Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Old Testament lesson from Isaiah, especially these words, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
As we hear those words “Holy, Holy, Holy,” in this vision that the prophet Isaiah sees, he tells us that this vision came in the year that King Uzziah died. Now, I probably learned this last year when I did the devotion for these lessons, but as I was doing them again this year, I was reminded of the story of King Uzziah. King Uzziah, also called Azariah, became king when he was sixteen years old. The second book of Chronicles tells us that he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. This means that he was not a king who turned Israel away from faithfulness. He didn’t direct them to other gods or false worship and the like. But he does have an interesting story. At a point Uzziah had found so much strength in victory over other nations that he thought he had the right to enter into the temple and make the offering of incense before the Lord. So, he went right in there and tried to do as he pleased. As he went, the high priest and eighty of the priests of the tribe of Levi followed and tried to stop him. This made him really mad—after all he was the king, right?! But in his anger the Lord struck him with leprosy on his forehead. Now, if you recall leprosy was something that prevented someone from being allowed to stand in the Lord’s presence at the temple. I don’t mean that they couldn’t offer offerings, that was true, but I mean that they couldn’t even come to the Temple. They were considered unclean and were therefore not permitted in the presence of the Lord there.
Now, we could ask the question as to whether Uzziah repented, and if he is now with the Lord heaven, and I would say I think so, but that isn’t the point here. No, there is a greater point. It’s the point that we should heed, and that is that as we hear of this holiness of God, we should understand that this makes it unsafe for sinners to approach Him. What does that mean? Well, as we hear of this vision of Isaiah we hear of this angel before the throne of God, singing that song that we’ll sing in a few minutes, the song we call the “Sanctus,” “Holy, Holy, Holy.” And as we hear the angel singing that song we hear of this nature of God as holy. And what does that mean?
That’s a hard word for us to define, isn’t it? We use it all the time in the Church, and what does it mean? It means something that’s set apart, that’s distinct from those things around it. We could even say it’s distinct because of its purity. God is holy because He is set apart in a way that is unique from the world. He’s set apart and distinct because He is perfectly good, because He is perfectly pure. However, that purity is so perfectly pure that we bring a problem when we try to come before God. We aren’t pure like that, and so if we come to Him with that impurity it will enkindle his anger.
You see this with Isaiah Himself. Look at what happens. He sees this vision of God, he hears the angel cry out in this Sanctus, this song, and how does he react? Woe is me! 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! So, how does he react? He’s scared, right? There Uzziah came into just the Holy Place in the Temple—if you recall there’s the altar outside the Holy Place, where they had the offerings in morning and evening. Then there’s the Holy Place, and that’s where Uzziah was, the room with the Table for the Showbread and Lampstand, and then the Golden Altar for incense—and that’s where he was when he became leprous. But here’s Isaiah and he’s not even outside the curtain, he’s in the presence of God Himself, and this is scary. He’s afraid he’s done for. Why? Because this God is Holy. This Isaiah is unholy in his sin and he’s one of a people who also are unclean. What’s that going to mean? It’s likely a lot worse than leprosy, isn’t it? No that unholiness should lead to destruction by the holiness of this God.
And as we meditate on the Trinity today, on this Trinity Sunday as we meditate on this Holy, Triune God, it’s good for us to take a minute and meditate on that holiness and how it relates to us. It’s good for us to reflect a minute on what that means.
I say that because I think in many ways we’ve become comfortable in our culture with God. As Mark Twain is quoted to have said, “In the beginning God created man in his image, man has been returning the favor ever since.” I think our time is a time when that’s even truer than it was then. We’ve ratcheted down God’s holiness to make him just a buddy who wants to have us with him so that we can have drinks and play golf with him for eternity. And in light of that, we’ve made God out to be a guy who loves us for who we are and it doesn’t matter, then, what we believe, what we think, do, or say, we’re all getting to heaven.
But that’s not what we see with Isaiah, and it should make us think. It should rile us up to reflecting on our lives. It should make us realize that our lives demonstrate our sinfulness, and how God’s holiness makes it unsafe for sinners to approach Him.
So, what should this mean? Well, it means on the one hand, that we should submit to His Word. And I use that word submit intentionally. Why? Because that’s a word we don’t like. We don’t like to submit to anyone, do we? In fact, in our day if anyone requests any kind of submission we call that out as oppression. If the government tells you what to do, they are oppressing you. If the police tell you what to do, they are oppressing you. If the Church tells you what to do, they are oppressing you. All the more, if the Church tells you that God is telling you what to do, that’s oppressive, and ridiculous that one would believe in such a God who seeks so much to oppress and oppress and oppress. No, it’s better to believe in a God who just loves.
