“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Fear, love and trust God. The old translation of the small catechism, the summary of the Bible and the Christian faith for children, and for each one of us. Like your life might revolve around meals, your family and your work; the Christian life revolves around Jesus in The Ten Commandments, The Creed and The Lord’s Prayer. He teaches us how to act, what God has graciously done and promised and to rely on Him and speak with Him in everything. To fear, love and trust God more than anything else.
And who is God? Creator of heaven and earth, our Heavenly Father, Lord of host or armies, the righteous and just judge, destroyer of evil and the wicked. He made all that is, you, your family, good food, the wonderful night sky, stunning vistas throughout this world, also volcanoes, torrential rain and this dry weather we’re having. He is in charge and He hates the wicked, those who want to harm others and those who deceive (Psalm 5:6; Hosea 9:15). God told Moses that He will curse those who reject Him to the third or fourth generation (Exodus 20:5). And later, cursed is anyone who does not do all these things of the Law (Deuteronomy 27:26). And Paul reminds us that, all people have sinned and turned away from God (Romans 3:10-18) and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And on top of all this, Isaiah also might recall God’s word to Moses on the Mount, you cannot see my face, for none shall see me and live (Exodus 33:20). I mean, even the flying seraphs hid their faces, perhaps so they weren’t destroyed by God’s holiness, that consuming fire; but Isaiah is staring straight at it (Isaiah 33:14).
Surely if your going to fear anything at all in this world we should fear the God who made it. He promises to destroy all evil and burn up the wicked (Isaiah 27:4; Revelation 21:8). He is awesome and terrifying for those who sin, who put their trust in themselves or anything else other than God Almighty. When you take away all the little things, deadlines, hunger, what to wear, all the worries of our day to day, this is what is left. You before God.
Isaiah sees this and cowers in the doorway. He confesses the truth as you have earlier. He says, ‘woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips.’ He knew his sin, his deception and rejection of God in himself and the sin of his people. You know how you have rejected God, gone your own way, sought to harm others or benefit yourself against others, we hear of what goes on behind closed doors, at the banks, or even out in the open. We, like Isaiah, forget God and His word, instead doing and saying what we want. But we can’t always get it, we don’t have the power. And Isaiah also is powerless compared to God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
But what does God do? What does Jesus do? When you come to Him in your failure, in your need, what does He do? God’s servant got tongs to hold that holy coal, and touched it to Isaiah’s unclean lips, taking away his sin, forgiving him. This image of a burning coal was used in the early church to describe Jesus, God and man, fully together but no less bright as fire and no less solid as coal. And there is another image this reminds us of God touching our lips and taking away your sin. Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, Christ’s body and blood, the Thanksgiving meal. Isaiah saw Jesus in His divine glory, but now we see Him, no less powerful, no less God, but also in His humble humanity. He is God Almighty, yes, but the Word became flesh and lived with us, that holiness mediated in the man Jesus, and so in Him we can approach the divine throne, protected and forgiven. Now there is no need of fear.
Before Jesus, the righteous judge, compared to Him, every person ever still is the same, powerless, scared and a sinner. That is true. But just as that is true, also, as Paul writes, “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). The blood of the New Covenant touches your lips and forgives all your sins (Matthew 26:28). Christ Jesus is the judge of the world, and you have been forgiven and made clean by His body and blood, saved and proclaimed innocent. Isaiah saw the truth and experienced it, but did not know that in Jesus that merciful grace would be offered to you and all people. To be made clean and holy before God Almighty, to be joined to Him and to receive His deep peace and bursting joy. The disciples felt something like this when hauling the earthly bounty Jesus had given them, realising who He was and hearing that grace, do not be afraid (Luke 5:10). And this wonder in the forgiveness and peace of God we receive through His Word, through the absolution and through the precious body and blood of Jesus. These things are different from all other things in the world, here God has promised and given you forgiveness. In these unearthly things of bread and wine and words from a book, God Almighty gives us His peace. He takes away your fear. You are forgiven.
And that peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.
Pastor Joseph Graham