THE CALL TO MINISTRY DERIVES FROM APPRECIATION FOR FORGIVENESS OF SINS IN LIGHT OF THE GREAT GULF BETWEEN GOD’S HOLINESS AND OUR GUILT
What is your motivation for serving God? When you get up in the morning, what inspires you to ask the Lord to use you to accomplish His purposes and to further His glory? Maybe those are not even your priorities. We are going to gain some insight today into Isaiah’s motivation as a spokesman for God. Why was Isaiah eager to bring a message of judgment that would prove so unpopular? Why make the commitment and the sacrifice?
Review: It is interesting that this account of Isaiah’s calling to his prophetic ministry did not occur back in chapter 1. Instead the prophet chose to immerse us in the depths of the desperate situation of the apostate people of God for five chapters. Just a quick reminder of where we have been these past weeks. The first 5 chapters serve as the introduction to the book and are broken into 3 main sections:
– Chap. 1 — DESPITE SPIRITUAL HARLOTRY, PURIFIED JERUSALEM PROMISED A FUTURE OF JUSTICE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
– Chap. 2-4 – Bracketed with those opening and closing glimpses of the exalted role of Israel in the Millennial Kingdom, you have the harsh reality of the sin and apostasy of God’s people which are deserving of judgment
IN THE DAY OF RECKONING, SELF-ABSORBED ISRAEL WILL BE ABASED AND QUAKING BEFORE THE MAJESTIC PRESENCE OF THE EXALTED LORD /
REJECTION OF GOD LEADS TO A COLLAPSE OF ANY SOCIETY
– Chap. 5 – Parable of the Vineyard – God cannot be blamed but the guilt falls squarely on the shoulders of God’s faithless people – WOES DECLARED AGAINST SIX PERVERIONS /
STINKING FRUIT DESERVES DEVASTATING JUDGMENT THAT IS IMMINENT, INTENSE AND INESCAPABLE
How can a holy God cleanse guilty sinners so that they are useful vessels in His service? How can Israel end up functioning in the Millennial Kingdom as a light to the Gentile nations?
Two parts to chapter 6 – a vision and a message; forms a hinge between the first 5 chapters of introduction and then chapters 7-12 that will pick up the theme of Isaiah’s prophetic message and develop it further. This is the perfect spot to be introduced to what motivated Isaiah in his service for God.
This is one of the most famous passages in the book; one has to feel inadequate trying to cover it … we stand on the shoulders of so many men of God who have attempted to unfold its meaning. I think of R. C. Sproul – his video series on The Holiness of God (snippets on YouTube) – probably one of the most listened to series from Ligonier Ministries. I have appreciated the messages of Brian Borgman (a little less famous) captured on sermonaudio.com … but at the end of the day we all confess our limitations in trying to plumb the depths of understanding the person of our God. May the Holy Spirit bless our feeble efforts this morning. May we come away as Isaiah did from this confrontation with a Holy God with a sense of being overwhelmed and yet thankful and motivated
THE CALL TO MINISTRY DERIVES FROM APPRECIATION FOR FORGIVENESS OF SINS IN LIGHT OF THE GREAT GULF BETWEEN GOD’S HOLINESS AND OUR GUILT
Isaiah finds himself Overwhelmed on 3 different levels:
I. (:1-4) OVERWHELMED WITH A VISION OF THE EMPHASIZED HOLINESS OF THE MAJESTIC GOD
A. (1) The Vision Focuses on the Sovereign Lord as the Exalted Priest King
“In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.”
In contrast to Israel’s shame which was spelled out in great detail in chap. 5; here we have a vision of the Lord’s glory
1. Significance of King Uzziah – prosperous reign; presumptuous desire at the end after 52 years of reigning to usurp the role of the priest – 2 Chron. 26:16-23 (need a lot of historical OT background to understand these major prophets); died around 740 B.C.; humbled by his leprosy; time of uncertainty for the people – especially if they had been putting their trust in their earthly leader who was respected and revered; Isaiah possibly a nephew of the king
Young: according to tradition, the great city on the Tiber arose about this time. From now on Judah declined more and more, and Rome increased.
