Holy, Holy, Holy – Trinity Sunday

Today is Trinity Sunday and the reading from Isaiah 6:1-8 is one of my favorite texts in the Bible.  In fact, the Apostle John refers to this text in John 12:40-41; after reflecting on the fact that many of the authorities did not believe that Jesus was the Christ, he quotes from Isaiah 6, saying: “‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so that they cannot see with their eyes, and understand with their hearts, and turn, and I would heal them.’  Isaiah said these things because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about Him.”  The point is that in Isaiah 6, the prophet saw Jesus.

So, what’s going on in Isaiah 6?

The beginning of Isaiah chapter 6 says, “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.”  Uzziah was king of Judah until his death in 740BC; the year that Isaiah saw this vision.  

In the physical temple in Jerusalem, there were three sections.  The innermost section was called the Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies, because that’s where the Ark of the Covenant was kept.  This section was veiled off from everyone but the High Priest; and only he could enter once a year into the Holy of Holies, on the Day of Atonement, and only with the blood of a sacrifice.  Even the ground contained within the Holy of Holies was considered consecrated, and the chamber was filled with incense to veil the ark from direct view.

So, within this Holy of Holies was the Ark containing two tablets of the Law, and over the Ark was a cover, called the mercy seat, where the Lord promised to dwell, and shielding this mercy seat were two angels, called cherubim, with outstretched wings shielding the mercy seat and the Lord’s presence.

When Isaiah sees his vision, though, he sees not the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat, but the very throne of the Lord in heaven.  The reality that was represented on the Ark and in the Holy of Holies is now seen by Isaiah in person in the heavenly temple.  He sees what the Ark and the temple in Jerusalem was only an earthly image of; Isaiah sees the heavenly temple that these things pointed to.  And he sees the Lord whose glory and majesty is so great that the train of his royal robe fills the temple, just as incense filled the Holy of Holies in the earthly temple.  Isaiah also doesn’t see the cherubim, but instead sees the angels referred to as seraphim.  He writes that above the Lord “… 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 the seraphim call to each other, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”  

The seraphim declare the glory of the Lord.  And Isaiah, as he encounters the holy Lord God, feels his own sins and laments, “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 sees Yahweh and knows that he will die, because sinful man cannot dwell in the presence of the holy Lord God and live.  He has passed across the veil into the presence of the Lord and knows that he will die in the holy Lord’s presence because of his sins.  

But then, one of the seraphim flies to Isaiah with a coal taken from the altar of sacrifice and touches Isaiah’s lips with it, saying, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

The Lord atones for Isaiah’s sins through the altar of sacrifice.  And then Isaiah is called to serve the Lord.  The Lord says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Isaiah’s response is “Here am I!  Send me,” and the Lord commissions Isaiah to go proclaim His Word to His people.

So, in Isaiah we see Law and Gospel – we also see justification and sanctification.  We see the Law as Isaiah encounters the holy Lord God and feels his sins and feels the condemnation for them.  That is what happens to us as well when the Law works on us, as it also reveals the will of our holy Lord God for our lives.  So, the Law reveals to us that we are sinners.  The Law shows us that we cannot stand in the presence of the holy Lord God through our own efforts.  The Law makes us exclaim, “Woe is me!  I am lost!”

But, then we see the Gospel in Isaiah as the Lord atones for Isaiah’s sins through the altar, for the sake of Christ.  And we have this in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Lord does it all.  So, the Lord justifies us and Isaiah in His sight by what He Himself does.  The Lord justifies us through the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood.  The Lord Himself enables us to enter into His presence, through the actions of our ultimate High Priest, Jesus Christ, who enters into the presence of the Father on our behalf with the sacrifice of his blood on that ultimate day of atonement when he was crucified.  

And then, we see sanctification – or the working of the Lord in us.  The Lord sends Isaiah, because He has first justified Isaiah in His sight; likewise, He sends us, because He has first justified us.

We also see something else in Isaiah, something that I alluded to earlier.  The seraphim are calling out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” and Isaiah also hears the voice of the Lord saying – the verb is in the plural – “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  The seraphim have a threefold praise of the Lord – holy, holy, holy.  And the one Lord God speaks in the plural, using both the words “I” and “us” to refer to Himself.  And then in John’s Gospel, as I mentioned earlier, John says that in this vision Isaiah saw Jesus Christ and his glory.

