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Holy, Holy, Holy – Isaiah 6:1-8

It’s with a bit of trepidation that I share the below.  Some will see the fingerprints of Dr. R.C. Sproul all over it.  I delivered the following message to Central Baptist Church, Okinawa, Japan on Sunday, Aug 6, 2006.  My prayer is that it helped awaken some to the Holiness of God.

 “Holy, Holy, Holy”

One of the problems that I have with modern Protestants is that I often want to tell them:  “Your God is too small.”  In fact, that is the title of a Book by J.B. Phillips.  Why do I say that?  I say that because most people have a small view of the power and Glory of God.  It’s bad enough that many Americans want to acknowledge a “higher power” as long as it doesn’t involve the name Jesus Christ.  It is worse to me that those who claim the title “Christian” make God out to be weak.  They make Him to be a kindly grandfather or cosmic Santa Claus who can’t get over how much He loves us human beings.  Some see him as powerless to thwart Satan in this world unless we help Him.  Others picture Him as powerless to act on human hearts without the permission of human commands.

Think of this common phrase:  “Jesus is waiting outside the door of your heart pleading to come in.”  What image comes to mind?  Does it make Jesus seem strong and powerful?  Does it make Him seem like King of Kings and Lord of Lords?  Does it match up with the picture of Him found in Scripture?  You see, we live with certain conceptions for so long that we start to accept them as Biblical.

The second Commandment prohibits the making of idols.  God forbids that any man should form anything and bow down to it.  God is the only one worthy of worship.  But idolatry begins in the mind.  There are all kinds of idols of the mind concerning God.  Islam, for instance, rejects the Son and Spirit as God and make God completely distant from men.  Though they do not bow down to statues exactly, but their god is no god at all but an idol of the mind.

I’m training my children to learn about God at an early age by teaching them answers to basic questions.  When I ask my son James, “What is God?”, his answer is, “God is a Spirit and doesn’t have a body like men.”  That’s a good answer for a four year old but a more thorough, but still brief, answer is:  “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, And unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”

That’s a great, short answer.  It obviously doesn’t tell us everything about God but it gives us a rich way of thinking about Him.  Each of those terms (infinite, eternal, wisdom, power, etc) are what some like to call the attributes of God.  God is all of those things and not just one of them.  You cannot merely say God is eternal but not wise.  You can’t say He is infinite but not powerful.

When you ask most people:  “What is God?”  They’ll say:  “God is love.”  That’s Biblical, right?  The New Testament does say that God is love but God also calls Himself Just, Jealous, Angry and a lot of other things throughout Scripture.  But LOVE is something we can get behind isn’t it?  If God is just Love then He’s cuddly.  He’s cute.  I can handle a God who is Love because then I can just make up whatever I want to think about what love is and say:  “That’s God.”  I once remember watching Oprah and some lady said:  “I don’t know if I believe in God.”  Oprah responded, “Do you believe in love?”  The lady said “Yes” to which Oprah responded “Then you believe in God.”  To most people “God is Love” has become “Love is God.”

Remember I said that some Christians can create idols in their own minds concerning God?  Well, the way that many speak of God as being love is so imbalanced and so completely ignores everything else that He is, that they twist and contort who God is to the point of creating an idol in their minds.

But Christians are not supposed to worship idols in their minds.  We want to know God as He is.  We want God to tell us who He is so that we might know better who we worship.

So we might better understand that God, we will be considering the Holiness of God.  Let us read Isaiah 6:1-8.

Isaiah 6

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2 Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one cried to another and said:

      ” Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”

 4 And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.
5 So I said:

      ” Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because 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 live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

” Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”

8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

” Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

The passage opens with Isaiah reporting the year of this event.  It was the year that King Uzziah died.  Uzziah had reigned in Judah for 52 long years – two and a half generations.  Though significant in the history of the nation, more significant for Isaiah here is what happened.  Isaiah reports:  “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.”

In his vision, the first thing he reports seeing is the Lord sitting on a throne.  Kings sit on thrones.  This throne is not merely any throne, however, but one that is high and lifted up.  This conveys power.  This conveys majesty.

