Loved, Called, Sent
by Jack Wald | October 14th, 2018

Isaiah 6:1-13

This morning we come to one of the most well known passages of Isaiah. We have worked our way through the prologue, chapters 1-5, and those themes will continue as we move through the rest of the book.

Isaiah 6 is the opening of the book of Isaiah. It is a beautiful chapter and has a chiastic pattern. I talked about this last year when we were preaching through Zechariah. A chiasm is a literary device in which a sequence of ideas is presented and then repeated in reverse order. An example would be Jesus saying in Mark 2:27 “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Here there is an ABBA format.
A The Sabbath
B was made for man
B not man for
A the Sabbath

This is a common pattern in the Old Testament and also in the New Testament. In the chiasm of Isaiah 6, Isaiah’s experience is presented in the form of ABCDDCBA. The focus in a chiasm is on the center, in this case, the DD. In Isaiah’s account, the center, the focus, is on his call to serve as God’s prophet.

A a great king dies, ending an era (6:1a)
B the king reigns in holiness (6:1b-4)
C the prophet despairs (6:5)
D the prophet is cleansed (6:6-7)
D the prophet is sent (6:8-10)
C the prophet is dismayed (6:11a)
B the King reigns in judgment (6:11b-13a)
A a humble remnant lives on, leading to Messiah (6:13b)

The beginning of Isaiah’s book focuses on his call to be a prophet.

His call came at the end of an era.
In the year that King Uzziah died,

Uzziah became king at the age of sixteen and he had a long and prosperous reign, fifty-two years. 2 Chronicles 26 tells us, (2 Chronicles 26:4-5)
He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. 5 He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.

He had a strong army with success against Judah’s enemies. They were defeated and brought him tribute. His fame reached all the way to Egypt. He built walls and towers to defend Jerusalem. He dug wells and he and the people of Judah prospered.

But then his pride took over. (2 Chronicles 26:16)
But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.

He decided he could do himself what the priests were supposed to do and went to offer incense to God. In consequence, God afflicted him with leprosy and he suffered from this disease to the end of his life.

There is a good sermon that can be taken from the life of Uzziah.

For our purposes this morning, his death came at a turning point in the life of Judah and Jerusalem, its capitol.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

Uzziah died. In contrast, Isaiah saw the Lord, high and exalted. Uzziah went down into the grave but the Lord is high and lifted up – and the Lord is the only one who deserves to be high and lifted up. We worship the Lord; we are not to worship anyone or anything else. Uzziah wanted to be high and lifted up and paid for his pride with leprosy.

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Daniel 4:29-30)
was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”
He was immediately afflicted with a mental breakdown that lasted seven years until he was healed and restored to power.

In the New Testament, King Herod (the grandson of Herod who was king when Jesus was born), (Acts 12:21–23)
wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.

Uzziah, Nebuchadnezzar, and Herod illustrate the proverb (Proverbs 16:18)
Pride goes before destruction,
a haughty spirit before a fall.

Only God deserves to be high and lifted up and the praise offered to the one who is high and lifted up is healthy only for God.

Isaiah “saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”

We have to understand that it was impossible for Isaiah to describe what he saw. God opened a window into heaven and allowed Isaiah to see his presence in the temple. How is it possible to describe what he saw?

The same is true of John when the risen and exalted Jesus appeared to him when he was in exile on the island of Patmos. John described in Revelation 1 what he saw in symbolic images because there were no words to describe what he saw. The golden sash, the white hair, the double-edged sword coming out of his mouth are not an actual description of what John saw. John is trying to describe the indescribable with symbolic representations.

Here, Isaiah says “the train of his robe filled the temple.”

God’s glory and majesty is so awesome that we cannot see him. As an act of great love, God permitted Moses to see his back. (Exodus 33) Here, in this appearance of God to Isaiah, he can see no higher than the bottom of God’s robe that filled the temple.

Similarly, in Exodus 24:9-10 when Moses and Aaron and the seventy elders of Israel went up Mt. Sinai to meet with God, the description of what they saw says, “Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky.” They saw no farther than the pavement on which the feet of God rested.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.