Holy, holy, holy – Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  The Father is holy, the Son is holy, the Spirit is holy – one God in three persons.  One “I” – God – with three “us”es – Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

So, Isaiah beholds the glory of the Triune God and hears the seraphim proclaim the glory of the Triune God.  He sees Jesus Christ there, the Son of the Father, because – as Peter says in today’s reading from Acts – Jesus is at the right hand of the Father and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:14a, 22-36).  He was there before the incarnation and is there now again after the ascension.  

Now, not only Isaiah beheld the glory of Jesus in heaven.  The Apostle John also saw Jesus there in the vision given to him, recorded in the book of Revelation.  (It’s called Revelation – not “Revelations” – because it is a single, consistent revelation of Jesus Christ given to John to then give to us.) 

When John first saw the risen and exalted Lord in Revelation, like Isaiah he felt his sins in his encounter with the holy Lord (Revelation 1:17ff).  John fell at the feet of the Lord “as though dead;” the word used here is actually “corpse,” the point being that John fell dead as a corpse at the feet of the Lord due to the Lord’s glory.  And like Isaiah, the Lord redeems John, placing his right hand upon him and saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one.  I died, and behold I am alive forevermore and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  

So, the Lord raises John up from the dead, because the Lord Jesus Christ himself died and now lives, having atoned for John’s sin on the altar of sacrifice of the cross.  And like in Isaiah, the Lord, having now raised John up, commissions him, saying, “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.”  Jesus justifies John and then sanctifies him for the task at hand, like he does for you as well in your own Christian vocations.

Then, after Jesus gives John the seven letters to deliver to the churches, John is caught up in the Spirit to heaven and stands before the throne.  There is one seated on the throne who shines radiantly with the beauty of jewels, and around the throne are 24 elders, clothed in white, with golden crowns on their heads.  Thunder and lightening come from the throne, and before the throne are seven torches of fire, “which are the seven spirits of God,” which represents the completeness and perfection of the Holy Spirit.  Around the throne is a complete rainbow, connected end to end.  It’s perfect and circular, because God’s promise of redemption is complete; He has delivered His people through the waters of Baptism in Christ, just as He once delivered the Church across the waters of the flood, sealing the promise with a rainbow.  And before the throne is a “sea of glass, like crystal.”  

Then, John sees something else.  He sees four living creatures with six wings who continually proclaim, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”  Again, these creatures, the same as Isaiah saw, are proclaiming the threefold glory of the Triune God – the Father is holy, the Son is holy, the Spirit is holy.  John is seeing what Isaiah saw so long before him.

In fact, between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, John sees “… a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.”  This Lamb sends the seven-fold, meaning perfect, Holy Spirit out into the earth so that the Spirit may testify to the Lamb, to Christ, throughout all the world.  

So, what John gets a vision of in Revelation is the working of God for our salvation, the divine economy (or dispensation) of salvation.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God in three persons.   Each is fully God, yet each is a distinct person.  Each is separate, yet they are one God doing one will.  So, the Father sent the Son to die and rise for our salvation and glorifies him, and the Holy Spirit is sent into the world to witness to what the Son has done so that people may come to faith and be saved through the Son.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – one God in three persons working for your redemption from sin, death, and the devil and thus your salvation.  And because of the Lord’s victory over sin, death, and the devil, the Lord clothes you with the white robes of his righteousness, so that like Isaiah and like John you too will stand before His throne one day and live.

John saw this as well, writing, “… I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’  And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

In the Old Testament, the Holy of Holies where the Ark and the glory of the Lord dwelt was veiled off.  No one could enter except the High Priest with the blood of the sacrifice.  In Revelation, now here stand the great multitude of God’s saints, whom Christ, the ultimate High Priest and the sacrificial Lamb, has washed clean from your sins with his blood and made you priests, so that you may enter into the presence of the Lord.  John sees you that have come out of the great tribulation of life on this earth to enter into eternal rest with the Lord.

You are all priests now, because of the blood of the Lamb, entering into the Lord’s presence – here in the Church through Word and Sacrament, and directly in eternity.  

So, each week as we celebrate communion and proclaim the Lord’s glory and sing Hosannas to Christ in the company of the heavenly host, we join with all heaven and earth in proclaiming the glory of the Lord.  We join in the song of the Church in heaven and the Church on earth, singing with one voice our praises to the Lord.  And that great day is coming when you will sing in the immediate presence of your Triune Lord God, just as John saw, shining in his presence, in the very presence of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, heaven and earth are full of your glory!”  Amen.


(Image: Adoration of the Holy Trinity.  c. 1647.  By Johann Heinrich Schönfeld – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15397804 )