Sinners in the Presence of God
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometime about 750 years before Jesus was born, a man named Isaiah received a revelation from the Lord God Almighty. God brought this man into the heavenly Temple and right to the very throne of heaven itself. And so, Isaiah stands before the Maker of heaven and earth—or as we confess in the Athanasian Creed, “the Uncreated, the Incomprehensible, the Eternal”. No sinner can look directly into the face of God and survive; and Isaiah knew it. He knew that even Moses was not allowed to see the face of God. And yet, there stood Isaiah in God’s divine presence.
It is not an easy or comfortable feeling, to realize that you are a sinner in the presence of God. This isn’t some random petty official who can be bought off with a bribe or who would be satisfied with a paid fine. God is the righteous, incorruptible Judge, and we have no defense before Him. The Judge has just one sentence to pass for sinners: death.
Isaiah was one of God's chosen people when the Lord brought him into the heavenly Temple. Still, following the Lord's calling of this son of Amoz into the Kingdom of God, Isaiah remained a sinner and he knew it. “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because 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 had nothing to offer God to stay the arm of judgment and wrath—no good work, no sacrifice, nothing. His continued existence in the very Presence of God was due solely and only to the mercy and grace of God in Christ Jesus.
You have come here this day to the House of God, to this sanctuary which is a place consecrated to the Lord. You have come here to be in the very Presence of the Lord God. But you are no less a sinner, no less unclean than Isaiah. You dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. Do you realize what you have done by appearing here and seeking to be in His Presence? Do you understand what you have said when you added your "amen" to the Invocation? You have presented yourself here invoking His Name, the Name declared unto you on the gracious day of your Baptism: the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And in doing so, you have left yourself open to His righteous judgment.
Here today, in the Presence of God, you made confession of your sin. You have nothing to offer God to stay the hand of condemnation and wrath—no good work, no sacrifice, nothing. You can only plead “guilty”. Your continued existence here and now in the very Presence of God is due solely and only to the mercy and grace of God in Christ Jesus.
This guilty plea has a strange and unexpected result. After Isaiah confessed his sin, one of the Lord's angels, one of the messengers, flew to Isaiah, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched Isaiah's mouth with it, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged."
It worked the same way this morning. After you confessed your sin, one of the Lord's messengers, one of Christ's under-shepherds, announced to you, "Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and In the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." Instead of requiring a live coal be touched to you, the Word of God is sufficient to remove the iniquity of your sin. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross is enough. Instead of the righteous sentence of death, we are shown mercy and are given a full pardon.
Now, with all our sins removed as far as the east is from the west, with all our transgressions forgotten by the God Who knows all things, we are ready to enter into His Presence where we are permitted to sing The Sanctus: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.” Then, for those who are prepared, one of God’s messengers takes the very Body and Blood of Christ. He places it in your mouth and says, "Take and eat, this is the Body of Christ given into death for you. Take and drink, this is the Blood of Christ shed for you.” It has touched your lips. Just as it happened with the water applied to you with the Word in Holy Baptism, just as it is with the holy word of absolution, so it is with the Lord’s Supper: your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.
It’s no coincidence that we find Isaiah in the middle of a worship service. You see, that’s what heaven is all about. Every image we have of heaven in Scripture is of the hosts of heaven gathered around the divine Presence to worship God. Whether it’s in Isaiah in his book, the angels as they appear to the shepherds in Luke, or John in Revelation, the hosts of heaven are in the midst of worship, praising God for what He is and what He has done and continues to do for His people. Whether we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth”, or “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth”, or “Worthy is Christ the Lamb who was slain” as we did this morning, we are joining in the hymns of heaven, in praise of God. When we gather at the altar to receive the body and blood of our Savior, we gather “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” We have gathered here in the name of the Triune God, invoking His holy name, and even as Jesus promised, where two or three are gathered in His name, He is in our very midst! We stand here in His presence to receive His gifts and to thank Him for those gifts. We stand in the presence of God in this place, and by His grace, we live.
Like Isaiah, you also have been chosen by God. He has called you by name, and He has forgiven you by the power of His Name. You need not fear to be in the presence of the righteous God; your sins have been forgiven, and you have been freed to do the work for which God has chosen you. May He continue to grant you peace in His presence from now unto eternity. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.