In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
To those mighty messengers, the holy seraphim, God gave six wings; with two they flew. The purpose of the other four was to cover up their shameful parts. Even though they were charged to serve in the smoky Temple and sing God’s three-fold praise, even though they were holy, they still they had things to cover. They still were not fit for the beauty of the God’s merciful presence. So they covered their feet and their faces and sang a song of praise for each Person whom they worshiped: Holy, Holy, Holy.
Isaiah could not abide the presence of this majesty. He was only a man and he was not holy. The Trinity was too much for him. He mourned for his sinful state, his lying lips, his fearful heart. He was not worthy to sing their song or even to watch from afar. He was undone, damned, headed for destruction and without defense. His guilt was too great. His sin was too shameful. He had no wings, no fig leaves, with which to cover up. There in the presence of the Truth, he could not lie about who he really was. He could not fake it. He was exposed and vulnerable and undone.
But then an angel, a seraphim, flew to the Altar at God’s direction. He picked up a burning coal, the remnant of the burnt offering, and placed its fire to Isaiah’s lips. His guilt was removed. His sin was forgiven. For he partook of that which was sacrificed in his place. It was put in his mouth and made him clean. That which had appeased God’s wrath on his behalf was joined to him so that he could sing. He, too, sang God’s three-fold praise: Holy, Holy, Holy. Now he, like the seraphim, is holy. The Almighty has declared it so. Isaiah has been redeemed. He calls the Second Person of the Trinity, the Incarnate God of Moses and of Abraham, the only begotten of His Father from whom the Spirit does proceed, Brother.
How unsearchable are the judgments of God! He judges men who murdered His Son, who mocked His Name, who hid and ran from Him, who stole and lied and caved in, He judges them innocent. He makes them His sons. He judges His perfect Son worthy of the price that Justice demands. He places the burdens of all the evil the world has withstood – genocide and slavery, half-truths, bragging, and cowardice, name-calling on the playground and drunkenness, all the evil in which men have engaged, all their secret sins, all their violence and their vanity; all their greed, malice, and lust; He places all of it upon the Lamb, the Lamb was born to be a sacrifice. The Father raised Him up from the earth on a Hellish stick to cleanse men of the serpent’s most deadly poison – the first heresy – the lie that God is not true, that God does not care, that we can be like Him on our own. But look there! Look with eyes of faith to the agony of grace outside of Jerusalem! There the demons are cast out. There the snakes are driven away. From there proceeds the Spirit of peace who proclaims the Son. There salvation is won and the lips of men are made clean. Songs of praise ring out again.
For whoever believes in Him – the One raised up in death and raised again to life and raised again to His Father’s side, the One the bronze serpent did foreshow, the One that all burnt offerings were burnt to illustrate, the One who received the seraphims’ praise and sent Isaiah to foretell the Virgin birth, whoever believes in Him, he will never perish. He will have eternal life. “Whoever” promises our Lord. Whoever – no matter how bad, how despicable, how wrong or mean or stupid or lazy or negligent or resentful or lonely – whoever believes in Jesus Christ, whoever trusts in Him, true God and true Man, whoever looks to Christ, crucified and raised, despite his past crimes, he is forgiven and finds peace. He finds comfort, hope, and joy.
Jesus Christ was lifted up and sacrificed for the sins of the world, even for your sins. That is how God loved the world. That is how God has loved you. He gave His only Begotten over to the death you should have died. He declared the Innocent One guilty so that He could declare you innocent and righteous. He has had mercy upon you. And His mercy endureth forever! He did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save it, to save you. And so He has. And that – for free, without an examination of your past, without a searching of your conscience, without checking on your pedigree. He has saved not by works or righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy. His Word creates and sustains faith in whoever believes in Him.
Today a servant of God’s Word, without wings, at God’s direction, will take from this Altar the Body sacrificed and risen and place its fire to your lips. Your guilt will thereby be removed. Your sin will be forgiven. You will partake of that which was sacrificed in your place: Jesus’ Body and Blood. It will be put into your mouth and make you clean. That which has appeased God’s wrath on your behalf will be joined to you. Thus you can sing. Like the seraphim, like Isaiah and Nicodemus, you are holy. You have been redeemed. You call the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnate God of Moses and of Abraham, the only begotten of His Father from whom the Spirit does proceed, Brother. You belong to God. You have been spared. You have been Named by Him. You belong to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. You have born from above through water and the Word by the intervention of Love.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana