Isaiah’s description (chapter 6) of the majesty he beheld standing in the throne room of Almighty God is both awe inspiring and frightening. Six winged seraphim covered their faces so as not to gaze on God’s indescribable glory and covered their feet so he would not look upon the most humble part of their bodies. Seated on his throne, God’s royal robes filled the space and the sound of angels’ voices filled the air, shaking the heavenly architecture. In this otherwise perfect splendor, there is only one thing out of place . . . Isaiah.
He knew it and he knew it immediately. His very existence in that moment was an insult to his surroundings and the Presence it was created for. There was nothing he could do but wait for the inevitable conclusion that he would be removed from what was, without him, utter perfection. An angel intervened in that moment with a live coal from the altar. Isaiah’s first thought was of his unclean lips, symbolic of all he had said in his life proceeding from his heart that made him unfit for this moment. As the angel touched Isaiah’s lips with the coal, it was explained that the mountain of sin rising up from Isaiah’s life was atoned for, making him an acceptable vessel to carry the message of Almighty God.
The rest of the book of Isaiah is a widened expression of this one scene. God used Isaiah as a messenger of his righteous judgment wholly deserved on the people of his day and the book reflects it. But Isaiah also became the bearer of a live coal, an atonement for all things deserving of God’s judgment. Isaiah’s live coal was described in great detail through the pages of this book. Just one chapter away from the throne room description, Isaiah spoke of a virgin who would conceive and give birth to a son who would be called Immanuel, or “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). The ninth chapter records him bringing light to a dark world (9:2) and illustrates this child’s ruling prowess on David’s throne for all eternity. (vv. 6, 7)
Isaiah 40 foretells the herald coming before him to prepare his way (vv. 1-5). The 42nd chapter relates that he will light the way for whole world (vv. 6, 7). The story of this live coal of atonement turns dramatically in the 50th chapter as he is depicted as being humiliated and tortured (v. 6). And then the 53rd chapter, Isaiah’s magnum opus, pulls back the veil on God’s incredible plan for the hope of the entire human race. He will pay the price for all the uncleanness of the world in himself and be restored to life to prove that this hope is sure.
We may never see the Lord in this life in the fashion that Isaiah did, and the stark contrast of our sin and his righteousness may not be as clearly focused, but the reality of our uncleanness and the obvious judgment it will produce is every bit as real. Like Isaiah, we need the intervention of a live coal providing atonement and in that we move past Isaiah’s limited insight to a fuller understanding than he could ever have. We have Jesus . . . he has moved beyond our lips to the depths of our hearts, cleansing and healing.
Like Isaiah, we can hear him say, “Who shall I send and who will go for us?” There is only one response that will do, and Isaiah provides it: “Here am I, send me!”