Text: Isaiah 5:1-30, Isaiah 6:1-13, Psalm 80:17-19, Matthew 21:33-44
I’ve long been a fan of liturgy. My United Methodist upbringing only offered it in moderate doses and my current church home even less, but I still feel at home in the rhythms, radical though many of them are.
Take corporate confession, for example. You’d be hard-pressed to find something more unexpected than a group of men, women, and children, many of them strangers or mere acquaintances, joining together to voice aloud their sins and shortcomings. It’s shocking when you consider it, especially in a culture where we work carefully to craft a public image of ourselves that rarely matches the private one.
Corporate confession is a sort of double humility: we humble ourselves as sinful individuals before God, and we humble ourselves alongside our brothers and sisters as a sinful body of believers. We are saying to God, We are broken; You are whole. We are flawed; You are flawless. We are sinners; You are holy.
Our condition (sin) is directly opposed to God’s character (purity, holiness).
In Isaiah chapters 5 and 6, the prophet contrasts this “otherness” of God’s glory and holiness with the utter darkness of Judah’s rebellion. The people’s sin has so dramatically distorted their reality that good and bad are reversed in their eyes. God’s messenger Isaiah declares, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness” (5:20).
But God—“His glory fills the whole earth” (6:3), and Isaiah is humbled at the sight of Him. Heavenly beings hover around the Lord, calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts,” as the temple shakes and fills with smoke (6:4).
What does Isaiah do at the astonishing sight of God’s holiness? He voices a confession:
Woe is me for I am ruined
because I am a man of unclean lips
and live among a people of unclean lips,
and because my eyes have seen the King,
the Lord of Hosts.
- Isaiah 6:5
Notice that Isaiah’s confession is personal (“I am a man of unclean lips”) and corporate (“I live among a people of unclean lips”). Isaiah is aware of his own rebellion against God, as well as his place among a rebellious people. Repentance involves both confessing to God our sinful actions and our sinful condition.
It’s like the parable of the vineyard owner in Matthew 21. God is the vineyard owner, and what more could He have given us? Yet we corrupted His good gift. He sent His Son, and we were the ones who put Him to death—not because we were present at the crucifixion, but because ours was the sin that sentenced Him to die. All of us. We are all sinners and we are all sinful.
Left to ourselves, we would have no hope. Thanks be to God, we have not been left to ourselves. As we confess our sins and our sinful condition before our holy God, we also give thanks for Jesus, who took our sin upon Himself. In Jesus, the radically unholy are clothed in righteousness and reconciled to God.
Because of Jesus, we are ushered into the presence of the One whose holiness fills the whole earth—the One who is three times holy. Holy is God the Father. Holy is Christ the Son. Holy is His Spirit, mercifully poured out on those who confess their sins and believe on Christ. Holy, holy, holy.