Heading away from the emphasis on God’s program with Israel to the times of the Gentiles
2. Identity of the Lord here – word used adonai refers to His sovereign reign; absolute lordship; His kingly rule; Uzziah might be dead, but the ultimate King is still alive and in charge over all; preincarnate Christ – John 12:41 “These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory; and he spoke of Him.”
Presents a bit of a problem for us in light of verses such as:
John 1:18 “No one has seen God at any time”
1 Tim. 6:15-16 “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see.”
No man can see the Lord and live; in fact God is a Spirit in His essential being and cannot be fully seen
Fish: [quoted by Preceptaustin.org] — It is obvious that the phrase “to see God” is used in two different senses. Man cannot see God in His essence. Man can only see God as He has revealed Himself. Any time a person sees God, it is an indication that God has adapted Himself to the limited capacity of the creature. We do not know God as He really is. We only know God as He has revealed Himself. Our knowledge of God is never exhaustive and perfect, but it is nevertheless true. It is not exhaustive because no one can see God and live. It is true because God has accommodated Himself to the weakness of man so that there was a sense in which Isaiah was able to “see” God.
Oswalt: the Hebrews normally believed that to see God was to die (Gen. 32:30; Exod. 19:21; 20:19; 33:20; Deut. 18:16; Judg. 13:22)
3. Setting: Throne in the Temple/Palace – surprising picture – seat of authority and power — seems to go beyond what one would expect in the earthly building in Jerusalem – vision transports Isaiah to see the Lord in His heavenly temple (Rev. 4:1-6; 5:1-7; 11:19; 15:5-8); it is only in the temple where the Lord meets with His people on the basis of sacrifice
Complexity in having the Messiah fill both roles of King and Priest (and Judge) – in contrast to Uzziah trying to presumptuously usurp that combined role
– Royal line as descendant of seed of David from the tribe of Judah – and yet only by the miraculous virgin birth (chap. 7) could Jesus avoid the curse pronounced against the line of Jeconiah (Jehoiachin / Coniah = short form of the same king) by Jeremiah 22:30; only reigned for 3 months – last king of Judah before the Exile; only 18 years old; taken into captivity; pronounced childless in terms of having a descendant to sit on the throne of David
MacArthur: How could Jesus then be the Messiah when His father was under this curse? It was because Joseph was not involved in the blood line of Jesus since He was virgin born. Jesus’ blood right to the throne of David came through Mary from Nathan, Solomon’s brother, not Solomon (Jeconiah’s line) thus bypassing this curse
– the priestly line after the order of Melchizedek – separate from descending from the tribe of Levi;
Ps. 110:1, 4 combines both roles of king and priest – Very complex fulfillment by God
4. Theme of Exaltation – lofty and exalted –
Is. 52:13 used of the Servant of the Lord — “He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” Is. 57:15 “For thus says the high and exalted one who lives forever, whose name is Holy” – this is regal language — Borgman
Futile for man to exalt himself
5. Impressive Garments – “train of His robe” – more impressive than wedding garments
Vine: the hem or fringe of His robe, as in Exod. 28:33, 34. His garment consists of light (Ps. 104) and fills the Heavenly Temple, just as the cloud filled the Tabernacle (Exod. 40:35).
Maybe Isaiah finds himself lying prostrate and his best view is of the train of His robe
The more impressive the garments … the more impressive the person in Near Eastern monarchies
B. (:2) The Vision Unveils the Hidden Ministry of the Seraphim Who Praise and Serve the Lord
“Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.”
