What awesome sights have you seen? What wonderful sights have made your jaw drop, made you gasp in amazement, stunned you into silence, even moved you to tears? Perhaps witnessing the birth of a child, surveying a beautiful landscape, or gazing up at the night’s sky? Maybe you even managed to catch a glimpse of the super-moon last Monday night?!
Speaking personally, I will never forget seeing the Milky Way in all its majesty back in 2005. I was camping in rural Botswana, down in southern Africa. It was a clear night’s sky, there was no light pollution, and there were millions of stars stretched across the heavens. A simply awesome sight!
In our passage today, the prophet Isaiah is confronted with another awesome sight. Actually, the most amazing sight anyone could imagine - a sight of God in all his glory. A sight of the Creator that led to Isaiah’s cleansing and commissioning by God. A sight that turned Isaiah’s life around and made him a messenger of the Messiah - of the Christ who was to come. Isaiah’s awesome vision of God turned him into one of the most famous Old Testament prophets. A great prophet whose God-given words we will be looking at this Advent.
As we begin by looking at Isaiah chapter 6 today I hope we will be awestruck by the glory of God, reminded of the grace of God, and inspired to imitate Isaiah’s service to God. But before I go further, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, as we come face to face with you in Isaiah chapter 6 today, help us to be in awe of your holiness, and amazed by your grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
1. Isaiah saw the glory of God (v.1-4)
It is a time of political upheaval, national insecurity and a leadership crisis. No one is quite sure what the future holds. No, I’m not talking about post-Brexit Britain - or America after the election of Donald Trump - but the situation in Jerusalem around 740 BC.
The king - a man called Uzziah - is on his deathbed. His reign is at an end, and the future of the kingdom of Judah is uncertain (Judah was the southern half of Israel). The neighbouring Assyrian empire is growing in strength, and threatens Judah’s independence. What’s worse, the country is experiencing moral and spiritual decline. If we’d read the first five chapters of Isaiah we would’ve learnt that social injustice was rife, and that empty religion was holding sway. God’s people were performing all the right rituals, but their hearts were far from him. They loved their formal religious ceremonies, but their daily behaviour was far from perfect.
In this situation, godly men like Isaiah would have had every excuse for despair and dismay. What would the future hold for the kingdom of Judah? Was there any hope for faithful members of God’s people?
Well, as we join our passage today, God gives Isaiah an awesome vision. A vision to reassure him that whatever might be happening in Jerusalem, God remains on the throne of the universe. A vision of God’s glory that would remind Isaiah who is really in charge of human history.
Isaiah describes what he saw in verse 1 today. If you’ve got your Bibles open, look with me at it again. Isaiah writes: “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.”
In this remarkable vision, Isaiah is granted a sneak preview of the throne room of Heaven. Its as if the sky has been parted, and Isaiah is able to see whose really in charge of the world. King Uzziah may be on his deathbed, but the King of Creation is alive and well. Donald Trump may be about to get his hands on the White House, but real authority remains with God. Ultimate power, splendour, majesty and glory are his, and his alone.
Whatever your political persuasion, I hope this comes as an enormous reassurance to every Christian. Whatever the ups and downs of global politics - whatever the ups and downs of our personal lives - we can be confident that God is in control. His good, loving purposes for our world and for our lives will not be frustrated. His perfect plans will come to fruition. We can trust him. We can turn to him in prayer. We can be confident that, in the end, his will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In verse 3 we find out more about our glorious God. Because its not just God that Isaiah sees in his vision – the Lord is surrounded by worshipping angels, called seraphim. They are praising him and saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
God is holy, they proclaim. So holy, in fact, that it needs to be said three times – holy, holy, holy! They want Isaiah (and us) to be in no doubt that God is holy – its something that deserves to be shouted from every rooftop, displayed on every newspaper front page, broadcast all around the world.
Isaiah must have got the message, because as we read the rest of his book, his most common name for God is ‘The Holy One of Israel’. The seraphim left Isaiah in no doubt that God’s holiness was his most important quality, his defining feature.
But what does holiness involve? What does the Bible mean when it calls God ‘holy’? In short, God is holy because he is utterly unique and perfectly good. He is without parallel and without sin. Let me briefly describe both in turn.
Firstly, God is holy because he is utterly unique – he has what theologians call “incommunicable” attributes. Attributes that no-one else has. So for example:
- God is omniscient – he is all knowing - nothing escapes his knowledge, he really does have encyclopaedic knowledge. There are no ‘grey areas’ in God’s mind, there is nothing he fails to grasp. He sees the past, present and the future with perfect clarity - with 20:20 vision!
- God is also omnipotent – he is all-powerful – he brought the universe into being, there is simply nothing he cannot do.
- And God is omnipresent – he is always present – he never sleeps or slumbers, there’s nothing that escapes his attention, there’s no place in the universe beyond his control. There’s no time or place where he can’t be reached by prayer.
So God’s holiness includes his unique attributes – his abilities that are unmatched by any created thing. But, as I mentioned just now, God’s holiness also refers to his perfect goodness. God is totally righteous, without any moral fault or failing. God’s behaviour is always blameless and completely beyond reproach:
- Like a loving parent, God always wants the best for his children;
- Like a well-trained lawyer, he sees clearly what is right and wrong;
- And unlike our politicians, God is never economical with the truth and never breaks a promise.
