Holy

Original Date: 
Sunday, December 18, 2016

Isaiah 6:1-7; Luke 1:35 The Fullness of Deity: Holy

Hard to Find
It seems like it happens every year: one toy becomes the “must have” toy of the season. All the news outlets report on how everybody wants it, there becomes a shortage, and people start spending crazy amounts of money to get one.

This year it is the Hatchimal. A little fuzzy toy with an electronic brain that is sold in an egg. You don’t know exactly what kind of animal is in the egg until the box is opened and the egg hatches. Then you end up with a “Burtle”—a cross between a turtle and a butterfly—a “Penguala”—which looks like a Penguin crossed with a Koala, or some other magical creature. Once they are hatched you can teach your Hatchimal to walk and talk.

For whatever reason—clever marketing, a misjudgment of demand, or good old herd behavior—stores have been unable to keep Hatchimals on the shelf. Big chain stores are putting a limit on the number of toys any single shopper can buy, and yet they are still showing up on auction sites like Ebay for two to three times the suggested retail price.

And, apparently, people are willing to pay the price. Because that’s how human nature works: the rarer something is, the harder it is to find, the more value we assign to it.

My daughter Ellie was telling me about a book her class was reading about Honus Wagner. Honus Wagner was a pretty good baseball player back at the turn of the last century. He won 8 national league batting titles and was one of the first 5 men voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But what he’s probably best known for is his baseball card.

You see, the story goes that back in 1909 the American Tobacco Company started printing baseball cards to include with their cigarette packs. Honus didn’t want kids to have to buy tobacco in order to get his card, and so he refused to give permission for the use of his image. As a result, only somewhere between 50 to 200 Honus Wagner cards made it to the public. Today, only 57 are known to be in existence.

Almost immediately the rare, hard to find card took on value far beyond other baseball cards. By 1933 the card was being listed at a value of $50, and in 2007 a near-mint-condition Wagner card sold for $2.8 million, the highest price ever paid for a baseball card.

All this for a faded picture of a somewhat homely baseball player printed on a piece of cardboard. As I said before, when something is rare or hard to find, we tend to assign great value to it.
And if that is true of children’s toys and baseball cards, how much more so should it be true of God?

Fullness of Deity in Christ
Our sermon series this advent season has been based on Colossians 2:9, which says:

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.

We have been reflecting on the fact that Jesus contains all the attributes of God. Everything we can say about God, we can say about Jesus. Everything the Bible says God is like was present in that baby born in Bethlehem.

And so, for these weeks leading up to Christmas we have been looking at some of the characteristics of God in the Old Testament and seeing how they apply to Jesus. So we looked at the shekinah glory of God in Exodus, and then saw that Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory.” (Hebrews 1:3) We looked at the powerful description of God the creator in Job 38 and 39, and then saw that “through [Jesus] all things were made.” (John 1:3) We looked at the enthronement Psalms that declare “the LORD reigns,” and then we saw that when Jesus comes again it will be as the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16)

And today, I want us to look at one of the most powerful descriptions of God available in the Bible. It’s a passage that sets God apart as infinitely unique and therefore supremely valuable. It’s Isaiah 6, and it is about the holiness of God.

Let’s read the passage. Isaiah 6:1-7:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

I want to go through this passage in three parts. First I want us to see God’s holiness. Second, I want us to see our unholiness. And third, I want us to see how God bridges that gap.

High and Exalted
So let’s begin by looking at God’s holiness. God’s holiness means that God is infinitely unique and supremely valuable. Let’s look at verses 1, 2 and 4:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying…
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

Isaiah doesn’t give a ton of detail, and yet he manages to paint a compelling picture.

He says he is in the temple. I assume that means he is in the inner courtyard—which measured nearly 60,000 square feet. This would have been the area where Jewish men gathered to worship and where the sacrifices were offered. And Isaiah says that while there, he received a vision of God.

Now, I’m going to speculate that Isaiah didn’t actually see God’s face. The Bible says that no man can see God’s face and live (Exodus 33:20). But Isaiah had no doubt he was looking at the Lord. He saw someone seated on a throne. And the throne was up, and it was big, and the one seated on it was wearing a robe that swirled down and filled the temple.

