Isaiah 6:1-7: “Holy! Holy! Holy!” to the Holy Trinity

Isaiah Vision (610x351)Isaiah was having a bad day. He was in the Temple, offering the daily burnt sacrifice for the sins of Israel. It was a straightforward task, no different from the many other times that he had stood before the Lord’s altar. Isaiah had years of practice being a priest. Making such sacrifices, for him, may have even become routine.

But this day was different. Isaiah had offered the sacrifice, and it was burning on the altar. The smoke of the sacrifice was rising, and Isaiah was getting ready to go out to the people and announce that God had received and accepted the sacrifice. He would use the words that we hear at the end of every service. “The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The LORD look upon you with favor and give you peace!” (Numbers 6:24-26).

When the priest drained the blood of the sacrificial animal and burned its body on the altar, he had completed the sacrifice that God had demanded. God explained why in the book of Leviticus. “The life of a creature is in the blood. So I have given this blood for you to make atonement for your lives on the altar, for the blood itself makes atonement through the life that is in it” (Leviticus 17:11).

Using the hands of the priest, God offered the sacrifice to Himself to atone for the sins of His people. And once God accepted the sacrifice, He would once again put His name on His people. But on this day, in the year that King Uzziah died, it was different. Isaiah hadn’t yet made his way out of the Temple to put God’s Name on God’s people. He hadn’t yet gone out to apply the forgiveness that God gave through that sacrifice to the people.

The Temple was the place where God had chosen to be with His people. Heaven was God’s throne, and the Temple was His footstool (Isaiah 66:1). And although Isaiah knew that, although he had confessed that truth his entire life, he had never seen it. God had never revealed Himself in that way to Isaiah. He only knew that God was there through the Word of God that He had heard, read, studied, and preached.

But everything changed that day. Before Isaiah could go out to bring God’s forgiveness to the people, God opened his eyes to the greater reality of what was going on. God let Isaiah see Him in all His glory. Isaiah also saw angels surrounding God’s throne and worshiping Him. He saw angels covering their eyes, so they would not look on the holy God and be consumed by the glory of His presence.

Isaiah knew that God’s angels were holy and sinless. He knew that these angels, these heavenly beings and messengers of God, had not violated the Lord’s command, not even once since God had created them. They were the perfect and blameless servants of the perfect and holy God.

But if the holy angels covered their eyes because they were not good enough to gaze on God’s glory, what chance did Isaiah have? Even worse, he didn’t even have the time to hide his face, so sudden did God’s vision come to him.

Isaiah was a fallen and sinful human. He was a priest wearing, at that moment, robes stained with blood from the sacrifice that he had just made. He had looked on what even the holy angels were afraid to behold. Isaiah was, indeed, having a bad day.

After seeing God seated on His throne, and listening to the hymn that God’s angels had sung, Isaiah said what any reasonable human being would have said. He said, “How terrible it will be for me! I am destroyed, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5).

Notice how Isaiah described his sinfulness. Was he sinful because he had not loved his neighbor as God expected? Of course, just like you and me! But that’s not what Isaiah confessed. Instead, he cried out that he was a man of unclean lips who lived among a people of unclean lips. That was the sin that troubled him.

What had Isaiah just heard, moments earlier? He heard the angels sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty! His glory fills the entire earth!” (Isaiah 6:3). Although it might sound like generic praise, it wasn’t. The angels had praised God in the way that recognized how God often referred to Himself in the Old-Testament Scriptures.

In Genesis, God referred to Himself as “we” and “us.” When God created the universe, He was present in three ways. The Spirit of God hovered over the waters, God the Father spoke, and the Word that God had spoken was Jesus, THE Word of God. During creation, God revealed Himself in three ways, not two, not four.

When God created Adam, He said, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26). There’s a plurality when it comes to God. Think about when God had visited Abraham. He visited Abraham in the form of three men, not two, not four. Genesis reads:

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre as he was sitting at the entrance of his tent, in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing there. When Abraham saw them, he ran from the tent’s entrance to meet them and bowed low to the ground. “My Lord,” he said, “if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by and leave your servant.” [Genesis 18:1-3]

Centuries later, when God commanded Aaron to put His name on His people, Aaron was to speak the Lord’s name three times, not two, not four. And Isaiah heard the angels cry out the word “holy” three times, not two, not four, but three.

But God is not just three, He is also one. God also expressed Himself as a unity: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

The clean lips of the holy angels say, “Holy, holy, holy,” confessing the Holy Trinity in the way that they praise God. They delighted in who God was from eternity. They were even pointing forward to God showing Himself to all when Jesus would become incarnate to save fallen humanity.

God would reveal Himself as Three-in-One at Jesus’ baptism. And so it’s no surprise that God would choose to bring someone into His New Covenant through baptism. The one God will put His name of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” on His people through the water and word of baptism.

The holy angels sing of God the Father. They sing of God the Son, who will die a death that we may have eternal life. And they sing of God the Holy Spirit, who will create faith in the hearts of His people. That’s why we can receive the life that Jesus gives, who makes us right, once more, with God the Father.

But Isaiah’s lips are not like the lips of the holy angels. Such genuine praise of God didn’t naturally come to his lips as it did for the angels. He was, indeed, a man of unclean lips who lived among a people of unclean lips. And, yet, even though Isaiah was fallen and sinful, he did not die in God’s presence. Although he experienced God in all His glory, his sins did not kill him. Why?

Here’s why: One angel took a burning coal from the altar and touched it to Isaiah’s lips. Then he said, “Now that this coal has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away, and your sin is forgiven” (Isaiah 6:7). An angel applies the sin-forgiving work of God through the sacrifice that was just made. A burning lump of coal from the altar of that sacrifice came to Isaiah’s unclean mouth, and he was unclean no more.

God had taken Isaiah’s sins and sent them to die in that sacrificial animal. That was how God had restored Isaiah to Himself. He had forgiven his sins. All was now well between God and Isaiah.

But how is that enough? Even the angels covered their faces to keep from seeing God in His glory. God did use the animal sacrifice and the angel to deliver His forgiveness to Isaiah, but why can he look at God and the angels can’t? It’s because the angels are not human beings; they are not the crown of God’s creation.

God did not create angels in His image, according to His likeness. When God had created man, that was when He said that creation—was not just good—but “very good” (Genesis 1:31)! We have a special place in God’s heart, for we are the ones whom God created to have a unique communion with Him.

Of all creation, Adam and Eve were different. God had spoken everything else into being. But for Adam, God formed him from the dust of the earth and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life. For Eve, God created her from Adam. Only when God created humanity did He get down on His hands and knees.

But, of course, we fell into sin. But instead of God throwing us away, He made the most extraordinary promise. He, not someone else, would take up mankind’s cause; God would become a man. God would be born as a man, live as a man, and die as a man. Jesus would take our sin into Himself to win life and salvation for us.

God is no angel but, in the Person of Jesus, He is a man. The animal sacrifice that day, pointing forward to Jesus, THE sacrifice for all sins, was the real reason Isaiah could look on the face of God and live. As both God and man, Jesus would fulfill all the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant, making peace between God and man.

It was Christ’s forgiveness from the cross yet to come that touched Isaiah’s unclean lips that day. And that’s why Christ’s sacrifice, from the cross, also touches our unclean lips, when Jesus gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink.

That’s the God you have. He has reserved His greatest gifts for you. Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the Undivided Unity. We give Him all glory because He has shown His mercy to us, even me and you. He has not counted your unclean lips against you but, instead, has given you forgiveness and eternal life. Amen.