One of the prophet Isaiah’s favourite titles for God is ‘the Holy One of Israel’. God’s holiness was something that the Israelites (and us too) were inclined to forget! But one day Isaiah saw the LORD in the Temple (Isaiah 6:1-8), awesome and terrifying, surrounded by angelic seraphim proclaiming over and over again, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty.” This was the holiness that had destroyed Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3); no wonder Isaiah was afraid. In the presence of God, he was all too aware of his inherent sinfulness (Isaiah 6:5). In our natural, sinful state, we human beings are totally unfit to serve Him or even to approach Him. Even the angels cover their faces in His presence!
Holiness is a difficult concept to grasp; the holiness of God is His God-ness. He is one of a kind, utterly perfect, in a class all by Himself – and nothing in the whole of creation comes anywhere near Him. This is the very first thing we need to realise about Him – otherwise we will make the mistake of imagining Him to be a god that we can comprehend, a god that we can easily have a relationship with. But it is no light matter to come into God’s presence. Both Moses (Exodus 3:5) and Joshua (Joshua 5:15) were instructed to remove their sandals to acknowledge the abject lowliness of their status before Him, and the priests worked in the Tabernacle barefoot (like slaves).
Jesus is the personification of holiness – demonstrated by His perfect obedience and in His authority over evil (e.g. Luke 4:34). When Peter glimpsed His power for the first time, he reacted as Isaiah had reacted to the presence of God: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) But Jesus did not go away; instead, He called Peter to follow Him. He calls us too, to belong to Him and thus to share in His holiness.