John Piper tells an engaging ministry story in The Supremacy of God in Preaching. He preached a sermon on Isaiah 6 without one word of application. He wondered if the majesty, power, and glory of God was enough to retain the congregation’s interest without cute little homespun life points. Later he found out that one of the families in the church had experienced a huge trauma. He felt embarrassed that he had virtually no pastoral word for them in that Isaiah 6 sermon. The message almost seemed to him, at that point, totally other-worldly. But when he later ran into the father of that family, the man said that Piper’s sermon on Isaiah 6 about the wonder of God was the only thing that had sustained them in their dark hour. Maybe people interested in representing God should remember that the glory of God in itself is a healing balm.
People Caught by God’s Majesty
Who can represent God in the world? People caught by his majesty. At least that was true for Isaiah. The story of his calling as a prophet was delayed until chapter six. Maybe the intensity of Israel’s situation (i.e. idolatry) demanded a call for repentance right out of the gate (Isaiah 1:2-17; 5:1-2). But in the context of King Uzziah’s death Isaiah recorded his call to prophetic ministry. No matter how bad things were on earth, God was still on his throne. The majesty of God’s glory would be what God would use to hold Isaiah in a tough ministry.
Isaiah had a majestic vision of God in his throne room of Heaven. The Lord (Adonai) was high and exalted. He was pictured as seated on a throne (i.e. in total control and sovereign). The train of his robe filled the temple (i.e. it was impressive and it indicated God’s royal nature). God was worshiped by angelic beings called seraphim (flaming ones). These angelic beings had six wings (four which symbolized their humility before God covering faces and feet and two symbolizing service for God by flying). Their chant indicated holiness to the third power. The Lord Almighty (Yahweh of Hosts—used twice in this text) was totally other and set apart from the rest of the universe. No matter how life looked to Isaiah in his day, the whole earth was full of God’s glory. When the angels chanted, the temple shook. Smoke was just one more indication that Isaiah was having a genuine encounter with the living God.
People Cleansed by God’s Mercy
As soon as Isaiah had a proper view of God it made him conscious of his own sin. This is the only approach of an honest person. We are not ready to go for God until we have been cleansed from sin by God. “Woe is me” is a cry of despair. Isaiah owned his sin. He said that he was ruined (lost or destroyed). He did more than acknowledge his own sin; he emotionally owned the sins of his people. They too had unclean lips.
But the Lord specializes in the impossible. He could meet Isaiah at the point of his need. One of the seraphim stepped up and became the means of God’s mercy to Isaiah. In this heavenly vision was an altar. It contained heated coals. The seraph used tongs to grasp one of the coals but then put it in his hand and proceeded to touch it to Isaiah’s lips as a symbol of the cleansing. Isaiah’s guilt (punishment or iniquity) was taken away and his sin atoned (covered or purged). God’s majesty is impressive, but it is God’s mercy that makes service possible.
People Committed to God’s Ministry
Christian living is just gratitude for grace. Once Isaiah was cleansed of his sin he was ready to be commissioned. God himself issued the challenge, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah reported for duty. But perhaps his response (“Here am I. Send me.”) should be understood as, “God, I am here. Will I do?” (D.A. Carson, “Preaching in the Hands of a Holy God,” Preaching Today). Maybe the response was not pompous but humble.
God sent Isaiah out on his mission, but he also promised Isaiah that his ministry would not be a walk in the park. People would listen and see but not respond well. Their hearts would be as hard as Pharaoh of Egypt. Isaiah was taken back. He asked how long he had to do this. God answered, “Until judgment comes and captivity takes place.” If the message is still judgment (our theme for these lessons) who will be willing to still go?
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
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