5th Sunday after the Epiphany (C)
February 6, 2022
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 from the book of Isaiah.
If you could take a peek into Heaven, would you? What would you think if for just a few minutes you could see everything on the other side of the Pearly Gates? Think about the angels, the saints, the singing, and of course seeing Jesus! It’s an appealing proposition, isn’t it? Or is it? When God opens heaven, the vision is always the same –His glory overshadows everything. To the saints in Heaven, it’s a wonderful thing to see. To the saints on earth Heaven is not what we expect. And that’s why when Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Saint John see into Heaven they respond with fear and trembling. This is a natural reaction to seeing our Holy God, who wouldn’t tremble? But as God cleanses us with His Son’s Body and Blood, we can approach Him in absolute confidence.
When Isaiah saw God in all his splendor, majesty, and glory, he was not giddy. He didn’t experience an emotional high due to his personal encounter with the almighty God. His reaction wasn’t even one of joy, but of fear, humility, and reverence. He was afraid because he knew that he was a sinner in the presence of the most holy God, for nothing unholy can abide His presence. But He was also humble and reverent because he was in the presence of his Lord and Creator. He saw God in all his awe-inspiring, overwhelming heavenly glory.
Isaiah found himself in the presence of the Creator of all that is seen and unseen, and he saw quite clearly what he had not seen before: “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.” Isaiah saw what he truly was—a miserable sinner. He recognized that he was a sinner among sinful men. He deserved destruction at the hands of God, who sat enthroned before him. Isaiah’s conscience convicted him of his sin. The vision of God and the seraphim who attend Him caused Isaiah to mourn for Israel and fear for his life. He realized that he and all his people were by nature dead in sin and that in them was by nature no righteous thing. Isaiah had nothing to merit the favor of God. He had nothing to appease His wrath and earn His forgiveness. He stood before his God in naked shame.
In our Gospel, Saint Peter experienced the same thing when he found himself in the presence of God in the person of Jesus Christ. After the first miraculous catch of fish, Peter fell down before Jesus and begged, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” This is the natural reaction of those who get even a small glimpse of the divine nature of God. They are crushed by the reality of their sin. The facade of their imagined self-righteousness falls away. The light of God’s glory reveals the darkness of their souls, all pride is removed, and they despair. If ever man’s sinfulness stands out, it’s when he is in the presence of holiness. It’s a fearful thing to be delivered into the hands of the almighty God.
But what of you? You have come to this holy place. You stand on holy ground. You’re in the house of the Lord – in His temple. You’ve come to this place consecrated to the Lord God to be in His divine presence. You’ve called upon the Lord, invoking His holy name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, trusting Him to keep His promise to be in the midst of His people wherever they are gathered. You’re in the presence of the same God with whom Isaiah could not handle. Isaiah was not worthy to sing the song of the angels or even to see the vision before him. He had no wings with which to hide himself and cover his shame. So, too, you’re men and women of unclean lips, living in the midst of a people with unclean lips. You’re not worthy to be here in the presence of God. You have no wings with which to hide your shame. You stand before God naked in your sin, without even a single fig leaf with which to hide.
But for Isaiah an angel came forth, a seraph from the army of God, an angel who is in the temple day and night singing to the glory of the Lord. He flew to the altar and took from it a burning coal, a remnant of the burnt offering, and placed it, burning, on Isaiah’s lips, and Isaiah’s sin was forgiven. He was made holy like the angel, for he partook of that which was sacrificed in his place. It was put on his mouth, and it made him clean.
Like Isaiah, you have had your guilt taken away. You, too, have been made clean. You have no fig leaf. You need no animal skins, for you are clothed in the robes of Christ’s righteousness. He who did not crave the glories of heaven came down from heaven for the salvation of His people. And saving His people, He takes of what is His and makes it yours. He has removed your filthy garments and clothed you with pure robes. At the same time, He sends forth His Holy Spirit, who breathes into you the power to believe that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
This Jesus, who is God in the flesh, is not yet revealed to you in Heaven, but in the humiliation of the crucified Christ. The cross is the only door to Heaven, and Christ is the only image of God. This Christ is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, and the cross is His throne and the glory of His Church. Through the cross, Jesus fills the earth with His glory. Through the cross, Jesus opens the door of heaven to you, and you pass under the bloodstained lintel and doorposts. He who sees Jesus on the cross sees the almighty God and his gracious and loving mercy.
Therefore, you no longer need to mourn your sins, for just as Isaiah was made pure by the burning coal, in the Lord’s Supper the flesh that suffered the holy fire of God’s wrath for you is placed on your lips and tongue, and you’re purged of your sin, made holy and righteous in God’s sight. Therefore, you’re made holy like the angel host. You stand with the angels and archangels and all the saints of heaven and sing with them: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!”
There is a lot of curiosity about what waits for us in Heaven, that’s why books which supposedly relay what Heaven looks like sell so well. I’d stay away from those; partially because some of them are fake, but also because the Bible tells us all we need to know about Heaven. Heaven is full of God’s glory, a glory that we can’t handle, one that causes fear and trembling. But as people cleansed by the blood of Jesus, we anticipate seeing God in all His glory, knowing we can approach Him in bold confidence.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen