“Clean Lips to Confess Christ ” (Isaiah 6:1-8)
Holy Trinity Sunday (May 30, 2021)
The song of the day is this song of the angels: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory!” Yes, today we boldly proclaim that our God, the true and only God, the truly Holy One; that is, the One set apart from all things, all creation, is thrice holy. To use the term coined by our early church fathers to describe what the Holy Scriptures teach about God’s very essence, He is Triune. He is three set apart persons in one divine being. He alone can be praised as “Holy, holy, holy,” each person holy, yet the three are one holy; one LORD (Yahweh). Hence the liturgical title of this day is, Holy Trinity Sunday.
This Trinity in all of its unique nuances and essence is no more masterfully stated and confessed than in the Athanasian Creed. Here we confess: “…We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance. For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Holy Spirit is another. But the Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal…The Father is not made nor created nor begotten by anyone. The Son is neither made nor created, but begotten of the Father alone. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and of the Son, neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding… In this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another; but the whole three persons are coeternal with each other and coequal…The Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity is to be worshipped” (LSB 319, 320).
Accordingly, we began our worship this morning in the Trinitarian name of God first invoked upon us in our baptism: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” After we confessed our sins, we proclaimed antiphonally the words of the Introit, which contained the following antiphon: “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity.
We have even prayed that God would keep us in the bold confession of the truth of God’s nature, petitioning the Lord in our Collect for the Day: “Almighty and everlasting God, You have given us grace to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of a true faith and to worship the Unity in the power of the Divine Majesty. Keep us steadfast in this faith and defend us from all adversities…”
Then we listened to the Word of the Lord spoken to us by His prophet and apostles. These words not only admonished us for our faulty views on the Trinity but also encouraged us with the blessings The Holy Trinity has brought to us and equipped us to confess Him all the more boldly.
But even outside of the walls of this church we all are also consistently called upon in our vocations as Christians to likewise confess the Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ, as God Incarnate. Such confession might simply be a part of a private conversation or it might actually be called for in a setting of many people. One situation or another, you and I as baptized children of God are called upon to be God’s “kingdom of priests… God’s holy ones…to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Are we willing and motivated confessors of the Holy Trinity? Do we regularly and boldly confess Jesus Christ as True God and Savior? Or do we duck and dive when it comes to opportunities to tell these saving truths to others, especially those who are living in the darkness of falsehood, false religions, and false gods. Are we reticent to speak the truth because we are fearful of criticism, of being marginalized and ostracized as too extreme, or even being overtly persecuted?
Heaven knows, it is not easy to confess the truths of our Thrice Holy God in our culture and world steeped as it is in the false ideologies of materialism, relativism and pluralism.
What is a Triune God, who claims to be the only God, or Jesus Christ who claims to be the only Savior for sinners, to people who love to worship something of their own creation that they look to fill all their physical desires, that affords them no commitment, and is tolerant of everything but the truth as given us in the Holy Bible?
As bearers of the truth of the Holy Trinity during times of the tolerance of much falsehood and false worship, we find ourselves in the good company of Isaiah of old. The words of our text are often thought of us as the calling of Isaiah to his prophetic office in Israel. As we see, our text begins by noting that Isaiah was privileged to see this vision of the LORD God Almighty in the year that Judah’s king, Uzziah died. Uzziah was the last of Israel’s great kings. In fact, as one commentator has stated, “The natural glory of Israel died out with King Uzziah and has never revived to this day” (F. Delitzsch, p. 189). God had blessed Uzziah with one of the longest reigns of any of Israel’s kings. He reigned 52 years in Jerusalem.
One might guess, then, that this would have been a great time to be a confessor of the true God. However, conditions were not so good precisely because of Uzziah. Toward the later part of his reign, he was overcome with pride over all his success. In his pride he felt compelled to take upon himself the privilege granted only the Levitical priests, and enter the temple of the Lord and to burn incense on the altar incense. He lost all fear of God and felt that as a great king he should be able to worship God the way he wanted. And so, despite the fervent warning of the high priest, Azariah, as well as 80 other priests, Uzziah angrily insisted on entering the Holy Place and offering incense. With the censor of hot coals in his hand, the LORD immediately struck Uzziah with leprosy for the rest of his days.
Interestingly enough, the vision of the LORD that Isaiah is permitted to see takes place in the temple of God, God’s heavenly dwelling place. Instead of Uzziah, or any other earthly king, he sees God sitting on His eternal throne, the train of His robe filling the temple. Hovering above the train of His robe, were angelic beings called seraphim. “Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”(vs. 2,3)
What a magnificent scene of the glory of our Triune God! The angels antiphonally praise each person of the Holy Trinity, The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, for the glory that is due each of them. Yet, there are not three glories, but one glory, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit together make up one divine being.
The Trinity’s holiness, though, is so perfect, so brilliant, so beyond anything in this created order, that even the angels do not permit themselves to look upon it, covering their faces with two of their six wings. His attending servants the Seraphim even cover their faces in His presence of the light of His glory and cover their feet “in consciousness of the depth at which the creature stands below the Holiest of all…” (F. Delitzsch, p. 191). And, yet, they sing, the whole earth is filled with His glory.
How can that be? Certainly the whole earth is not worthy or capable of containing all this glory. So, Isaiah witnessed. For immediately, the very foundation and thresholds of the temple in the vision began to shake violently at the very voice of the one who spoke. The temple filled with smoke.
