For the football fans among us, one of the big stories of the NFL Draft this year was that the League allowed players drafted to pick their own theme music, a song that defines them. Keenen Ivory Wayans once made a satirical film in which a band followed the main character around singing his theme song.
Ever thought about your theme song? God has. We hear it in Isaiah 6. The verse of the day assigned for Holy Trinity gives us God’s theme song. Hear it again: “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
“Holy, holy, holy!” “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh,” is the way Isaiah first heard it that day. The angels bounced those words back and forth to each other, savoring them: Kadosh! Holy! Kadosh! Holy! Kadosh! Holy! Is the LORD!
We know this is God’s theme, not just an incidental word or poem of the angels, because that word “holy” appears throughout Isaiah’s prophecies attached to God. More than in any other book, in Isaiah the Lord our God is called “the Holy One of Israel.”
To be holy means something to God. It concerns Him. This isn’t news to us. Or, maybe it is. Maybe we’ve lost touch with God’s concern with holiness in the New Testament era. Someone like Isaiah wouldn’t have. He knew quite well God’s obsession with holiness. Isaiah, a priest in Israel, knew God’s holiness codes; we call them Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. There God commands again and again: “Be holy as I as I am holy.”
We find holiness in God’s demand that an Israelite keep away from dead bodies. We find it in dietary laws that called some foods clean and other not. We find it in the rules about mold in your home and what happens when a woman has her period. Everything in Old Testament Israel had to be clean or unclean, pure and holy and set apart, or common, profane and untouchable.
Isaiah got it. When he saw this vision – remember, that’s the context of these words, a vision of the Lord sitting on a throne, surrounded by smoke, with a robe that filled the Temple – he collapsed to the ground. And it wasn’t just the doorposts and thresholds shaking. “Woe to me!” Isaiah cried. “I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…my eyes have seen the…LORD Almighty.”
Even the seraphim, God’s theme song singers echoed Isaiah. They covered their feet and their faces as they sang. Oh, they knew well that no one and nothing deserves to be in the presence of the Holy One of Israel, thrice-holy, triple holy, the Kadosh!
What’s the big deal? God’s the big deal. Holy’s a big deal. Did you sense it as we confessed the Athanasian Creed? Those words, so easy individually, yet when added together nearly incomprehensible: one God, three Persons, three Persons, One God; Father, God; Son, God; Holy Spirit, God; yet not three Gods, but one God. One God, not mixed, but not divided. God the unique, God without equal, not least because he is three in one and one in three!
Yet more: He IS Holy, which puts Him outside of us and beyond us, as the Lord said through the prophet Hosea, “I am God, and not man.” Pure, righteous, set apart, superior in thought, word and deed, superior ethically and morally. And not just superior, as if He yet has heights to reach, but apart from human frailty and infirmity. Truly sacred, not profane, common, or normal. This is God.
Once mankind was like this, created in God’s image and likeness, we knew and experienced the righteousness and holiness of God. Yet we fell. God has not, did not, and cannot fall. He is not created holy. He IS holy. And He says, “Be holy, because I am.” Not because He achieved it or earned it. He IS it.
God is. The LORD Almighty is. The Church Father, Athanasius, after whom history named our creed today, saw in this verse a hint of the Holy Trinity. He heard three “holys” and heard Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each perfect in their deity. And Athanasius didn’t miss the mark here, because in verse 8 of Isaiah 6, the LORD asks, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Ah, “us”! Just like Genesis 1, “Let us make man in our own image!”
Yet just one Lord. Jesus in Matthew named three Persons, but just one name, “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Not names, but name. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Significantly, even the demons know this, though man often refuses. Once, as he prepared to cast out one of Satan’s foot-soldiers, that damned demon said, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”
A slip of the tongue? No, an admission that standing there in Capernaum was the kadosh, kadosh, kadosh one: the Holy One, the Lord Almighty! We sing about that: “You ask, ‘Who is this?’ Jesus Christ it is, the almighty Lord. And there’s no other God; He holds the field forever.” Some of you might recall how that line went in the old hymnal. It called Jesus “of Sabaoth Lord.” That word wasn’t “Sabbath”, but “Sabaoth”, a transliteration of the Hebrew text before us today. “LORD Almighty” is a translation of the Hebrew title Yahweh Tsabeoth. It means “LORD of hosts” or “armies.”
