Isiah 6:1-8 (The Holy Trinity—Series B)
“Holy, Holy, Holy”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
May 31, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text today is the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 6:
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
I watched a few “person on the street” videos where the interviewer asked people out and about, “Who is God? What is God like?” One was from the United States and the other from Australia. The prevailing view of God was “God” is a belief system that makes you feel spiritually whole. God is a guide to being a good person. God is a spiritual peacefulness. He’s cool, nice, and awesome. For some God is whatever you imagine Him to be. God is something you turn to when things are bad. God, then, seems to be a cozy and comfortable belief whether He exists in reality or not.
This, in and of itself, is a shift in the popular understanding of God. God used to be seen by folks as that grandfatherly figure, a “There, there, it’ll be all right” sort of God. God didn’t rock the boat. He just hopes that everyone is having a good time. Now, the prevailing view around the globe seems to have moved away from the concept of a personal being as God to just a system of belief. God is a way of thinking that makes you feel spiritually complete rather than an actual divine being.
This is the predominant view about God in the world that we live in. This is the understanding of who God is in the world that our children and our grandchildren are growing up in. Folks with whom we live and work and play think this way about God. They would also very much like us to join them in their world of belief and to stop believing in a personal God who hates sin. It was so very striking in those videos that no one perceived of God in relationship to people who are sinners. No one spoke of God as being gracious and merciful to sinners. No one said anything about God having to punish sin. In fact, sin was never mentioned. In the world’s understanding of God, sin doesn’t matter. And if sin doesn’t matter, then we don’t really need much of a God other than one who is just a belief system or made up in someone’s head and not a real person.
Remember though, once you throw out God and do away with sin, anything goes. There is no definitive “right” and “wrong.” There is no morality, no standards of behavior. A person could do whatever they want as long as it suits them. There would be no ramifications, no consequences, and therefore, no guilt. If there are no “rules” to break, then there is nothing that I can be punished for so I wouldn’t have to worry about “God punishing me” or “being sent to hell”. As one can see in the “person on the street” videos, there aren’t many people talking about sin or worrying about hell because God is just a belief.
What does God’s Word have to say about these things? As Christians, we believe that the Bible is God’s Word, without error. All of it, from Genesis to Revelation was God-breathed, inspired, by the Holy Spirit as He gave to the chosen writers the words they used and the thoughts which they expressed. What claim does this holy Word make about God as we read it in our text this morning?
A couple things stand out from Isaiah 6. God is a God of purity, awe, splendor, and majesty. He is the thrice holy God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—one God in three divine persons. He is not simply a belief. God exists. Isaiah saw Him, the King, sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. In the presence of this divine Trinity angels cover their faces and their feet in respect and reverence. And at the sight of this God the great prophet bemoans his uncleanness and that of his nation. Isaiah fears that this encounter with the very real God will cause his death. “Woe to me! For I am destroyed; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of angel armies!”
One doesn’t fear death from a belief system. One doesn’t fear being destroyed by a warm-fuzzy, gentle, loving grandfather-type figure. Death is not a fear produced by spiritual peacefulness. Death is feared when a sinful human being enters into the presence of Him who is thrice holy—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The holiness of God is to the sinner a consuming fire. Isaiah 33:14, “The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: ‘Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?’” Humans cannot be in the presence of God without dying, so Isaiah’s fear is completely justified. It is a warranted and necessary fear. God said to Moses, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live.” (Exodus 33:20)
“Woe to me!” Isaiah cried as he waited for certain death to destroy him because he the sinner could not stand in the presence of God’s very real holiness. Think sin doesn’t matter? Isaiah knew it did! As David wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (vv. 3-4) God has the right to punish sinners. In His holiness and purity, God is completely just in demanding our death for our transgressions against His holiness and His perfect commands.
But note well what God doesn’t do in our text. Isaiah is not destroyed. The very real God, whom Isaiah sees, commands one of His angelic royal guards to take a burning coal from the incense altar and touch Isaiah’s lips with it. With this “sacramental” action, by means of the burning coal, God removes Isaiah’s sins from Him. God forgives him. The seraph said to the prophet, “Behold, this has touched upon your lips. Your iniquity is turned aside and your sin is atoned for.”
The majestic God Himself by His divine action removes Isaiah’s uncleanness and makes it possible for Isaiah to stand in His presence and answer His call to service, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” God turning aside (forgiving) sin and its guilt is a gracious action on His part. It is an action that makes it possible for Isaiah to have a personal relationship with the Lord, an intimate and warm relationship and not one of fear. For Him who sits on the throne is very One who’s vicarious life and death would take away the sin of the whole world! And you know who that is! Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the very Son of God.
Seated on the throne, high and lifted up, is God the Son, whom Isaiah sees covered in a long, long robe, His holiness and glory obscured also by the smoke the incense altar. John tells us in his Gospel, in chapter 12:41, “Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ’s glory, and spoke about him.” (John 12:41 NET) Isaiah, in his own time, saw the glory of Jesus, the Word who in the fullness of time because flesh and dwelt among us so that we, too, might see his glory, glory as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) A mere belief? A figment of imagination? No, the real, true God made human flesh, yet without sin, dwelling among sinners to remove our iniquity and atone for our sin.
If sin were not serious, the incarnate Christ would not have taken away our sins through the “burning coal” of His cross. Because sin is so serious and has destroyed our relationship with God, Jesus allowed the consuming fire of God’s holiness to destroy Him as He hung on the cross, bearing our sins and suffering death in our place. Jesus died for Isaiah, for you and me, so that we would be saved from the punishment of death and hell. On the cross, Christ shed His blood to atone for our sins, making us “at-one” with God.
Now, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have a personal relationship with the one Triune God. In Holy Baptism, God puts His very name on us—the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—cleansing our lips, our hearts, our bodies and souls from sin and rescuing us from the power of death and the devil. God has made us His own children, brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are cleansed from sin so that we are able to praise God and give Him the honor and glory due His name. We are set free from sin to serve our Lord with our whole lives in body, mind, and spirit. And part of that service includes speaking for God, telling others that He is real, that He is personal, and that He sent His only Son to be Savior of the world from sin and death. Yes, God is the holy God who hates sin, but He is the gracious God who also loves the sinner, and He proved it by sending Jesus. Because of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of His life into death, the sins of the world are forgiven. Because of Jesus Christ and His resurrection on the third day, death itself is conquered. We have nothing to fear.
You and I and all people are now able to approach the throne of our holy God our King without fear because we are forgiven. Our sins have been atoned for by Jesus Christ. Our relationship with the one, Triune God is made right. Therefore, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” from the God who is real, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, whom we worship in faith along with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, “Holy, holy, holy!” Amen. (Heb. 4:16)