Isaiah’s own reaction was quite natural for any sinner in the face of all this divine holiness. He exclaimed: “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!"
When thrust into the holy presence of God, there is only one right attitude before Him: humble fear. There is only one posture: bowing low. God in His holiness is separate from sin and sinners. In fact, as the LORD (YHWH) Himself said to Moses, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see me and live!”
Here is where the true confession of the true God must always begin: in the fear of the LORD’s true holiness and just judgment. Our sin and our inherited wicked nature separate us from God. If suddenly thrust into His holy presence, we would be obliterated by His sheer goodness, perfectness, and righteousness. We are very much unholy and unrighteous. It is more than our lips that are unclean, but we are covered with the filth of guilt from our head to our toes. Smoke from the altar of incense filled the temple to shroud God’s face and holiness.
We cannot attain to God or rise up to meet Him. If we are to ever truly know Him, commune with Him, see His face, or even confess Him, God must disguise Himself and come down to us.
Thanks be to God, just like the train of the Lord’s robe filled the whole temple, so the Triune God fills the whole earth with His glory. As Isaiah is also shown in this vision, the LORD’s greatest glory, however, is not His wrath against sin. His great glory is His compassion for sinners and His personal condescendence to their plight.
The first clue we see to this glory of God is in the fact that it is the “Lord” (Adonai) who is sitting on the throne. God , after all, does not sit. He is spirit. In His essence He has no body. But here He “sits” bodily on the throne. This is nothing else than a picture of the very incarnation of God (F. Delitzsch, p. 193).
The very comfort of sinners is that God becomes one of us. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity, has come down in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazereth to bring God’s glory even into our unclean midst.
In the twelfth chapter of His Gospel, the apostle John has testified that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory (12:41). Isaiah, you and I, and all other sinners are made to see God in Jesus. John further testifies, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known” (Jn. 1:18).
In Jesus, all our uncleanness is taken away. This, too, the LORD shows to Isaiah. For after he laments his woeful state as a sinner before holy God, Isaiah recounts: “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’. And 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’” (6:6-8).
Interestingly enough, from the very place that Judah’s King Uzziah, made himself unclean, committing idolatry, comes Isaiah’s cleansing and forgiveness; that is, from the altar of incense. In a similar way, in the very place where our idolatries and all sinfulness begins, in our human nature, so the Son of God takes on our human vesture so as to allow Himself to suffer the punishment for the sins of everyone in the whole world. In His sacrificed flesh our guilt is atoned for. One Lutheran scholar has noted, “The early Syriac fathers (of the church) regarded the burning coal as the symbol of the incarnate Son of God, who is often designated in poetry as the ‘live or burning coal.’” (F. Delitzsch, p. 198).
An interesting side note to this text is the appearance of Seraphim. This is the only place in all of Scripture that this particular division of angels is mentioned. Why here?
Just as Cherubim in Ezekiel, and even in Genesis after mankind’s fall, are the vehicles, if you will, of the fire of divine wrath, so the seraphim are in themselves the vehicles of the fire of divine love. The very name seraph stems from the verbal root, “to burn up, to set on fire.” Touching Isaiah’s lips with the hot coal, the seraph did here what his name denotes, he burned away the guilt (F. Delitzsch, p. 197).
Lest anyone have the notion, however, that forgiveness is merely the word spoken. Note carefully what the angel says, “…your guilt is taken away, and your sin is atoned for.” The LORD’s righteousness and holiness do not allow for sin to just be dismissed. The guilt must be atoned for. And here’s the good news, God atones for your guilt Himself! God so loved you and the rest of the world that He did not just give His Son to You as a friend to accept you as you are in your sin. He gave His only begotten Son to die in atonement for you. You know, fire can be a great cleansing agent. But nothing works better to cleanse away sin than blood, Christ’s blood, the holy precious blood of God.
Here is your confidence and hope as one called to be a confessor of the Triune God: your guilt has been sent away from you in the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus. You rightly feel your woeful condition before Holy God. But God’s greatest glory is that in His holiness He takes away our unholiness.
The Seraphim touched the mouth of Isaiah with the burning coal and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” The mouth is the place of all sorts of falsehoods, profanities. But God atones for your sins. He has taken away your iniquity. The Lord still touches your lips… your mouths… your hearts… and your lives and makes them clean in the blood of Christ not through a hot coal but through the waters of Holy Baptism, the Word of Holy Absolution, and the Holy Body and Holy Blood contained in that consecrated bread and wine.
Isaiah’s anxiety and hesitancy to prophesy or preach God’s Word is here taken away along with his sins with the LORD’s absolution. He is left to see His Lord, the Incarnate God, and to proclaim Him, as only the forgiven can.
God in His mercy fit Isaiah for service as His prophet… to speak His holy words… “Where the prophet’s mouth is touched by Jehovah’s hand and made eloquent in consequence, he assured him of the forgiveness of his sins…” (F. Delitzsch, p. 197).
Holy God once again comes down even today, to touch your mouths with Jehovah’s hands and precious body and blood in the bread and wine of His Holy Sacrament. Again, God in His grace, through the forgiveness of your sins fits you with His holiness to serve Him as true confessors of the Holy Trinity in an unholy and godless world.
We join the seraphim and sing: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory!”