At Bible study last Wednesday, at the Missouri Synod Lutheran church, the pastor talked about Isaiah 6. Isaiah 6 is a text that is read on Trinity Sunday, which is this coming Sunday. The pastor gave us a history of Trinity Sunday. He said that Easter and Ascension Sunday focused on Jesus, Rogate Sunday focused on God the Father and creation, and Pentecost was about the Holy Spirit. Trinity Sunday considered the entire Trinity.
The pastor said that Isaiah 6 is used on Trinity Sunday because the seraphim say “Holy, holy, holy” when talking about God. They say “Holy” three times, and the Trinity is one God in three persons. God also asks whom “we” shall send, speaking in the plural, but the pastor mentioned the view that God there may be talking to the heavenly council. A text that came to my mind was John 12:21, which seems to suggest that the God who filled the Temple in Isaiah’s vision was the pre-incarnate Christ.
The pastor narrated that Isaiah 6 occurred in a time of uncertainty. King Uzziah had just died. Uzziah had reigned for fifty-two years (II Kings 15:2), and it was a time of prosperity for Judah. Egypt and the Hittites were leaving Judah alone because they were dealing with internal insurrections. The Assyrian empire was just beginning to rise. The pastor compared Uzziah’s death to the death of FDR, or Reagan leaving office: these were strong leaders, and people wondered what the country would do without them. When Uzziah died, Judahites were afraid of the rising Assyrian empire.
The pastor said that Isaiah’s vision sent the message that God is supreme and is sovereign, even though Uzziah is not king, and even though the Assyrians pose a threat to Judah. God is so great that the Temple cannot contain God. Seraphim cover their faces with two of their wings. Isaiah feels unclean in God’s presence, so a seraph takes coal from the altar—-which had the ever-burning fire that represented God’s continual presence and consumed the animal sacrifices for atonement—-and touched Isaiah’s lips with it, thereby cleansing them. God is also called the LORD of hosts, or armies. The pastor referred to the invisible horses and chariots of God that protected Northern Israel in II Kings 6. Uzziah may be gone, but God’s army is still present.
Yet, the pastor acknowledged that Isaiah was to spread dismal news. God indeed was sovereign, but the land of Judah would be devastated. But, as is often the case, God attaches some good news at the end of the bad news, and the good news was that there would be a remnant and a holy seed, whom the pastor said was Christ.
Jesus refers to Isaiah 6 when he explains the Parable of the Sower to his disciples (Matthew 13; Mark 4; Luke 8). The pastor said that Jesus was saying that he himself is continuing the mission of Isaiah, only there are differences. Isaiah’s message was not understood by the Judahites, but Jesus’ message, and that of the apostles, are understood. Moreover, the seed in the parable was not just the word being scattered but Jesus himself, as Jesus was the seed of Isaiah 6.
I asked the pastor what he made of Jesus’ statements that seem to suggest that Jesus told parables to confuse his audience. The pastor replied that Jesus said that “He who has ears to ears, let him hear.” The Spirit would move where he would, and some would understand and be receptive to Jesus’ message, whereas others would not. The pastor offered an explanation for the Messianic Secret, in which Jesus hid his Messianic identity from the masses. Much of Judaism had a concept of a Messiah who would be a political leader and liberator, and Jesus did not want to be associated with that concept. Jesus wanted to take control of the story and to define the nature of the Messiah himself.