Seraphim are angels and whether they have wings or not is a subject of discussion. In this description from Isaiah 6 the wings are used to give an image of constant movement. Their name reflects a fiery holiness. So what Isaiah sees is brilliant light, like fire, that is in constant motion.

In addition to their light and motion, they were calling out.
3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

In the presence of God, they could not keep quiet. They called out to one another with delight in the glory of God.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, the Pharisees told him to control the crowd who were shouting out praise to God. Jesus replied (Luke 19:39–40)
“I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

You can tell people not to be followers of Jesus. You can make it illegal to go to a church. You can make it a crime to have a Bible. But you cannot prevent those who know how deeply they are loved by Jesus to give praise to him.

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost with (Acts 2:1–2)
a sound like the blowing of a violent wind [that] came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

In the lyrics for Our God Is an Awesome God that we sang this morning, there is a lyric:
There’s thunder in His footsteps
And lightning in His fists
Our God is an awesome God

In Isaiah’s vision the seraphim were in constant, fiery motion, calling out their praise and the response in the temple was like an earthquake – all was shaken. And the temple was filled with smoke. The holy God is not to be surveyed casually with unveiled eyes. God was present but Isaiah was prevented from seeing him face-to-face.

This was an overwhelming experience that set the stage for what comes next. Isaiah was lying prone on the floor during this experience. How did he respond?

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

What did you expect? “Wow, cool! Can you do that again?” A small child will ask you over and over to do something that delights them. When we go to a fireworks display we are disappointed because it comes to an end. We want more.

But this is a self-centered response. “That made me happy, do it again. That made me feel good, do it again. That made me feel better, do it again.”

Pilate sent Jesus to Herod who, in his self-centeredness, wanted Jesus to entertain him, to do a miracle for him.

Seraphim are continually voicing praise to God. In contrast, our lips are too often crying out, “Why me Lord?” “What about my needs?” “Why is this happening to me?” “Who’s going to take care of me?” “This isn’t fair.”

Isaiah’s response, and the appropriate response to a revelation from God, is to submit, to repent, to turn from self-interest and turn to God.

“Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

My mother saw a confession of sinfulness as an indication of weakness. But the ability to see our own sinful nature is a sign of spiritual growth. Let me illustrate this with the example of Paul and then point out the dangers of focusing on our sinfulness.

In Paul’s introduction to his Galatians letter, written in 47 AD, you can feel the sense of importance he has about himself.
Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father,

55 AD Eight years later when Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, there is a bit of a shift that tells me Paul has matured as a Christian.

I Corinthians
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Do you hear the humility in Paul that was missing in his letter to the Galatians?

60 AD Thirteen years after his letter to the Galatians he describes himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ in Philemon and a year later in Philippians
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

64 AD Seventeen years after he wrote the letter to the Galatians, at the end of his life, he wrote to Timothy and in this letter we see the progression of Paul, the spiritual maturity of Paul, the process of sanctification at work in Paul’s life
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

Paul moved from an apostle sent not from men nor by man to the least of the apostles and the greatest of all sinners.

How did this happen? The more Paul grew in his faith, the closer he came to Jesus, the more aware he became of his sin.

It is like being outside on a summer evening. When you step off the porch and move away from the light, it is difficult to tell in the dark what color clothing you are wearing. But as you move closer and closer to the light, you see more and more clearly the colors of your clothes.

The more we grow in our faith, the closer to Jesus we come, the more clearly we see our sinfulness, the more clearly we see ourselves as we are.

But how do we grow in our ability to see our sinfulness? How did we first discover that we needed to submit to Jesus? Did someone come to us and tell us how bad we were? Did someone tell us how wicked we were? I don’t think so. We came to Jesus because someone told us that Jesus loves us. We came to Jesus because we were told he loves us and wants to be in relationship with us.

Love reveals sin; sin does not reveal love.

We see this with Peter. Peter fished all night and caught nothing. When Jesus told him to push off from shore and cast his nets, he protested. Jesus was a carpenter; Peter was a fisherman. Peter knew more about fishing than Jesus but nevertheless he obeyed and when the nets filled with fish, Peter saw a glimpse of the divinity of Jesus and then his own sin. (Luke 5:8–9)
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,

If someone is living with the delusion that he or she is a decent, good hard-working person and therefore deserving of God’s love and favor, how to you break them of that delusion?

