OUR MERCIFUL GOD CALLS SINNERS TO PROCLAIM MERCY TO SINNERS.
In the name + of Jesus.
The Lord does not appear to people in bare glory. Whenever the Lord reveals himself, he hides himself under created things. Moses saw a burning bush. The Israelites saw a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When the Lord was pleased to dwell among us for 33 years, he veiled himself in flesh. Even today, when the Lord comes to bestow mercy upon you, he hides himself in created things such as water, bread and wine, and words from his minister’s mouth.
Isaiah, however, saw the Lord in his bare glory. Isaiah had been given a vision in which he saw the holy, holy, holy Lord of hosts in his very throne room. Isaiah saw the seraphim, the holy, six-winged angels, flying around the exalted throne. Even they covered their eyes in the presence of the Lord. Isaiah heard them both confess and praise the Lord with their hymn: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) At the sound of their voices, the threshold of the temple shook and the place was filled with smoke.
Perhaps you envy Isaiah. After all, we live by faith, not by sight. We have not seen God. Even when we gather in God’s house we do not see God in his radiant glory. We would like to catch a glimpse or see a vision, because we would rather live by sight and not by faith. Isaiah did have such a vision. Rather than being thrilled that he saw the Lord with his own eyes, Isaiah was petrified.
This was Isaiah’s confession: “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) Standing in the presence of the holy God put a spotlight on Isaiah and made him acutely aware that he was not holy. The Lord is pure; Isaiah was unclean. Like most people, Isaiah could coast through life and not give a second thought about his wickedness—the filth that dwelt in his heart and in his mind, and then came out of his lips. By simply standing in the presence of God, he knew it and felt it all. There were no excuses, and there was no hope. Isaiah was convinced he was a goner.
You and I made confession of our sins today. Sometimes those sins weigh on our minds. Other times, we can probably coast through life and mindlessly coast through even a confession of sins without thinking too much of our guilt. Yet, we are all a people of unclean lips, and we dwell in the midst of people who have unclean lips. Our ears take in the filth that spews out of the mouths of singers, actors, co-workers, and relatives. We have come to accept such speech and normal, and we laugh along with the world and take on its vocabulary. Our own lips have spilled out gossip and lies, obscenities and vulgarities, bitterness and sarcasm. God gave us these mouths to use for praise, for instruction, for blessing, and for kindness, but destructive words have bubbled up from depraved hearts. Woe to each one of us! We are lost! What excuses can we give for our sinful mouths and lips? Repent.
Though Isaiah was convinced he would be destroyed in God’s wrath, Isaiah instead found himself on the receiving end of God’s mercy. 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) The altar is where sacrifices were made for atonement. By taking the burning coal from the altar, the seraph was applying the atoning sacrifice personally to Isaiah. His unclean lips were cleansed. His guilt was covered. His sins were atoned for. The sacrifice which was made for him had been applied to him. The victim had been slain on the altar in place of Isaiah. Through the atoning sacrifice, Isaiah was made pure and blameless in the sight of God. No longer did he need to fear God’s wrath; for he had received God’s mercy.
It is the same for you. The sacrifice which was made to atone for your sins is Jesus Christ. He not only made the sacrifice, he IS the sacrifice. Jesus offered up his holy, innocent, and obedient life on behalf of you. Jesus had uttered no evil words. He stood silently as his accusers charged him with all kinds of wickedness and crimes. When he finally did utter a word, it was a confession that he is the Christ, the Son of God. For this good and true confession, Jesus was condemned as a blasphemer. Finally, Jesus was led silently to the slaughter by people of unclean lips and for people of unclean lips.
Just as the coal from the altar was touched to Isaiah’s lips, so the Lord has applied to you personally the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. When you were baptized, the waters were poured over you in the name of our Triune God. Behold! This has washed away your sins. This has covered over your guilt with the righteousness of Jesus. God’s wrath is lifted and God’s mercy is yours. Likewise, especially from this altar God’s mercy is given to you. We will sing with the angels and the saints in heaven, “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of heavenly host; heaven and earth are full of your glory.” And they will sing with us, “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” For, Jesus comes to us again, veiled in bread and wine, to save us. The body and blood which were given into death for your sins are here given to you for your forgiveness. Take; eat and drink. Behold! This has touched your lips. Your sins are taken away. Your guilt is atoned for. God has been merciful to you and is pleased to strengthen and keep you in the true faith until life every lasting. You can now depart from this church and even from this world in peace.
Behold! You now have a better confession to make. The confession of sins becomes a joyful confession of faith. God has been merciful to you. He has sent his Son to redeem you and to cleanse you from all sin and purify you from all unrighteousness.
Though all of God’s people make this joyful confession of faith, God chooses some men from those in his church to go and proclaim this mercy to his people. Isaiah would be the first to testify what a terrifying thing it is to stand in the presence of God in his bare glory. Therefore, God was pleased to send someone who would speak on his behalf. And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) So the Lord had his word proclaimed by his prophet. He who had been shown mercy by the Lord would go and proclaim the Lord’s mercy to the world.
It is still the same. God’s church gathers together Sunday after Sunday to hear the word of the Lord proclaimed. And God does not appear to us here or else we would be diving under our chairs in terror because that which is sinful cannot dwell with him who is holy. Therefore, the Lord is pleased to call men from his church to be his mouthpiece—both calling sinners to repent and consoling penitent sinners with God’s mercy. The Lord calls ministers to be his hands—to pour the waters of baptism over people, and to feed God’s redeemed with the body and blood of the Lord. And again today, you will feast and be reminded, “Behold! This has touched your lips. Your sin has been taken away and your guilt is atoned for.”
Pray that the Lord would send more pastors to proclaim God’s mercy to people. And while not everyone will be a pastor, but perhaps there are some young men who will prayerfully consider if they would be God’s mouthpiece and God’s hands. Our God is pleased to be merciful to sinners, and our merciful God calls sinners to proclaim mercy to other sinners.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.