Sunday, May 30, 2010

Isaiah 6 - High and Lifted Up

Tiepolo's The Calling of Isaiah
The sixth chapter of Isaiah is the account of the Grand Vision of Isaiah, and usually tagged as the calling of Isaiah. Jeremiah (Jer. 1:1-19) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:1-3:3) had similar callings. All three of them caught a glimpse of the Court of Heaven and felt themselves physically in the Lord’s manifest presence. The focus of Isaiah’s vision is of the Lord ‘high and lifted up.’ While the Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s calls inaugurate their prophecies, Isaiah’s is not recorded until chapter 6. Why is that? Why isn’t Isaiah’s calling in his first chapter? Because his call is so profound that chapters 1-5 are actually an introduction to his commissioning and even to Isaiah’s entire prophecy.

Let’s see how the context works. Chapters 1-5 form the preface to the book highlighting major themes of God’s holiness, Judah’s sinfulness (Isa. 1:18), the coming judgment (Isa. 1:21-31; 2:6-4:1; 5:1-30). But at the end of chapter 4, Isaiah points to the hope found in the Branch of the Lord, the Messiah (Isa. 4:2-6). After an incredible vision of the resurrected, glorified Messiah in 6:1-4, the Branch (Isa. 4:2-6) becomes the stump from which Holy Seed comes in 6:13. The Seed will then become the Child of Promise of Isaiah 7-9. While all the forests burn (Isa. 9:18-10:19), the Light of Israel, the Holy One (Isa. 6:1-4) will in a single day burn through His thorns and briers (crucifixion) (Isa. 10:17), and once the burning anger of judgment on Judah passes (Isa. 10:33-34), the stump of Jesse will produce a Shoot, a Branch on whom the seven-fold Spirit of God will rest. Isaiah’s prophecy is consumed with this Holy One who in chapter six is ‘high and lifted up.’

Key Truth: Isaiah wrote Isaiah 6 to teach Israel to submit to the exalted Messiah, to be cleansed of their filthiness, and to embrace their missions calling.
Key Verse: Isaiah 6:8 “Here am I! Send me!” This is the only adequate response to forgiveness. Faithfulness to calling is the measure of success.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about your calling to exalt Jesus.

Sermon Points:
1.   Submit to the exalted Messiah (Isa. 6:1-4).
2.   Be cleansed by the exalted Messiah (Isa. 6:5-7).
3.   Embrace the call of the exalted Messiah (Isa. 6:8-13).

Exposition:   Note well,
a.   Isa. 6:1 – King Uzziah had been on the throne for 52 years. This was the end of a great era in Judah’s history. The second part of Uzziah’s reign was marked by unfaithfulness, the worst of it came when Uzziah tried as king to do what only Temple priests could do: sacrifice (2 Chron. 26:16-23), a

b.   Isaiah is in the outer court of the Temple before the veil which separated it from the Holy of Holies. The Lord appears to Isaiah, sitting on a throne in the Temple, wearing the long garment of the Temple priests (Exod. 28:33-34; 39:24-26). Now the Lord who previously took the role of a father (Isa. 1:2) and a vineyard farmer (Isa. 5:1) now appears as the only king Judah has now, the Resurrected Messiah! (Isa. 6:1). This king commands cosmic forces. Angelic creatures bow to his holiness and glory (Isa. 6:2; 40:25-26). And he expects the same kind of adoration from his people (Isa. 3:13-15; 5:2). Isa. 6:3 – The whole earth is full of his glory, the beauty of His creation, leading us to praise Him, but one part of creation does not accept His glory – mankind (Isa. 1:2).

c.   He is a priest-King sitting on a throne. What is ironic is that it happens in the year of Uzziah’s death, the very king who tried to be a priest-king in the exact same place.[1] Here he sees in the flesh, the pre-incarnate Jesus, Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), God with us. Isaiah is overcome by the vision of the Resurrected Messiah seated on his throne (Heb. 1:1) and his robe filling the Temple.

d.   Isa. 6:2 – Seraphs – ‘burning ones’ Psalm 54:4. With six wings, two covering their eyes, unworthy to look on Him. Two covered their feet, unworthy to serve him. With the last two they fly with all they have to fulfill his will. They burn with the glory of God, calling holy, holy, holy, worshiping his holiness and his grace. With their wings they mark each point of this sermon.

e.   Isa. 6:3 – “Holy, Holy, Holy” – Everyone agrees that this repetition three times is a Hebrew way of affirming something important, but there are a lot of ideas of what that is. Many affirm, and perhaps you have heard that we have here with three holies a reference to the Trinity. There is no reason to deny the Trinitarian nature of the Lord taught here. John Calvin didn’t think so, but the context demonstrates Isaiah was aware of the Trinity: “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” (Isa. 6:8; and elsewhere Isa. 63:7-16). And elsewhere in the book, Isaiah affirms one God (Isa. 63:7) but a Savior (the Son) (Isa. 63:8-9), a Holy Spirit (Isa. 63:10-14), and a Father (Isa. 63:15-16).
f.    Isa. 6:4 – The angels’ adoring voices shake the doorposts and thresholds, and smoke fills the sanctuary, all phenomena associated with God’s intervention and presence (Isa. 4:5; Josh. 6:1-20; 1 Kings 8:10; Acts 4:31: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly”).

