Holy, Holy, Holy

By Paul Koch

The great and powerful king of Judah, King Uzziah, has died. He, of course, wasn’t the first king to die and he wouldn’t be the last. Perhaps with his passing the hopes and dreams of his people have crumbled. On the other hand, perhaps it is a moment of renewed resolve. But despite the coming and going of humanity’s great kings of the earth, there is one King whose throne is never vacant. There is a King that does not change with the times. So, in the year that Uzziah dies, Isaiah the prophet of God, finds himself in the throne room of God standing before the eternal King.

The scene from Isaiah Chapter 6 is a powerful and vivid telling of what it means to stand in the presence of the living God. He looks up at a high throne where God sits. The train of His robe flows down from that place and fills the whole temple. And above Him are the seraphim. The word seraph in Hebrew suggests that they were fiery beings, perhaps like dragons. They each had six wings and were flying around filling the place with smoke and crying out in a loud voice that shook the very foundations of the building. They said, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Amid the flying creatures and the smoke and the shaking of the building and the loud voices, Isaiah realizes where he is. He realizes that he should not be there. For he realizes that he is in the presence of the eternal and holy God.

“Woe is me!” Isaiah cries out, “For I am lost; for 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.” He is a sinner and he has seen the Lord, so he confesses that this is the end. He is undone. He is lost. Now in a way, this ought to be familiar to us. We go through these same motions every Sunday when we gather around our Lord’s gifts. We come into this place of worship, we sing the praises of our God, and the first thing the pastor does is invoke the name of the God in whose presence we gather. The very first words of the service are, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” A three-fold holy name. And what do we do then? Why, we do the only appropriate thing. We begin to confess our sins. We say, “We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” It is our way of saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost.”

When Isaiah makes this confession of sin an interesting thing happens. One of the seraphim flies down to the altar and picks up a burning coal using tongs. This burning coal is carried to Isaiah and the Seraphim touches it to his lips. He touches the very thing that is unclean. Then the dragon creature with six wings says to him, “Behold this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” The sin that was Isaiah’s undoing is now removed by this strange action. God cleansed his sinfulness with a burning coal. Now again, this shouldn’t be completely foreign to you. Sure, you don’t experience a burning coal that absolves you, but you do receive absolution. After confessing your sin in the presence of your God, He sends his servant to deliver His forgiveness. It isn’t a Seraph, but something perhaps just as bizarre. God send a pastor, a sinful man equipped and called by His Word to speak into your sin the promise of forgiveness. “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

What we have in this scene from Isaiah is what we have when we gather for worship. What is on display is the actual working of God in our lives. God at work to bring forth confession and repentance and then to bring life and absolution. God at work so that you might despair of saving yourself and trust only in his gracious intervention. God at work bringing death so that he might give you life. And our God is a threefold Holy God. He is the divine Trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit at work for you, for your salvation, for your assurance.

Today is Trinity Sunday in the church. It is an odd day to be sure, because it is not a day focused on some event in the history of our faith. It isn’t like Christmas or Easter or the Baptism of our Lord. No, this is a day that focuses on our confession of God. It is about what we believe, teach and confess about a God that creates, redeems and sanctifies His people. And so today we confess the great Athanasian Creed. It is a creed that has a unique rhythm and beauty to it. It is also the most shocking of the great creeds of the church. It draws a line in the sand. We don’t simply confess what the faith is, but we say that if you do not keep this faith whole and undefiled you cannot be saved. If you were brand new to the church, if you weren’t used to confessing creeds, and today was your first day you might wonder, “what the heck is going on here?” It might sound like some sort of crazy cult saying things like, “We worship the Trinity in Unity and the Unity in Trinity.”

But this confession flows from our experience with the Divine. It is a way of describing a God at work for you. On Friday we buried our sister in Christ, Mary Bek. There is a part of the service at her committal that I always get chills. It is, in a way, the application of the Athanasian Creed to the life of a saint. The pastor stands over the casket, puts his hand right on it and says, “May God the Father who created this body; may God the Son, who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.” That is God at work for you. A holy, holy, holy God that does not leave you in your sin and corruption but brings new life and hope and salvation. In fact, He will not leave you in the grave either, but promises a resurrection.

These are the lengths that your God will go so that you might live. He is not deterred, He does not falter, He will not give up on you. The Holy Trinity is bent toward this moment, toward this day when you are gathered together in His name. He has heard your confession. He knowns your sin and yet He says again, “I forgive you. I forgive you all of your sins.”