“Holy, Holy, Holy Is the Lord of Hosts”
(Isaiah 6:1-8 – Holy Trinity – May 30, 2021)
Isaiah 6:1-8 – 1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” 4And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because 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.” 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” 8Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
Dear Redeemed of God in Christ:
“Holy, Holy, Holy Is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (vs. 3). This is the cry of the angelic hosts, as they surround the throne of their Lord in heaven. The word “holy” in the Hebrew is Kadosh, which has the basic meaning of being separate or set apart.
The angels worship Him who is set apart in His Triune nature. They see Him face to face as He is. They see God the Father, who has existed from all eternity; they see God the Son, not created but eternally begotten of His Father; and they see God the Holy Spirit, not created but eternally proceeding from the Father and Son. “Holy, Holy, Holy” they cry, worshiping Him as just one God, yet three Persons sharing equal majesty, power, and glory from all eternity.
The angels worship Him who is set apart as the Creator of all things in heaven and earth. These seraphim, as their name implies, are fiery beings who themselves were created by God. As Hebrews 1:7 describes: “And of the angels He says: ‘Who makes His angels spirits and His ministers a flame of fire.'” The angels themselves are awesome and powerful; yet as creatures of God, they are His humble servants. As Isaiah sees the seraphs hovering around the throne of God, ready to serve at His command, he reports: “each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew” (vs. 2). So even these awesome beings must cover their faces and their feet in humble reverence in the presence of their Creator’s holiness.
“Holy, Holy, Holy Is the LORD of Hosts!” As Isaiah beholds the angelic hosts worshiping the thrice Holy One who is set apart from all His creation, he is moved to holy fear and awe in the presence of God. And like the prophet, as we come before the holy Lord in worship today: 1) We fearfully confess our sinfulness before Him; yet, 2) We thankfully see how He takes away our sin; and then, 3) We joyfully proclaim His salvation to others.
1) We fearfully confess our sinfulness before Him
As the angels join their voices in worship, Isaiah reports: “One cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’ And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because 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’ ” (vs. 3-5).
In heaven, the angels join their voices in perfect, joyful worship of Him who is holy. For the angels themselves are holy, in the sense that they are without any sin. Just the praises of the seraphs were enough to shake the doors of God’s heavenly temple and fill it with smoke. But what filled Isaiah with fear was not the angels, but the holy Lord God Almighty, whom he saw “sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (vs. 1).
God’s holiness means that He is completely set apart from sinners as the perfect, sinless God. As such, by His very nature He hates sin with His entire being. Because of His holiness, God judges sin as evil that is opposed to His very being. He must destroy sin, as an antiseptic must kill bacteria. God would cease to be holy if He did not oppose sin, punish it, and destroy it.
In His holy Law, our Creator rightfully demands of us, as His creatures: “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Jesus said in Matthew 5:48: “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Anything less than holy and perfect is unacceptable to God. As James 2:10 says: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” The holy Law of God tells us that, as sinners, our best just is not good enough. Even one sin is an offense against the holiness of Him who gives us life and breath. Even one sin is enough to condemn the sinner to hell, in that everlasting separation from the holiness of God, in that burning fire that is never finished punishing sin.
In the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, Isaiah feels his absolute unworthiness as a sinner. Instead of joining the joyful praises of the holy angels, he is filled with fear and dread. In the holy presence of God, sins which might normally be considered small in the eyes of man loom large. Isaiah heard the angels praising God with pure lips, but he was consumed with the uncleanness of his own lips before God, as one who lived among a people of unclean lips.
So also by nature, as sinners living among a fallen race of humanity, as flesh born of flesh, must we not fearfully confess our own sinfulness before the Holy Lord? Sin begins in the heart with evil thoughts, desires, and motives; and how often it manifests itself in unclean words that come across our lips. In moments of frustration, our lips have uttered filthy language and said regrettable things. In moments of anger, we have lashed out with unloving words that hurt others. In moments of revenge, we have gossiped and slandered to hurt another’s reputation. James 3:8-10 laments our sinful condition before the Lord, so often heard in unclean words: “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”
If coming into the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord depended on our holiness, where would we be? Not with the holy angels in heaven, joyfully singing His praise; but as miserable sinners lamenting: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips.”
