It started with “Woe is me!” … It ended with “Here am I! Send me.” (Pause)
Isaiah had been given a vision of heaven. There before him was the Lord Jesus, high and lifted up. From His throne, the train of His robe filled every inch of the temple. Just imagine such a garment, its splendor and beauty. There above him were angels, flaming seraphim, the highest ranking officials in the heavenly host standing guard, just awaiting the command of their Lord. In holy reverence and modesty before God, they used four wings to cover themselves from their eyes to their feet, while flying with their two remaining wings.
All the while, the seraphim called to one another, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” Not one, not two, but three. Three holies for the Holy Trinity; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. With voices that echoed, the foundations of the temple shook. An earthquake rattled the very thresholds and the house of the Lord was filled with smoke, letting everyone know of the presence of the Almighty God.
Just think of how awestruck Isaiah must have been, to behold such wonder and amazement. To stand in the presence of the Almighty God. Oh, how he must have been shaking from the inside out, to behold such glory. To see what no one else had seen.
Then, knowing that no one sees God and lives, he was rightfully overcome with a weight of guilt. No doubt it brought him to his very knees in fear, thinking that he was about to be stricken to death, right then and there. He had only to utter from his very lips, 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; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (Isaiah 6:5)
Isaiah knew his guilt. He knew his fate. He knew that he was doomed to die a sinners’ death. It was the wage demanded of him, and in his mind, he was about to have to pay it. The end was now here. (Pause)
Have we lost this sense of reverence and respect as we are welcomed into the presence of the Almighty God week after week? Do we still take seriously that the wages of our sin is death, which means just to be here and be alive is an act of God’s mercy and grace? Do we recognize that even the angels covered themselves in reverence and modesty before the Almighty God? Even the angels! Do we hear those words of Isaiah spoken before God “Woe is me!” and think that his words are our words? When exposed for who we truly are as sinners, do we, like Isaiah did, see ourselves as guilty before the Almighty God? (Pause)
None of us escapes guilt before the Almighty God. It isn’t a matter of whether or not we get caught. As God holds His Ten Commandments before our eyes, we all stand as guilty. All of us. We have all broken God’s laws, and like Isaiah, none of us could stand before the Almighty God and live. We aren’t holy. We are deserving of death and damnation. We are all guilty.
It is unfortunate though, that unlike Isaiah who willingly admitted to such guilt, we have the tendency to do otherwise. For some of us, we try and bury our guilt deep down within ourselves and deny its existence hoping it will go away only to have it resurrect itself time and again. For others, we try and justify our guilt thinking that it wasn’t all that bad, especially when we comfort ourselves by comparing our bad deeds to the bad deeds of others. Then for others, we simply deny the fact that we are guilty, arrogantly trying to live out a façade of innocence. No matter which approach we take, it doesn’t negate the fact that we are all guilty before God.
Scripture says in the book of Romans: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12).
The very reality of our guilt is precisely why we as Lutherans regularly practice confession and absolution. It is a God-given opportunity for us to be shown our sins and our desperate need for a Savior. It is a gift to admit our guilt in the presence of the Almighty God and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He will be faithful to forgive us.
It’s why our confessions state that confession has two parts, “First that we confess our sins, and second that we receive absolution.” It’s why the liturgy quotes God’s Word in saying, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [But] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1st John 1:8-9). It’s why when the pastor tells us to take a moment of silence to examine ourselves that we don’t need to fear being left in that silence. Jesus is always faithful to forgive us.
That’s the way it went for Isaiah as well. Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for (Isaiah 6:6-7).
With fire from the coals of God’s altar, Isaiah’s lips were purified and cleansed. With fire from those coals, Isaiah was saved from the fiery wrath of the Almighty God against sin. With fire, Isaiah’s guilt was gone. There was no more “Woe is me!”
Our text says: And 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” (Isaiah 6:8).
So it is with Isaiah, so it is for us as well. Only it isn’t a seraph using a burning coal to place upon our lips. No, it is the Almighty God’s Son who places His own body and blood upon our lips.
Though seraphs may not fly around today and we may not see the train of His robe fill this place, we can be sure that as the Word of God is spoken and His Sacraments are administered that we are in fact, in the holy of holies. We are given the opportunity to dine on the foretaste of the feast to come. And it won’t be long and our very voices will echo the trifecta of holies that those angels spoke that day in heaven.
We call it the Sanctus.
(8am) Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth adored; Heav’n and earth with full acclaim shout the glory of Your name. Sing hosanna in the highest, sing hosanna to the Lord; Truly blest is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
(10:30am) Worthy is the Lamb Who was slain; Holy, holy is He; Sing a new song; To Him Who sits on; Heaven's mercy seat; Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.
This is the song we have been given to sing as we are welcomed into the place we last deserve, beyond the curtain of the temple, and into the holy of holies. Here we will behold Him, taste Him, and consume Him. Here He comes to us at our level. Humbling Himself as He comes in mere human words, simple water, bread and wine. We may think that there is nothing marvelous about such means, but how remarkable is it that the Almighty God doesn’t distance Himself with special effects and theatrics. Instead He comes to us in ways that we sinful human beings can easily and regularly receive Him.
This is where our guilt is taken away and our sin is atoned for. Because here before us is the very One about whom Pilate told the crowd, “I find no guilt in him (John 18:38), and it is He who has assumed our guilt. He who knew no sin, became sin (2nd Corinthians 5:21), and in doing so faced the fiery coals of God’s wrath for you and for me.
All of our sins, ever last one of them, He took upon Himself, and into Himself. Every last ounce of guilt that was ours He drank to ensure that our guilt would be taken away and we would not have to face the wrath to come. He endured it all for us on Calvary.
So, let us not fear or dismiss the impact of confessing our sins. First, we confess. Second, we are absolved. This is why Jesus bled. This is why He died. It’s because we didn’t stand a chance on our own. The burden was too big. The weight was way too much. But with arms stretched out on the cross, He bore it all for you and for me. From the sins that darken our past to ones that still dampen each day. Every last one of them is gone. The weight of our guilt has been lifted. “It is finished.” Sin, death, the devil. They are done for. We are innocent. We are forgiven. We are free. (Pause)
I was recently told a story of a cardinal that would come by and eat from a bird feeder. Only this time, the cardinal decided it was time for a bath. However, it was extremely cold outside. Well, unfortunately, when the bird tried to fly away after the bath, it couldn’t. The wings of the bird had frozen to its body. It was not able to fly. The owner of the home watching this, brought the bird inside the garage in a box so that it could thaw out. Once it had thawed out, the restrictions were gone, and the bird could fly.
So it is with us. When we are no longer burdened by our sins and our guilt is taken away, it is like we are set free to fly. We are set free to share what we have been given to share in all of our vocations and stations in life. The sin that once weighed us down and restricted us is no longer present. Our guilt has been removed as far as the east is from the west. We can’t help but share this good news of great joy with others … about how our “Woe is me” was traded in for “Here am I! Send me!” In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.