We are in a crisis.
And we live in a world with no shortage of advice in a crisis. We have 24-7, real-time access to an ocean of leadership lessons, life hacks and tip-lists good for any and every crisis.
In Isaiah 6, we meet Isaiah as he faces a big crisis. It’s 742 BC and the good King Uzziah, who had brought peace and prosperity to the southern kingdom over his 52 year reign, is now dead. Jotham and Ahaz, his successors, are not good kings. The Assyrians - led by the warmonger Tiglath Pileser III - are eyeing-up Judah’s borders. And so Isaiah and God’s people are staring down barrel of an hostile invasion, an uncertain future, the loss of life as they knew it, and probably death.
In this moment of crisis, God disrupts Isaiah’s crisis - not with a self-help book, life hack or an iPhone - but with a grand vision of himself.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
- Isaiah 6:1
Isaiah gets taken backstage into the throne room of God to see what no-one has ever seen in a remarkable mind-blowing vision.
Here are three reflections for those of us who live on this side of the cross:
GOD IS BIGGER THAN WE CAN EVER IMAGINE
The sheer size and scale of God is on view here.
Isaiah is in the throne room of God and all he is able to see is the hem of Yahweh’s robe. The earthly throne room is the temple in Jerusalem - the size of a soccer pitch - but the Lord is too big for this. He is on the throne of heaven and earth!
“My God is so big,” The seraphim sing, “My God is so Holy.”
Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!
- Isaiah 6:3
When I think about the word holy I think of someone weak, small, boring and religious, but to think that is wrong. R.C Sproul articulates it like this:
“When the Bible speaks about God’s holiness … the primary thrust of those statements is to refer to God’s transcendence, to refer to his magnificence, to refer to that sense in which God is higher and superior to anything that there is in the creaturely realm.”
- R.C Sproul
When they seraphim sing ‘holy, holy, holy’, they are saying Yahweh is bigger than big. He the Lord of hosts, the commander in chief of the heavenly army, the only one whose glory fills the whole earth.
God is not just big, he’s HOLY! No wonder the whole place shakes and fills with smoke in verse 4.
GOD'S PRESENCE IN US IS MORE MIRACULOUS THAN WE REALISE
A friend of mine once suggest that when it comes to God, too many of us are too 'all-matey' and not enough almighty. Not so with Isaiah.
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
- Isaiah 6:5
Isaiah know that before a holy God he is unclean - he has an unclean mouth due to his unclean heart, and he lives among an unclean people. To be unclean is to be morally and spiritually unworthy. He knows that God is holy and he is not.
In fact, he knows that, in the Old Testament, when people came into the presence of God they had a habit of dying.
Which is what makes Isaiah 6:6-7 so remarkable!
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
- Isaiah 6:6-7
This coal is taken from the altar of the burnt offering, from the Old Testament sacrificial system - which enabled one priest to enter once a year into the presence of God through a sacrifice. The key to Isaiah standing before God - his sin atoned for - is a sacrifice.
This weird BBQ’ing incident is in our bibles to show us the sufficiency and accomplishment of Jesus’ sacrifice. As the book of Hebrews noted:
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.
- Hebrews 10:11-12
It took a lot of blood for an Old Testament priest to go into the presence of God in the temple once a year, it took a sacrifice, burnt on a coal, for Isaiah to be before God in just a vision.
Wonderfully, it took the blood of Jesus for us, not just to enter the presence of God once a year or in a vision, but to be in the presence of God 24/7. Instead of a temple in Jerusalem, God comes and lives in us by his Spirit when we put our trust in Christ.
When we say yes to Jesus, the spirit of the Living God takes up residence in us and we take him into both the crisis and mundaneness of life.
GOD'S MESSAGE IS MORE IMPORTANT AND URGENT THAN OUR LIVES SUGGEST
In Isaiah 6:8, Isaiah puts his hand-up for a significant job:
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me."
- Isaiah 6:8
I love Isaiah’s enthusiasm, his Labrador keenness to serve his God. But he is thrown doozy of a mission…
Go, and say to this people:
“Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
- Isaiah 6:9-10
God is preparing Isaiah for the bleak mission of pronouncing God’s judgement on his people - the consequences of their rejection of their God.
Isaiah is going to preach, but the message will not be heard, received, or seen, as God actively works to harden his people to the message of healing and salvation.
This is horrible. This is hard, but this is true justice for their rejection of God.
I would not want that job, but Isaiah does. He picks-up on the glimmer of hope delivered by God. The hope that out of the black burned tree stump of what remains of Judah will rise new growth … ‘the holy seed’.
Isaiah is deeply convicted that God keeps his promises, he knows there is glorious salvation waiting and he’s an eager beaver to serve King as his messenger.
The thing that has struck me in preparing Isaiah 6 is that if Isaiah is this driven to go as God’s messenger, then how much more should new-covenant, spirit-filled followers of Jesus be driven to take God’s message to the world.
We know the ending to the story.
Like we know that Bruce Willis was a ghost and Kaiser Soze was the man with the limp - so we know the ending here.
We know that God come for his world through a baby born of virgin - as promised in Isaiah.
We know that God would save his world through a suffering servant who was pierced for our transgressions - as promised in Isaiah
We know that God will one day restore our world, to a place where the lame will leap like deer, and the snake will lie down with the lamb, and all the tears we’ve cried and the pain we’ve felt will one day be no more -as promised in Isaiah.
And we go into the world with the Gospel of Jesus, on the authority of Jesus, with the Spirit of Jesus.
So let me ask you ...
Is your God as big as Isaiah’s?
Do you know who lives in you by his Spirit?
Do you know the importance and the urgency of the message you carry?
And when God says to us, "Whom shall I send?" will you say, "Me!"?