Do you stand in their face and tell them what they really are? Do you research their life and find the ways that they have hurt people in the past and what have been the consequences of what they have done or not done? Do you try to make them feel guilty?

When I was a young follower of Jesus there was a Christian cult near Boston in the US that would have people meet in a circle while the two female leaders would list all the ways people in the group had sinned. People were encouraged to tell each other the ways in which they were bad people. They were made to feel guilty and the result was that people in this group gradually shriveled up and it took years for people who left that group to come back to health.

Pointing out sin in someone’s life or reflecting on sin in your own life is a destructive experience unless it is done in the context of love. An awareness of sin is a critical part of the Christian life but it is destructive knowledge unless it comes in the protective wrapping of God’s love.

So it is significant that it is after Isaiah’s experience of the revelation of God that he said, “Woe to me.” It was after Peter had a glimpse of the divinity of Jesus that he said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man.”

John Oswalt, in his commentary on Isaiah, writes: “For the finite, the mortal, the incomplete, and the fallible to encounter the Infinite, the Eternal, the Self-consistent, and the Infallible is to know the futility and the hopelessness of one’s existence…Existentialism presumes there is no meaning in the universe and that we are meaningless. Isaiah knows, more horribly, that there is Meaning, but that he has no part in it.”

This is the moment of emptiness. This is the moment of realization that there is something more than we have known in this life. This is the moment when we realize our true spiritual condition and our complete helplessness to do anything about it. So Isaiah cries out,
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

It is at this moment of surrender, this moment of helplessness, that help comes.
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Paul wrote in his Romans letter: (Romans 5:6)
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Through no effort of our own, God purifies us, makes us clean in his eyes. The thief on the cross next to Jesus called out for help in his last moments on earth and heard the comforting words of Jesus, (Luke 23:43)
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

God longs for us to come to him. This is why we were created, to be in relationship with him. This is why Jesus was born, why Jesus took our place on the cross. All the work has been done by God. All the effort has been made by God. All we have to do is stop running and turn to him and accept the salvation Jesus offers us.

Isaiah did not seek purification; it was given to him. In my own life I resisted submitting to God, who I was not sure existed, for years. But the Holy Spirit never gives up without a fight. I was pursued, patiently pursued, until I finally surrendered.

We are pursued because we are deeply loved. We are pursued because God’s great desire is for us to come into his family as his beloved daughters and beloved sons and spend eternity in his presence.

Isaiah was cleansed but that was not the end. Being cleansed is not the end; being cleansed is the new beginning.

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Why did God not simply tell Isaiah, “I am sending you.” It is possible God was addressing the heavenly hosts. Perhaps God did not want to coerce Isaiah but wanted to give him the opportunity to volunteer.

Isaiah had been laying prone on the floor of the temple, completely overwhelmed by the presence of God. He cried out, “Woe is me,” thinking this might be the end of him. Like Saul on the road to Damascus, he lay on the ground thinking that his life was over.

But then he heard God’s invitation to come and work with him. Saul received his call to take the good news of Jesus to the Gentiles. Isaiah received his call to preach God’s words to the people of Judah.

Oswalt writes: “The vision of God leads to self-despair; self-despair opens the door to cleansing; cleansing makes it possible to recognize the possibility of service; the total experience then leads to an offering of oneself.”

To be coerced into working with God is not helpful. But those who are aware of the immensity of God’s grace toward them eagerly hurl themselves into God’s service.

Isaiah responded, “Here I am. Send me.”

Most sermons based on Isaiah 6 end here, but this is not the end of Isaiah’s call. In the chiasm of this chapter. We have moved from A a great king dies, ending an era (6:1a) to B the king reigns in holiness (6:1b-4) to C the prophet despairs (6:5) to the heart of the chiasm: D the prophet is cleansed (6:6-7) and D the prophet is sent (6:8-10). Now we move on to the end.

