Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 8, 2009

Sermon on Isaiah 6:1-8

THREE LESSONS ABOUT THE TRIUNE GOD

  1. A Lesson about His Majesty
  2. A Lesson about His Holiness
  3. A Lesson about His Forgiveness

Text: Isaiah 6:1-8

Introduction

On Wednesday mornings during the recently completed school year, we held chapel services for our school students.  A church service for a dozen or so kindergarteners and elementary school kids looks a little different (and lasts a lot shorter) than a Sunday morning service.  We used a short order of worship, complete with an invocation, Luther’s Morning Prayer, two hymns, the Apostles’ Creed, a prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, and a closing blessing.  And each week we had a little object lesson—some prop or picture or illustration that connected to a point in our Bible reading and helped drive the gospel home to these little minds.  Younger generations tend to be visual learners, and so children’s chapel services and object lessons often go hand-in-hand.

Today is Trinity Sunday.  For centuries, Christians have set aside the Sunday that occurs eight weeks after Easter to review and celebrate the Bible’s truth that God is Triune: three persons in one God.  And on this Sunday when we also conclude the school year, it works out nicely that our First Lesson contains some object lessons and vivid pictures about the Triune God we worship.  In fact, our reading from Isaiah gives us three lessons or illustrations about the Triune God—how appropriate for Trinity Sunday!  Isaiah’s vivid descriptions will focus on these three important characteristics about God: His majesty, his holiness, and his forgiveness.

I.

If you were to walk into a courtroom and observe a trial, who would you say is the most important person in the room?  Certainly there are several major players, but wouldn’t you say the judge is the most significant person in the room?  His black academic robe commands authority and respect.  He presides over the proceedings.  His gavel brings order to the room.  The bailiff stands at his service.  He is seated higher than the rest of the room.  Everything speaks to the importance of the judge and his role.

Let’s move from the courtroom to the temple.  The prophet Isaiah experiences a vision of the Old Testament temple in the First Lesson, and there’s no question who is most important in the temple.  “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’” 

Isaiah’s temple scene sounds a little bit like our courtroom scene.  There is the Lord, exalted on his throne, vested in a grand robe, with angels at his service.  But there’s even more majesty described than the courtroom scene.  For starters, Isaiah uses the Hebrew word for Lord (verse 1) that emphasizes his power and authority.  And we can’t help but notice that even the holy angels are so humbled in the presence of God that they cannot bear to look at him.  With faces hidden, they call him three-time holy.  Keep in mind that the Hebrew word “holy” in the Old Testament has the idea of something that is set apart and divinely unique.  Put all the details together, and you have the picture of an almighty, transcendent, majestic God. 

A day like Trinity Sunday might be an occasion when we ask ourselves, “Why?”  Why are we observing this occasion?  What’s the big deal?  So God is one and three at the same time.  Isn’t that just dogmatic doctrinal data?  If we wanted to be purely pragmatic, perhaps we’d come to that conclusion.  But Isaiah’s vision puts some perspective on the truth about the Trinity even as it fills us with awe.  How can we explain the truth that God is simultaneously three and one?  We can’t!  And so we don’t!  But the fact that we cannot wrap our minds around the truth of the Triune God should tell us that God is so much greater and majestic than anything we can even perceive.  He is beyond our comprehension and worthy of our praise and awe and reverence and respect, just by his very essence.

II.

All of that is true, but we would short-change ourselves if our discussion about God stopped with his majesty.  That’s because his majesty is accentuated by his holiness.  Just listen to the angels and to the scene in Isaiah’s vision.  “And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.  ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’”

How appropriate for Trinity Sunday!  The angels call God “holy” three times.  As mentioned earlier, the word emphasizes that God is set apart, but one of the ways he is set apart is that he is “holy” in the traditional sense of the word—perfect, without sin.  And his majestic holiness is only underscored by the smoke-filled temple shaking at the words of the angels.

Isaiah knew that this was not merely a laser lights show.  This was the holy God on his righteous throne—and Isaiah did not belong there.  “Woe to me!  I am ruined!  For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”  The beginning of our reading mentioned the time in Israel’s history when Isaiah served as prophet.  Two things we can say about Israel at that time are that they experienced both economic prosperity and spiritual poverty.  He lived among a nation full of fat and happy sinners, and he knew that he wasn’t much better.

I don’t know if we ever mentally stand in awe of God’s majesty and holiness.  Usually the phrase “awesome God” conjures up an image that is cool and contemporary, but an image that doesn’t necessarily capture the authority and righteousness of the almighty God.  And we may sing out our “holies” and “hosannas,” but do we grasp it?  Do we trivialize God to the point that he is our good buddy but not our righteous Lord?

If you were going to meet the President of the United States or have lunch with the Queen of England, how would you prepare?  Wouldn’t you come forward in your best clothes?  Don’t you think that shorts and sweats might be a little inappropriate?  And yet we come before God daily wearing the filth and grime of our sin.  We ignore his will and replace it with our wants.  We prefer glory and ease over cross and trial.  We treat Satan like a cute little kitty cat instead of a roaring lion, and we treat his temptations as if they are a way to live up life instead of the death trap that they truly are.  And all the while we are merely providing more evidence that we are “a people of unclean lips” and hearts and lives who can do no more than cry out, “Woe to me!  I am ruined!”

III.

At this point in Isaiah’s vision, something else comes to our attention: the altar.  This was one of the chief items a person would see in the temple.  The altar had sacrifices burning on it constantly—all pointing forward to the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ to end all sacrifices.

The altar suddenly becomes a focal point in Isaiah’s vision, and Isaiah receives a personal object lesson connected to that altar.  “One of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’”  Think about what that altar meant.  The continual sacrifices were a symbol of the great Sacrifice to come in Jesus Christ.  And now that picture of the great Sacrifice to come is carried to Isaiah and touched to his lips—the same lips that he had just called “unclean.”  What was the message?  What was the object lesson?  The coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ would take his guilt away, remove his sin from the record, and make him at one again with God.

Of all the characteristics of God, could there be any characteristic greater than God’s forgiving nature?  Could there be any greater news for souls to hear?

You and I come before God with unclean lips and hearts and lives, and yet God comes to us in the person of his pure and sinless Son, Jesus Christ.  And Jesus not only becomes one of us but he even becomes sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  And this same Jesus now comes to us with the very forgiveness accomplished by his death on Calvary’s cross.  His Word touches our hearts with that forgiveness.  His Baptism touches our heads with his cleansing.  His Supper touches our lips with the very same pardon Isaiah received in his vision.  And Jesus seals it all with a permanent promise of forgiveness sealed by his resurrection that has opened the gate to everlasting life.

Of all the characteristics of God – including the fact that he is Triune – could there be any greater than his forgiveness?

Conclusion

We’re observing Trinity Sunday today, but we are also observing the end of the 2008-09 school year.  There’s no question that our students learned quite a bit this year.  At our last chapel service on Wednesday morning, I asked the students to share some of the most important things they learned this year in classes like math and reading and science and social studies.  But then we agreed that there was something we learned that was even more important than those subjects.  The most important lesson we can learn is the lesson of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Trinity Sunday points us to an important truth about God’s being and characteristics.  So do Isaiah’s words from our reading.  But even our discussion today about the Trinity ultimately takes us to Jesus Christ and the forgiveness he won for us.  The Father sent his Son into time, and the Holy Spirit reveals the Son to us today.  And there you have the most important truth you could learn on Trinity Sunday or any day—the forgiveness and pardon that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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