God is Holy. But what is holiness? Holiness, simply defined is sacredness. Something set apart from that which is common and usual. Something separate from the normal. And this is God. God is holy. He is sacred, set apart from us. We are not God, and God is not us (Num.23:19). He is different from us, completely and totally “other.”
God is so pure, he cannot even look on sin or tolerate it in his presence (Hab.1:13). So, we need holiness to see God (Heb.12:14). We need holiness to relate to God.
This call to holiness can be seen in Old Testament worship. When you came to the tabernacle or the temple to worship and saw the priest, you would have seen, emblazoned on the gold band which encircled his forehead the Hebrew words, qodesh l’yahovah. The words, translated from Hebrew mean, “Holiness unto the Lord.” You couldn’t really escape this pervasive message in tabernacle worship. God was Holy – and you weren’t.
Even the temple furniture communicated God’s holiness. For instance, there was an enormous basin in the tabernacle courtyard which was used for the washing (2 Chr.4:1ff). Why was it there? Well it was there partly because there were washings required so that worshippers would be ceremonially clean to participate in the particular act of worship that they were supposed to undertake. The worshipper washed, the sacrifice was sometimes washed, and the priest washed (2 Chr.4:6). The message was incessant…God is holy, you are not, God has a standard of holiness, and you must meet that standard if you hope to have his worship accepted of you.
The problem as every Jew knew was that holiness did not last. If you touched something unclean, then you became unclean (Lev.5:2). Men or women. But women felt this more acutely. According to v.19ff Menstruating women were considered unclean. Men who touched menstruating women were considered unclean. Objects that menstruating women sat on were considered unclean. You see, unholiness, uncleanness and impurity always flowed out in the Old Testament.
This is why people took such care in the New Testament too. Remember the story of the Good Samaritan? Why did the Priest and the Levite pass by the man who was beaten on the other side of the road? Because you couldn’t touch someone who was a bloody mess and still be clean. What if he was dead? Defilement that came from touching a dead body would last for days. No priest would risk that. So, rather than be defiled so that they were rendered unholy for worship, they simply passed by.
And so holiness was always something you needed but didn’t have. It was a constant challenge and a struggle to stay clean and pure – to maintain holiness. Especially considering that ungodliness, uncleanness flows out from the unclean and stains everyone who comes in contact with it.
But with Jesus, all this changes. How does it change? Consider the woman in Luke 8. In v.43 we are introduced to her. She has an issue of blood. This meant one thing. For 12 years this woman has been unclean. Unholy. Unable to come to God. She knows this and she has spared no expense in trying to find a diagnosis and cure. The doctors have bankrupted her. She is desperate. Since she is unclean she carefully comes and sees to it that she has a chance just to touch him. And what happens? Well, we should expect – every Jew would have expected it – that now Jesus is made unclean. But that’s not what happens is it? Virtue goes out from Jesus. Because Jesus makes what is impure pure. Jesus makes what is unacceptable to God acceptable to God. Holiness flows out from Jesus.
Who cares, you ask? Well you should. You need holiness to see God. In your sinful fallen state you need cleansing so you can stand before God. How can you possibly get that? You aren’t holy enough to come to God. You aren’t holy enough to have God look on you with favour, but there is one who is. It’s Jesus. He gave himself for you, so that you can be made clean. The stain of your sin which renders you unholy and unfit to meet with God can be cleansed by Christ and you can be declared righteous! (Rom.3:22ff; 1 Peter 2:5). So, come and accept him and be cleansed. His purity flows out, sweeping away the unholiness that is true of you and allowing you to stand – as a result of his holiness in the presence of God.