• Jonathan Parnell

Called to Worship a Holy God (Psalm 96:6-8)

Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. 7 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! 8 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! —Psalm 96:6-8

Worship the Lord. That is the theme of Psalm 96. We are called to worship God because he is worthy of our worship. He is great (verse 4); he made the heavens (verse 5). And now in verse 6 we see, “Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.”

The Holiness of Near

This is a glimpse into his holiness—of his blinding purity and incomparable wonder. We try our best with words. What does it mean that majesty is before him? Or that strength is in his presence? It is more than we can fathom. God is transcendent, holy-other. He is so much beyond what our intellects can comprehend.

And he is astonishingly near.

Consider verse 8. After the glimpse of God’s holiness and the command for us to praise him, the psalmist welcomes us into his presence: “bring an offering and come into his courts!” This points to something wonderful about who God is. It’s that in all of his holiness he is always relational. In all the ways that he is not like anything else, he doesn’t seclude himself in unintelligible riddles far removed from his creatures. He is holy and he is near. He is incredibly different from us and he, by grace, invites us into fellowship. He is high and lifted up, and he dwells with the lowly (Isaiah 57:15).

This is what it means for God to be holy. And the way we perceive this holiness is in his acts. Theologian John Webster writes, “As Father, Son and Spirit, God is holy in all his works. God is holy; but God is what God does, and so God’s holiness is to be defined out of God’s works” (Holiness, 39). God shows us how his holiness looks so that we would recognize him and confess his worth, exactly as Psalm 96 commands.

The Clearest Picture

So what is the clearest picture of God’s holiness? Answer: Jesus.

Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9; see also Hebrews 1:1–3). God showed us most clearly how he is not like us by becoming one of us.

God, utterly unique and inscrutably distinct, became a man. The eternal Son who had always enjoyed the trinitarian fellowship with the Father and the Spirit before the world began put on our flesh. And it didn’t diminish his holiness—it vividly expressed it.

Do you see this humility? —a God this great going this low. No one else in the universe can do that. No one else in the universe is like this. Praise him! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name!


For Reflection

  1. How does the psalmist call us to worship?

  2. What does it mean for God to be holy?

  3. What is the clearest picture of God’s holiness?

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