Holy Trinity Sunday – 5/20/2021
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 incredibly blessed. To use the term coined by our early church fathers to describe what the Holy Scriptures teach about God's essence, He is triune. God is three distinct persons merged into one divine being. He alone is worthy of being called "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."
In its unique nuances and essence, this Trinity is no more masterfully stated and confessed than in the Athanasian Creed. "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in Unity, not confusing the persons or dividing the substance," we confess. The Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Holy Spirit is another. But the Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one: glory is equal, and majesty is co-eternal. The Father is not made, nor is he created, nor is he begotten by anyone. The Son is neither made nor created but begotten of the Father alone. The Holy Spirit is of the Father and the Son, neither made, created, or begotten, but proceeding. In this Trinity, none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another. The three persons are co-eternal with each other and coequal. "The Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity are 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, 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 the 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 prophets 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 the walls of this church, we are all consistently called upon in our vocations as Christians likewise to confess the Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ as God Incarnate. A confession like this could be part of a private conversation or be required in a large group setting. In one way or another, as baptized children of God, you and I are called 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 the true God and Savior? Or do we duck and dive when it comes to opportunities to tell these saving truths to others, especially those living in the darkness of falsehood, religions, and gods? Are we reticent to speak the truth because we fear criticism, being marginalized and ostracized as too extreme, or even being overtly persecuted?
Heaven knows it is not easy to confess the truths of our triune God in a culture and world steeped as they are 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 creation that they look to fill all their physical desires, that offers no commitment, and is tolerant of everything except the truth as revealed in the Holy Bible?
As bearers of the truth of the Holy Trinity during times of much tolerance for falsehood and false worship, we find ourselves in the excellent company of Isaiah of old. The words of our text are often thought of as the calling of Isaiah to his prophetic office in Israel. 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. 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 for 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 could have been better 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 to the Levitical priests, enter the temple of the Lord, and burn incense on the altar. 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, and 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 to each of them. Yet there are not three glories, but one, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit make up one divine being.
The Trinity's holiness is so perfect, brilliant, and 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 in the light of His glory and protect their feet "in the 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? Indeed, the whole earth is not worthy or capable of containing all this glory. So, Isaiah witnessed. For immediately, in the vision, the very foundation and thresholds of the temple began to shake violently at the same voice of the one who spoke. The temple was filled with smoke.
Isaiah's reaction was natural for any sinner in the face of this divine holiness. He exclaimed, "Woe is me!" "For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among 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 toward Him: humble fear. There is only one posture: bowing low. God, in His holiness, is separate from sin and sinners. 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 fear of the LORD's true holiness and just judgment. Our sin and our inherited sinful nature separate us from God. If suddenly thrust into His holy presence, we would be obliterated by His sheer goodness, perfection, and righteousness. We are very unholy and unrighteous. It is more than our unclean lips; we are covered in guilt from our heads to our toes. Smoke from the altar of incense filled the temple to shroud God's face and holiness.
We cannot attain God or rise to meet Him. If we are ever honestly to know Him, commune with Him, see His face, or even confess Him, God must disguise Himself and come down to us.
Thanks to God, just as the train of the Lord's robe filled the whole temple, the Triune God filled the entire earth with His glory. As Isaiah is also shown in this vision, the LORD's greatest glory is not His wrath against sin. His great glory is His compassion for sinners and His condescension to their plight.
The first clue we see to this glory of God is that the "Lord" (Adonai) is sitting on the throne. God, after all, does not sit. He is a spirit. In his essence, God has no body. But here he "sits" bodily on the throne. That is nothing more than a picture of the very incarnation of God (F. Delitzsch, p. 193).
The very comfort of God becoming one of us is the comfort of sinners. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity has come down in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth to bring God's glory even into our unclean midst.
In the twelfth chapter of His Gospel, the apostle John 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. 1:38).
In Jesus, all our uncleanness is taken away. The LORD also demonstrates this to Isaiah. After lamenting his woeful state as a sinner before the 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 is 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, Isaiah's cleansing and forgiveness come from the same place where Judah's King Uzziah made himself unclean by committing idolatry, namely the altar of incense. Similarly, in the very place where our idolatries and all sinfulness begin, in our human nature, the Son of God takes on our human clothing to allow Himself to suffer the punishment for the sins of everyone in the 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 the Seraphim. That is the only place in all Scripture where this division of angels is mentioned. Why here?
Just as the Cherubim in Ezekiel, and even in Genesis after humanity'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. 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).
Let no one 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 sin to be ignored. 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, God's holy, precious blood.
Here is your confidence and hope as one called to confess the Triune God: your guilt has been sent away from you in the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus. You rightly feel your deplorable condition before 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 is atoned for." The mouth is the place of all sorts of falsehoods and 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 hot coal but through the waters of holy baptism, the word of holy absolution, and the sacred body and holy blood contained in that consecrated bread and wine.
Isaiah's anxiety and hesitancy to prophesy or preach God's Word, along with his sins, are taken away with the Lord's absolution. He is left to see and proclaim His Lord, the Incarnate God, as only the forgiven can.
God, in His mercy, chose Isaiah to be His prophet to speak His holy words. "Where the prophet's mouth is touched by Jehovah's hand and made eloquent in consequence, he assures 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 the 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 faithful 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!"