Now, think about that. We read a verse last week in Psalm 93 that says God is robed in majesty (vs. 1). We talked about how earthly kings wear robes to symbolize the trappings of their power. Maybe you’ve seen pictures of a king being crowned while wearing a robe that trails down the aisle. Well, here, God is pictured robed in so much majesty that the train fills 60,000 square feet of temple courtyard.

Isaiah begins by telling us that all this took place in the year that King Uzziah died. Uzziah was a pretty successful king who reigned for 52 years and built up the army and oversaw prosperous times. So we can imagine that his death caused a little bit of consternation. With a good king gone, what comes next?

But God gives Isaiah this vision of Himself on the throne as a way to say: “The earthly king may be dead, but the heavenly king is very much alive. You may not be certain of what comes next, Isaiah, but you can be certain that I am still on the throne.”

And then, there are the attendants. Isaiah says that all around this glorious throne there are seraphs. We don’t know exactly what this is, this is the only place in scripture where this word shows up, but I can guarantee you these are not cherubic little angel babies with rosy cheeks. The Hebrew word “seraph” appears to come from a word that means “burning ones.” I picture mighty warriors, who look more like beams of light than human beings. They have wings—which I picture stretching out into the sky--and they hover around the throne.

But not just two wings. Each of these fiery guardians has six wings. Two of them they use to cover their faces—you know what that is: even they can’t look at God—and with two of them they cover their feet—think of Moses taking off his sandals in front of the burning bush because he was on holy ground.

And when they speak, the sound of their voices shakes the very foundation of the temple. There are no puny or insignificant creatures in heaven; only magnificent ones.

Now, I want you to imagine this for a moment. I want you to imagine you come to church some morning—early, before anyone else is here. And you walk into the sanctuary here, and God gives you a vision like this. I know this isn’t quite the same as the open air of the temple, but it’ll do.

So, imagine coming in here and seeing a throne—a huge chair way up near the top of our ceiling. And you can see that there is someone seated on that throne, but you can’t see His face. And He’s wearing a robe that seems to shimmer with light and all the colors of the rainbow, and the edges of that robe drop down and swirl all over the sanctuary, covering the pews and the aisles and the balcony. And then, all around this huge throne are beams of light—living tongues of flame—and they dart here and there and they call out in voices that sound like the cracking of thunder.

If you can imagine it, just a little, then that is a taste of what Isaiah is describing.

And here’s what those mighty angelic beings are saying, verse 3:

3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Holy, holy, holy. You may have heard that repetition is a Hebrew way of expressing the superlative. To repeat a word three times is the way to say that this is the best, biggest, most complete expression of this idea. That is to say, these seraphs are declaring that God is the holiest.

You may also have heard that of all the characteristics of God in the Bible, this is the only one that gets repeated three times in this way. We never hear that God is “love, love, love” or “wisdom, wisdom, wisdom” or anything like that. Just “holy, holy, holy.” So why is this the characteristic that fascinates these heavenly attendants?

Well, the basic meaning of holiness is to be separate or set apart. We usually think of being holy as being free of sin. And that is the basic idea. Something that is holy is pure. It is set apart for God. It is free from blemish or stain.

But when we talk about the holiness of God, we’re saying something more than that He is set apart from sin. I mean, He is; but there’s something a whole lot deeper to it than that. God is separate in that He is in a class all by Himself. He is infinitely and supremely unique. He is God and there is no other. He is God and there is none like Him. (cf. Isa. 46:9)

An author named Drew Dyck writes:

…the Bible stresses God's discontinuity with humankind. "God is not human that he should . . ." is almost a refrain in Scripture. We might imagine that God is a sort of Superman, just like you or me but with additional powers. But that kind of thinking betrays a dangerous illusion. God is radically different from us, in degree and kind. He is ontologically dissimilar, wholly other, dangerous, alien, holy, wild. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/may/how-we-forgot-holiness-of-g...

So what is being celebrated and emphasized here is that there is nobody and nothing like God. His holiness sets Him apart from anything else we might imagine. And His holiness informs everything there is to know about Him.