We don’t give enough attention to the doctrine of angels in the Scriptures; we tend to think of them in one homogenous mass – just distinguishing the good angels from those who fell; but there are many orders in the hierarchy of the functioning of angels; many different types of ministries and administrations – all taking place behind the scenes –
Angels Are For Real:
– ANGELS APPRECIATE AUTHORITY
– ANGELS MINISTER TO THE DESPERATE NEEDS OF SAINTS
– ANGELS ARE VERY REAL AND VERY ACTIVE — EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE TOUGH TO IDENTIFY
– ANGELS SPECIALIZE IN WORSHIP AND JUDGMENT
Majestic beings created by God to perform His will and glorify Him
Col. 1:15-16 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him.”
A lot going on in the invisible realm: good angels as well as fallen
– some angels mentioned by name – Gabriel – chief messenger angel
– Archangel – Michael (Jude 9)
– Guardian angels
– Here we have the Seraphim – burning ones, fiery ones – cf. similarity to the 4 living creatures of Rev. 4:6-8 “each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within”; but similarity does not mean identity; not necessarily a class to themselves?? A descriptive label
Dr. Whitcomb points out that 2/3 of their wings function in humility and worship while only 1/3 are used for service – might be a good ratio for us to consider
Verbs are in the imperfect tense = ongoing continual activity on the part of the Seraphim;
Cover the face so as not to look on His glory; cover the feet in humility; Emphasis on their function in praise and service
Motley: In covering their feet they disavowed any intention to choose their own path; their intent was to go only as the Lord commanded.
Oswalt: “Feet” is sometimes used in ancient Near Eastern literature as a euphemism for genitalia, and it is possible that such a meaning is intended here
C. (:3) The Vision Emphasizes the Pervasive Holiness and Glory of the Lord
“And one called out to another and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.’”
Communication is between the Seraphim – cannot stop talking about the glories and the moral perfection of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords
Vine: This suggests that their utterances were antiphonal, though not in song. There is no record in Scripture of angels singing.
We have various ways in which we show emphasis – for the Hebrews, they liked to use verbal repetition (R.C. Sproul, Borgman)
Why don’t they sing “Love, Love, Love”?? repetition brings out emphasis; Is. 26:3 “peace, peace” = “perfect peace”; 2 Kings “gold gold” = “pure gold”; Jesus speaking with emphasis: (Amen, Amen) “Truly, truly I say to you;” but threefold repetition here for a super superlative that is invented here;
Beall: The message given in v. 3, “Holy, holy, holy,” probably does not refer to the Trinity; rather, it is the strongest form of the superlative: God is the holiest of all. Note Isaiah’s characteristic name for God, “the holy one of Israel.” Holiness is what made God distinct. Similarly, Israel was to be holy (Lev 19:1). God’s glory fills the earth (not just the temple). Oswalt states, “where God’s glory is manifested, there is judgment for sin, for the two cannot exist side by side” (p. 181).
Borgman: 2 aspects to holiness of God:
– First aspect: transcendence (separate) = God is other than us; a gap that exists between us and God of infinite proportions; Ps. 50:21 “You thought that I was just like you”; man made in the image of God – but only certain communicable attributes (you know what a communicable disease is); attribute of love; we have the capability to show love; but there are a whole other set of incommunicable attributes that belong to God alone; over-familiarity today with the Holy One of Israel; we will never exhaust the divine being in our knowledge of Him even in eternity; explore the galaxies – look how big it is out there;
– second aspect: Separateness from sin and evil and moral impurity; No darkness in Him; we will not come to the light because we have a love affair with darkness
Doesn’t seem to us like the whole earth is full of His glory (f. 6 Perversions) – Ps. 19 – why is He even mindful of us? Earth is center of universe “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands”
Constable: God’s glory fills the earth in that the revelation of God’s attributes fills the earth (cf. Ps. 19:1-3). God’s glory refers to the outshining of His person
Preceptaustin.org: God’s glory is essentially the profound, glowing, visible, confluent expression of the attributes of Deity which bears witness to a still more profound and incomprehensible reality of essence. In His character and essence, He is “Spirit,” and thus invisible to man (Jn 4:24), but He has made Himself known to man through revelation by His many names and titles, by His attributes, by His written Word, and finally by His living Word, Jesus Christ (Jn 1:14).
