The 5th Sunday After Epiphany February 5, 2006
1 Corinthians 14:12-20
2, 246, 249, 769 [TLH alt. 451]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because 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.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” Also 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.”
In Christ Jesus, the Light of this dark world, dear fellow Christians:
What do you know about ants? Where do they go in winter? How long do they live? Do they sleep? Do they have feelings? We don’t know much about ants and their habits, and we frankly don’t care. What do ants know about us? Hardly anything. They only see our shoes, which to them look like mountains. An ant walking across the floor has no concept of the complexity of our lives. It knows nothing about school, jobs, bills, clocks, and calendars. How could it? It’s only an ant. Its brain and experience are just too puny.
There are tremendous differences between us and ants. About the only thing we have in common is a fondness for picnics. So what happens then when ants and people meet face-to-face? We react with disgust and try to exterminate them, while the ants desperately attempt to survive against our overwhelming power.
Isaiah felt very ant-like when he suddenly found himself face-to-face with God. What would it mean for him and his future? What does it mean for us when we come face-to-face with the Glory of God?
Isaiah was quite familiar with great men and kings, but never had he felt so small and insignificant as when he saw the Lord God seated on His heavenly throne in all His glory and majesty. He doesn’t even attempt to describe God Himself. His glory is just too bright and awesome to look at or to put into human words. But Isaiah does fill in other details. The train of the Lord’s robe filled the temple. Angels called seraphim, literally “burning ones,” hovered above the throne ready to carry out the King’s every command. Even those holy beings covered their faces, so as not to look at God’s intense glory. They covered their feet in humble modesty. With a thundering chorus, they sang out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” [v.3]
This is the one true God, holy and set apart from human beings, as different from us as we are from ants. He is the incomprehensible three-in-one: the all powerful Father who called the gigantic universe into existence just by speaking the Word; the Son who in love laid down His life for the world; the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us.
On the throne was the God whose glory fills the earth, and before Him was Isaiah the “ant.” He cried out in pure terror: “Woe is me, for I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” [v.5] Isaiah was a man born with sin inherited from Adam. While the angels could sing holy praises to God, Isaiah’s lips were unclean. His thoughts, words, and actions came from a sinful heart. Nothing he could do or offer would be fit for the Lord. He could not run and hide from God. He could not make himself holy. He was doomed. He saw certain death ahead.
Many people today, though, are not afraid of God. Since they cannot imagine a holy, all powerful God, they refuse to believe He exists. They echo Pharaoh’s proud boast: “Who is the Lord that I should obey him?” (Exodus 5:2). But they should be every bit as afraid as Isaiah, for God is the eternal Lord of all. Rulers like King Uzziah, King David, and our presidents come and go, but the Lord is always there. His glory fills the earth.
We see that glory in every sunrise, in every storm, and in the vastness of creation. We can just barely grasp with our finite minds some of God’s design in nature, but God has complete, hands-on control over it. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1 NIV). We see God’s glory in the Trinity. How He can be three distinct Persons and yet one God far exceeds our human capacity to understand. We see God’s glory in His holy justice. As He is perfect, so He demands absolute perfection, and punishes anything less than perfect holiness.
We meet God face-to-face in His Word. The closer we get, the more we are going to see how great He is and how small and ant-like we are. We deserve nothing from Him except swift and terrible punishment. Even our best efforts are like filthy rags before Him. Coming face-to-face with the glory of God is a humbling, frightening encounter!
When you discover a colony of ants traveling back and forth between the trash can and the window sill along a kitchen counter, do you smile and clear a path for them? No, you meet them with a lethal dose of Raid. They deserve it for infecting your clean kitchen with dirt and germs. Isaiah, Israel, and the whole human race deserved the same treatment. There was not a single redeeming quality which would cause God to think kindly toward sinners. Isaiah was standing there braced for the inevitable when God sent an angel to him. But instead of striking him dead on the spot, the angel touched Isaiah's mouth with a live coal from the altar of sacrifice in the temple. He told him something amazing: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” [v.7]
The whole scene is a beautiful picture of God’s forgiving love for the world in Christ. Even though He lived nearly a thousand years before Christ, Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory as Savior, and spoke of it here. The Old Testament sacrifices offered on the altar foreshadowed the sacrifice Jesus would offer on the cross for the sins of all people. It is way beyond human comprehension and experience, but “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). Would you go to the electric chair for an ant? The holy Son of God, the Lord of all, whose glory fills the earth, sacrificed Himself for insignificant, unworthy ants like us! Our iniquity inherited from Adam has been taken away. The sin of all the times we have missed the mark of holiness has been purged away by Jesus’ suffering and death.
Everyday we come face-to-face with the glory of God. We see it in the creation. We experience its power and holiness in the Law which exposes our sin and gives us cause for knee-knocking, heart-pounding fear. But the Lord’s greatest glory is His love, which moved Him to become man to save every sinner from eternal death. We walked into God’s house this morning confessing that we deserve death. We leave with our iniquity taken away and our sin purged! What a difference!
That difference changed everything for Isaiah. God’s glory in taking away his sin gave him a lifetime supply of hope and energy to use in the Lord’s service. When God called for a volunteer to go out in His name, Isaiah’s hand shot up, and without a second’s hesitation he said, “Here am I! Send Me!” [v.8]
It would not be easy. There was no pay involved. He would be almost universally hated for announcing God’s judgment upon the people. He could expect many problems, perhaps even martyrdom. Yet he was eager to do it. God didn’t have to hold a gun to his head. Isaiah had seen and experienced God’s saving glory. His heart was so overwhelmed by God’s love, that there was nothing he wanted more than to tell the news, regardless of the hardship involved. Peter and the other disciples left their careers as commercial fishermen to become fishers of men for the same reason. From the world’s perspective it was a foolish thing to do, but it made perfect sense to men who had experienced the glory of God’s forgiveness firsthand.
God is still calling, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Are you encouraging a son or daughter or another young person in the congregation to answer, “Here am I. Send me into the public teaching or preaching ministry”? Why would anyone ever consider making the ministry his or her life’s work when there are so many other career tracks offering more excitement, more pay, and easier conditions? When the financial needs of the congregation are presented, why say, “Here am I, Lord. Please let me help with the means You have provided“? Why offer the Lord your time and effort for church work when there is a long list of undone chores at home? Why, after a long day, say, “Here am I, Lord,” and take the time to tell a Bible story, or gather the family for devotion, or help with Catechism homework, or give Christian counsel to a troubled friend?
Don’t do these things because you’re supposed to, or because someone told you to, or because you hope that there will be some reward in it. Do it for one reason only. Do it because you have come face-to-face with God’s glory in Christ. Do it because the Lord has sent His Gospel Word to you, forgiven your sins, taken away your fear, and filled you with the fire of gratitude and love which wants nothing more than to share this soul-saving, life-changing message with the world.
There is a huge difference between the holy, almighty God, whose glory fills the earth, and weak, mortal sinners. But God through Jesus has bridged that difference and changed us from insignificant ants to precious children. What can we say, except, “Here am I! Send me!” Amen.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to Him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen. (Rev. 1:5-6 NIV)
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.