1In 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. 2Above 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. 3And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lordof hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And 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 Lordof hosts!” 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Why do you come to church?
Last year, Gallop polled fifteen hundred adultsto see why they go to church. They gave seven options, and here is the order those options were ranked:
- Sermons or talks that teach me more about Scripture.
- Sermons or talks that help connect religion to my life.
- Spiritual programs geared toward my children.
- Lots of community outreach and volunteer opportunities.
- A leader who is interesting and inspiring.
- Social activities to get to know people in my community.
- Good music.
Do you notice anything missing from that list? Anyone? Bueller?
No mention of receiving forgiveness.
Each of those responses is starting with the premise that when Christians gather together they are the ones doing something. “I’m learning. I’m becoming more religious. I’m doing my duty for my children. I’m helping my community.” And each of these responses is dead wrong.
When Christians gather together to hear God’s Word, God is the One who is acting, and we are the ones being acted upon. He sends His Word to convict of sin. And God sends His Word to forgive sin. That is why we want our service to be filled with Scripture. We want everything to be centered around God’s Word – Law and Gospel.
Isaiah tells us about what happened to him while he was at church one day.
Isaiah was a normal dude. He wasn’t a priest, so Isaiah couldn’t enter the holy places of the Temple. So, Isaiah is in the courtyard of the Temple where the laity would gather to offer their sacrifices and hear the Word of God. It was how God’s people did church in Isaiah’s day.
But while he is there, God gives Isaiah this vision to see what is really happening. Isaiah sees the Lord high, lifted up, and sitting on the throne. In the Gospel of John, we are told that Isaiah saw Jesus on that throne (Jn. 12:41) with the train of His glorious robe filling the Temple.
But Jesus isn’t alone. With Him are the seraphim – glowing, fiery angels with six wings. Why six wings? God didn’t create them with unnecessaryparts, and they aren’t mutations. These angels are perfect. Perfectly created, and perfect in their conduct. The angels never sinned and didn’t need to be redeemed. But even they need to cover the parts that show their creatureliness.
Each seraph calls out, “Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” This threefold ‘holy’ is not just repetition. Each of these holy’s stands on its own; it could be translated, “Holy One. Holy One. Holy One.” Three distinct Holy Ones each deserving of praise. Isaiah only sees one – Jesus, but the seraphim are worshipping Three – Holy Father, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit.
Isaiah sees and hears this as he is there to worship at the Temple, and it is true for us, even though we don’t see it, every time we gather for worship as well. Every time Christians gather together, more are there than can be seen. Jesus promises that the Trinity is with even the smallest congregation (Mt. 18:20).
Hebrews 12[:22–23]tells us that there are many more here today than our eyes can see, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.”
Isaiah sees what we can’t see, and he hears the worship we can’t hear. So he cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” Essentially, Isaiah is saying, “I’m cooked.” Before the lofty throne of the Almighty, Eternal, Triune, Holy God, Isaiah figures God is there to punish him. How incredibly sad!
Isaiah is a Christian. He believes that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex. 34:6-7).
If God had wanted to judge Isaiah, He could have opened up a hole in the ground and swallowed Isaiah to the pits of hell. God doesn’t toy around when it comes to executing judgment.
But Isaiah knows his sin. He knows that his sin isn’t something outside of him that sort of hovers over him. And his sin isn’t just something recorded in a divine naughty-or-nice list. Instead, Isaiah knows that his sin is on his lips, in his body, and part of who he is.
We wouldn’t have done any better than Isaiah did if we had this same encounter. We would have been just as terrified. The sins that we commit and don’t even think about would have been equally exposed. And we know that we have no excuse and no alibi when standing before the God and judge of all creation. We would rightly fear the Holy Trinity who after killing the body can throw us into hell (Mt. 10:28).
But when God appears to sinners. He isn’t there to destroy them. He is there to redeem them, forgive them, and comfort them. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
That seraph, that messenger of God, takes a burning coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips, and absolves him: “See this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
What comes right after this text is comical. We, at least I, forget that sometimes. There is the Holy, Holy, Holy, Triune God and forgiven Isaiah. And God asks a question. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” God could have just given Isaiah his marching orders, “Ok, Isaiah. Now that I’ve forgiven you, you’re going to do something for Us.”
No, God gives Isaiah a chance to confess that he is forgiven. And Isaiah does, “Here am I. Send me.” Isaiah, the man cleansed of unclean lips, is given the task of proclaiming God’s Word as God’s prophet.
And you here today, you saints, you who have come into the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy God, you too have been cleansed. Your guilt has also been taken away. Your sin has been completely atoned for. As you leave this place, go with a clean conscience. Go and do everything that God calls you to do this week. Go be God’s salt and light in this world.
And come back. Come back next week before the throne of God to once again receive His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds inChrist Jesus. Amen.