Have you ever had your breath taken away? I don't mean that hard knock on the sporting field, I mean that sense of being overwhelmed. Looked over a cliff's edge, stand before a wild animal, faced a consuming bush fire or lost control of your car.
Isaiah's breath was taken away by nothing less than the holiness of God.
Point 1 - The Vision of the Holy King
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. ~Isaiah. 6:1 (NIV)
This vision comes in the year that King Uzziah died, the same King who trampled on the Holiness of God by offering incense that only the priests were allowed to do. So, God struck him with leprosy and lockdown. The throne in the vision tells us that God is the true King, no one else is in charge “He is high and exalted” The only other time that phrase is used in Isaiah is of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52.
High and exalted for we do not look down on this King as if God is our slave. We do not look out at this king as if God were just a peer or mate or buddy or homeboy, we look up for he’s high and exalted on his throne.
So radically different to us, above us and beyond us is God. He is not like us and we certainly are not like him. In this vision, His endless robe fills the temple as his glory fills the whole earth. All pointing to his breathtaking majesty. We never get to see what God is like in this vision but we do get to see and hear the Seraphim, these 6 winged heavenly beings
Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” ~Isaiah 6:2-3 (NIV)
The seraphim, literally "the burning ones", have 2 wings to cover their feet, 2 wings to cover their eyes. So, even though they are sinless, they are unable to look at God. With 2 remaining wings they do God's bidding, constantly on the move in praise and service. Then this picture gives way to words, not once and not twice but 3 times for emphasis, the seraphim, bouncing off the walls, sing to each other. Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD God Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory.
In heaven, there are some songs you will never get sick of singing. Not surprising that Isaiah’s preferred title for God is “The Holy One of Israel”
A Holy God calls for a holy people. It is not ours to grow a large crowd but to grow disciples of Jesus. Ours must be a holy mission, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty.
Point 2 - God is so profoundly different.
People spend lots of money travelling the world to see something different, only to end up with a version of the same old. Everything about God is different to us, you want different? Do you want unique? Gaze into the glory of God's holiness. Even the sound of the holy praise from the seraphim is enough to shake the foundation of the temple. Isaiah is under sensory overload, like a 3D Imax experience, sight, sound, touch. This is one awesome Holy King
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ~Isaiah 6:4 (NIV)
Friends, this is not the God you can slap on the back and call mate, he is not "the man upstairs". The shaking of the doorposts stops Isaiah from approaching. The smoke stops Isaiah from seeing. Isaiah is very much aware that he is unworthy to be there. It was the holiness of God that Israel had forgotten which led her into every possible sin.
Already in chapter 5, Isaiah issued for a series of woes...
5:8 Woe to you who add house to house of consumerism
5:11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks
5:20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil
Woe to you is now woe is me. Isaiah is standing before this Holy God, he is not taking comfort that others are worse.
Point 3 - The Confession of Isaiah
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” ~Isaiah 6:5 (NIV)
In the presence of such purity, you’re only left with one come back “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined!
God is uncompromisingly holy.
How many sins did it take Adam and Eve before they were kicked out of the garden? Just one sin and every human dies. Just one touch of the Ark and Uzzah is dead 2 Samuel 6. One lie and Ananias and Sapphira both bodies are carried Acts 5.
The question is raised “Who can stand in the presence of a holy God? It's why Peter says:
Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” ~Luke 5:8 (NIV)
So very, very different to the aggressively casual way Australian culture talks of God. Australians treat God as if they were some talkback radio shock jock, like Kyle Sandiland or Ray Hadley. Or those who boast in words like, “Wait till I meet God and give him a piece of my mind.”
Isaiah only has a vision of God yet this holiness is enough to absolutely terrify him. Ruined, literally lost and undone! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. Our lips carry the words that are a mirror to the heart. Gossip, slander, rage, sarcasm, cynicism, swearing and blasphemy. God will judge us by every word that leaves our mouths. Isaiah has a deep sense that he is in serious, serious trouble.
