May 22, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Isaiah, mighty seer, in days of old
The Lord of all in spirit did behold
High on a lofty throne, in splendor bright,
With flowing train that filled the Temple quite.
Above the throne were stately seraphim;
Six wings had they, these messengers of Him.
With twain they veiled their faces, as was meet,
With twain in rev’rent awe they hid their feet,
And with the other twain aloft they soared,
One to the other called and praised the Lord:
“Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth!
Behold, His glory filleth all the earth!”
The beams and lintels trembled at the cry,
And clouds of smoke enwrapped the throne on high.
-Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old, TLH #249
Martin Luther’s paraphrase of the liturgical hymn, the Sanctus, is a retelling of today’s Old Testament reading, the call of Isaiah. Not only does he tell the story with words, but he paints the story with music (e.g., high on a lofty throne in splendor bright). But what’s really set apart (and it’s even more of a contrast with the harmony included) is the hymn of the angels. Three times they cry, Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth! It’s happy application of the “rule of three.” Three holies feels better, more complete, than just one. And it should. God is one, but God is also three. One in essence; three in Person. this is the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
The angels cry out, “Holy,” three times: Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit. But what does it mean for the Trinity to be Holy? The word “holy” means, “set apart.” The Holy Trinity is a God unique and set apart from every god of human imagination. His rule, His love, His mercy, His nature, everything about Him distinguishes Him from false gods. “Who, LORD, is like You among the gods?” sang Moses. “Who is like You, wonderful in holiness, Whose glory is to be feared, Who does marvelous things?” (Ex 15:11).
The Holiness of the Trinity isn’t reserved for His nature, but it also extends to His works. In particular, His holiness extends to what He creates. The work of creation is typically attributed to the Father, though the Son and the Spirit are also involved in that holy work. The Father created all things through the personal agency of the Son, and the Spirit is the Lord and giver of life. In the beginning humanity was created holy. Adam’s and Eve’s holiness was the image of God reflected in them. Good and righteous and without blemish. But that holiness was ruined when they stepped outside of God’s holiness into their own profane work.
In the Old Testament there are two distinctions: holy-profane and clean-unclean. The distinction of holy and profane had to do with people, places, and things set apart for God’s work and service, such as priests, the tabernacle, and bread given as an offering to God. Profane things were not necessarily bad, but they belonged to every day life. A believing Israelite mother, the Jewish marketplace, and Thursday night supper were the regular things of life, not set apart for God’s use.
The second distinction was clean-unclean. Clean things belonged to the realm of life and health, where unclean things were in the realm of death. So contact with a dead body, certain diseased persons, bodily discharges like blood, and certain animals would make person unclean, that is, exposed to something that could cause death unless cleansed.
These two distinctions overlapped. Most things in Jewish life were profane, but clean. But something that was unclean could never be holy; conversely, a holy thing could not be unclean. If a person or thing was defiled (made unclean) it would first have to be cleansed, and then sanctified (made holy) in order to be put into God’s service. And the Law laid out very specific instructions for the ways that people, places, and things would move within these distinctions.
The culture of Israel was a picture of humanity’s standing before God. Isaiah’s vision shows the reality of that picture. When the prophet receives his call to preach, he’s brought into God’s throne room and sees the Lord Himself and the holy angels singing their praises. “Woe to me!” I said. “I’m destroyed, because I’m a man with unclean lips, living among people with unclean lips, and I’ve seen the King, the LORD of armies” (v 5 AAT). I always think that Isaiah’s reaction is a bit understated. God’s holiness reveals not only his profanity, but also his uncleanness.
Like Isaiah, you cannot stand before God without coming undone. Your profanity is worse than a sailor’s mouth and your uncleanness extends far beyond your lips. It’s not what goes into your mouth that makes you unclean but what comes out, because what comes out comes from the heart. You are by nature both sinful and unclean.
Before you can be holy, you must first be cleansed. This cleansing cannot be accomplished by mere water, like washing dirt from you body. A stronger cleansing agent is necessary. Isaiah’s vision reveals just what allows him to stand before almighty God without being destroyed. The vision is described, In the year when King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple (v 1 AAT). The King James Version says, “high and lifted up.” Why is this important? Because it tells us exactly what it is that Isaiah saw.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of this lifting up twice. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life (Jn 3:14-15 KJV). And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die (Jn 12:32-33 KJV). Moses lifted up the serpent on a post in the wilderness, and if that’s not explicit enough, Jesus later identifies His impending death on the cross as His lifting up. Not coincidentally, He is also crowned on the cross and identified as “King of the Jews” in not just one, but three different languages. When Isaiah saw the Lord, I’ll submit to you that he saw the crucifix.
So let us see with Isaiah the Lord high and lifted up on the cross. And only because of this work of the Son of God can we have hope of being in God’s presence. Why? Because, the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from every sin (1 Jn 1:7b).
If the blood of Christ cleanses you, this means that the blood of Christ is what rescues you from the realm of death and delivers you into the realm of health and life. In another word, salvation. The blood of Christ is what gives Baptism its power to save. St. Peter writes, Baptism now saves you, not as the removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pt 3:21). Jesus Christ gives you access to the Holy Trinity by rescuing you from the realm of death and delivering to you His life.
Though the cross gives you access to the Holy Trinity, there is still another gift. Not only is your uncleanness cleansed, but your profanity is sanctified—made holy. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is called the Holy Spirit because His work is to sanctify.
God’s holiness revealed Isaiah’s uncleanness. In response, Then one of the angels flew to me, and in his hand were tongs with which he had taken a glowing coal from the altar. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Now this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin is forgiven” (vv 6-7 AAT). With one act, the holy God—by the service of His holy angel—both cleanses and sanctifies, or sets him apart, for God’s service (in particular, his call to the prophetic office).
First, this shows us that while Christ’s work of redemption and the Spirit’s work of sanctification are distinct, they are not separate. Just as the Son and the Spirit are involved in the Father’s creation, so the entire Trinity is also at work in redeeming creation and sanctifying the saints. It is one work of God, which we distinguish, like looking that different facets of a precious gem.
Second, the burning coal shows us how we continue to be cleansed and sanctified. It’s not what goes into your mouth that makes you unclean, but what goes into your mouth can make you both clean and holy. Today, the Lord will touch your lips with something better than a burning coal. He will touch your lips with His own blood. Blood that cleanses. Blood that sanctifies. The Spirit sets you apart for God’s service. Isaiah was called to be a prophet, but you are sanctified to be a priest and royalty, to pray, praise, and give thanks to the King, who was lifted up for you.
Your holiness is not something you must create on your own. Your holiness is a gift of the Holy Trinity.
You Are Sanctified by Participation in the Holiness of the Trinity
Blessed be the Holy + Trinity and the undivided Unity.
Jacob W Ehrhard