Summary: The Triune God shows us His glory.
June 3, 2012 Isaiah 6:1-8
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 of hosts; 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 of hosts.” Then 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.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Qadosh, qadosh, qadosh. Those are the words the angels sang to one another as they hovered over the throne of God. The angels themselves were burning with their own holiness, yet even when they stood guard above the Lord they were filled with fear and humility, as they covered their faces and feet in front of God’s throne.
They are singular words, yet spoken three times. They reflect the complexity of our God. He is three Persons, as reflected in the repetitive three-fold phrase. Yet he is also singular; one God; as reflected in the singular word “holy.” The word “holy” in the Hebrew means “separated” and “set apart.” We tend to think of God as being “up there” or “out there.” But that’s not what God really means. What He means is that He is above and beyond us in who He is. He is nothing like us in His essence. He is purely holy. He is everywhere. He is almighty. He is eternal. We are not. We have a beginning. We are contaminated with sin. We die. We are not all-knowing. We are weak. In these ways God is above and beyond us. He is separate from us, and even separate from the angels in this sense. That is why even the angels sing “Holy, holy, holy” about Him – not because He is above and beyond them in space - but in glory.
If the angels were embarrassed to stand in the LORD’s presence, then imagine how Isaiah felt. Sometimes when you are invited to a get-together you wonder what the dress attire is going to be. The other day I was invited to a member’s home to eat. I had been busy with the children all afternoon, and then picked up shop hurriedly to take the kids over. Little did I realize until the evening was nearly over that I was still wearing my old clothes; stain on my shirt and all. I was going to change, but I forgot. Even though I wasn’t in the presence of God I still felt a little embarrassed at that. So when Isaiah found himself placed in the presence of the LORD, he didn’t feel worthy of it. He cried out, “Woe is me.” “Woe” was a passionate cry of grief or despair. You might compare it to when we say, “Oh no!” That’s how Isaiah felt.
It was this concept of standing before God as sinners that used to terrorize Christians for hundreds of years. They were so worried about standing before God that after about four or five hundred A.D. they decided to come up with a place that they could go before they stood before the throne of God. They called it “purgatory.” It was a place where you could come face to face with your sins and realize what you’d done. You might compare it to walking along the ledge of a cliff on a complicated ledge with burning sulfur underneath. Sometimes you slip. You constantly feel the heat. But in the midst of this eternal climb, there is the hope of ascension. You know that amidst all of the heat and suffering you are ascending. So even though it was painful, it was a good pain; because it was drawing you closer to God.
Well, over time the Christians got lazy, and didn’t want to suffer for hundreds and thousands of years. So they decided to come up with indulgences, where the Pope could draw on a treasury of merits from the saints and use their works to give people an escalator ride out of the fiery pit of purgatory. If you paid the right price he’d let you out of your suffering, even though that suffering was supposed to be good. So the lazy Christians who didn’t want to suffer paid for their indulgences which basically gave them a get out of jail free card. In reality, it taught that the works of the saints would enable them to stand before Jesus on Judgment Day and face Him.