January 18, 2004
Pastor Brian Shimer
"GOD: THE THREE-TIMES HOLY"
Isaiah 6 / Hymn #64
| I. ||
My family says I am the king of returns. If anyone needs something
returned anywhere, and if for some reason it is an awkward or difficult return (no receipt, no tags, worn once, etc), often I am the one who gets to return it. So, when Anna's new suitcase from Costco ripped on her recent flight home from Dallas, and all her tags and receipts were in Texas, I was the one who took it to customer service. All I had was the ripped suitcase. I thought it would be fairly straightforward, but it was a search to find it in their computers. I realized as I spoke with the woman that I lacked one other vital piece of information, how much it had cost. So when asked, I said, "I think around $80." Well, there in the system was a suitcase that seemed to match what we were looking at, and they handed me 4-$20s. When I got back to Anna who had begun our shopping and was to meet me at the suitcases, I asked her, "How much did it cost?" She said, "Oh it cost $40. Here it is right here." And she was right.
Daily you and I are expressing our beliefs. How we go about our
days, how we encounter difficulties, how we handle or don't handle crises, how we deal with our relationships, expresses in visual form what we believe about God, about ourselves, about life and the future.
What we live may not be Christian theology. It may not be expressing faith in the true and living God. But still we are living what we believe.
If I had said, "Oh, they made a mistake and it is in my favor. God has blessed me with an extra $40," that would have expressed a theological position that God will bless me by my having to go on pretending I did not know the true value of the suitcase. In other words God blesses through my dishonesty and sin. I would be saying that I think my knowing that I was cheating Costco out of their $40 was no big deal to God, after all they have lots of money and wouldn't miss it. It would be expressing a theological position. I may not think of it as theology, but I would be living it.
After we checked out that day, we stopped by customer service and the man was floored and blessed beyond blessed when I told him what had happened, and handed him $40. "Oh my God," he said, "thank you so much." Yes, it was about God that I came back, but I did not have a chance to go into that with him.
Theology - your thoughts and my thoughts about God -- is crucially important.
People will do one of two things. Either, they will believe who God is based upon Scripture and the testimony of the church throughout 2000 years of history, and adjust their lives to fit that belief.
Or, they will believe their own thoughts and brokenness, the hurts they have experienced in life, the deceiving lies in their hearts, and adjust God to fit those beliefs.
Today in America we frequently see the second option as well-meaning people are supporting wicked agendas. This is nothing new. Well-meaning people really believed Dr King was wrong as he stood soundly against segregation 40 years ago. But they were sincerely deceived in their theology and their thinking -- and Dr Martin Luther King was a prophet who died in his cause for the right.
This living of theology is nothing new, and it is what caused a 5th century monk named Vincent of Lerins to summarize in a sentence how to test the beliefs we may encounter within or in the greater church. He said: Authentic Christian doctrine and teaching is that which has been believed everywhere, always, by everyone. (Good News Magazine Jan/Feb 2004, The Power of the Laity, by Diane Knippers, p 26, ubp)
Read that with me, would you?
Of all the beliefs we could discuss, there is nothing more important or more basic than the doctrine that our great God is holy.
| II. ||
This is what Reginald Heber brought to light in his great hymn
published after his death in 1926.
Heber wrote this hymn to proclaim that God is in essence ONE while in persons THREE: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A belief that the greatest Jew Jesus clearly taught, and is announced through Jewish practice and belief over the centuries. Even the Hebrew word for "one" in the Shema, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, " means "unity" or "united." This stands in contrast to Islam which proclaims God as numerically and absolutely one, and to cults which demote Jesus from the Godhead or deny the ministry of God's Holy Spirit.
Today I am not going to define nor defend the Trinity -- it is one of those doctrines of the church believed everywhere, always, by everyone. It has stood the test of time. It is big enough to be incomprehensible to human minds, and therefore is big enough to be true of God. It is basic truth. There are many illustrations but all bring us back to that one basic fact, that God is bigger than we are and any formula that we use to describe Him will fall short.
Heber had the right idea. Rather than argue the trinity, simply declare who God is early in the morning, day by day. Join all the saints, past, present and future, in acknowledging the God who exceeds our comprehension, praise be to the three-times holy God.
A. ISAIAH WROTE, IN THE YEAR THAT KING UZZIAH DIED,
I SAW THE LORD…
We tend to read past this beginning sentence in Isaiah chapter 6. As if "seeing the Lord" were of small consequence. We forget that even the most humble man who ever lived never beheld the face of God. Yet of Moses Scripture says: "never has there been another prophet like this one whom the Lord knew face to face," yet, God spoke with him from a cloud. And when this man, Moses, asked if he could see God's face, God said, "you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live" (Exodus 33:20).
No, it is no small thing to see the Lord.
B. In the year the king died, Isaiah saw the TRUE King, the President of presidents, the Lord of Lord, high and lifted up, seated on a throne. There is only one throne that matters in creation and it is God's. And the robe filled the temple - the presence of God over the place of sacrifice, of washing, of light, of incense, of atonement. And those might seraphs were singing God's praise.
No, this was not a warm-fuzzy God experience. This was an experience of abject terror.
| III. ||
What we miss, Isaiah didn't. Seeing God that day meant his death.
Isaiah cries: "My destruction is sealed! …For I have seen the Lord"
God is holy and that means he is separate from us. He is High and Lifted above us. He is not a Man as the Mormon doctrines proclaim.
Indeed, the Lord will tell Isaiah, recorded in the 55th chapter: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts" (v. 8-9).
