Isaiah 6:1-7: Holy, Holy, Holy

Isaiah, the Lord, and the SeraphimTo gaze on the glory of God in all His grandeur!  In our wildest imaginings, this vision hypnotizes our senses and seizes our hearts.  Such foolishness!  For in our fallen state, we will be devastated.  Every fiber of our being will convulse in terror, with our tongues left stammering.  The glimpse will burn us in a blaze too intense for us to bear.

Ponder what the prophet experienced.  The Ruler of all allows him to peek into a world removed from our eyes.  In a revelation, the earth fades from his sight, and the glories from beyond greet him.  The Lord Himself, Yahweh, is seated on His throne, with the hem of His robe filling the Temple like billows of sweet incense.

The six-winged messengers soar above.  In humility, they hide their faces before the power of heaven.  With wings propelling them, they chant a thrice “Holy” refrain, revealing Yahweh as the Three-in-One God.  The Sanctuary quakes at the voice of the heavenly liturgy, the smoke of the incense infusing the house with fragrance.

So, how does Isaiah respond—or what doesn’t he say?  What doesn’t sound forth is this, “I always wanted to experience God in His splendor!”  No.  The prophet of old, instead, speaks what is true.  The words, “I am a dead man!” pierce the air.  Why?  “For I am a man of unclean lips, and live among a people of unclean lips.  The King, Yahweh of Armies, is before my eyes.”

The prophet realizes death will soon grasp him.  To set eyes on sheer Divinity, as he testifies, bristles with menace and danger.  A total and complete Holiness radiates from God’s essence, ensnaring Isaiah’s soul as panic strikes to the core of his being.

Strange.  Should the sight of the Almighty terrify him?  Yes!  For the disease of our fallen corruption contaminates him.  So terror grips his heart as he stands in front of the all-perfect One as an imperfect man!

Like him, sin also sullies us, and we also live among others who are, likewise, tainted.  Each lie, hate-filled word, or piece of twisted gossip dripping from our tongues stains us with ruin.  Like Isaiah, we can’t say or do anything to redeem our failures or make them right.  The magnificence of the Almighty strikes us silent.

The worst place for someone to be, with a defective, corrupt nature, is in God’s presence.  For only damnation awaits such a person, as he careens toward everlasting destruction.  So responsible is each for his failings, for wicked are his deeds before the righteous Ruler of all creation.

Exposed before the Truth, the all-knowing One, Isaiah cannot lie or deceive.  Oh, he might dupe all the world, but he can’t fool the omniscient One.  The fierce righteousness of Yahweh burns with such clarity, leaving him naked and vulnerable, with nothing left hidden.

For a moment, let’s stop focusing on the man and his despair and gaze on the fiery creatures flying in front of their Creator.  These winged angels are sinless, confirmed in the blessing they received at creation.  Long ago, they cast out Satan and his devils but remain unstained by our fallen ways.

So, should the Seraphim fear their immortal King in any way?  Still, they cover their eyes and feet, bowing their heads in deepest reverence.  Though without an ounce of iniquity, they do not presume to stare at the Lord who called them into being.

Other than their Maker, no one is more blameless than these shining messengers.  Unlike us, they are unfallen—but still, they echo the triple-repeated “Holy.”  For all to receive, they cry out their confession of the Triune God in the liturgy from above.

Different from the angels, Isaiah stands before His Maker as a man formed in his mother’s womb, inheriting death from his forbears.   So, he is a man with tainted lips.  No wonder he cries out, “I’m doomed!”

So, he realizes he cannot long endure and remain alive.  For he is only a man, diseased and blemished with an inherited perversion.  The Book of Deuteronomy corrects us if we think we can frolic before our Creator as sinful creatures.  For “Yahweh is a consuming fire,” a devouring purity, which destroys the ungodly (Deuteronomy 4:24).  “The hearts of people are full of evil, and madness is in their minds while they live.”  So declares Ecclesiastes 9:3.

Dear saints, this is why Isaiah weeps and wails.  Like him, learn humility in the presence of the King of glory.  Confess what we would be without the Divine’s acquittal, “I’m a dead man walking.”  Tremble with awe at the holiness of God.  Fall before Him, knowing you are but dust and to the ground, you will return.  Join the prophet in declaring the truth, “Mourn for me,” as you lay bare the filth of your being.

