November 1, 2020

Holy, Holy, Holy: A Song for the Eternal Throne

The final year of Judah’s king Uzziah heralded a tumult in politics. The rising pagan storm of Assyria was blowing away the small nations of the Middle East. Even the great states of Egypt and Babylon would not be able to withstand her mighty onslaught. The national-economic winds were shifting radically to the north. 

The people of Judah and Israel feared that the security of their future was slipping away, no matter what they tried. Uzziah assembled a military like few others could imagine. Personally flawed, even profane, he proved a surprisingly astute ruler. But the kings who came immediately after him repeatedly demonstrated that no mere human ruler could handle the dangers of Assyrian martial conquest, much less the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires which would follow. 

A court prophet fretted as he worshiped in the Temple. Then, with social and political turmoil threatening to engulf the people of God, Isaiah was granted a vision of that one royal court which really mattered. He saw formidable angels, seraphim, literally “burning ones.” They humbled themselves before the divine throne, covering their feet, hiding their faces, careful not to detract from the glorious One on the eternal throne. They flew hither and thither, calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts!” These messengers did not praise any mere human ruler. They would not dread even the most powerful emperor. They did fear God.

The word “holy” indicates a mysteriously present, tremendously powerful otherness wherein there resides no hint whatsoever of that which is common, profane, evil. “Holy” indicates a sacred place, a sacred time, even a sacred presence, the awful presence of a person beyond the observer’s normal capacity for discourse. In Hebrew, to say “holy” is to say, “this is other.” And to say “holy” twice is to say, “this is superior to others.” But to say “holy” three times is to say, “the most holy, the Holy One.” The Lord, He is God, and He has shown Himself. Comprehensive holiness truthfully engenders absolute alarm.

The existential impact of this heavenly vision upon Isaiah was personally and communally devastating. When the prophet glimpsed the government of God, his perspectival grasp of contemporary reality experienced a revolutionary shift. The veil of eternity was peeled back. The nations paled into insignificance. Isaiah gazed upon the heavenly throne, and he could only tremble. The nations have pretentious petty potentates, but the Lord God outshines every nation, indeed the sum of all together, with his matchless purity, his resplendent presence, his crushing power. The whole earth shudders beneath the weight of Yahweh’s glory.

And the only proper response before the One who rules the universe itself is to repent. Isaiah cried out from the depth of his terrified soul, “Woe is me! I am undone!” “I am a man who has spoken evil.” “And I live in the midst of a nation which speaks evil!” Perhaps he thought of how the court scribes fawned over their rulers; of how his people paraded their perverted sexuality; of how his nation’s parents sacrificed their children to a false god of prosperity; of how the strong oppressed the weak and abused the defenseless. Whatever the particular cause, Isaiah knew every single person was wicked, deserving of damnation.

By all appearances, there was no hope. Alas, there is no hope for any of us, for we have all gone our own way. We are all sinners. We are, therefore, hopeless, unless God himself makes an atonement, provides a sacrifice, creates a way for the unholy person to become holy. True hope will not be found with any name offered on a ballot during a national election day. Hope will be found only in the electing grace of the thrice-holy God. 

The Father freely offers us the sacrifice of his own Son’s life as the atonement for our sins. This is why our only hope is to cry out, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, “Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ will come again!” Confess your sins, whatever they are, to Him. He wants to forgive you. You can be holy, even as the One on the heavenly throne is holy. He offers, by his Holy Spirit, to make you holy through faith, repentance, regeneration. Come and drink freely from his water of life. Only then may you enter God’s presence, only then, as you place your hope, your faith, your trust in Christ alone, the forever King.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “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 6:1-5)

[Delivered to the Lakeside Baptist Church on November 1, 2020, the third day before the American National Election.]

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