So we would say that God’s love is a holy love, and by that we mean there is no other love like His. We could say that God’s wisdom is a holy wisdom, in that there is no wisdom like His. His justice is a holy justice. His righteousness is a holy righteousness. And so on. He is in a category by Himself.

So now, back to the baseball card. What do we do with something that is rare or hard to find? How do we respond when something is limited edition or one of a kind? We assign value to it, right? We treasure it.

So what could be more valuable or treasurable than the utterly unique, totally holy God who sits on the throne and whose glory fills the corners of the earth? What could have more worth or be more deserving of our praise? Nobody and nothing, right? That’s why I say that God is infinitely unique and supremely valuable. He is the holy God.

Woe and Ruin
From looking at God’s holiness, now we need to look at our unholiness. We need to see that our sin is magnified by the worth of the One we sin against.

Let’s go back to our little thought experiment for just a minute. You walk in here early on a Sunday morning. There’s nobody here. The lights are still out. And suddenly the sanctuary lights up with this vision of God seated on His throne. His majesty streams down around you, seraphs come flashing by, the heavenly chorus starts ringing in your ears… What are you going to do? How are you going to respond?

Sometimes people talk about how they’ll act when they get to heaven. They say: When I get to heaven, I’m going to have all kinds of questions; like: “What happened to the dinosaurs?” Or: “Why did my cousin get sick?” Others say, like in the song “I Can Only Imagine”, that they’ll dance for joy, or join the angels in singing.

But that’s not what Isaiah does. Isaiah falls on his face. Verse 5:

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah’s response to this vision of the holy, holy, holy God is to become undone. He collapses in the awareness of his own sinfulness. He becomes acutely aware of his every sin, and the sinfulness of the people.

Now, keep in mind. Isaiah is, by all appearances, a good man. One of the best men in the land. He is a sold-out servant of God. He’s a prophet who can challenge kings and preach to the masses alike.

But when he sees the holiness of God, the only thing he can do is pronounce a curse on his own head. He can only see his defilement, not his goodness.
John Calvin once said, "Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have confronted themselves with the majesty of God."

And that’s what happens to Isaiah. No one can stand in the presence of God without becoming profoundly and devastatingly aware of his own wretched sinfulness. In other words, if we don’t understand the holiness of God, we don’t understand our own depravity. To see even the smallest glimpse of God’s holiness is to be destroyed and wiped out. Isaiah would never be the same again. Neither will we if we see God’s holiness.

Now, some of you might say: “What’s the big deal? A little glimpse of God on the throne and this guy’s coming apart at the seams. Why such a strong reaction?”

Let me see if I can use an analogy. Suppose I’m standing up here on a Sunday morning and somebody walks in and pulls a gun on me. That would be bad, right? It’d certainly be bad for me. And something bad would probably happen. Maybe I’d be shot. Maybe one of you would rush the stage in my defense. I don’t know.

But now, imagine that some Sunday morning we had the President here. And then imagine somebody walked in while the President was speaking and pulled a gun on him. What would happen? Instant response, right? Overwhelming force. That gunman would get taken down so fast by the secret service some of us wouldn’t even have time to react.

It’s not that there is anything inherently more valuable about the President than me, but the position he is in means that an assault on him is going to be taken far more seriously than an assault on me. The position he is in puts him at an objectively more valuable place than I occupy. And the seriousness of an offense against him is going to be met by a response that is in keeping with the value of the position he occupies. The severity of our sin is magnified by the worth of the one sinned against.

Or, if you want to think of it differently, imagine the differing reactions if someone took a pack of new baseball cards and tore up the first one (no big deal, right? Nobody is going to get excited if you tear up a 2016 Trevor Plouffe); or if someone took one of those Honus Wagner cards and tore it up (major reaction). The value we assign to the rare card means that we would absolutely freak out if someone deliberately destroyed it.

That’s what’s happening to Isaiah. As he gets a sense of the infinite uniqueness and supreme value of God, he’s being overwhelmed by the severity of his sin. He’s realizing that every impertinent word, every violation of the Ten Commandments, every God-belittling thought, has been like waving a gun in the face of God. That’s what sin is. It is rebellion against God. Rejection of His rule. It is an assault on the right of God to be God.