2) We thankfully see how He takes away our sin
But as we join Isaiah, fearfully confessing our sinfulness before Him, we thankfully see how He takes away our sin. As Isaiah reports: “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged'” (vs. 6-7). The Lord of hosts sent one of His ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:4) with His Word to comfort Isaiah. It was a message of atonement for sin and peace with the holy Lord. So Isaiah saw that His holiness also means He is set apart as the God who forgives and saves.
Here is good news for all of us. The holy God, who hates sin, has not treated us as our sins deserve (Psalm 130:10). We could never make ourselves holy in the sight of God. But in His infinite love and mercy, He has reached across the great gap between His holiness and our sinfulness, and He has found a way cleanse us and present us holy in His sight.
Here the Lord demonstrated this to Isaiah in a symbolic action. One of the seraphim carried a live coal from the altar and touched the prophet’s lips with it, announcing the Lord’s absolution: “Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged” (vs. 9). Fire represents a purifying power. But according to God’s holy Law, no cleansing from sin came from His altar unless a blood sacrifice was made on that altar. That coal of cleansing taken from the altar of sacrifice in the temple pointed to the cleansing for sin God gives by the once and for all blood sacrifice of His Son for us (Hebrews 9:22, 26).
While we were still unholy and unworthy sinners, yet in His perfect love for us, God the Father sent His eternally-begotten Son into the world as our Savior. Jesus was born in our flesh so that He could live the one and only holy life under the Law that counts for our righteousness; and so that He could suffer and die on the cross as the one and only sacrifice that takes away our sin. In Christ, God absolves us of all sin. In Christ, He has forgiven every unclean word we have spoken; and every unholy deed we have done; and even every sinful thought, desire, and motive in the heart. In Christ, the holy God has perfectly reconciled us to Himself, not counting any sin against us; instead, He is counting the holiness of His Son to us. And in His perfect love for us, God the Father and God the Son have sent God the Spirit into our hearts. The Spirit has applied Christ’s cleansing and holiness to us by Baptism and faith.
So from beginning to end, the salvation that has been given to us is a gift of grace, coming from all three Persons of the Triune God. Through the eternal love of God the Father, who sent His Son in time to work out our salvation, and through the faith given us by the Holy Spirit, we stand justified and sanctified by the holy Lord Himself. The Triune God calls us His saints, His holy ones. By grace, God has made His holy children and heirs of eternal life in Christ.
Therefore, in thankfulness to Him who takes away our sins, now we truly can join our hearts and voices in holy worship as His saints in Christ. Now we can look forward to living in His holy presence, and joining the holy angels in singing His perfect praises without end.
3) We joyfully proclaim His salvation to others
And finally, in view of His amazing grace for sinners, we are led joyfully to proclaim His salvation to others. This was Isaiah’s response, as he concludes: “I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me'” (vs. 8).
As we hear the Triune God speaking to Himself in both the singular “I” and the plural “Us,” we see that it is the will of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to send His message of salvation in Christ to all people. And who can best share His Gospel, but sinners who have been saved by His grace, saints who can truly proclaim His praises? Indeed, some of the most effective witnesses of His grace are those who have been lifted up out of the depths of sin and despair into the glorious heights of His forgiveness and salvation. By that grace of God, Isaiah was transformed from his fearful lamentation, “Woe is me, for I am undone!” to his joyful exclamation: ‘Here am I! Send me.”
It is that same grace of God that transforms us into joyful witnesses. He puts His Gospel in our hearts; and by that Gospel He puts new words on our lips, moving us joyfully to proclaim His praises, and to share His forgiveness and love with others. What better Word can we speak to those around us than that which the Triune God gives us? To the one who feels his sinfulness and unworthiness under the holy Law of God, fearful of coming into His holy presence, we can proclaim the Gospel God Himself sends us to share: “Take heart! God loves you so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to take away all your sin and save you from all condemnation; and for Jesus’ sake, He gives you His free gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life!” As we share His Gospel, the Holy Spirit graciously works the faith that receives all these gifts.
So today we join all the angels and saints through the ages in worship of our Triune God. As His holy children, baptized and cleansed in Christ, He opens our lips to show forth His praise: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD.” We worship Him who is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier:
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.