Be in Awe of the Triune God
A sermon based on Isaiah 6:1-8
Sunday, May 31, 2015 – Holy Trinity B
When I first read our text for this morning, a movie scene popped into my head. I know I'm revealing my nerdiness with this introduction, and I'm sorry if you've never seen the movie, but there's this particular scene in the first Lord of the Rings movie: The Fellowship of the Rings. Frodo has just made it through the mountains and is spending his first night with the elves. And as he is holding the one ring to rule them all, Galadriel, the elven princess approaches. He offers the ring to her as she is more fit to carry the burden, he believes. And enticed by the power that the ring offers, Galadriel show her true colors. She suddenly begins to grow in the scene taking up the whole screen. She begins to glow with a brilliant light that is both beautiful and terrifying. Her voice gains a bass undertone that frightens Frodo. And as she considers the power offered her she declares, "All shall love me and despair."
I imagine that the way the fictional Frodo might have felt in that scene is the way the historical Isaiah might have felt when he had his vision of God. He saw God huge, the train of his robe filling the entire temple. He saw God powerful, shaking the very foundations of the temple. He saw God surrounded by angels, glowing like fire. And he was in awe of what he saw.
Our text for this morning describes that vision that Isaiah saw as he was commissioned to be a prophet of the Lord. It's recorded for us in Isaiah 6:1-8…
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
I. Fearing the Father
Can you put yourself in Isaiah's sandals? Can you imagine seeing what he saw? He saw God himself, seated on a throne in the temple. The train of his robe filled the temple. And seraphs, literally, "burning ones" or "fiery ones" were flying above him. What a terrifying vision it must have been!
Especially since Isaiah knew that God had once told Moses,"you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." (Exodus 33:20) He knew how Mount Sinai was once covered in smoke and the people trembled when the presence of God himself descended upon it. (Exodus 19) Now, here he stood looking at God himself when even his holy, sinless angels were unable to look directly at him but had to cover their faces with their wings.
And when they spoke, they called out the praises of the Triune God with a triple "Holy!" The word for "holy" in the Hebrew is kadosh! I remember the word by thinking of depth charges going off in the ocean that are so powerful that they shake any ship nearby (ever seen the movie U571?) and they rip apart those that are too close.
"Kadosh! Kadosh! Kadosh!" the angels cried! And the temple shook! Kadosh is the Lord, Jehovah, I AM, the One who is totally independent of anyone or anything. Kadosh is the Almighty, the One who is totally powerful to do whatever he pleases. And how Isaiah must have shook and trembled.
"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."
Isaiah was a righteous man in the community. He was one of the good guys. But no matter how good others in the community viewed him, Isaiah knew he had rebelled against God. He had unclean lips. He had spoken words in frustration that he ought not have spoken. He had gossiped. He had had lied. He had not spoken the truth of God as he ought. And he was filled with terror. "Woe to me!" [he] cried. "I am ruined!" He knew that it would be presumptuous and arrogant to claim, "I tried to do good and live as you wanted, God. At least I'm better than most." No. He knew that he was empty handed before a holy God. He knew that he stood condemned before a holy God. And even the frightening power of an atomic bomb is small and puny compared to the holiness—Kadosh!—of God.
We too, ought to stand terrified before a righteous God. For we too know how we have sinned—how we have rebelled against him. We too are a people of unclean lips. For we have lied. We have gossiped. We have remained silent when we should have spoken up to defend others. We have remained silent when we should have spoken up to declare the praises of God. We too know that we ought to be terrified by the glory of God the Father and cry out with Isaiah, "Woe to me! … I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips." We too know, "that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God." (cf. Romans 3:19)
We know that God hates sin and that because of his holiness he must destroy sin like an antiseptic must attack bacteria. And we too stand in awe of God, fearing the Father for the wrath we know that we deserve.
But God did not destroy Isaiah. He wouldn't die, but would live. And he does not destroy us. Instead he saves us…
II. Saved by the Son
When Isaiah saw God, he rightly cried, "Woe to me! … I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips…" For he was a sinner who had displeased God. But to his surprise, he was not ruined. Instead, when Isaiah acknowledged his guilt to God, God, in his grace, did something about it.
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth…
One of the burning ones, one of the seraphs, brought a live coal in his hand—a coal which was taken from the altar, the place of sacrifice. And whether it was miraculously cool to the touch as this was just a vision or whether it literally burned Isaiah's lips and tongue, leaving a physical scar and a very vivid reminder of this event every day of his life to follow, of one thing we can be certain: it's effect.
