Monday, June 4, 2012

Holy Trinity (Series B, Isaiah 6:1-8)

On the Lord’s Day, sitting in the Lord’s house, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Did you catch that? I, the prophet, saw the Lord. I saw His throne, I saw His temple, I saw His attendants, I saw His glory. I saw what your eyes long to see, I saw what you can only dream about. And let me tell you today, seeing the glory of the Lord isn’t the wonderful experience that you think it would be. Yes, dear Christians, I’ve heard you talk, I’ve heard your songs. There are a lot of people going around talking about seeing God. You modern Christians are desperate for the kind of vision I saw. There is even a recent Christian song titled, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.” The refrain goes like this: “I want to see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory.” Do you even know what you’re asking for? I’ve seen the Lord, high and lifted up. I’ve seen the Lord, shining in the light of His glory. I’m part of an exclusive group of God’s servants who have been granted access into the heavenly throne room. Moses, Ezekiel, Daniel, and John saw what I have seen, and dear friends in Christ, it isn’t something to take lightly. I saw the Lord, and yes it was glorious, yes it was beautiful, yes it was amazing; that’s what made it so terrifying.

I saw the Lord, and I heard the song of heaven. Perhaps you’ve heard it before: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” They said ‘holy’ not once, lest I think that there was only the Father, not twice, lest I think that there was only the Father and the Son. They cried out “Holy, holy, holy” to show that there are three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But yet, they didn’t say, ‘holies,’ lest I think that there were three Gods. Instead, all three persons are ‘holy;’ though they are three, each equally holy, they are together one Holy God, as the Athanasian Creed confesses: “The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods but one God.” One God, three persons. This is a mystery; your mind cannot understand it, you can only confess, you can only worship, you can only sing, adoring the eternal mystery of the Trinity with the chorus of heaven: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth; heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest.”

Then things began to happen. It was as if the mystery of the Trinity, the glory of the eternal God was too much for even God’s own house to handle. “The foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.” The temple itself trembles at God’s presence. Such glory, such majesty cannot appear without effect. Smoke filled the temple; I could no longer see the glorious vision. The thresholds shook; I could no longer enter in. The very glory of the Lord excluded me from the temple; the entrance was barred. The One who sat on the throne was keeping me out! Why? Why couldn’t I enter in, why was I excluded?

Suddenly, in horror, I understood. I couldn’t enter because I couldn’t stand before the holy God. The glory, the power, the majesty of God is pure terror to those who are unclean, and I certainly was unclean. I cried out, “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 Lord of hosts!” I am unclean through and through, covered with the filth of sin I inherited from my parents, but what accused me in that moment was the sin of my lips. God’s Law had told me, “Do not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain,” but I had sullied His Name. I had cursed and swore, I had let filthy language flow freely from my lips. Words that are not appropriate for a Christian came when I was angry or frustrated, but what was even worse was how those words came without thinking. I used them to fit in, to be more like my neighbors, for I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. I let them, rather than God, determine my speech. These lips which were made to praise the Lord were used to curse men and utter unthinkable things.

God’s Law had also told me, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor,” but I had used my words to harm others. Children on the schoolyard may say, ‘Words will never hurt me,’ but words hurt, they cut deep. My words had been weapons, used against my neighbors, my friends, my children, my spouse. I had wielded them effectively, cutting down anyone who offended me or got in my way. But that was only when I launched a direct assault. My stealth weapon was gossip; with that tool, fed by hungry ears, I could destroy someone without them even knowing it was me. God called on me to put the best construction on everything, but around the kitchen table, at coffee, or on the phone I made sure to put the worst construction on all that I heard or saw. These lips were meant to build up, but I used them to destroy. They were truly and utterly filthy. I was truly and utterly filthy.

Do you understand now, Christians, why seeing God’s glory, power, and might is so devastating, so terrifying? I am not holy, and neither are you, and so the only result of seeing the holy God is death itself. God in His naked power and glory is a vision no sinner should want to see. What else could I do but cry out, “Woe is me! For I am lost.”? If you are not holy and stand in the presence of the holy God, the only outcome is destruction. I was lost for eternity, for my eyes had seen God in His holiness, and it was a standard that I couldn’t attain. My destination was separation from Him—forever.

I fell to my knees in guilt, shame, and sheer terror of the judgment to come. But then one of the servants of the living God ran to the altar, which was sitting before the throne. He returned to me, having in his hand a wafer of bread and a chalice of wine. He gave them to me, saying, “Take eat, this is the true Body of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; take drink, this is the true Blood of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” He touched my filthy, sinful lips with the wafer, then with the cup, I ate and drank, and he stood back and declared, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” I knelt there in shocked silence. Could this be true? Could my lips truly be clean? Has my guilt really been taken away, my sin atoned for?

Sensing my questions, the servant of the Lord repeated: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. For what has touched your lips is the sacrifice for your sin, offered up on the altar of the cross by none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. He is the image of the Father, whom you saw upon the throne this day. You are not holy, but Jesus is, and He took upon Himself your guilt and your shame. The Holy One became sin itself for you. The uncleanness of your lips He bore to Calvary, and there He laid down His life for you. You were lost, condemned to eternal death, but in love, He endured that penalty in your place. He offered Himself as the atonement for your sin. His life was what Almighty God required to bring you salvation, to deliver you from sin, death, and hell, and He gladly, lovingly paid it. His death atones for your sins, it covers them completely. Now, today, in the most Holy Supper of His Body and Blood, He gives to you the very price of your redemption to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of your sins. The same Body that hung upon the tree as the acceptable sacrifice; the same Blood poured out there as required price, is given to you here and now to make you holy. Believe what I say to you: Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

I finally understood; by myself, bearing my own uncleanness, I couldn’t stand before God and live. This vision would only bring terror, especially when I stood before the throne of judgment on the Last Day. But if I stood bearing a righteousness that was not my own; if I was made holy and clean by Christ Himself, delivering to me the fruits of His victory through the cross and empty tomb, I didn’t need to fear that Day. I could stand before God with joy, with confidence, with a sure and certain hope, for the judgment on that day will be ‘not guilty,’ ‘holy,’ and ‘righteous.’ My guilt was taken away, for God has removed my sins as far as the east is from the west; my sin has been atoned for by death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and now, only in Him, can I stand before the glory of Almighty God.

Then I heard a voice from the throne room saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” The one with filthy lips made clean by the atonement of Christ is called on to speak with those lips the glorious and life-giving Gospel. The one who has been forgiven is to proclaim forgiveness to others. The one transformed and regenerated is to be a living message, a visible sermon, of what Jesus has done for the entire world. The darkness of God’s judgment and the condemnation of the Law is real, it is terrifying, it must be spoken to the world. But the answer is found in Christ; only in Christ. Jesus and His death is the solution to impurity, to uncleanness, to the penalty of the Law. He atoned for my sin, and He atoned for yours and for the entire world. There is no person on this planet that doesn’t need to hear this message, and the only ones who can proclaim it are those who have heard it first themselves. They have been redeemed, purified, made holy in order to proclaim the saving Gospel to others. How can I keep from speaking of what God has done for me in Christ? “Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.” Amen.

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