What is the call God gives to Isaiah? After such a magnificent experience of God, it is expected that some marvelous word will follow. Something like, (Luke 2:10) “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

But not here. What follows is a message of judgment that will not be deterred by a positive response. These verses depict God preventing repentance so that total destruction can occur.
9 He said, “Go and tell this people:
“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

God does not want Isaiah to alter his message, make it easier to hear, dumb it down, sweeten it. God does not want Isaiah to soften his message to make it more acceptable to the people of Judah. God knows the people will resist but he wants to make his best effort to wake up the people of Judah from their prosperity-induced stupor.

And despite the preaching of Isaiah and the prophets who followed him, the people did resist. Even after the destruction of Jerusalem the people resisted Jeremiah’s call to leave their idols. Their reasoning? (Jeremiah 44:17–18)
We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. 18 But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.”

Some people, no matter how clear, how loving, how powerful the preaching – will hold on to their self-centeredness, their earthly treasures, their idols.

The prophecy of Isaiah abounds with messages of hope. God is love and God is just. With judgment there will always be hope. But the call of Isaiah is to proclaim the judgment of God on a people who have continuously rebelled, consistently rebelled, defiantly rebelled. The destruction if Israel and Judah is coming and will not be stopped.

The judgment is coming on this generation so that future generations can be saved. (And it is interesting to note that archeological evidence suggests that after the exile, idolatry was much reduced in Jerusalem and Judah. The radical cleansing does seem to have had a positive effect.)

The end of the account of Isaiah’s call holds one of Isaiah’s messages of hope.

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”
And he answered:
“Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,
12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
13 And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations through his offspring is not to be forgotten. God will build his church “and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)

This is Isaiah’s story of his call to serve and work with God. What is your story?

You say, “I don’t have a story,” but that is not true. Your story may not have a room filled with fire and light and smoke, but you have a story.

My story is that I was always asking existential questions, long before I knew the word existential. I wondered what happens after we die. I wanted to know what it was like to die. I wanted to know if everything was really predestined. Could I do something that was not predestined.

I had a Sunday School teacher who talked about God as someone you could have a relationship with but did not respond. When I was thirteen I was on a trip and feeling desperate. I went into a church to pray and felt better. But nothing came of that. It was not until I was twenty that I began to pursue the question, “Is there really a God?” I became aware that God existed but then took some time before I submitted to God.

This did not happen with a blaze of light, just a growing realization of what was true. Since then I have had times when I have experienced the majesty and grandeur of God. In my young twenties I was in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the northeast of the US. I laid out by a waterfall one night and looked up at the stars. The longer I looked, the deeper I saw into the universe. And then I began to pray to the creator of all I saw. It was an amazing moment for me. I was able to talk to the creator of all that I saw.

Our stories are not the same but we all have stories and the reason we have a story is because God pursues us. God pursues us because he loves us. God is patient in his pursuit of us because he loves us. Because he loves us, God will never stop pursuing us. But when we turn to him in surrender, this is not the end, it is the beginning. We are brought into his family and given a call. Because we are loved so much, we are given a call to work with him in the building of his kingdom.

It is not just pastors and preachers and evangelists who are called to work with Jesus. Everyone of us is given the privilege of working with him.

Paul Simon wrote in one of his lyrics:
We’re working our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

There is far more meaning to our lives than that. We don’t have to be slip slidin’ away; we can be heading, with meaning and significance, to our eternal home.

What has God called you to? Who are the people in your life that God wants you to love and encourage to come with you as you head to the celestial city? What are the spiritual gifts God has given you to help you do what he is calling you to do?

We spend a lot of time in our studies, preparing for a career. We spend a lot of time to learn the skills we need for our jobs. We spend a lot of time positioning ourselves for promotions in our work. How much time and attention are we giving to the call of God in our lives?

This is not a call to do. This is not an exhortation to work harder for God, to accomplish more for God. My exhortation is to grow in your experience of being loved by God. But out of that, a part of that will be to experience the pleasure of working with God.

Are you aware of the immensity of God’s grace toward you? Will you hurl yourself into God’s service?

Isaiah was called by God to serve him. Isaiah had a story to tell. What is your story?