Isaiah notes that the train of the Lord’s robe literally fills the temple.  Throughout history, royalty have worn robes with long trains.  Very important kings would have many attendants that would carry the long trains of their robes.  The robes were a sign of power and of majesty.  The longer the train, the more powerful the king.  The Lord’s robe is so majestic that the train literally fills the temple.

Isaiah continues in verse 2:

Is 6:2 “Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.”

Did you catch how many wings the Seraphim have?

Six.

How many are actually used for flying?

Two.

An interesting design isn’t it?  God has created angels that fly around in His presence and they have six wings with only two used for flying.  The other four have a very definite purpose, however.

Notice what the angels are using them for:  two are covering their eyes and two are covering their feet.  God, in His mercy, created these beings to be protected in His presence.  They have wings to cover their eyes, for God is too majestic to look upon.  They have two wings to cover their feet as the Scriptures repeatedly connect holiness with uncovered feet.  Think of Moses at the burning bush.

What do these Seraphim do?

Is 6:3 And one cried to another and said:

      ” Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

      The whole earth is full of His glory!”

When we use the English language to emphasize a point, we have different ways of doing so.  We can put something in bold letters.  We can underline the text.  We can add an adjective to say that my wife is the most beautiful woman in the whole world.

The Hebrew language also has those tools but it uses another tool when a Hebrew really wants to emphasize something.  If something is really going to be emphasized in the Hebrew it is repeated.  There is an amusing piece of Hebrew literature that refers to a “pit pit”.  This is a very, very, very deep pit.  If you fall into a pit then you’re in big trouble but if you fall into a “pit pit” you may never get yourself out.  It sounds very funny but using the term twice emphasizes it.  Christ, when making an important point, would sometimes say, “Amen, amen” before teaching something.  Paul in Galatians 1:8-9 repeats a curse twice for anyone who distorts the Gospel.

Repeating things twice in the Scripture for emphasis is relatively rare.  If everything was repeated twice to make extra emphasis then it would be hard to distinguish between all the really important things.

While repeating things twice in the Scriptures is rare, repeating things three times is so rare that it occurs only three times in the Scriptures.  This is one of them.

You see, the Scriptures do not just say God is Holy.  They do not say God is Holy, Holy.  The Scriptures teach us that God is HOLY, HOLY, HOLY.

The Scriptures don’t teach that God is love, love, love or mercy, mercy, mercy or kindness, kindness, kindness.  Those are all true of Him but nothing in Scripture is so underlined and emphasized as the fact that God is Holy, Holy, Holy.

Notice also the term that God is given here:  LORD of Hosts.  Some of you may have Bibles that show the difference in the Hebrew Word used here.  In verse 1, Isaiah sees the Lord on the throne but the spelling is L-o-r-d.  Here, in verse 3, the spelling is L-O-R-D.  Why?  Because they are two different Hebrew words.  The Hebrew word translated to Lord in verse 1 is Adonai while the Hebrew word translated to LORD in verse 3 is Yahweh.  Yahweh is God’s covenantal name given to Moses at the burning bush.  It is the name He uses when He commands that His name not be taken in vain in the 10 commandments.  The Hebrew people had so much reverence for the Covenant name of Yahweh that they would not speak it for fear of pronouncing it incorrectly.  When they would encounter this name in the Scriptures they would actually substitute the name Adonai.  We note the difference here because it is important to show the difference to which we let God’s name fall of our tongue with no reverence or even as a curse compared to our ancient forefathers who were very careful to respect His name.

This event that Isaiah describes is so powerful that the doorposts of the place he sees are shaken and the temple is filled with smoke.

So how does Isaiah react?  Does he start joking with God saying “Hey God how are you doing up there?”  Does he yawn and say “Man, this religious stuff is BORING!”

Not quite.  Isaiah’s response is:

Is 6:5

” Woe is me, for I am undone!

      Because 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.”

There are two basic type of prophetic utterances in the Scriptures.  They are sometimes called the Oracles of Weem and the Oracles of Woe.  An Oracle of Weem is when a Prophet blesses a nation or a person.  Christ is pronouncing an Oracle of Weem (blessing) when He says:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are you when they persecute you, etc.”  Those are nice.  If you’re the recipient of an Oracle of Weem then smile, the favor of God is upon you.  Those are bearings of good tidings.