D. (:4) The Vision Magnifies the Awesome Impact of the Presence of the Lord
“And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.”
Beall: the smoke is similar to the cloud of glory in the wilderness (Exod 13:21; 16:10; also Solomon’s temple [1 Kings 8:10-13]).
Voice of the angel speaking — not the voice of God; yet look at the impact on inanimate objects
John Martin: The thresholds (cf. Amos 9:1) were large foundation tones on which the doorposts stood. The shaking suggested the awesome presence and power of God.
Left with sense of being overwhelmed; in awe at who God is
II. (:5) OVERWHELMED WITH THE GUILT OF PERSONAL AND NATIONAL SIN
A. Ruined – Personal Application
“Then I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am ruined!’”
Response of Isaiah to this confrontation with a God who is proclaimed as Holy, Holy, Holy
Remember the six woes proclaimed in chapter 5; slightly different word used here
Understood when woes of doom proclaimed against foreign pagan nations; surprising to see the prophet apply this to himself
Van Parunak: A better translation would be, “I am destroyed.” This is his high-level assessment of his destiny. We might say, “I’m toast.” This is the first reason for his despairing cry: he perceives that this unspeakably holy God must destroy him.
Oswalt: Such confrontation cannot help but produce despair For the finite, the mortal, the incomplete, and the fallible to encounter the Infinite, the Eternal, the Self-consistent, and the Infallible is to know the futility and the hopelessness of one’s existence. . . Existentialism presumes there is no meaning in the universe and that we are thus meaningless. Isaiah knows, more horribly, that there is Meaning, but that he has no part in it.
Totally bankrupt; nothing to offer a Holy God
B. Guilty – Perception of Self and of Surroundings
“Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;”
Pollution within and pollution without
Van Parunak: James (3:2) reminds us that our speech is the most sensitive indicator of our sinfulness.
James 3:6 “the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set o fire by hell”
Especially crippling when you are a prophet, the mouthpiece for God to communicate His will to His people
We have dirty mouths; washing out with soup won’t cure the problem
Jesus taught that it is not what we put in our mouth that defiles us, it is what comes out of our mouth and reveals the wickedness of our heart – lies, slander, selfishness, blasphemy, complaining, hurting others
Do we criticize our fellow members of the body of Christ when we see their sinful lapses or do we identify with them and grieve for the lack of maturity and completeness in the overall body??
Vine: It is one thing to condemn the saints, it is quite another to take upon ourselves the confession of their sins as ours. It is that which causes the Holy Spirit to use us for real blessing amidst them.
C. Terrified – Perception of God
“For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”
Our God is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24; Isa. 33:14; Heb. 12:29)
Isaiah not seen pleading for mercy; he considers his case hopeless
Contrast the reaction of Isaiah to contemporary evangelicalism where we have such a familiarity with God; such a casual attitude towards worship; yes we can dress comfortably – but in our heart we need a sense of the majesty of God; He is the King of kings; this passage should elevate our comprehension of both God’s holiness and the sense of our own depravity
III. (:6-7) OVERWHELMED BY THE GRACIOUS PROVISION OF FORGIVENESS
A. (:6) Forgiveness Derives from the Altar of Sacrifice and Propitiation
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, with a burning coal in his hand which he had taken from the altar with tongs.”
What was Isaiah thinking as this strange creature flew towards him with a burning coal in his hand?
Probably a coal taken from:
– the altar of incense associated with the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:11-19) – sacrifice along with incense; must understand this background
Van Parunak: If the parallel with the Day of Atonement is correct, the coal originated on the altar of burnt offering, where the bullock of the high priest’s personal sin offering has already been slain, and where its blood will shortly be offered. Those coals in the censer generated the smoke, and now one of them is brought to Isaiah, making him a personal recipient of the sacrifice with which they are associated.
Motyer: It holds together the ideas of the atonement, propitiation and satisfaction required by God and of the forgiveness, cleansing and reconciliation needed by his people. All this is achieved through substitutionary sacrifice and brought to Isaiah, encapsulated in the single symbol of the live coal.
