As long as man lives in this world and in his present condition, there will be the struggle between the holy and the profane. We can no more rid ourselves of it than we can of heaven and hell, of God and men, or of sin and salvation. No sooner had God given the Law at Sinai than we see Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10) offering strange fire in the holy place. This was no trifling act with God for He struck them dead immediately and then instructed Moses and Aaron to teach the people to put difference between the holy and unholy, between unclean and clean (Lev 10:10).
The history of Israel (and of the Church also) is a history of understanding the holy and the profane. Uzzah was killed for putting unclean hands on God’s ark; fifty thousand people died in Beth-shemesh for treating the ark in an unworthy manner; Ananias and Sapphira died before the church for lying to the Holy Spirit. When the Israelites went into captivity, Ezekiel wrote, Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shown difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them (Ez. 22:26).
The good news is that God will remedy the antipathy in the end. Even Ezekiel describes the kingdom of God on the earth when Christ will reign in righteousness, And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean (Ez. 44:23). God’s goodness is superior to (and prior to) Satan’s evil and will reign victorious after all sin and evil has been judged and put away forever.
In our present time, we must deal with the conflict between good and evil by following God’s instructions carefully. That is why parents teach manners to their children, or why governments make laws, or why wars are fought. There must be constant vigilance on all levels in this battle between the holy and the profane. God has often revealed specifics for His people to follow: the Temple was His house and it was not to be made a den of thieves; the Church is God’s body and it should not be given offense; and our bodies are the Temple of the living God, and they are to be holy and acceptable to Him.
When the unholy is brought into the holy
God protects those areas where He places His glory and holiness and so should we. We have a number of words and expressions that the Bible uses to describe this transgression.
Profane. But refuse profane and old wives’ fables (1 Tim 4:7); But shun profane and vain babblings (2 Tim 2:16); Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright (Heb 12:16). In English our word “profane” means “before the temple” or to bring something into the holy place that doesn’t belong. That is translated from the Greek word beblelos, which means “to cross the threshold.” To profane something is to bring something unholy across the threshold into the holy place.
To use profanity is to let words come out of our mouths that shouldn’t be crossing our lips. James rebukes those who praise God with their tongue but turn around and curse men who are made in God’s image (Jas 3:9-10). The name of God is never to be used in “vain” or in such a profane way. We will be held accountable for every idle word that proceeds out of our mouths.
Obscene. Though not used in our English Bible, the English word means “off the scene” or “off-stage.” This is something that would not be worthy to be spoken in front of others and would be banned in any public speaking. Gene Veith, Jr., in discussing the pathetic state of contemporary television and films, explains, “In ancient Greek drama, certain actions could not be performed onstage for fear of violating the decorum, the appropriate aesthetic effect, of the play.”1
Today it seems nothing is obscene, for anything at all may be said in any public place. Even among Christians there seems to be little or no difference from the world. As a pastor I am often shocked at the words Christians will use in my presence or in the church without so much as a blush.
Vulgar. This word has to do with the language of the common man. It means “of the mob” or “of the common people.” The Latin Bible is called the “Vulgate” because it was first made in the common language. Our Greek New Testament is “Koine” or “common” Greek. In language it is the opposite of manners or politeness. It even seems snobbish by today’s standards to speak of language that, though it is used in the street or locker rooms, has no place in public.
The current rating system for television (G, PG, etc) supposedly keeps younger people from watching something vulgar, but unwittingly only allows older people to do so with impunity! How sad that Christians have followed the world’s standard of decency by following these instructions. The truth is, if something is vulgar for one human being, it is vulgar for every human being.
Pornography. This word is made up of two Greek words, porn? from porneia meaning “fornication,” and graph? meaning “to write.” In most dictionaries the English word will be broken down as “the writing of harlots.” It is the writing out, or making public, what is private. It is not that nakedness is itself evil, but rather that it is private! Marriage and its behavior is between a husband and his wife.
Blasphemy. Blasphemy is the overt denigration of God and His name. This word is a combination of “evil” and “speaking.” “Blast” used to be a vulgar word by itself, but when such things are directed toward the holy God of heaven, it is truly “blas-phemous.”