g.   ILLUSTRATION: The sight of Christ is the highest privilege we can enjoy. In May of 2010, I had the privilege of leading a man to Christ on his deathbed at Nash General Hospital in Rocky Mount, NC. Some say that can’t happen, but the thief on the cross was ushered into the kingdom hours before he died, and he was received with full honors at the word of Christ. And so was Wesley Lundin. The first four times I went to see him in April in the hospital with stage IV lung cancer, he was not interested in talking about his soul or his eternal destiny. But a doctor in our church called me on Tuesday morning, told me Wesley was back in the hospital, and that he was given a day to live. He had lived his whole life for himself, but just before noon that day, he asked Christ to forgive his sins and submitted himself to Jesus Christ. Four hours later Wesley was dead. But he was safe. No great treasure and reward laid up over a lifetime of service to Christ, but safe and in Paradise with Jesus all the same. Christ came into the world to save sinners, people. That Tuesday afternoon, Wesley had that highest of privileges of seeing Christ his Lord. He saw the Lord high and lifted up with his train filling the Temple, and he worshipped him, not in fear, but in thankfulness.

h.   APPLICATION: In the presence of the Lord there is healing, there is forgiveness, there is hope. Seeking his presence will bring you to repentance and a healthy sense of the reverent fear of the Lord. Are you seeking his presence? Are you in the Word of God daily? Are you sitting before Him in prayer? You cannot see revival in yourself or this church or this nation until you seek the face of Christ and His glory as Isaiah did.

a.   Isa. 6:5 – Woe is me!Notice that Isaiah’s “Woe to me!” (Isa. 6:5) comes in context after a list of six great woes on the people of Judah (Isa. 5:8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22). Isaiah’s Woe in 6:5 is the seventh woe. Isaiah, like Moses and Gideon before him (Exod. 3:6; 33:20; Judg. 6:22), knows that sinful man cannot survive in God’s presence, and he is deeply disturbed and fearful. He senses his unworthiness, but ironically, that exactly is what qualifies him for the high office in which the Lord calls him to serve. As soon as Isaiah sees God’s holiness, he immediately senses his unrighteousness.

b.   ILLUSTRATION – I am a member of the Mission America Coalition, a cooperating group of over 80 denominations and over 200 ministries. Several years ago, a dear friend from Charlotte called and asked me to serve on the National Lighthouse Council, a group that would help design an evangelism strategy for Mission America and the United States. I was hesitant, and I remarked to her that I did not feel that I was qualified for a seat on that Council. She immediately replied, “Feeling unqualified is actually how you are qualified to serve with this group. If you feel that you are qualified, you probably aren’t.”

c.   Isaiah senses the fear, humiliation, and contrition that come in God’s presence. Peter knew that feeling, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 10:8). When Job was presented with the Lord, he abhorred himself and repented in dust and ashes (Job 42:5-6) and counted himself a leper in a leprous world, just as Isaiah called himself a man of unclean lips in a nation of unclean lips. Indeed, Isaiah understood, that in God’s presence, all our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). It is the gospel, the good news of forgiveness of sins that the atoning blood of Christ brings us, that is the only avenue which frees us to serve him with joy and boldness.

d.   Did Isaiah have a foul mouth? There is more to it than that. The point here is not that he had a dirty mouth and needed to clean up his language. The point is that he is like his own people of Judah. Jesus said, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' (Matt. 15:18; Luke 6:45).  His heart was unclean, so his lips were as well.

e.   And it is the interplay of the mouth and heart that bring salvation. Paul writes in Romans 10:9-10, “That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

f.    The coal: The seraphs are flaming angels, and it is a coal from the altar that burns, symbolizing a sin offering (Lev. 1; 6:8-13). With his sin atoned for, he can now worship and serve the Lord.

g.   Did you notice that Isaiah did nothing to earn his clean mouth? He received his salvation without doing anything. In the same way we are saved without works. Ephesians 2:8-9.

  1. APPLICATION: Has your mouth betrayed what is in your heart this week? Has your bad attitude come out? Have you slain someone’s character with your tongue, even in front of other believers in this church? Perhaps you need the grace of repentance like Isaiah. You need a coal which will cleanse your lips but reach to your heart. You need the sin offering who offered Himself on a post on a bare hill of skulls outside Jerusalem.
  1. Have you received the forgiveness that Christ offers? Have you submitted to him? Have you given your life to Christ? Today is the day of salvation, Isaiah says later in his prophecy (Isa. 49:8-9). Ask Jesus’ forgiveness today while, like Wesley Lundin, you still have breath in your lungs.