From Isaiah's encounter we can observe that God's holiness means:
A. God is terrifying to behold. God is not one to take for granted. As the book of Hebrews pronounces, "it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (10:31).
King Uzziah was one of the good kings of Judah. He took the throne at the age of 16 and reigned for 52 years. It was when he was rich and powerful that, as the Bible says, "his pride led to this downfall." Uzziah took God for granted.
How did he do it?
One day he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. This may not sound like a big deal to you, but it was something only priests were allowed to do. Uzziah had decided he could do anything he wanted to do. He had come to believe that he was the true king.
The Bible records what happened: "Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the Lord followed him in. They confronted him and said, 'It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God.'
What were these courageous priests doing? They were warning this king that God was not to be trifled with. God's absolute rule was not to be taunted. You think this has any application to our nation today? Anyone need to remember this?
"Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord's temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead."
When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead, so they hurried him out. Indeed, he himself was eager to leave, because the Lord had afflicted him."
"Eager to leave," the text says, as the terror of the Lord replaced his pride in that instant. He must have "felt" something change on his forehead. He must have known with a certainty akin to horror what had happened. Perhaps he thought of the same kind of affliction upon Miriam when she stood with Aaron against Moses or the servant of Elijah when he deceived his master.
The Scriptures record that "King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house leprous and excluded from the temple of the Lord. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land" (2 Chronicles 26:16-21) and after his dad died, would become king in his place.
God is Holy -- and there is a holy terror in encountering his greatness. Whenever anyone in Scripture has a vision of the heavenly realms it overwhelms them, they are on their faces, and like Isaiah, they fear death.
B. But that is not all. As Holy, God is worthy of all praise.
Notice the repeated refrain of the heavenly realms is the praise of God, the declaration of the fact that God is Holy, Holy, Holy.
In English when we want to emphasize something in writing, we might put it in bold type or italics. We might place many exclamation points after it. In speaking we might emphasize something by getting louder. This might be like the preacher who on his sermon outline wrote next to one of his points: "Weak point, shout here!!!"
But the Jewish author and speaker would simply repeat something. Jesus did this when he was making an important point, he would say: "Truly, truly I say to you..."
In Genesis 14 there is a battle of kings in the valley of Siddim and men fell into the great tar pits in that region. There are many names used in various translations for these pits: tar pits, bitumen pits, or great pits. Why so many translations? The Hebrew simply says "PIT PITS" to describe them. The Jews are letting us know there are pits and then there are PITS, "some pits are pittier than other pits. These pits -- the pit pits -- were the pittiest pits of all" (RC Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndale House Publ, '85, p. 39, arr ubp).
A handful of Scriptures repeat something to the third degree, such as the three woes in Revelation chapter 9. But a characteristic of God is not ever repeated three times in succession except here and in Revelation 4. The Bible says God is not just holy, nor holy, holy, but three-times holy. O Lord Most Holy, we might sing with the choir.
Those seraphs are not bored in their continuous praise. Even they do not look upon God -- so splendid is God. Instead, they are so overcome with joy just in God's presence that they cannot but continually say: "Wow!" which in their language is "Holy, holy, holy!"
We can compare it to hiking up a huge mountain trail and finally breaking out of the trees into a magnificent vista. The vision is so inspiring we stop, perhaps sit on a rock and are filled with praise and joy just at the splendor of the sight. From those who love the beauty of holiness, praise is the automatic response.
C. Not only terrible to behold and worthy of all praise, but also, an encounter with our Holy God changes our lives.
We see here that wherever holiness is spoken of in Scripture, love is nearby; wherever God's love is manifested, it does not cease to be holy. "For love without holiness would not be just in ignoring the offensiveness of sin, and holiness without love would not be able to effect the reconciliation" (Th Oden, the Living God, Prince Press '01, p 124, ubp).
Isaiah's life was never the same after he saw God displayed in His glory and heard the refrain of praise again and again. Look -- as he repents he meets in that courtroom not justice but forgiveness and cleansing. The Seraph at the command of God takes a coal and burns away his sin. For us that same covering of sin occurs through the work of Jesus, whose blood paid the penalty for our sin, taking our judgment, granting us life.
Here's how that touch changed Isaiah's life:
a. From that day on, God was "the Holy One." Isaiah was the one to first use this title for God and it meant more to him than to any other.
Isaiah refers to God by this name throughout this prophetic book. I have listed the verses there in the outlines. This becomes Isaiah's testimony that he had encountered this Holy One -- a God who is holy in love.
Isaiah 1:4; 5:19,24; 10:17, 20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19, 23; 30:11,12,15,29; 31:1; 37:23; 40:25; 41:14,16,20; 43:3, 14, 15; 45:11; 47:4; 48:2,17; 49:7;54:5; 55:5; 57:13,15; 60:9,14
Look at Isaiah 57:15 for there is the key to this holiness. "For this is what the high and lofty One says---he who lives forever, whose name is holy; "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite."
Look at this testimony. God is so holy, so above us, that he can be nearer than near - not bringing condemnation but revival! This is an incredible fruit of our holy God. The command: "Be holy, because I am holy" now can be fit into the power of God to effect that very thing He commands!
b. In addition, from that day on, Isaiah was God's holy messenger -- sent forth
as he responded to God's request for someone to Go.
i. Perhaps today you need to be touched by that coal and hear the
mighty seraph say: "see, your guilt is removed, your sins are forgiven!
ii. Perhaps today you need to hear the Lord speak, "Who will go for us?" And you can respond: "Here I am! Send me!"
iii. Or perhaps today is your day to hear God say, "Yes, Go!"