Sunday, June 15, 2003

Holy Trinity Sunday
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17 

Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

Can you imagine what it might be like to hear the sounds of angels singing praise to God? I think I came close on at least one occasion. When we were living in England, we took a visit to York and attended a service in York Minster Abbey. Despite the fact that it was cool and rainy outside and those large stone cathedrals can be dark and dreary, I found a piece of heaven that evening. Though it was gloomy outside, there was a warm glow in the sanctuary. There were angels in the stonework high above our heads. The congregation was small but delighted to be there. And the choir sang so beautifully, their voices seemed to multiply in that lovely setting. God was very much present that night, hearing the praises being sung in His name. "Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory."

The sad part of this whole experience was that despite the most incredible worship service was taking place, some of the visitors still wandered the pathways of that cathedral, touring the graves of those who had long passed from life into death. Oh, I suppose they enjoyed the music and perhaps they worshipped a bit as they wandered by, yet can we really worship God if we are distracted by the things of this world?

Isaiah was quite concerned about the fact that he had seen the LORD, stood in His presence. Since the days of Moses, the people understood that anyone with sin would die if they caught even a glimpse of the LORD. Even the seraphs were covering their eyes. He cried out in fear "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts." And his fear was a distraction from his worship of God. But Isaiah did not die, but rather an angel came to him, touched his lips with a live coal that took away his sin. Then the voice of the LORD spoke to Isaiah and called him into His service. God divided the gap between Isaiah and Himself so that Isaiah was drawn into the worship with the angels.

The voice of the LORD figures prominently in the Psalm for today. God's voice is like thunder over the waters. It is powerful and majestic. His voice breaks the cedars and shakes the earth. He is the King and His voice makes the world and all who are in it tremble. And yet this great and awesome God who deserves all honor and glory, whose very presence brings fear and whose voice brings even the angels to their knees, has mercy and blesses His people with strength and peace.

When God spoke to Isaiah, it was not frightening, but calming. He asked, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" When a CEO of a corporation bellows to his employees, "Who will do this work?" they cower in fear and agree because they do not want to lose their jobs. Or we want to make a good impression; we want to prove our value to the company. We jump to it to earn our reward. In this case, however, Isaiah knew he had no value. There in the company of the angels in the presence of the Almighty God, he knew he was worthless slime.

God would have none of that, He had appeared before Isaiah for a reason, to call him into His service. He took care of the sin and the guilt, wiped it clean away with just a touch. When He spoke, it was not a bellowing voice, but one that drew Isaiah into His presence; it made him want to go. "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Isaiah did not hesitate before answering, "Here am I; send me."

The presence of God can be overwhelming for those of us who live by our senses. He is beyond our ability to see, hear or touch in normal ways, and yet He comes to us personally and draws us into His heart. In our sin, we tremble before Him, afraid that we will die. We do die, but not a physical death. We die to our own selves, our own pride, our own desires and our own righteousness. We realize that we are nothing more than worthless slime. Yet, God sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ to be like that hot coal that touched the lips of Isaiah in the temple. He takes away our guilt and atones for our sin, making it possible for us to be in the presence of God without fear, but rather in awe praising and worshipping the Lord Almighty. In Christ we are born again from heaven, the very touch of God making us knew.

Nicodemus was an important Jew. He was one of the rulers, one of the Pharisees. He knew the stories and prophecies about God's promises to His people. The things Jesus said and did were intriguing to him and he wanted to know more. We tend to focus on the later verses of this scripture, with verse sixteen being a favorite of many people, quoted often in to draw people into the kingdom of God. It is certainly a most comforting passage, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." Yet, it is even more comforting when heard in context. Nicodemus wanted to understand Jesus. He said, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him." (John 3:2b) Jesus did not make it easy on him. He answered, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Isaiah was born again that day in the temple when the angel used the coal to cleanse him of his guilt and sin. We are not born again as Nicodemus suspected, by coming out of our mother's womb a second time, but by believing that Jesus will cleanse us from all our sin. It doesn't happen by our own ability, but by God's mercy and grace. The Spirit of God brings new birth and faith. Nicodemus still questions Jesus' words, "How can these things be?" (John 3:9) Jesus, perhaps a bit frustrated by Nicodemus, answers that he will never understand the things from heaven if he can't believe the testimony that Jesus gives. Jesus came as the voice of God in flesh, powerful, majestic and able to break those who hear His words.

Nicodemus came at night, perhaps still hiding in his own distractions like those who wandered in the cathedral instead of worshipping God. But he wanted to understand. So, Jesus pointed him to the wilderness experience of Moses and the Israelites, who looked to the bronze snake for salvation from the deadly poison that was killing the people because of their sin against God. Jesus was the bronze snake; He was the salvation for the people of Israel. All who believe in Him will be saved. We don't know if Nicodemus believed, but he shows up in other stories. There is a spark of faith in his first words, "We know that thou art a teacher come from God," but he was still distracted by the things of this world.

Our lesson from Paul continues this lesson of flesh verses spirit. When we are born again, we die to our old nature and are made new in Christ. We are drawn into God's presence, made into a son. We can stand in the presence of God, see Him on His throne and hear His voice without fear. We become His child, an heir to the kingdom. He says to each of us "Whom shall I send?" and we can answer without fear, "Here am I. Send me!" We share in everything with our Lord Jesus Christ - in His suffering as well as His glory. We can join in the hymns of praise with the angels in the temple of God, singing, "Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory."

Today we remember the Holy Trinity, a mysterious concept that is almost as impossible for our human minds to comprehend. In the story from Isaiah, the presence of God was frightening and awe inspiring, yet His voice was inviting. In Jesus Christ, God made it possible for us to be in His presence in a tangible way, as He took on the flesh of man to dwell in our presence. In the passage from Romans, we see how the Spirit continues to move in the lives of those whom God has made new and free to live in His kingdom as children and co-heirs with Christ.

The LORD indeed gives strength to his people and He blesses His people with peace. As John writes, "For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. " (John 3:17) What a great comfort it is to know that our peace comes from the love and mercy of God, that even though we are truly worthless slime in our own sinful natures, God does not want us to be afraid in His presence. So, He cleanses our sin and takes away our guilt through Jesus Christ our Lord and makes us one of His own. He gives us eternal life so that we can join in the heavenly singing of praise and worship to God Almighty. We will only get a glimpse of it in this world, as I enjoyed in York, England that cold and dreary evening. But one day we will be able to see God and we will share in His glory forever. Thanks be to God. 

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