With [the live coal] he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
The coal from the altar—the place of sacrifice where God so graphically and vividly illustrated that sin must be punished with death but that God would allow a substitute to die in the place of man—had taken Isaiah's sin away as if it had been completely burned up!
Literally, where the NIV says, "Your guilt is taken away," is "Your guilt has been removed." In other words, it's past tense. It's complete. It's done. There was nothing left for Isaiah to do. His guilt had been removed. His sin had been atoned for. He would not be ruined. He would not die, but would live.
Of course, for you and I, the altar is still a reminder of sacrifice. And above our altar, we have a symbol of the ultimate sacrifice to which all the Old Testament sacrifices pointed. We know of the once for all sacrifice that Jesus made on the altar of the cross. And through that altar, God has removed our guilt and atoned for our sin. And it's still past tense. It's complete. It's done. There is nothing left for us to do.
And now, it's not a live coal, but Jesus' very body that touches our mouths every other week and assures us again and again: "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
So we cry, "Woe to me! I am unclean!" in sincere repentance, acknowledging our guilt before God confident of his reply: "You are forgiven by grace." For when we fear the Father, we know we are also saved by the Son. And we too stand in awe of God, rejoicing in the awesome grace he shows us in his own Son.
And that grace changes us. It cannot leave us the same as we were. Instead we are eager to live for God and give all that we have and are to him…
III. Sent by the Spirit
After Isaiah went from sheer terror to forgiven, he was a changed man. He says, Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And Isaiah's response was immediate: And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
Isaiah went from terror at God's wrath to peace at God's forgiveness to eager servant willing to do whatever God asked. But what caused such a change? How could he go from crying in sheer terror, "Woe to me!" to crying in eager zeal, filled with courage and joy, "Here am I. Send me!" "I'll go! I'll do it! Send me to do your will! Me, me! Pick me!"?!
Well, you know the answer because God has worked the same miracle in you. The Holy Spirit worked a miracle in the prophet through faith in the forgiveness that he received. Forgiven by God, his fear was replaced with courage and zeal and Isaiah became an eager volunteer.
This week someone sent me a video where a man was conducting a social experiment. He pretended to be homeless and held up a cardboard sign that read, "No one ever became poor by giving too generously." But here's the experiment: instead of begging for money on the sidewalk, he was giving money away.
Several people were upset with him. "I don't need your charity! I make so much more than you ever could!" they'd shout and curse him out as they stormed off. But one woman was so moved by his generous act, that she went from, "I'm sorry. I don't have any cash," to telling the truth, "I don't need your money. Actually, I do have cash. Here take this, go buy yourself some breakfast," and handed him several bills. Another man was so moved that someone that he believed had so little offered his last $10 to him, that he pulled out a huge wad of cash from his pocket and said, "Here, man. This is all for you. Keep it. I love your message. It's so positive."
That's sort of how the Gospel works, but on a much grander scale. God hasn't just given us $10 out of his poverty. He's given us his own Son to take away our guilt and atone for our sin. Some people don't want it. They'd rather earn whatever it is they get—even if it's hell. But for us, God the Holy Spirit has worked faith in our hearts. We believe that though we deserve hell for our many sins, God, in his grace, gives us forgiveness, pardon, and peace. And the the Holy Spirit works another a miracle in us through faith in that forgiveness we have received. He replaces our fear with courage and a zeal to become an eager volunteer. We're eager to read God Word to see what he commands. And we're eager to do whatever it is we find there to show our thanks to him. We say of our money, of our time, of our resources, of our very selves, "Here, God. This is all for you. Keep it. I love your grace. It's so awesome!"
And what does God ask of us? God wants us to speak for him! The Triune God says, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" God wants to send sinful, weak, human people like me, like you to speak for him! He could have chosen seraphs, but he chose us! How incredible! And we respond to his grace, And [say], "Here am I. Send me!"
Frodo must have been terrified at the sight of Galadriel who could have so easily destroyed him and taken the one ring of power. And he stood in awe at her great power! But in the end, he knew she was there to help him and not to hurt him, so he found great comfort in his new ally and courage to go on his journey. And though we would rightly be terrified at seeing God himself, who could so easily destroy us and send us to hell, just as Isaiah did. And we stand in awe of our Triune God. We rightly fear the Father. But we know that he is here to help us by his grace and not to hurt us. We know that we are saved by the Son and we find great comfort in his grace and courage to live for him, to speak for him, and, sent by the Spirit, to say to him, "Here am I. Send me!" In the name of our Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, dear friends, amen.