Isaiah 6: 1-8
There are many, many people who would consider themselves a good man or women – they help their neighbours, give to charity, pay taxes, obey speed limits etc. Some say others are great people. Then we have really extraordinary people. Isaiah is one of those. If you haven’t read Isaiah, do. It’s a great book, the ‘gospel’ of the Old Testament. It’s a stunning book to read.
Here we have Isaiah’s commission from God. At this point, Isaiah was chief priest, the best of the best. Even for the lowest entry order, you’d have to be able to recite the Torah perfectly. You’d have to recite its entirety to make entry level grade. Isaiah is a godly man who dedicated his life to scripture, to helping folks get closer to God. He then sees God. Isaiah, as chief priest, lives through four kings. The first one is Uzziah. It was a time of great turmoil. We are living through a time of turmoil, with many leaders. It was a bit different when a king died back then. Less media coverage! There would always be that huge uncertainty – what’s going to happen next?
Isaiah sees God. It’s beautiful, “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). One of my favourite Christian stories is of the angels and the shepherds (Luke 2). Back then, working class folk would have been shepherds – those happy to do hard work, out in the cold. These rugged, predominantly males, come face to face with an angel of the Lord. They were terrified!
Here, on a similar level, we have the seraphim. Seraphim translates as ‘burning ones.’ Not only do these beings have 6 wings, they are also permanently on fire. Isaiah saw multiple beings above his head, burning. You’d be pretty terrified. They are holy, powerful creatures. Although they have 6 wings, they fly with only 2, the other 4 do different things: 2 cover their feet. In the Old Testament, feet are often seen as dirty, as unclean. So, 2 wings spread across feet because even the tiniest blemish would have been truly horrendous for these beings. 2 wings cover their faces. These are holy, powerful beings, yet they can’t dare look at God.
The seraphim call to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3b). There are no adjectives in Hebrew. If you wanted to describe someone, you would say it twice. For example, if I wanted to describe my wife as very pretty, I’d call her ‘pretty, pretty.’ If I was to say it is very cold outside, I would say, ‘It’s cold, cold.’
If you described something 3 times it would be perfect, the absolute. Holy, holy, holy is a perfect holiness. Wow! Perfect holiness. This is how they describe our Lord. Isaiah can’t even describe it. He says, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1b). So powerful! So holy is God that all Isaiah can describe is the tail-end of His coat, which filled the temple.
Isaiah, himself, is a great, extraordinary man, is faced with this picture. He turns around and says, “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).
‘Woe is me, for I am ruined.’ We have the holiness of God. We have Isaiah, probably the best humanity has to offer. Isaiah knows he has sinned and is living in a nation of unclean lips. Do we still take God as perfectly holy? Isaiah very bluntly acknowledges his sin and the sin of his people. We are a nation of unclean lips. We are people of unclean lips. You have the holiness of God, sovereign of all, then burning ones who dare not look at His face, then we have the sin of man and the holiness of God. Isaiah admits his sin. I wouldn’t be surprised if Isaiah is on his knees, head buried in the ground.
It doesn’t end there. One of the seraphim grabs a pair of tongs and goes to the altar. Pretty special! He takes a burning coal and flies down to Isaiah. A terrifying prospect. He gently touches Isaiah’s lips, his guilt is taken away, “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). Wow! Isaiah is as close to being saved as is possible in the Old Testament. He is selected and chosen by God, “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).
If you read through the rest of the book of Isaiah, you will see that Isaiah’s life isn’t easy. He goes up against three kings who are worse than Uzziah. He sees the entirety of the nation absolutely crumble. He never loses faith! He never stops seeing the blessings that God has given him. Maybe you came here this morning having problems – with your job, heating your home? Isaiah was looking after a kingdom that was sinful and struggling. He never lost sight of how beautiful and holy God is. The vision he had carried him through, always seeing the beauty of God.
We have something even better than that. With the seraphim who goes over to the altar, we can see the altar where Christ died. The cross is the altar. This is an excellent metaphor. Through the cross comes the life, the beauty of Christ. God came, lived for thirty three years and died in one of the most brutal ways known to mankind. He didn’t do it to prove He’s a great person. No, He did it for you and me, because He loves us – a people of unclean lips. He loves you.
Ephesians 1 describes it as grace being lavished upon you. As we approach Christmas, we know that with any gift, you can’t earn it. A gift is given by someone who loves us, who cares for us. In the same way, you can’t go and get eternal life. The holiness of God turns round and says, ‘I love you.’ Psalm 37 talks of how His face shines upon us when we’re together. Stunning! He does it all because He loves you so, for no other reason than He loves you so.
You may be worrying about how you’re going to put food on the table. But in 50 years time, you’re not going to remember that. In a 100 years time you certainly won’t remember that. What about 500 years time? Where will you be? Where will you be in a 1,000 years time? In 10, 000 years?
My faith is in the Lord Jesus. For many of you as well. What a joyous occasion that will be. Brothers and sisters, if you don’t know, you are loved beyond measure, you are wanted by the Holy of Holies so much so, that He died for you. Not only did He go through death, He went through death to create new life. Amen!