Sermon for Mini Bible Conference, Wednesday Evening, March 31st, 2021 at Grand Island (BPC)
[Isa 6:1-7 ESV] 1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “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!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
The almighty God fills the earth with his glory; he sits upon his throne and the train of his robe fills the temple. And yet in a vision the prophet Isaiah sees this Holy God.
Here in chapter 6 of Isaiah we come to one of the most important and most well-known passages in the entire book.
Up to this point the first five chapters emphasized the coming day of destruction, the judgment of God that is soon approaching.
The sin of Jerusalem and of Judah has been great. Destruction and judgment are warranted because their sins, like all sins, are against the most Holy God.
Now in our passage for this evening, we find in a sense a summary of the entire Scriptures and of God’s plan of salvation. Against a holy God there is sinful man who is redeemed only by the grace of God; who is saved only through the work of a Holy Redeemer.
We’ll be looking at this passage under two parts:
I. The Holy God
II. The Holy Redeemer
First, we have:
I. The Holy God
In this vision Isaiah sees the holy God. He says: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”
Also in his vision God is spoken of by one of the seraphim as holy.
And not only as holy, but as thrice holy. God is Holy, Holy, Holy. So holy is God that it seems that his holiness is the reason the Seraphim must cover their eyes with two of their six wings so as not to look upon him directly.
Now in the Scriptures if something is repeated twice it is very important.
In John’s Gospel, for example, Jesus frequently (in about 25 places) says “verily, verily, I say unto thee.” He says “Truly, truly, I say to you.” And when he says this, we ought to pay extra attention, for he then invariable says something of great importance.
John 3:3 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
John 5:24 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.”
John 8:58 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”
These teachings are of central importance, emphasized with the twofold repetition, Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι.
So if a two-fold repetition is so important, what then are we to make of a three-fold repetition? If the doubling of a word commands our attention, how much more does the tripling of a word do so.
This tripling in fact occurs in the Bible just a handful of times
In Jeremiah 22:29 there is “land, land, land.”
In Ezekiel 21:27 there is “ruin, ruin, ruin.”
In Revelation 8:13 there is “woe, woe, woe.”
And in both Revelation 4:8 and our verse here in Isaiah 6:3 there is “holy, holy, holy.”
There is no stronger way for the Scriptures to emphasize God’s holiness. Never in the Scriptures is there a fourfold repetition of a word.
So God is as holy as can be. He is entirely wholly, Or as R. C. Sproul said, God is wholly (W H O L L Y) holy (H O L Y).
There is no shadow of turning with thee. Holiness is God’s nature and He changes not.
This means not only that God does not sin—for the angels in heaven presumably don’t sin either—but that God is the very standard of holiness. It is of his nature, one of His attributes. It is impossible for God to sin. For one, WHO would He sin against? There is no god above God. As He is the very standard of holiness, all that he does, and all that he is, is holy.
So one of the Seraphim cry out,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (v. 3)
John Calvin explains that the angels have set before us an example for imitation. Calvin says “the most holy service that we can render [to God] is to be employed in praising his name.” (Calvin, p. 204)
And that is what we do at a worship service. Our primarily purpose is to worship God, to praise his holy name, to say good things about Him.
Many have argued that this threefold repetition, “Holy, holy, holy” is a proof of the doctrine Trinity. Calvin perhaps best puts it when he says “I do not disagree with this position; but if I had to contend with heretics I would rather choose to employ stronger proofs.”
There are indeed many proofs for the doctrine of the Trinity in the Scriptures, but now is not the time to review them. But you might consider to do as I have done, and put a little triangle or perhaps the number 3 in the margin of your personal copy of the Bible whenever you come upon a Trinitarian proof.
So indeed we are to praise God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit singing “Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.”
Incidentally, you should be aware the Mormons mutilate that song, denying the doctrine of Trinity in saying “Holy, Holy, Holy, God in his glory, blessed DEITY.” Clearly the Mormons worship another God.
We worship the Holy God. The Holy Triune God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Or we might say, the Holy Father, the Holy Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity is holy.
But there is a problem: How can a holy God ever have fellowship with us?
While God is WHOLLY (entirely) holy, man is wholly (entirely) sinful, totally depraved.
If God is perfect and holy, how can he ever have fellowship with us? How can he ever have fellowship with me?, a sinner.
And indeed we all sin.
In the first five chapters of Isaiah we find that the people have sinne in a number of ways:
1. They have rebelled against God (1:2)
2. They have forsaken the Lord (1:4)
3. They have made vain offerings (1:13)
4. They have been unjust to the fatherless and widows (1:17)
5. They have taken bribes (1:23)
6. And lastly, they have been piling up valuables (3:18-23), perfumes and headbands, pendants, bracelets, and rings. Robes, mantles, cloaks, and handbags.
This is a life distant from God. A life of materialism.
Some years ago I traveled to China on business. I used to work as an engineer and found myself in Xiamen, China supporting the installation of new business class airplane seats that I had helped to design. Well, as I had been told by my coworkers ahead of time, I found in Xiamen a great trade of stolen and knock-off goods. Above all other products being sold was hand bags. I previously had no idea how big of a deal hand bags are. On the way to Xiamen I stopped in Hong Kong and there saw the real product – Louis Vuiton – being sold for a thousand dollars or so. Well on main street in Xiamen you could get the semi-illegal version for about 50 dollars. I say “semi-illegal” for I’m sure the government was in on the whole thing. And then in the back alleyways of the Xiamen the same product might go for only 10 dollars, but you have to put your life at some risk to find such a deal.