And Isaiah is undone because he recognizes that he is in infinite danger. He has been sinning, his entire life, against this holy, unique, one of a kind God.

And if you get a picture of God in all of his holiness, all of his splendor, then you will have the same reaction.

Listen: if you have a low view of sin--if you don’t think your sin is a big deal--then chances are you have a small view of God. If you think sin is no big thing; then the God you believe in is probably wimpy and small and the kind of God you can stick in your pocket and just pull out for really serious doctors’ appointments or really hard tests at school

But if you see God for the infinitely unique and supremely valuable God He is, then you are going to realize that you are at severe risk; that you have been waving a gun in the face of God, and that the punishment you deserve is in keeping with the severity of your offense.

The Holy One to be Born
So, two things for us to see. We need to see the holiness of God. And we need to see the un-holiness of us. And we need to recognize that we have a pretty big problem. So, the third thing: we need to see God’s solution to the problem. Look at Isaiah 6:6-7:

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

This is all a vision, of course, so this is all symbolic. Don’t suppose that God was going around barbequing His prophets’ lips. But that doesn’t minimize the importance of these verses.
Isaiah recognizes that his lips are sinful. He has used his mouth to sin against God. And so he deserves ruin.

So God instructs one of the seraphim to leave off his worship for a moment; fly over to the altar—which is probably the altar for burnt sacrifice right in the middle of the courtyard; take a live coal and press it to Isaiah’s mouth.

And what the coal represents is everything the altar represents. Atonement. Sacrifice. The altar was the place where animals were offered as payment against sin. It is the bloody acknowledgement of the severity of our offense against God.

And God, in His mercy, is willing to apply the coal to Isaiah’s lips and take his guilt away.

Isn’t that what we all need? When we become aware of the severity of our guilt before the infinitely unique and supremely valuable God then we recognize there is no way we can ever atone for it ourselves. We need somebody else, someone more holy than us, to come pay that penalty for us. We need God to make a way.


Fast forward with me about 700 years after Isaiah. A young girl, probably barely into her teen age years, is going about her daily chores when suddenly she is confronted by a heavenly being. We can picture one of the burning seraphs of Isaiah’s vision and I don’t think we will be too far off.

The girl, named Mary, is both startled and frightened by this vision. But the angel assures her that she has found favor with God. He announces that she is about to find herself pregnant, and she will give birth to a son. She is told to name him Jesus, and she is promised that he will inherit the throne of David and will reign over a kingdom that will never end.

Mary’s response is skeptical. She’s not married. And she’s never been with a man. How can she be pregnant? And this is the angel’s answer. Luke 1:35:

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

What I want you to notice is that last sentence. “The holy one to be born.” That’s how the angel describes this promised baby. “Holy.” Just like the vision of God in Isaiah 6.

The fullness of deity lives in Christ. Everything that God is, so is Jesus. And God is holy, holy, holy. He is infinitely unique and supremely valuable. And so is Jesus.

Do you see that? Do you see how that vision of the Lord, high and lifted up, shining in the light of His glory, fits hand in glove with this picture of a tiny baby, conceived in a virgin’s womb, delivered in a stable? They are one and the same!

And, here’s the thing. The infinite uniqueness and supreme value of God is nowhere better seen than it is in this child, because He came to give us access to this holy, holy, holy God.

Some 33 years after his birth the floors of the temple shook again. This time they shook as the whole earth quaked while a man hung low on a cross. But he did not cry: “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips”, because he was not. He was holy. He was without sin. Instead, He cried: “Father, forgive them. Forgive those with unclean lips who live among a people of unclean lips because they know not what they do.” And then Jesus died.

He died, you see, to be God’s solution to our problem. He died because He had no sin of His own to atone for. He died so that He could take away our guilt and atone for our sin. He died so that He could make a way for us.

The Father treated Jesus like us so that He could treat us like Jesus.

In His holiness, God paid for our un-holiness, so that someday we can all stand before the throne of God and be unafraid. We will worship before the infinitely unique and supremely valuable God knowing that all of our assaults against Him have been atoned for by the Holy Child of Bethlehem.

That is the good news of Christmas, and today I invite you to put your faith in Jesus. Receive this one-of-a-kind gift.