Interesting title for a holy, holy, holy God. Joseph Stalin, the tyrant of World War II Russia, once quipped, “How many divisions does the pope have?” Stalin feared the pope’s holy words not at all because he had no soldiers to back them up.
Many make that mistake with God. Israel did. The first five chapters of Isaiah, in fact the whole book, show us a people who turned their back on the Lord. They spurned the Lord. They forsook the Lord. They turned to greed and drunkenness. They demanded that God reveal His plans to them instead of vice versa. God called them His vineyard and said: “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit…. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?”
So God sent Isaiah to speak to ears, eyes and hearts that refused to hear, see, or feel. He gave them the rope and they hung themselves. His armies were Assyria and Babylon trampling his beloved vineyard and carrying her off into captivity, exile, and death. Because she would rather be sin-dirty then Lord-cleansed.
Here’s God’s theme music, better, here we see a portrait of the true God. Next to it our portraits pale in comparison. He seeks to draw us to Him, but we demand that He come to us. He says, “Be holy,” and we say, “I’ll tell you what holy means.” Short of trembling at the smoke and song of the Lord, we expect the Lord to wait patiently until we’re ready to see Him. Israel tried that. It didn’t work out so well, did it? They saw just how holy, holy, holy the Lord is. They felt the wrath of the Lord of hosts and armies. They saw what it meant for his glory to fill the earth and it wasn’t for them. God ruined them – for they ruined themselves.
This is the Word of God. When ruin comes, it’s because we brought it upon ourselves. God pours out wrath upon those who call down wrath upon themselves. It began that way in Eden. Adam and Eve sinned. God brought death upon them. We sin, and it’s the same. In other words, we must consider the fact that when the smoke comes, when the doors shake, when the Assyrians and Babylonians are at the gate, maybe, just maybe, it’s our fault. We did it. We are unclean – unclean people with unclean lips living unclean lives. And we cannot escape the one who IS holy, who IS almighty, whose glory DOES fill the earth.
In a moment we’ll sing Isaiah 6. The Christian Church has done this since the seventh century. “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of heavenly hosts: heaven and earth are full of your glory!” We sing this song with the saints and angels, we praise God’s holy name. We sing it with a noticeable lack of fear. Perhaps we should tremble, because we sing these words just before we hear another set of words from Jesus: “This is my body, given for you; this is my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
When we sing this song in the liturgy we call it “The Sanctus,” sanctus being the Latin word for “holy” and the first word of this little song in the Latin liturgy. We quote the words of the seraphim in Isaiah 6 because something unique, something without equal, something as incredible as three in one and one in three happens: the holy, holy, holy Lord, God Almighty, the God of armies, the God totally beyond us, totally not man, unites himself to our flesh, and then, unites His flesh to our food, the cleansing food of His Holy Supper, a Supper that makes us holy, the Supper that defines the difference between us and God. God IS holy, all by Himself. We are holy because God declares us so. As He did Isaiah.
When Isaiah crumbled before the holy LORD, the Lord sent one an angels holding a burning coal and touched Isaiah’s mouth: “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” God declared it to be so. The faith of Isaiah clung to that Word from the holy Lord as he preached. God touches your lips in this Supper. Literally. The holy, holy, holy Lord God, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Creator, the Redeemer, the Sanctifier, says, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
As it turns out, the Holy One also happens to be the Redeemer. That title pairs up with Holy One frequently in Isaiah. The God so concerned about clean and unclean turns out to desire making us clean, bringing His glory to us, being with us.
And since He is the Lord Almighty, who has everything at His beck and call, He has a way: Jesus, both God and man. Not the Father or the Spirit, but true God, just as Father and Spirit are. And also true Man, unlike the Father and the Spirit. Who suffered for our salvation. He came among an unclean people with unclean lips in our likeness, so that He can bring the live coal to our lips: His own body and blood, burned in death and hell – though holy and innocent – purified in resurrection – because He was holy and innocent – and Jesus says as you taste and see how good the Lord is: “I declare you to be holy, because I was for you.”
Imagine that! Through faith in Christ, our theme song is God’s theme song: kadosh, kadosh, kadosh: holy, holy, holy! Amen.