One Holy God + Unholy people = There is big trouble.
So hopeless he does not even bother to ask for mercy.
I remember having a dream when I was a young Christian, I was on the deck of an aircraft carrier and there was this old plane on the deck, out of control and spinning ever closer to me, pushing me further back on the edge. I feared being pushed off.
Then the plane stopped moving, I felt this sense of relief...I'm safe...until I heard the booming sound, I looked up and there was this massive plane about to crash land on top of me. I thought to myself “Oh No Im dead!” “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined!
Point 4 - The Cleansing of Isaiah
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” ~Isaiah 6:6-7 (NIV)
Imagine the relief to hear those words, “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Modern Australians have reduced guilt to just an emotion and made our consciences our only judge. If that is the case, then all we have to do is join a self-esteem class and learn how to forgive ourselves. But Isaiah is facing God's holy anger as a sinner. A thousand "I'm sorrys" is not going to cut it. Old Covenant or New, confession is never enough.
So, the seraphs take a coal from the altar and touch his lips to make him clean. Guilt has to be removed by God and only then sin is forgiven. But if the blood of bulls or goats doesn’t forgive sins you can bet your life neither will the coals that fuel the altar. For that, we wait for Jesus, 700 years later, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. The one born to a virgin, the suffering servant on whom the Lord will thankfully transfer our sin and the punishment those sins deserve.
Isaiah is now a totally forgiven man, he is what Israel could become. He is what you are in Christ. He is what some of you could be if you come to Christ.
So back to my dream, when the plane was about to land, I told myself in the dream. “I am going to die so I will close my eyes count to 10 and when I wake up I will be in heaven. So I counted to 10 and woke up to find I was only in my bed, I was so, so disappointed. Why? Because I knew my guilt was taken away and my sin atoned for.
Now Isaiah takes up the call to preach.
Point 5 - The Commissioning of Isaiah
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” ~Isaiah 6:8 (NIV)
This is the first time God speaks in the vision. Now forgiven before a holy God…He is thankful, he is busting to serve because he who is Forgiven must love much.
Send me, he doesn't ask 'where? when?' or how long?' just says "send me". Whatever it takes, send me! Isaiah is told here is not so much what he would say but what is the reaction to his preaching. This is Isaiah's mission statement
He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” ~Isaiah. 6:9-10 (NIV)
In other words, God says ‘Isaiah, know this, you will preach and they will not listen, yours will be a church emptying ministry until Israel is not much more than a burnt stump. What a shocking message to preach. The preaching will harden only hearts that are already hard.
Fast forward 750 years - Christ died and rose again and the good news went from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. In Acts 28 Paul is in Rome under house arrest, the Jews come and hear the message that Jesus is the Messiah who had to die for their forgiveness. They reject the message and Paul then quotes this verse in Isaiah 6: "Isaiah was right…you are forever listening but never perceiving" and then says:
“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” The seed from the dead stump of Israel will bear fruit. ~Acts 28:28 (NIV)
Understand the time zone we are in, we live in a time of reaping. They will listen! Do you believe this? This is the reason why we are right to approach the mission optimistically. God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!
There are 3 billion people who are not a Christian and don’t know a Christian nor have no contact with a church, if we preach to them they will listen. Our problem is that we are guilty of one thing and it's this “We believe in a God who can but probably won't.” we need to repent of that. Yes, some places and times providentially will see more or less success. Yes, Chinese and Iranians are God's favourites at the moment but our Holy God has called us to a holy optimism. God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!
Now that will take your breath away. Do you believe this? The good news is, God is not calling us to Isaiah's ministry of hard hardening. You are called to serve in the era of reaping. You may or may not get to the overseas mission field but God has placed nations all around you. When I just beg you, don't reach your death bed and realise you have missed this great opportunity.
Have you ever invited someone to Explaining Christianity? This year, pray daily to invite 3 people. I know too many that wake up later in life and know they wasted their life.