And as I say that, we’re all shaking our heads about how true this is for the culture around us, but we have to understand how we have adopted that mindset ourselves. For example, I think that Paul is clear about submission to the government—and we see as His example that this is exempted when the Government tells you to do something contrary to what God calls you to—but I think we wouldn’t be comfortable with how far Paul might be willing to go in that submission. Or the letter to the Hebrews tells the congregation to obey their leaders, that is their pastors, because they are ones who have to give account for souls. Thankfully, we don’t have a lot of tension here in that, but how far would you be willing to obey your pastor? Or again, we don’t have women as pastors in the Missouri Synod, but how comfortable are we with that teaching? Or are we a bit embarrassed about it in view of the world and how they view that as oppressive?
Christians, we have to stop seeing submission as a matter of oppression. And as I’m saying that, I’m not ignorant of how often people in authority do it wrong. What I’m saying, though is that the refusal to submit isn’t out of rights. No, that’s self-centered. If there is a refusal to submit it ought be out of service to God and neighbor. And when it comes to this holiness of God, there should never be a refusal to submit. Why? Because God’s holiness makes it dangerous for us as sinners to approach Him.
Now, having said that, we can understand that this call to submission is not only not oppressive, but it’s grounded in love. I was listening to a lecture this week online that was talking about parents. It made the point that sometimes parents demand submission and they do so by using what reason? Parents, you’ve all used this before. What’s the reason? “Because I said so.” The lecture said that sometimes that reason is used because there isn’t sufficient time to explain. The child is running to the road and the parent is screaming, “Stop!!!” “Why?!” “Because I said so!” Or maybe there isn’t enough understanding on the part of the child. “Don’t put your finger in the plug!” “Why?!” “Because I said so.” On the surface, it sounds just like a demand, but what’s the rationale? Love for the child and concern for their safety.
So also, with our God. And what is the concern for safety? Well, He has the concern that it’s unsafe for us to approach Him as sinners.
So, then we submit to His Word, but we do so especially as it relates to approaching Him, to coming before Him. What do I mean there? Well, look at Uzziah. Why did he get the leprosy? Because it wasn’t his job to come before the Lord and offer incense. Now again, this was the King. It’s not like it was just an ordinary Joe. And yet still, whose job was it to bring that incense? The priests and the priests alone. God had given them the Word that they could approach that altar. And as they did it made it not only so that the priests could approach God safely, but in the holiness of the Word, they could provide for the people of Israel to approach God safely too—King and all the people.
But that’s the Old Testament, how does that work for us? How do we approach God safely? We approach Him safely by coming before Him in reverence and fear. And that approach is by the Word of Christ, the One who died for our sins. You see, as we celebrate the Trinity today, we see the greatest mystery of all, not just that this is one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the fact that this God entered into our flesh in the person of the Son, in Jesus Christ, to bear our sin and unholiness, to carry that to the cross and to make it so now we are cleansed of that sin and made holy to approach God in His holiness.
In other words, as Jesus died for your sins, He speaks His word of forgiveness to you, He baptizes you, He makes you holy by His holy body and blood, and in that you can now approach God confidently in faith.
In other words, while we think of God as this amoebic and amorphous love, in Christ we see what that love really is. And that love isn’t just a gracious accepting love. No, it’s the kind of love that sacrifices. It’s the kind of love that digs its way into the trenches and suffers hypothermia to battle your sin. It’s the kind of love that steps in front of the bullet that you willingly put yourself in the way of. It’s the kind of love that gives up heaven and earth for you when you haven’t deserved it or earned it.
Christians, that’s what we see in Christ. Isn’t that love where we can see how unoppressive submission is? Isn’t that love where we can understand that God’s “Because I said so,” is even more loving that ours as parents?” And isn’t that love where we can see what holiness truly is? It’s the holiness that is truly shown to be the purist of the pure, because it is the holiness of love that is purer than any love that serves itself—purer than the love we see, in some way or another, in every person on earth. It’s in that knowledge, then, that we too can sing with the angel “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Why? Because our unholiness makes it unsafe for us sinners to approach the holiness of God. But His holy love forgives our sin in Christ making us holy so that we can. Amen.