June 28, 2023

Holy, Holy, Holy

R.C. Sproul
Holy, Holy, Holy

There is only one attribute of God that is magnified in Scripture to the third degree of repetition: He is holy, holy, holy. Today, R.C. Sproul calls us to reflect on this attribute of God that the Bible underscores more than any other.


In the English language, when we want to call attention to something that’s particularly important to give it emphasis, there are different ways that we can do that in print. We can underline words or italicize them, put them in boldface type, put little quotation marks or brackets around them, or fill the page with exclamation points—oh, how I hate exclamation points when it’s not an exclamation. Even my editors do that. I find it in a final draft. I’ll read these things, and they’ll put exclamation points at sentences that aren’t exclamations. Please don’t think so poorly of me to think that I don’t know any better about the use of exclamation points. They do that. That drives me crazy. But that’s what we do with emphasis.

Well, the Jews did the same thing. They did all of that: underline, boldface, italicize. But they had another technique to call attention to something’s particular importance. It was a simple technique, a verbal repetition. I think, for example, of the Apostle Paul when he’s writing to the Galatians and warning them of the dangers of departing from the gospel that they had received from Paul. He said, “I say unto you that if anybody preaches unto you any other gospel than that which you’ve received, even if it’s an angel from heaven, let him be anathema—anathēma. Let him be damned.” That’s a strong statement that comes from the pen of the Apostle Paul. But he doesn’t stop there. He immediately goes on to say, “Again, I say to you, if anyone preaches unto you any other gospel than that which you have received, let him be anathema.”

Jesus was fond of using this device of repetition to make His points. Now, remember, Jesus was a rabbi. That meant that He was a theologian. He had a school and He had students called disciples, or learners, who enrolled in His school. And He was a peripatetic rabbi. That meant that He walked around, and as He walked the disciples literally followed Him. When Jesus said, “Follow Me,” He meant, literally, “Walk around behind Me.” And the way they would do it would be this. The Teacher would give His recitation. He would lecture as He walked down the road to Emmaus, or wherever, and the disciples would follow along behind Him and commit to memory the things that the rabbi taught them. 

Now, ladies and gentlemen, every teaching that ever came from the lips of Jesus Christ was important. But even our Lord took time to call attention to things that He regarded as being super important. And whenever He would come to a point like that, that He wanted to make sure His disciples never missed, He would preface His teaching by saying two words. He would say, “Truly, truly, I say unto you.” Or the older translation, “Verily, verily.” Actually, what He said was, “Amen, amen, I say unto you.” You recognize that word. It comes directly into English, and we say, “All the people said”—what?—“amen.” But we say “amen” after the teacher teaches or after the preacher preaches; it means “It is true; we believe it,” and so on. Jesus didn’t wait for His disciples to confirm the truthfulness of what He was saying. He started His sermon by saying, “Amen, amen.” That’s like the captain of a ship getting on the intercom and saying: “Now hear this. This is the captain speaking.” When Jesus repeated that word, saying it twice, He was underscoring its importance.

Ladies and gentlemen, there’s only one attribute of God that is ever raised to the third degree of repetition in Scripture. There’s only one characteristic of almighty God that is communicated in the superlative degree, from the mouths of angels, where the Bible doesn’t simply say that God is holy or even that He’s holy, holy but that He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible doesn’t say that God is mercy, mercy, mercy or love, love, love or justice, justice, justice or wrath, wrath, wrath. But that He is holy, holy, holy. This is a dimension of God that consumes His very essence. When it is manifest to Isaiah, we read that at the sound of the voices of the seraphim, the doorpost, the thresholds of the temple itself shook and began to tremble. Do you hear that? Inanimate, lifeless, unintelligible parts of creation in the presence of the manifestation of the holiness of God had the good sense to be moved. How can we, made in His image, be indifferent or apathetic to His majesty? God alone is holy.