Where are the proclaimers of God’s holiness? Where are holy people that by their very conduct stand out, distinct and unique in terms of this world’s values? Where are the saints who have tended their gardens and plucked up the weeds so that only the flowers of righteousness are there–out of respect for the holy God? I don’t know about you, but when I read about it or when I meet a holy person, change happens. What a thrill it would be to sit in the presence of a prophet like Isaiah, a man who had penetrated the thick silence and heard the holy heart of God.
Right after I came into the kingdom of God, I read a book by Richard Wurmbrand and it had an incredible impact on me. Following World War II he was incarcerated by the communist regime for being a minister in Soviet occupied Romania. He suffered terribly for many years in prison. When he finally got out, he told God that if there were people in the prison he could minister to, then he was willing to go back. He was arrested again and sent back. When his release was paid for by Western Christians, he came out of prison and started a Bible smuggling ministry.
The following story from the book haunts me. One of the first things the Communists did when you came into this prison was to put all the Christians together in one big cell. Then they began torturing them. Two of those who were the first to capitulate were not just ordinary pastors, they were known throughout Europe for their writing and their preaching. They were men who spoke so eloquently and wrote so brilliantly about God’s provisions, about his power, about his sufficiency. They had authored many books, and yet under the cruel hand of their tormentors they denied Christ, denied their faith. Even worse, to prove their sincerity they tortured other Christians.
This deeply troubled Richard Wurmbrand. He could not understand how these great men of faith could be the first to capitulate and torture fellow saints. It was only after several months of his own torture and being stripped of every theological preconception (like Job), that he came to this recognition; the problem was these men knew God for what he did but they didn’t know God for who he was. You get the distinction? They knew him for all his great deeds, but when they were placed in an environment where those things were stripped from them for a season, they had no basis on which to relate to God.
Rev. Wurmbrand, by contrast, got into this radical place of seizing the holiness of the Holy One, and worshipping God for who he was. He says, "God I am going to worship you and believe in you, even if you torture me and kill me; even if Christ’s death, burial and resurrection was a lie, I am still going to worship you because you alone are God." He survived, and he was a different man because of his encounter with the holy.
Some years ago he was at a church in Minneapolis. The pastor told me this story of how he took Rev. Wurmbrand for lunch one day to one of the most prestigious restaurants because he is a respected man and you want to treat him properly. This restaurant was filled with businessmen and people. The moment the food was served, Richard (now quite an old man) jumps to his feet, grabs the hands of those sitting next to him and says, "Get up, get up!" They all stood up and he prayed at the top of his voice. The whole restaurant became deathly silent, and at the end of his prayer he began to sing the doxology.
This pastor said to me, "What could I do? I sang along." When they all sat down he looked around as every eye in the restaurant was fixed on him, and he said, "You can take God out of the state, but you shall never take God out of the restaurant." He sat down and ate his meal. This man had experienced the holiness of God.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.