Holy, Holy, Holy (Isaiah 6:1-3)
When I was a kid, I had night terrors off and on for a few years. I would wake up (or at least think I was awake) and I would see things in my bedroom. One or two times I saw a “monster” — I can remember this one demonic looking thing that flapped some big wings.
Most of the time, however, I saw people. One time I woke up early in the morning; Dad had left a little earlier for work at the Coca-Cola bottling facility in Lexington. A man walked into my room, and I said, “Dad is that you?” I did not know my mother could run that fast! She came flying out of her bedroom, and, of course, no one was there. The night terrors stopped more than 30 years ago, but I’ll never forget that one. I doubt that Mom will ever forget that, either. As Mom ran up that hallway, she thought that she might very soon have a very unpleasant meeting.
Have you ever had an unpleasant encounter when meeting someone for the first time? Have you ever had one of your children introduce you to a boyfriend or girlfriend and you’re thinking, “How can I keep this from going any further?” Have you ever had to meet an oncologist? Maybe you really liked the doctor, but you just hated the circumstances that caused your meeting. Have you ever met a policeman on the side of the road because he turned his lights on behind you? Have you ever met a funeral director because a piece of you had left this world?
In this morning’s text, Isaiah has a very unpleasant encounter with God. You ask: “How can an encounter with God be unpleasant?” When you look at what Isaiah says, you realize how terrified he was: “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!” It’s almost as if Isaiah is screaming. I was frightened a time or two during my night terrors, but after that I was more curious than frightened. Isaiah wasn’t curious — at least not as his vision begins — for he fears for his life and even his immortal soul because he has seen the LORD.
Isaiah realizes that God is a holy God. This morning, we wish to stand beside Isaiah has he sees this manifestation of God. We want to see the holiness of God and think about how we, therefore, live.
Scripture (Isaiah 6:1-3)
Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up. Notice carefully that Isaiah does not describe the Lord. He does not describe the Lord’s face and he does not give the color of the Lord’s robe.
Instead, Isaiah tells us that the Lord sits on a throne and is high and lifted up. The imagery of God’s sitting upon a throne is very rich. In Isaiah chapters 7 and 8, Ahaz, king of Judah, becomes fearful because Syria and Israel were making war against Judah. Ahaz’s reaction was to form an alliance with Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria. God sends Isaiah to Ahaz to tell him not to form an alliance with an earthly king, but to wait upon God. Isaiah sees God on the throne, the God who is the ultimate king, the kingly God who could rescue his king and people. There can be no doubt that God not only rules over Ahaz, but that he rules over the entire world.
John says that Isaiah sees Jesus (Jn 12:41). How appropriate that when Isaiah sees God as the king he sees Christ, the King of this present world!
The train of God’s robe filled the temple. For the train of God’s robe to fill the temple, God had to be huge in Isaiah’s vision. The temple was only about 2,700 square feet, but imagine a robe to fill that much space.
This is the only text in Scripture which mentions the seraphim.
Each seraph had six wings:
- With two he covered his face: He was in the presence of One so magnificent that the seraph had to shield himself.
- With two he covered his feet: This may symbolize that the seraph will only go where God sends, but “feet” was a common euphemism for what Paul calls “our unpresentable parts” (1 Cor 12:23). If that is the meaning here, the seraphim are showing modesty.
- With two he flew: He was able to fly where God needed him.
The seraphim cry out, “Holy, holy, holy.” The three-fold repetition of God’s holiness has nothing to do with the Trinity; ancient writers would repeat a word three times for emphasis.
However, what do the seraphim mean when they cry out, “Holy, holy, holy”? This passage demonstratively demonstrates God’s holiness. When Isaiah sees God high and lifted up, his first reaction is to confess his sin.
Isaiah is not alone in understanding that he, a sinful man, was in the presence of the Almighty. After the great catch of fish, Peter fell prostrate before Jesus and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8). When the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed, the tax collector would not lift his eyes to heaven, but he did say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Lk 18:13). As we look at God’s holiness, we cannot help but be pricked with our sinfulness.
We are pricked with our own sinfulness, for “God is a holy God.”
This is a passage of Scripture that has too often been wrongly read. I’ve preached more than my fair share of those sermons. I’ve preached:
- A burning coal touched Isaiah’s lips and gave him the Word of God. Wrong! In other texts you find God reaching out his hand to a prophet’s mouth or giving the prophet a scroll to eat. Here the touching of Isaiah’s lips has nothing to do with prophecy and it has everything to do with atoning Isaiah’s sin.
- This is about evangelism. “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah’s response is seen as the response the people of God ought to have. That’s a fabulous response to have, but that’s not the point of this passage.
The point of this passage is the holiness of God; everything that follows in this text is an outgrowth of God’s holiness.
Because God is holy, we worship. God’s holiness greatly impacts the way we worship him. The seraphim are praising God, and praise is most certainly worship. The seraphim worship God by calling out: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is filled with his glory!” The four living creatures around God’s throne: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev 4:8).
Those who approach God must be mindful of his holiness. When Moses went to examine the bush that was burning but not consumed, God called out to him and said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Ex 3:5). Moses is not worshipping God. However, God’s holiness changed the way Moses approached God: He was to come no nearer and to remove his sandals. Nadab and Abihu offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, and the Lord sends fire and devours them. God told Moses to tell Aaron: “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (Lev 10:3). The term “sanctified” comes from the same root word as “holy”; the sons of Aaron did not treat God with holiness.
How do we demonstrate God’s holiness in worship?
We give him respect.
We’re here on time. Granted, tardiness to worship happens to the best of us from time to time. Yet, if we’re continually tardy, we do not show God proper respect. When worshippers are focused on God and you walk in, people see you out of the corner of their eyes and you take their thoughts away from Christ. There are two very biblical concerns when people are continually tardy:
- You have missed fellowship, and the assembly is about fellowship. About the early Christians: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). How can we stir one another up to faith and good works if we’re not together (Heb 10:24-25)?
- You have missed praising God. You’ve missed singing hymns of praise, you’ve missed being led in prayer, and, I’ve seen people miss the Lord’s Supper. Why would I wish to miss the worship of the Almighty?
Our minds need to be centered on worshipping God. Nadab and Abihu were very likely drunk when they offered strange fire before God (Lev 10:8-11). You cannot concentrate on worship if you’re drunk. Eli’s sons were “worthless men” (1 Sam 2:12), for they treated the Lord’s sacrifice with contempt (1 Sam 2:17). Why did they treat the Lord’s sacrifice with contempt? They were consumed with self and what they wanted to eat instead of following God’s instructions.
How can we have minds centered on worship?
- We need to fill our minds with good things. Philippians 4:8. We cannot put garbage in our minds all week and expect to have minds fit to worship on Sunday. Spend time in the Word of God. Fill your mind with the Word of God.
- Never forget that God is with us as we worship. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17). “You” is plural, and must apply to the church. As we understand that we are the body of Christ and that the Spirit dwells within us, how can we not come before God with reverence?
As Isaiah saw a holy God, the prophet was moved to confess his sinfulness. Do you, as a child of God, need to confess sin? Do you need to submit to baptism and claim the blood of Jesus shed because of your sinfulness?