saw so clearly was the biblical mandate, because when you go through Scripture with an eye for that, all of a sudden there are these very clear commands: Micah 6:8, ‘He has told you, O man what is good and what the Lord requires of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God,’ or Isaiah 1:17, ‘Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.’”

Rather than raging at God Haugen knew that this was a matter for the church. It was our responsibility to do justice, to rescue the oppressed, to plead for the widows and orphans.”

The Lord is holy but that holiness is expressed in people – imperfect but real live examples of God’s intention to incarnate Himself. Again, not reduce Himself to human size but to make of humans what he intended at creation.

3.  The Jealousy of God.

It is odd and difficult that God would us a negative word – like greedy, lustful, cruel, disloyal, unfaithful – to describe himself. Why would He risk being misunderstood unless it is both true and important. “I am jealous – but not in the way you understand it.”

There is bad jealousy in Scripture: Saul’s jealousy for David. Sara’s jealousy of Hagar. Rachel’s jealousy of Leah. Joseph’s brothers of him. Both Paul and James talk about jealousy and infighting that divide the church.

Bad jealousy is basically envy.

There is on the other hand godly jealousy. Paul’s jealousy for the Corinthians when he sees them being led away from the pure Gospel.

2 Corinthians 11:2: “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

Tim Keller put it this way. “Good jealousy is angered love that stays love. Bad jealousy extinguishes love. It consumes love.”

My own jealousy as a boy is a vivid memory for me. In the ninth grade I was desperately in love with a girl. We carved our initials in every desk and wrote countless notes exchanged between classes. Mid-year a boy moved from Georgia to our school and he had everything going for him. Smart, good athlete, witty and funny. I noticed that he could make her laugh in a way that I could not. He brought out something in her I could not. Instead of being pleased about her happiness, I was jealous. You might have had a similar experience then – or now.

I was jealous because her happiness at that moment subtracted from mine. She could find some additional happiness outside of me. He had something I envied because her happiness was not found completely in me. Jealousy that consumes the very love it desires.

God is jealous because one momentary false happiness subtracts from who we are and who we are created to be. It does not mean we can find happiness outside of him but that God is jealous for our good – not his. There is nothing lacking in God. There is no envy or insecurity or need on His part to be loved exclusively. His desire for us to love Him exclusively is the source of our true happiness. The “happiness” we find outside Him will only disappoint, then distort and then destroy us.

Deuteronomy 32:21: “They have made me jealous with what is not God.”

2 Kings 17:15: “They followed worthless idols and become worthless themselves.”

Could I have been jealous in that way had I known what that “happiness” would lead to in her life? No. I would have been jealous for her good – not jealous about him. Not jealous or envious because there was something lacking in me she found in him.

Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales: “American Christians… are drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god… We’ve completely taken this Disney notion of ‘when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true’ and melded that with faith and come up with something completely different. There’s something wrong in a culture that preaches nothing is more sacred than your dream. I mean, we walk away from marriages to follow our dreams. We abandon children to follow our dreams. We hurt people in the name of our dreams, which as a Christian is just preposterous.”

Those worthless gods may be ourselves and not something external. Our own claim to our right to ourselves.

Oswald Chambers: “The nature of sin is not immorality and wrongdoing, but the nature of self-realization which leads us to say, “I am my own god.” This nature may exhibit itself in proper morality or in improper immorality, but it always has a common basis— my claim to my right to myself. When our Lord faced either people with all the forces of evil in them, or people who were clean-living, moral, and upright, He paid no attention to the moral degradation of one, nor any attention to the moral attainment of the other. He looked at something we do not see, namely, the nature of man.”

C.S. Lewis in “The Problem of Pain”: Chapter 3

“If God is love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness.”

“It is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.”

“Love, in its own nature, demands the perfecting of the beloved; that the mere kindness which tolerates anything except suffering in its object is, in that respect, at the opposite pole from Love.”

“When Christianity says the God loves man, it means that God loves man; not that He has some “disinterested,” because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God; you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the “lord of the terrible aspect,” is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, not the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the love that made the worlds…”

“To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable…What we would here and not call our “happiness” is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.”

“When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy.”

“God intends to give us what we need, not what we now think we want. Once more, we are embarrassed by the intolerable compliment, by too much love, not too little.”

“He gives the happiness that there is, not that happiness that is not. To be God – to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response – to be miserable – these are the only three alternatives.”

To be God. To be like God. To be miserable. These are only three alternatives.

In conclusion, what have we learned about God this morning?

He is the God not only of Spirit but of a particular place. A particular assembly. He is the God who dwells between the cherubim in imperfect places and imperfect people. He is the God who makes the earth shake and all the nations tremble. He is the God who reigns above all circumstances. He is the God who fills real people with His spirit and love of justice. He is the God who is jealous. He is the God who will not be satisfied with mere kindness but is moving us toward true happiness that can only be found in absolute devotion to him and no other.

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