  1. Isa. 6:8 – “Here am I, send me!”  literally, “Behold me!” (Abraham at Moriah, Gen. 22:1, 11; Jacob, 46:2; Moses, Exod. 3:4; Isa. 58:9; 65:1; Ecce homo! John 19:5; Rev 3:20). While God values and empowers our service, he really does not need experts. He needs willing hearts to do his work. The Lord will not force you to serve him. You must volunteer. You see, we do not serve God to get saved or to get his attention or to be approved of him. We cannot do that. Our best work on our own, in our flesh, is wood, hay, and stubble before the fire of Christ (1Cor15:12-15). We serve him because of his pardoning love. It drives us to an unreserved surrender of ourselves to him.
  1. APPLICATION: Do you think you must be good enough to earn your salvation? Do you think you must get your life straightened out first before you can become a Christian? That’s backwards. First you receive the coal, have yourself cleansed by the Fiery Light of Israel, Christ Jesus, then you serve him with joy. For those of you who are active and serving believers, are you serving Christ out of duty or out of thankfulness? I have seen church members who were serving every time the door was open at church, but they were the most angry, controlling, and worst witnesses to Christ you ever saw. Then I found out that there was some sin in that person’s long distant past, and I have wondered if they serve in order to “pay God off” for some sin debt? Do you have some sin in your past by which you feel you have become indebted to Him and must serve in church? Friend, that is not Christianity. That is trying to earn your salvation, something that makes your religion no different from a Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Hindu’s, a Muslim’s, or a Buddhist’s. Christ paid your sin debt IF and only IF you have asked Him to forgive you of your sins, all of your sins, and you have submitted yourself to Him. The three points of this sermon are the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Submit to Him. Ask Him to cleanse you. Then be on mission for Him.
  2. Has ministry become a drudgery? Then you need to find again your joy in Christ. Like David you need to pray, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Psalm 51:12). Are you sensing the Lord’s calling on your life? To missions? To ministry? To serve in a capacity in our church? Why have you not yet responded? Is there any reason why you cannot respond when I give an invitation in a few minutes?
  1. Isa. 6:9-10 – Note the double role of the word of God. It saves and destroys (Heb. 4:12). But God does not randomly elect or unelect anyone at some despotic whim. Let’s look at the context. Chapters 1-5 detail the willful sinfulness of Judah and their self-directed refusal to obey. They chose to trust in themselves rather than their Lord, so the Lord says here, “I’m not going to force you to obey me.” “Be ever hearing but never understanding, etc.
  2. Isa. 6:11-12 – The majority reject it or refuse to understand it (Isa. 6:9-10; Romans 1:18-22), and therefore the judgment of exile will come on Judah (Isa. 6:11-12). Punishment comes when we disobey. Consequences come on individuals, families, and nations for their behavior.
  1. Does God control our response? God forces no one into disobedience. We stray there ourselves without any help at all! Pharaoh hardened his heart (Exod. 7:22ff), so that his heart was hardened by God (Exod. 9:12). The point here is that willful men, with all their arrogance, are still impotent to thwart the Almighty’s intentions.
  1. Isa. 6:13 – Good news: But the good news is that there is salvation for a remnant (Isa. 6:13; 4:2). Jesus quoted Isa. 6:9-10 to explain his use of the parables (Mark 4:12). The gleam of hope, the remnant, and the holy seed of the Messiah. Cf. 10:33-11:1. This holy seed is the subject of chapters 7-10, as Isaiah unveils the Child.
  1. The Lord made clear that Isaiah’s ministry would be remarkably rejected and unsuccessful in his own generation, but that the very failure was ordained by God. In God’s eyes, there was no failure. His failure to persuade the people would prove him to be a true prophet!
  1. APPLICATION: Have you had a tough week? Has the discouragement gotten the best of you? Some of us thrive on being appreciated. That can be a stumbling block. Isaiah spent a life preaching some of the best sermons ever recorded, writing and influencing national leadership who did not appreciate his efforts. Jewish tradition tells us that King Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, had Isaiah sawn in half in the Temple courts where he had seen the great vision of Isaiah 6. Felt cut in two this week? Have the results not scored what you had hoped? 
  1. The Lord calls us to faithfulness, not huge profits or great numbers, or fine achievements. If they come, don’t let them become your idol, but thank Christ for them. Let’s not be discouraged in ministry, even when the results are truly discouraging. Isaiah today is known as the inspired prophet who was the most Messianic of all of them. He pointed to Christ with more clarity and poetic beauty than any of the other O.T. prophets. Isaiah was faithful whether he was appreciated or not. Your job as a believer is to point to Christ. Point to him when it is easy. Point to him when disappointments and betrayals happen. Point to him when your character is assaulted. Point to him when senseless evil happens. The point is to point to him.

Tokunboh Adeyemo, gen ed. Africa Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.
David F. Payne, “Isaiah.” International Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce, ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.
Lawrence O. Richards, Bible Reader’s Companion. Wheaton: Victor, 1991.
Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae, 5:238-234.

[1] Cole, “Isaiah,” OT Survey class notes, SEBTS, Spring 2005.