As we looked around this week, it was hard to avoid the impression that we are living in troubled times. The pandemic continues to disrupt life as we live with various restrictions placed by the state governor. Perhaps worse than the virus itself has been the way it has polarized people with respect to the government and one another. Certainly the economic devastation caused by the shut down of stores and businesses only grows.
And then on top of that, we have seen rioting and looting in the cities of our nation. A cruel act of murder – condemned by all because it was obviously so unjust – has been used as justification to riot, loot, beat bystanders and set fire to buildings. And in a bizarre turn of events city officials have ordered police not to do the very thing Romans chapter 13 says a government is supposed to do – restrain sin and maintain order.
But troubled times are nothing new. In fact, in a fallen world they are always going to be a regular occurrence. We find evidence of this in our Old Testament lesson for the Feast of the Holy Trinity. Isaiah begins our text by saying: “In the year that King Uzziah died.” Uzziah had ruled in the southern kingdom of Judah for around forty years until his death in 742 B.C. The impact of his death was compounded by the fact that four years earlier the king of the northern kingdom of Israel, Jereboam II, had also died. Now normally that would no big a deal, because the kings in the northern kingdom were getting killed all the time. But Jereboam II had also ruled for around forty years. The stability provided by the long reigns of Uzziah and Jereboam II had created a time of trade and great prosperity. Things had been really good.
But with the death of Uzziah all of that stability had come to an end. And as if the internal uncertainty wasn’t problem enough, anyone paying attention to the international scene could see that a tremendous threat as coming. Judah and Israel had been able to prosper because the superpowers on each side of them – Egypt and Assyria - had been divided and distracted. Yet now the Assyrian leader Tiglath-pileser III had things on track, and he was looking to conquer. He had just led a brief campaign in nearby Syria. There was no doubt that he would be back with an army that Israel and Judah couldn’t hope to beat.
It was in the midst of this situation that Yahweh called Isaiah to be a prophet. Isaiah describes his call in our text today. He 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.” Apparently Isaiah had some kind of visionary experience in the temple. He saw Yahweh sitting on a throne. God is often described as sitting on a throne in the Old Testament because he is the King – he is the ruler of his entire creation. The exalted character of God is indicated by the fact that he was high and lifted up, and train of his robe filled the temple.
What was more, Yahweh was attended by the heavenly host. Six winged seraphim – angels – were above Yahweh. They flew and called out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” They declared that Yahweh, the ruler of the heavenly armies, is the most holy One. There is no one and nothing who can compare with him. Indeed, his glory fills the earth.
Isaiah found himself before the Creator of the universe. The King was seated on his throne, attended by his angels who proclaimed the ultimate character of his holiness. And Isaiah tells us that, “the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.”
Isaiah was overwhelmed by the experience. However, we need to pay attention to why he was overwhelmed. It was not fear because he the creature was standing in front of God the Creator. Instead he 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!” What struck Isaiah was his uncleanness – the fact he was not holy.
Standing in the presence of the holy, holy, holy God – the very most holy God – made Isaiah painfully aware of his own sinfulness. He knew that he did not belong there - that he could not be there. This experience of the holy God in his call certainly made a great impression on Isaiah. Within the Book of Isaiah, the prophet refers to Yahweh as the “holy One” twenty six times, while this phrase occurs only six times in all the rest of the Old Testament.
As we hear about Isaiah’s experience and reaction to it, we must recognize that what he expresses is true for every one of us. God is holy – the most holy One – the One who is completely set apart. We on the other hand are sinners like Isaiah. We are fallen people who have no business being in the presence of the holy God. We are people who put own interests before God. We come first, and God comes second … or maybe sometimes even third. We are people who embrace anger and hate. We are people who lust and covet.
Isaiah was completely undone as he stood before the holy God and perceived his own sin. He said ““Woe is me! For I am lost.” But then Yahweh did something to allow Isaiah to stand before him. The prophet writes, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’”
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Holy Trinity. The reason we are celebrating the Holy Trinity – the reason we know about the Holy Trinity – is because God acted to take away our guilt and atone for our sin. He acted in a way that was a fulfillment of all the sacrifice and atonement provided to his people in the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament there is one central fact that God reveals about himself. Moses announced to the people, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Israel knew that Yahweh was one. There was only one true God. The nations around them had many different gods. But these were all false gods. They were nothing. There was only one true God, Yahweh the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
But in order to give forgiveness and salvation to all people, God acted in a way that revealed new knowledge about himself. St. Paul told the Galatians, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” When the fullness of time arrived – when the exact moment in history willed by God was present – God sent forth his Son. He sent forth his Son to be conceived in the virgin Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Father sent the Son to be the atoning sacrifice for sin. And at the moment when Jesus Christ took on the role of being the suffering Servant – the one who would be the sin offering for all – the Father, the Son and the Spirit were all revealed. At his baptism, Jesus the Son stepped into this role. As he did so the Father said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,” and the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove.
It is the incarnation of the Son of God that has revealed God’s triune nature to us. God is one. There is only one God. Yet we have learned that the Father has sent forth the Son, as he was incarnate by the work of the Holy Spirit. Through the incarnation, God has revealed more about himself. God is one, but he is not just one. There is a complexity within the unity of God.
The Father sent the Son to die on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sin. Paul told the Romans that we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”
Jesus died as the sacrifice for our sins. He received the judgment we deserved. And then he was buried. But on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead. This too was a work of the triune God, for the Father raised the incarnate Son through the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Scriptures teach us that there is only one God. But through the saving action of the incarnation God has revealed that the one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We learn that the Father is true God. The Son is true God. The Holy Spirit is true God. And yet there is only One God. God is God, and we are not. The how of this blows our minds. As St. Paul exclaims in the epistle lesson, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
And while we certainly cannot understand the how of the Holy Trinity, we must never lost sight of why we know about it. We know about the Trinity because of God’s love for us. God’s action to save us through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has revealed the triune nature of God. Our knowledge of the Trinity bears witness to God’s love for us.
The apostle John wrote, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
God loved us and acted to give us forgiveness and salvation. That’s why we know about the Holy Trinity. That’s what the Holy Trinity tells us about God. And as the children of God, this love can’t stop there. John goes on to say, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” The love of God revealed in the Trinity has been given to us through the work of the Spirit. And now the Spirit prompts us live and act in love towards one another.
God’s saving love in Christ has been given to all people – including you. And so now this love of God that we share is also directed towards all people. Our actions prompted by God’s love have no limitations or boundaries – neither the color of a person’s skin nor their economic status. In fact, this love is not even limited by whether others are nice to us. For the Lord Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
On this Feast of the Holy Trinity we ponder the mystery of our one God who is three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet while we cannot understand how God is three and one and the same time, there is no doubt about why we have this knowledge. It is because of God’s love for us. It was love that prompted the Father to send forth the Son to be incarnate by the work of the Holy Spirit. It was love the led Jesus Christ to offer himself as the sacrifice to give us forgiveness and salvation. It was love that caused the Father to raise up Jesus through the work of the Spirit, and begin the resurrection that will be ours on the Last Day. And it is God’s love that has now been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us – love that we share with others through what we do and say.