15th Sunday After Pentecost September 9, 2012
4, 249, 379, 315(11-15)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
(A Message in Preparation for Holy Communion)
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.”
In the name of Jesus Christ, who came into this world to glorify the God of Heaven, dear fellow-redeemed:
How “big” is your God? Most people have a very small god. Those who reject God’s words imagine that He is small and may be ignored or even mocked. Some think of God as an image made of wood, metal, or stone, that may be set on shelf or an altar. For others, God is no larger than the voice of their own sinful desires, or the size of the wallet they sit on.
Some years ago I was told by a man that he found peace with God by sitting on a log in the woods on a sunny day. But what happens when lightning flashes and thunder crashes? Where then is the feeling that all is right between God and the nature worshiper?
How big or glorious is your God, dear Christian friends? Is His bigness or glory something we bring to Him, like the glory men bring to the idols they create? Is He really so small, so weak and waxy that we may twist His commandments to suit our own desires? Should we speak of Him as “the Man upstairs,” as if He is a kindly old gentleman who winks at our sins, and never asks of us “more than we can do”?
When things are going well for us, do we find it easy to indulge the flesh and forget about God? Do we think that we are in any way worthy to worship God with our works and words of praise?
How we answer such questions depends upon whether we see with Isaiah THE SURPASSING GLORY OF OUR GOD.
At the time of Isaiah’ vision, the nation of Judah was prospering. Many were worshiping the idols of the nations around them and living in open rebellion against God’s Word. Yet they tried to gain acceptance with God by their religious observances and works. Through Isaiah the Lord says: “These people draw near to me with their mouths and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13).
It was necessary for the sake of His people that the true God in Heaven reveal the glory of His holiness! So the Lord revealed Himself to Isaiah in a veiled form, sitting upon a very high throne. His sweeping robe was filling the entire temple in Heaven. Constantly hovering about the throne of
God were seraphs. These holy angels served God perfectly every moment of their existence!
Even as Isaiah is viewing this awesome sight, the seraphs are crying out to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” [v.3] And yet, while they are singing the Lord’s praises, these holy beings cover their faces and hide the nakedness of their feet from God’s sight. Why? Because, by comparison to the three-times-holy God, even these angels are imperfect!
When these flame-like beings sang of the glory of God’s holiness, Isaiah noticed that the entire building shook and trembled at the sound of their voices and the whole place was filled with smoke. How could the holiness of God have been more gloriously revealed to the prophet in a vision? The message is this: If even the holy angels cover themselves because of the surpassing glory of God’s holiness, then what about mankind, the Jews, Isaiah, and what about you and me?
The words of Eliphaz to Job are surely true: “What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous? If God puts no trust in His saints, and the heavens are not pure in His sight, how much less man, who is abominable and filthy, who drinks iniquity like water!” (Job 15:14-16).
No wonder Isaiah cries out: “Woe is me, for I am undone (gone, dissolved)! 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.” [v.5] With these words, Isaiah confesses that he and the people he serves have fallen far short of the glory of God’s
holiness! He knew that he and his people stood in danger of the fiery wrath and judgment of the Holy God of Heaven!
Just when Isaiah had come to this moment of self-despair, God sent one of the seraphs to Isaiah. The seraph took one of the hot coals from the altar in the heavenly temple. As he touched the mouth of the prophet with the hot coal he said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” [v.7]
The confession of the trembling prophet was followed immediately by forgiveness out of Heaven! This forgiveness was confirmed to Isaiah by a tangible, visible means—the hot coal!
Our Lord knows that His believing children are slow to grasp for ourselves the wonderful blessings of His mercy and forgiveness in Christ, our Savior. He has pity on our weak faith. Instead of pouring water on the smoking flax of our faith (cf. Isaiah 42:3), God fans it! He combines His invisible Word with visible, earthly elements. For Isaiah it was the hot coal. For us it is the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper.
Our text presents a vision of the glory of our God, which is above every human idea about divine glory. God’s glory is revealed in His unapproachable, consuming holiness as the Judge of sin! But this is only a part of the story of His glory. For the ultimate revelation of God’s glory is that, as the almighty King of heavenly armies, He comes down in loving grace an mercy to freely give His holiness to sinful mankind!
In this vision, God’s cleansing holiness was given to Isaiah by means of the purging fire of the hot coal taken from God’s altar. But we read in the Gospel lesson that Isaiah “saw Christ’s glory and spoke of Him” (John 12:41). The vision of our text pictured to Isaiah the glorious working of God by which He found a way to cleanse us from the filthiness of our lips, hands, hearts, and all our members!
God did not give up the glory of His personal holiness in order to save sinners. He did not lower His standard of holiness one little bit. No one slips or sneaks into Heaven, as some think. The Gospel of forgiveness, which we treasure for ourselves and share with others, does not tell us that if we work hard enough, confess often enough, and believe and pray fervently, that we will be saved. No one is saved “by the skin of his teeth.” But thanks be to God alone, and to Him be glory forever! For by no other means than the whip-striped, pierced, torn and tortured skin of His own
beloved Son, God has declared us all to be entirely cleansed of our sins and righteous before Him. “For you know,” Peter writes, “you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Dear brothers and sisters by faith in this Jesus,
our hearts overflow with all kinds of evil thoughts and lusts. Our lips overflow with slanderous and hurtful, hateful words. Yet in our Communion liturgy we use these same hearts and lips to sing the heavenly hymn of the seraphs We sing, “Holy are You, our heavenly King!”
If we tremble at the thought of how poor, weak, and unworthy we are before the glory of the holy God of Heaven, let us also lift up our hearts with joyful expectation when we come to His Communion altar. For by God’s grace alone we place our faith and hope entirely in Him through Jesus Christ! We know that He delights to show His glory in the forgiveness of sins—the cleansing and saving of sinners like Isaiah, Israel, and us!
Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, comes to us in His Holy Sacrament. He comes to us with his very own body and blood! As we receive Him with our mouths, our Lord and Savior says to our believing hearts: “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” No wonder we sing
with the Psalmist: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 118:26).
So come to us in Your Holy Supper, dear Jesus. Amen.
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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.