“Through those who are near me I will show myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev 10:3).
This is the lesson that Aaron is forced to learn through the shocking events recorded in our first reading: the death of his sons when they offered “strange fire” before the Lord. It was perhaps one of the moments in the Old Testament the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he described God as “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).
One of the tasks of the priesthood, of “those who are near” the Lord, is to display the holiness of God, to His glory more widely, before all people. They display it through their careful attentiveness to the provisions made for the rituals. Just as the
tabernacle had to be built “exactly according to the pattern” shown on the mountain (Exod. 25:9), so the rituals need to be performed as specified. The Israelites are not at liberty to worship God as they please, according to their own spontaneity and desire. And so, if they ignore the provisions made for the worship of God, they will display the holiness of God through his judgment.
The one who has come bringing salvation in Jesus Christ is none other than this holy God. And the consuming fire of this God’s holiness burns no less fiercely than it did that day Nadab and Abihu offered their fire. Yet, just as it did for Israel, the fire of his holiness burns in such a way that we may draw near, that we may be cleansed rather than destroyed; it is ultimately the holiness of God’s grace, the fire is the fire of God’s cruciform love.
Still, it is holy grace, this grace of God; it is love that consumes sin and evil, this love of God. We cannot forget that. “Through those who are near me, I will show myself holy.” This was truest of all of the One who was nearest of all. It will be true, too, of us if we come near to this God: He will show Himself holy. We do not need to be afraid of God, as Aaron and others might have been after this event, as if we are dealing with a bomb that might explode at any moment. But not because there is no bomb, but because the bomb has exploded already. It has exploded in Christ, and it did so for our salvation. And through faith in him, we have been drawn into this explosion, caught up and purified in its white-hot fire. And now sent in its reverberating shockwave, with those first disciples, into all the world to call others to this faith.
For, “before all the people I will be glorified.”
This reflection was part of St Mark’s Chapel Service conducted online at 10:30am on Tuesday 21 April 2020.