Learn to fear the Lord, for such is the seed from which wisdom develops (Proverbs 9:10).  No one outgrows this need for greatest reverence.  For when we do not bow awestruck before our Maker, we are thinking too much of ourselves and not enough of our divine Master.

In his trembling and weeping, however, Isaiah learns wisdom includes more than fearing the Triune God.  For a blazing angel thrusts a pair of tongs into the fire of Heaven’s forgiving altar.  Born from the flames approaches a glow of searing heat, shimmering, as the Seraph carries a burning ember his way.

The heat, glaring and intense, comes closer and closer.  The angel scorches the mouth of the prophet, purging him inside and out.  A reviving release of joy now surpasses Isaiah’s worry and fright.  For the angel whispers, “This coal touched your lips, so your guilt is gone, and your sin is no more.”

Behold the mercy of Yahweh!  For the sin-infected man doesn’t singe into a cinder.  The Lord, who is an all-consuming fire, does not reduce him to dust and ash.

Did you detect what the angel didn’t do?  The angel didn’t tell Isaiah his faults and wickedness aren’t real—as if our sins don’t matter to pure and virtuous God.  No, he transports the radiant ember, which will come with grace and pull the prophet from the carnage of his eternal death.  The problem is not overlooked but cleansed.

The airborne angel took a purifying coal from the place of sacrifice to give out the absolution from above.  The prophet now finds himself to be holy.  The messenger from the realms of eternity delivered amnesty, not death.  The man who earlier foretold his doom is now rejoicing, with all his faults forgiven.

Like the fiery angels, Isaiah is now pure.  The Almighty declared as much, and what He speaks comes into being.  What does this mean?  This day, the same Three-in-One Lord is living and active in His Church, delivering to you His cleansing from above.

How so?  The body and blood of Jesus descend from His altar to touch your lips.  In this way, God pulls you from the wreckage of your sin and shame.  The life in Your Redeemer’s death now comes your way.  Soon, here in this place, His body, resurrected and glorified, forever beyond the grasp of the grave, will come to you.

In a few moments, our Savior’s body and blood will meet you and make you clean.  For Eternity will stoop down to take your failings and cast them all away, making you whole and giving you life.  Listen to your Lord: “The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood receives eternal life, and I will raise him to life on the Last Day” (John 6:54).

For you can’t pull yourself up to heaven.  Be glad you don’t need to, for the Father sent His Son to become your rescue.  From timeless splendor, Jesus humbled Himself to be your Bringer of salvation, dying your death to restore and renew your life.

The Son unites you to His Father, which is the only reason you can call Him “Father.”  In ways beyond our reckoning, Jesus makes you one with the Godhead.  Such is the reality taking place in His Blessed Supper.  By receiving Christ, you commune with God and live in Him, as He, too, communes and lives in you.

From this altar, a messenger of Christ will take the body, sacrificed and risen, and place its purifying essence to your lips.  For Jesus still comes to you with the Father’s forgiveness, cleansing you, so you also can rejoice and sing.

Like the prophet of old, you become one without blame.  For Christ not only redeemed you, in a past-tense event.  No, He redeems you in the present tense, as well.  For you never outgrow your need for salvation.  In baptism, through water and the Word, you are born from above.  In His Supper, your Savior feeds you every week with life unending, joining the righteousness He is to yourself.

So, celebrate this gift of grace.  Rejoice!  For the whole Trinity is directed toward your eternal deliverance.  The Father loves you, so He sent the Son.  The Son loves you, and so He sent the Spirit from the Father.  The Spirit comes to comfort you through Word and Sacrament, bringing you to Jesus, who brings you to the Father.

The Trinity is not some grand mystery but your salvation.  For the saving love of Father, Son, and Spirit endures forever.  Behold, the Son touches your lips, your guilt is gone, and your sins are no more.  By the blood of the cross, you receive forgiveness and righteous once more.  Yes, you can now stand before God and be glad in Him.  Amen.