Oracles of Woe are the exact opposite:  “Woe unto you Pharisees, hypocrites!”  That is a prophetic curse being called down, by God’s prophet, upon the heads of the people cursed.  God help any of us who hears an Oracle of Woe and it concerns us.  One of the other examples of the triple repetition in Revelation 8:13 when a bird calls out to the Earth:  “Woe!  Woe!  Woe!” to announce judgment.  The sound of that herald will be absolutely terrifying.

So what does Isaiah do when He sees the Lord on His throne?  He says:  “Woe is me!  For I am undone!”  What?  He is cursing himself!  The prophet is cursing himself for having seen the majesty of God.  God’s majesty has overwhelmed him so much that he is literally cursing himself for having seen it.

When Americans say:  “That guy has it together…” we mean that he’s got a lot of things going for him and is someone to be respected.  Isaiah says he is literally undone at the sight of God.  He is coming apart at the seams.

Why is this so bad?  I thought seeing God would be like seeing Santa Claus?  I’ve never been undone at the sight of Santa Claus.

Isaiah says he is undone because:  “I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;”

Isaiah recognizes that, as upright as he seemed in the community, he was unclean in the presence of a Holy God.  It is our mouths that speak falsehoods and repeatedly dishonor God.  James says that our tongues are a restless evil, full of poison that we both bless and curse God with.

Isaiah not only sees his own sin here but notes that he lives among a people that are as wicked as he is:  a people of unclean lips.  I wonder how we would stack up to the people of Judah and how unclean our lips are in comparison.  At least they were careful with the name of God.  We use God’s name as a curse word constantly in this society.

If you had a chance to only make 10 rules for society then what would they be?

How many of you would have made the very first four rules that honored God and His Holiness?  That’s the order that God gives to His rules.  If you were an Israelite and cursed the name of God then you had a lot more to worry about than dirty looks from Christians who said “I don’t appreciate that.”  Blasphemy was a capital crime and punishable by death.  THAT’S how serious God takes His holiness and His holy name.

By now I hope you are getting an idea at the difference between the pictures that the Bible uses to describe God and the idols we often fashion in our minds.  But you might be saying to me:  “Rich, that’s the Old Testament.  God was mean back then.  He was angry.  He mellowed out when Jesus came.  Now He’s cuddly.”

Well I could point out to you that God is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore.  God does not change.  Maybe it’s just the Father though and the Son is cool.  The Son wouldn’t scare a prophet would He?

Some atheists, in their lame attempt to justify their rebellion against God, have come up with an “evolutionary” explanation for religion.  They say that nature is a scary thing and primitive man had to have a way to escape that fear so they came up with a God that would protect them from all the disasters in nature that would befall them.  Well, I believe the reasons Atheists refuse to acknowledge God is because men are more afraid of God than they are of nature.  Let’s consider, for a moment, Mark 4:35-41:

Mark 4:35-41

35 On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.”

 36 Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him.

 37 And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.

 38 Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

 39  And He got up and (AA)rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.

 40 And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? (AB)Do you still have no faith?”

 41 They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

Experienced fishermen are on the sea when a sudden storm descends upon that valley and makes the sea so violent that they fear for death.  They wake Jesus up and He rebukes the waves.  If you notice in the account, they are only afraid of the waves but after Jesus stills the waters by the power of His authority, they are very much afraid.  Afraid of what?  Afraid of HIM.  That’s what Holiness strikes in man:  fear.  This is but one of many examples where Christ’s Holiness frightens men.  When Peter is first called He tells Jesus to depart from him because Peter has just seen the power of God and realizes he is a sinner.

If any of you are hearing about Jesus’ holiness scaring people for the first time then let me really surprise you with something.  Turning to John 12:37-41 we read:

John 12:37-41

37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.

38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

   “Lord, who has believed our message

      and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

 39For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

 40″He has blinded their eyes

      and deadened their hearts,

   so they can neither see with their eyes,

      nor understand with their hearts,

      nor turn-and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

John is quoting Isaiah right after the passage we’re looking at in Isaiah 6.  Remember, we have Isaiah groveling on the ground, stunned into cursing himself.  Who is it that He sees high and lifted up?  Whose train fills the temple?  Who is it that is Holy, Holy, Holy?

It is JESUS!  It is the Son of God before He had taken on flesh.  That is who Isaiah sees.