Do you long for the perfect parent, the wisest guide, the most faithful friend? Do you yearn to know someone highly influential, well-informed and completely trustworthy? Do you seek a leader, a role model, of total integrity? Then look to God, for he is your holy Lord.
Isaiah’s vision of God should leave us in no doubt that God is powerful, perfect and without parrallel. He is one person that everyone needs to know. And if we do know God, surely we should join with the seraphim in worshipping him. We should join with them in worshipping God’s glory, God’s greatness and God’s goodness.
And not just by singing songs on Sunday, but by living godly lives throughout the week. We’re to worship God with our lives as well as with our lips. As our house groups have been learning this term, we worship God by being fruitful on our frontlines Monday to Friday, not just on Sunday. How will you worship your holy God this week, I wonder?
2. Isaiah experienced the grace of God (v.5-7)
Worship isn’t the only right response to God, however. Repentance should take place too. Throughout the Bible, whenever people come face to face with God, they are driven to their knees in repentance, or even fall flat on their face in shame. You see, coming face to face with a perfect, holy God, should force us to recognise our sin and seek his forgiveness.
When forming an opinion of ourselves, we so often compare our behaviour to other people don’t we? ‘I’m not a bad person’ we say to ourselves. I’m not like those great sinners we see on the TV news, or the criminals we read about in the Romford Recorder! But that’s not the comparison that counts. The only comparison that matters, the only one that really counts, is our comparison against God. And compared to him, our holy Lord, not one of us is good. As the Bible puts it in Romans chapter 3, we have “all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. The sooner we realise this the better. The sooner we admit our guilt before God, the sooner we can seek his forgiveness.
One hundred years ago The Times newspaper wrote to a range of famous authors, asking them the question “What’s wrong with the world today?”. The Christian writer G.K. Chesterton famously responded by simply writing: “Dear Sir, I am.” You see, Chesterton had rightly concluded that he was part of the world’s problems, however small. He had to accept his personal share of the world’s sins. It was a wise and honest conclusion.
Our passage today tells us that Isaiah reached the same conclusion. Because as soon as he saw the Lord, he was convicted of sin and driven to repentance. Listen again to his words in verse 5: “‘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.’”
Thankfully God is a God of grace, as well as of glory. His perfect goodness includes forgiveness for sinners who repent. So as soon as Isaiah’s confession passes his lips, God sends an angel to bring him a message of grace. As Isaiah writes in verses 6 and 7: “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.’
What is interesting about this message of forgiveness is that it came at a price. It was free for Isaiah, certainly - but the coal came from the altar. The altar was the place of sacrifice in the Temple, the place where an animal would die instead of human sinners. It was the place where a penalty was paid - where justice was seen to be done - so that repentant sinners like Isaiah could receive God’s forgiveness.
I hope you realise that the same principle applies today. Our only hope of God’s forgiveness is Christ’s death on the Cross. Christians believe Jesus died in our place 2000 years ago to take the penalty for our guilt, to satisfy God’s justice and to open the floodgates of his grace. There is no longer any Temple in Jerusalem, but forgiveness can still be found through faith in Jesus and his supreme sacrifice at the Cross.
3. Isaiah became a prophet of God (v.8)
After Isaiah’s confession and cleansing, came his commissioning. After experiencing God’s glory and God’s grace, Isaiah immediately enlisted into God’s service. As he tells us in verse 8: “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!”
If we are Christians here this morning - if we have experienced God’s grace through Christ - then next step is to give the rest of our lives to his service. Living God’s way in God’s world is undoubtedly the best way we can show our gratitude for God’s grace and his gift of eternal life.
Last Saturday I attended my first meeting of Chelmsford Diocesan Synod. About 100 of us met at the Cathedral, representing every parish in Essex and East London. The topic of the day was ‘vocation’. Vocation is a word that means working for God. Vocation refers to all the different ways Christians can serve God in our communities, in our workplace, even in our own homes. We all have a vocation to live for Christ wherever he has put us - to put our time, talents and treasure at his disposal. So spend a few moments this week reflecting on your vocation. Pray that God will show you why he has put you where you have. Pray that God will open your eyes to see how you can share your faith in the places he has put you.
So what was Isaiah’s God-given mission and vocation? You’ll have to keep coming to find out! But let me give you a quick summary, a sneak preview:
- Isaiah’s first task was to tell the people of Israel that God’s judgement was coming. The Assyrians and then the Babylonians would invade as a punishment for their sin and their lack of repentance. Many Jews would be led into exile, far from home.
- But that was not the of Isaiah’s message. Because he was also told to offer them hope. A remnant would return from exile and rebuild the nation. God’s judgement on them would not last forever.
- And what’s more, a Messiah, a Christ would come. A God-given Saviour would arrive on the world stage - a prediction that was fulfilled with the birth of Jesus on the first Christmas day.
Over the next four weeks we will look at Isaiah’s portrait of this Messiah. We will look at four passages that predicted well in advance who Jesus would be, and what he would achieve. So “stay tuned” to see Isaiah’s portrait of Christ come to life! But for now, let’s pray:
Father, we praise you afresh for your goodness and your glory - the glory that Isaiah saw. Please cleanse us from our sin, and commission us in your service. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.