Was Isaiah saved at this point in time? I think he already was a man of faith – but this moment of his commissioning for his prophetic ministry brought his focus back to God’s gracious forgiveness of his sins which is the foundation for spiritual ministry; we need to constantly be reminded of the gospel and our focus needs to go back to how we were converted; how did we come to turn away from our trust in ourselves and put our trust solely in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins
Look at the insights we gain here regarding the provision of our salvation: 5 Insights here:
– Only God can forgive sins – uses an intermediary – you cannot save yourself or do penance for your sins; can’t add anything to the work of Christ on the cross
1 Tim. 2:5-6 “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all”
Matthew 9:1-8 “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”
– God’s wrath must be Satisfied = where we get the word propitiation – someone must pay the penalty for our sins; the soul that sins, it must die; the wages of sin is death; the holiness of God cannot be compromised
Rom 3:21-26 “whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith”
– The Initiative is God’s Sovereign Elective Choice –
Ephes. 1:4-7 “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him, in love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace”
– Salvation is Personal – remember the words of Jesus Christ in John 3 to Nicodemus – stressing the need to be born again; this is something that is very personal; the provision for salvation has been made by the sacrifice of Christ; but it must be personally applied just as the coal was brought to the lips of Isaiah in a very personal way; you can’t slide into Christianity; it requires a conversion; a rebirth; The evidence should be in your life right now that your faith is in Jesus Christ alone for salvation
– Salvation Requires a Blood Sacrifice of an Acceptable Substitute
Heb 9:22 “all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”
Hebrews 10 – shows how the sacrifice of Jesus Christ – both the Lamb of God Himself and our great High Priest – was a once for all sacrifice that was superior to all of the types and shadows of the Levitical sacrificial system
B. (:7) Forgiveness is Applied with the Assurance of Security
“And he touched my mouth with it and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.’”
The removal of our sin and the satisfaction of God’s wrath; on the cross God treated Jesus Christ like He justly should have treated us
Look at the insights we gain here regarding the blessings accompanying our salvation:
Isaiah experienced these 9 blessings:
– Forgiveness and Cleansing – our sins are removed as far as the east is from the west
Ps. 103:10-12 “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
– Worship – God seeks worshipers who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth
Ps. 15 “O Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart.”
– Joy – Psalm 51 – incorporates many of these blessings of salvation
51:8 “make me to hear joy and gladness”
– Freedom / Liberty / Confidence / Boldness – How could Isaiah be so bold to speak God’s word of judgment in the court of kings?
Heb. 10:19-21 “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,”
– Clear conscience –
Heb. 10: 22 “let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water”
– Sense of Victory / Dominion – no more bondage; no more defeat
Rom. 8:1-4 “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
– Sense of Security —
Ps. 27 “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?”
– New Life —
2 Cor. 5:17-20 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ”
– Motivated to Serve / to Testify – “Here am I, send me” vs. 8
R. C. Sproul: The Holiness of God
When we understand the character of God, when we grasp something of His holiness, then we begin to understand the radical character of our sin and hopelessness. Helpless sinners can survive only by grace. Our strength is futile in itself; we are spiritually impotent without the assistance of a merciful God. We may dislike giving our attention to God’s wrath and justice, but until we incline ourselves to these aspects of God’s nature, we will never appreciate what has been wrought for us by grace. Even Edwards’s sermon on sinners in God’s hands was not designed to stress the flames of hell. The resounding accent falls not on the fiery pit but on the hands of the God who holds us and rescues us from it. The hands of God are gracious hands. They alone have the power to rescue us from certain destruction.
A fresh vision of the holiness and majesty of our Savior should fundamentally and dramatically impact our worship and service
We who have been forgiven so much, how can we fail to show appreciation; how can we fail to forgive others?
Now We should be ready to serve our holy God
HOLY, HOLY, HOLY
Reginald Heber, 1826
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!
Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.
Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!