Jesus was often accused of blasphemy by the Scribes and Pharisees because He said things that, if said by a mere human, would denigrate God’s name. If you or I proposed to be equal with God, it would be blasphemous; if you or I claimed to be able to forgive sins, it would be blasphemous; but if Jesus was God and therefore could forgive sin, it was revelation! Those who claim to speak in God’s name but say they are divine, or equal to Jesus Christ, or can become a god through some process, are guilty of this blasphemy before Him whose name is above all names!
When the holy is brought into the unholy.
It is hard for us to see the outside of the bowl when we live on the inside, but the larger picture of the holy and the profane is that the universe is filled with God’s holiness and has penetrated our little unholy world from time to time. Oh, it is true that all of God’s creation declares His glory, but the truly miraculous has been a rare event in this world. When it has happened it brings light and life to all it touches. We also have words to describe this phenomenon.
Incarnation. Something that eats the flesh is “carnivorous,” or that is fleshly is “carnal,” or that is entertaining is a “carnival.” Yet something that takes on flesh, or becomes flesh, is an “incarnation” embodied, personified as a human being. The only time this has happened was when God became a man. Humans can’t be said to have experienced incarnation because we were nothing before we existed in our flesh. But, The Word was made flesh, and dwelt (“tabernacled”) among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14).
Revelation. The manifestation, appearance or enlightenment of God to man is a “revelation.” The biblical word is “apocalypse” or apo-kalupt?, to “un-cover.” The Book of Revelation was an uncovering of information that had been withheld from us. So the coming of Christ into our world was a revealing of things we did not know. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared (“exegeted”) him (Jn 1:18). In these last days [God] hath spoken unto us by his Son (Heb 1:2).
Transfiguration. There were times in Jesus’ life that His deity burst through into the darkness. No time was so stunningly obvious than on the mount of transfiguration. There Jesus was transfigured, meta-morph?th?, a “metamorphosis.” It is true that the deity of Christ shown through from the inside to the outside, but this was also a glimpse of the outside world bursting through to the inside. Moses and Elijah were there, talking with Jesus about His own departure back to the outside world. How could there not also be a radiant light, as on the Damascus road, when such a thing occurs?
Emmanuel. In the Old Testament the name is spelled with an “I” in Isaiah 7:14 and 8:8; a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel . . . . The stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel. Once in the New Testament the name is used, quoting Isaiah, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Mt 1:24).
Never was there a moment like that moment! God with us! The Holy One coming into the world of the unholy and profane, the obscene and blasphemous. Christ by highest heaven adored; Christ the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of a virgin’s womb: Veiled in flesh the God-head see; Hail the incarnate deity, Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.
Christmas. Though not used in our Bible, this common description has been lost to commercialization and bad theology. It is easy to see the Christ in “Christmas,” but it is not so easy to see the incarnation, the coming of the Holy One into the unholy world. The Roman church uses the word “mass” to describe its sacrament of Eucharist. Christmas is the “Christ-mass.” In the mass, or Eucharist, they believe that Christ has again become incarnate, the bread and wine becoming His literal flesh and blood and (“blasphemously”) they crucify His flesh and blood again and again.
I am not for forfeiting the word Christmas because of bad theology on their part. Though we do not believe in sacraments, and therefore do not participate in a mass, we certainly do believe that, when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons (Gal 4:4). When we say “Christmas” we are glad we can still use a word that has “Christ” in it! The commercialization of the season of our Lord’s birth has caused our avaricious country to sell its Christian birthright. We will take the word “Christmas” and place no other meaning on it than what we believe: that God was incarnated into human flesh, revealed as the true God to a lost world, transfigured in light before our eyes, understood as Emmanuel, miraculously and eternally known as God with us!
And So . . . .
One of my favorite writers from a generation ago described the birth of our Lord in a similar way, when the sacred broke into the profane:
He was the earthly child of a Heavenly Father and the heavenly child of an earthly mother. If men had arranged His birthplace they might have chosen a palace; God chose a barn. Men might have prepared a royal crib; God prepared a feed trough. Men might have provided silken robes; God chose the swaddling clothes of a poor peasant. Men might have selected choice perfumes and spices; God came in the malodors of a stable. Think of it! The Prince of Glory couldn’t find room in a Bethlehem boarding house! The King of kings, the son of a carpenter’s wife! What a rebuke to our pride that He Who was so rich became so poor, when we who are so poor pretend to be so rich!2
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;
Fall on your knees, Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!