Do you understand why I have a problem with the picture of Jesus knocking on the door of sinner’s hearts pleading to come in?  THIS is the Biblical picture of the Son of God’s power and majesty.  The thought of Him pitiful and weak outside the door of a man’s heart is unbiblical and dishonors God.

But in all of this we forgot about poor Isaiah.  While we’ve been busy, Isaiah is still on the ground crushed by the fear of God’s Holiness.  Does God leave His servant in agony?  Of course not.  Our God is a merciful God.  This is the Son of God who Isaiah is standing in front of and the Son is the Redeemer.

Isaiah 6:6-7 reports

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth with it, and said:

      ” Behold, this has touched your lips;
Your iniquity is taken away,
And your sin purged.”

The picture here is unexpected.  A hot coal is taken from the altar and touches the mouth of Isaiah.  We would expect this to be searing hot and cause a great deal of pain but the quick remedy provided by the angel takes away Isaiah’s iniquity.  It purges his sin.  With his iniquity taken away he can stand upright in the presence of God.  With his sin purged, he is brought back to his right mind and he is capable of thinking again.  Our iniquity must be taken away or heaven would not be a place of pleasure in the presence of God.  Sin cannot stand to be in the presence of a Holy God and a Holy God cannot bear to look at sin.  I think it might be the realization of God’s hatred toward sin that makes being in His presence so unbearable.  I think he exposes the ugliness of it and we are starkly aware of our condemnation before Him.  Is it any wonder that the Scriptures speak of unbelievers asking the mountains to cover them at the Judgment.  God’s Holiness is a terrible thing to look upon when your sin remains with you.

So with a purified heart, Isaiah hears God ask:

8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:

      ” Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”

Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

In the presence of God, he hears God ask for a volunteer to go out for Him.  Isaiah immediately responds:  “Here I am!  Send me.”

“Here I am.”  Isaiah has not lost his identity.  His personality is not swallowed up into the majesty of God as some pagan ideas of God teach.  Even after seeing God as He is, he’s still a person.  He still has an identity.  He’s still Isaiah.  He answers:  “Here I am!”

“Send me.”  Isaiah is eager to serve His God.  He has seen the crushing majesty of God’s Holiness and had his sin forgiven.  His Savior, the mighty God, wants a volunteer.  Who wouldn’t answer yes having received such a gift of Grace?

Isaiah was only beginning his prophetic ministry and what a hope he now had.  Isaiah was privileged to serve His Savior for many years prophesying to a people who would not listen.  Tradition has it that Isaiah was eventually martyred by being sawn in two.  But this was a man who had seen Adonai.  This was a man who had seen Yahweh of Hosts.  He had seen Him high and lifted up.  He had even lived to report the event because his sin was purged.  And Isaiah was to go on to prophesy of this same Son of God He had seen on the throne in Isaiah 53:

Isa 53:4-9

4 Surely He has borne our griefs

And carried our sorrows;

Yet we esteemed Him stricken,

Smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities;

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

And by His stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;

We have turned, every one, to his own way;

And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,

Yet He opened not His mouth;

He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,

And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,

So He opened not His mouth.

8 He was taken from prison and from judgment,

And who will declare His generation?

For He was cut off from the land of the living;

For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.

9 And they made His grave with the wicked –

But with the rich at His death,

Because He had done no violence,

Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The Son of God, come to Earth to be reviled and rejected, hated by men.

Can you understand all the more how much Christ emptied Himself to come on the Earth and to be abused and hated by men?  He who knew all Glory and Majesty in heaven came to Earth because sinful men would never be able to be in His presence without His atonement.  He was bruised for our iniquities and bore on Himself the sins which we deserve to bear.

This is the Gospel!

A Holy God.

No.  A Holy, Holy, Holy God in whose presence we would be unable to stand.

  Because we could not go to Him, He came to us.  Because we could not obey, He obeyed for us.  Because we only spoke unclean things, He always spoke the good, the beautiful, and the pure.  Because we could not pay for our transgressions and the sin was greater than we could bear, He died, He became sin for us.

THAT, beloved, is a God worthy of your worship!  That is a God who must be worshipped.  Praise Him that He makes us anew that we can come into His magnificent presence and proclaim:  “Here am I, Send me!”

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