Whether one spends a thousand for fifty dollars, the sad part is just how desirable it is for many to present themselves as wealthy. But as Christians we ought to steward our finances, not put on airs of affluence. Surely there are better uses of our money than high-end hand bags.
The people of Israel were guilty of such avarice — greed for wealth (or the display of it)— in addition to all those other previously-mentioned sins.
God, through the prophet Isaiah, summarizes the whole situation in Chapter 5 verse 4:
“What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”
The people did not produce fruit in accord with faith in God. Rather they have sinned profoundly and profusely.
Therefore, WOE. This is Isaiah’s pronouncement.
5:8 – “Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field until there is no more room”
5:11 – “Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may run after strong drink.”
5:20 – “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.
5:21 – “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and shrewd in their own sight!
5:22 – “Woe to those who are heroes and drinking wine.”
There could almost be another triplicate here: woe, woe, woe.
But this woe doesn’t cease with the people. Even the prophet Isaiah himself, now in our text (6:5) says “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!” [REPEAT: “Woe is me.”] He has seen the holy God, and knows his sin against Him.
Isaiah knows that he is not exempt from sin. So he says “woe is me.” He knows that all have sinned, falling short of the holiness of God. Usually we think of prophets crying out woe upon the nation, upon the people, or upon foreign nations. But Isaiah cries woe also upon himself. He has unclean lips, as do all others.
If even the prophet Isaiah admits he is a sinner, how much more should we see that we are sinners?
As we look around us, we should conclude that there is much sin in our society. But we should learn from Isaiah and look also at ourselves. And therefore say not only that our nation, our world, is corrupt, but that WE are corrupt. WE sin. It is easy enough to see evil in the world and put ourselves in the place of a judge of it. But our critical judgment turned inward will soon see the same sinfulness.
And the more we understand the holiness of God the more we see our own sin. We are not “pretty good” or “almost holy.” When we see a Holy God and then see ourselves, we see the stark contrast. Next to a Holy God, we are vile filthy sinners.
But this is not the end of it of the story. We—even though we see—we who believe in Jesus Christ are in the Hands of an Atoning God. We have Jesus Christ, the Holy Redeemer.
II. The Holy Redeemer
Previously in Isaiah there have been elements of Gospel hope. It is not all “woe.”
In Isaiah 1:18 for example God says: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
And now we come to this great Gospel message in chapter 6. Isaiah, a man of unclean lips, recalls in his vision:
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
The burning coals touched Isaiah’s unclean lips and his guilt is taken away, his sin atoned for. By no action of his own, but by the work of God.
Now the idea of burning coals to the lips doesn’t sound like a lot of fun! It is difficult enough to walk on hot coals! Well, I’ve never tried. So what is going on here?
The vision of burning coals is referring to a purification by fire. Matthew Henry makes this point well. He notes that back just two chapters, in Isaiah 4 we read about a “spirit of burning” that washes and cleanses.
Specifically, Isaiah gives the prophecy:
[Isa 4:3-4 ESV] 3 And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, 4 when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.
This washing, this cleansing, is of God, even though in Isaiah’s vision the seraph bring the coal. The atoning of sin is the act of God.
And note that when the angel says “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” that the work is entirely of God. It is not something which God starts and man finishes, but rather it is the alone work of God. So that we cannot boast. Salvation of the Lord.
We then see that the holy God is a forgiving God, an atoning God.
We are sinners, but we are in his hands. While there is the hand of judgment upon the enemies of God, there is a hand of protection upon all of His people.
In John’s Gospel Jesus says “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
God is holy.
Man is sinful.
But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Son of man is holy and he lived the sinless life that we are unable to live.
We see that holiness is related to the atonement through Jesus Christ. [Holiness is related to the atonement through Jesus Christ]
Jesus is the Holy Redeemer. Jesus Christ is Holy, and only a holy Christ can redeem our sins. God accepts only a lamb without blemish, a man without sin. And Jesus, the son of God, was that man. He lived a perfect, sinless life and died as our substitute. The holy redeemer saves unholy men.
There is no hope, only woe, for sinful man apart from God. But in Jesus Christ there is great hope because has he taken away our guilt and atoned for our sin.
And Christ is in fact in view in our passage.
The apostle John quotes from this chapter of Isaiah and tells us that the Lord spoken of was Jesus Christ. John 12:41 – “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him [Jesus].”
Isaiah saw a vision of the holy God. John did as well. Revealed to John in the book of Revelation is that same scene Isaiah speaks of, that of heavenly being worshiping the holy lord, saying Revelation 4:8 – “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty, who was and is and is to come.”
In this we see that the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament. God is Holy, Holy, Holy, yesterday, today, and forever.
We see the Holy Redeemer through faith in Him. As we grow in knowledge of Christ through reading the Scriptures and through hearing the Word preached, we see Christ all the more. We see his holiness, his perfection, his wonderful ways, his wisdom beyond compare.
And one day, with our sins taken away, sanctified, glorified, with eternal life we shall see the Holy God. Like Job, we can say “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.”
We shall see the Holy God because of the Holy Redeemer. Praise be to Jesus Christ. In his name we pray. Amen.