5th Sunday the Epiphany (C)
February 10, 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
If someone asked you to describe God, what would you say? That God’s an invisible being somewhere out in space. That He’s a kindly grandfather. That He looks like Jesus with the beard and long hair. Do you not really think about His appearance? If I had to guess, I’d say that very few of us imagine that God looks like what Isaiah saw. Isaiah didn’t see a formless being, a loving grandpa or a Jewish man. What he saw shook him to his core. He says, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple” while he heard the seraphim singing “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” It’s no wonder Isaiah was shaking in fear. God’s glory and holiness are overwhelming, and Isaiah knew he had no right to stand in God’s presence.
God assigned Isaiah to the country of Judah, which was the southern part of Israel and included Jerusalem. And when he arrived things were going well: the crops were growing, the army was large and well-armed, and the foreign trade market was good. Overall, they were experiencing an economic boom and the king’s approval rating was through the roof. They weren’t thinking about God’s glory, His power, or His might. They were spiritually ambivalent, we could even say they were spiritually bankrupt. Not all of them of course, but a lot of them.
Sound familiar? It sure sounds like what’s going on in our nation. Overall, we’re very blessed. Unemployment is down, the stock market is holding its own, and we live in a time of relative peace. As Christians we’re like the nation of Judah, we’ve been chosen by God. But also like Judah, many Christians are spiritually ambivalent and bordering on spiritual bankruptcy. Do you contemplate God’s glory, power, and might? He’s all around us. Everywhere you go, He’s there. Everything you do, He’s a part of. In Psalm 139 David says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” God tells Jeremiah, “Am I a God at hand…and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth?” We all know the answers to these questions, don’t we? We can’t escape Him, but like the people of Judah, and everywhere else in the world, we ignore His power and His glory. We think that He is far off minding His own business while we carry on ours.
But what if we see Him as Isaiah did? What if we realize that we have no right to stand before Him? By nature, He is holy. By nature, we are not. When we really think about God in this way, we have to respond like Isaiah did, “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.” Or we’d have to react like Peter who fell on his knees in front of Jesus and cried, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” When we’re exposed to God’s glory, when we realize our sins, there’s no other possible reaction. Who among us could stand before God? We’re sinful people living in a sinful world, and this has the serious implication, that we should be tossed out of His presence on our heads. That we should be expelled from His holy presence, not just temporarily, but for all eternity.
One of the tips for interpreting the Bible (that we learned today/that we’ll learn next week), is that everything must be taken in context. This means is that you can’t pick out one verse or sentence in the Bible and ignore the verses that surround it. So, if you stop listening when you hear Isaiah cry, “Woe is me!”, you’re missing the rest of the story. Yes, God is glorious and holy, but He’s also gracious and merciful. God tells Moses that He’s “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” When Isaiah realized his sinfulness and the fact that he had no right to stand in God’s presence, he confessed his sin. When Peter realized that Jesus was God, he confessed his sin. We too must recognize our sin, the sin of the world around us, and confess. Not just go through the motions but have true repentance, a true “woe is me” attitude of our own.
The Lord is gracious and at Isaiah’s repentance He sent one of the seraphim to touch Isaiah with the forgiveness. Like He does in our Sacraments, He uses His Word and a sign to convey forgiveness to Isaiah. As Peter laid trembling on his knees, Jesus said to him, “Don’t be afraid.” Yes, Peter was standing in the holiness of God, but His sins were forgiven so he had nothing to fear. So too now, as you stand in His holy presence, He forgives your sin. The flaming coal that purged the sin and guilt of Isaiah, is seen in the forgiveness that touches you. The seraph could say to Isaiah, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” because God was already looking forward to what His Son would do for all people.
Jesus atoned for, paid for, all your sins. Your lips are touched with the body and blood of Jesus. Your ears are touched with the news of forgiveness. Your head is touched by cleansing water. God saw Isaiah’s sins, He knew all about them, but He forgave them all. He sees your sins and He forgives them all. It’s because you are forgiven you can sing with the angels in Heaven. Forgiveness opens your lips so you can sing the heavenly song, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of your glory!” What a beautiful song that will always be sung by angels and by the saints living and departed.
When Isaiah heard the wonderful words of forgiveness, he eagerly responded to God’s call for a messenger, and he faithfully served God the rest of his life. Peter likewise found power in forgiveness to follow Christ to his own crucifixion. You too are forgiven and you too are called to follow Christ as His disciple. Don’t let your past sins silence you, they’re gone. Don’t worry about what will happen if you tell others about Christ, let Him worry about that. Use the forgiveness of sins to become bold and eager to share the news of forgiveness to others. God’s glory is unbelievable, it’s overwhelming, it’s beyond our comprehension, but you know what is also overwhelming? His grace and forgiveness.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen