Warm greetings in the Lord! I'm Pastor Brent Evans, and I'm delighted to be serving Christ as the pastor of Momence OPC. I'm a newcomer to the Midwest, having been born and reared in Connecticut. I am the son of a Presbyterian pastor and, and I spent my seminary years at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.
I hope that you might be helped by the following series of short articles on Isaiah chapter 6, which were published in a local newspaper.
Have You Noticed?It is my privilege and joy to address the Momence community as the new pastor of one of the local churches. Please join me in this column for a series of studies of Isaiah’s encounter with God, recorded in the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter six. Part one of this study concerns the words that Isaiah heard angels say about God: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)
The first thing that you must notice about Isaiah’s vision is that it matters for you. Here is why: the Bible claims that the whole earth is full of God’s glory. What does this mean? It means that everything you lay your eyes on (“the whole earth”) testifies to you that the true God is a glorious God (Romans 1:20). It also means that everything you lay your eyes on was created for the purpose of bringing glory to God (Romans 11:36). So, if you want a small God whom you can ignore, you will not find him in Isaiah 6:3.
Do you think about God in the way that Isaiah 6:3 teaches you to think? When you lay your eyes on your favorite possession—your home, your car, your combine, etc.—do you think, “This home testifies to everyone that I am important, because I own it,” or, do you think, “This home testifies to me that God is glorious, because he created it.” When you go through a painful experience, do you think “This experience gives me reason to curse God,” or, do you think, “This experience was meant to teach me to bow humbly and worship God.” Friend, measure your heart with these words: “The whole earth is full of His glory.”
Taking God SeriouslyDo you ever use the word “holy”? What do you use it to describe? Do you use it, as the Bible emphatically does, to describe God? “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:3) The basic meaning of the Hebrew word for “holy” is “separate” or “set apart.” So, part two of our study in Isaiah chapter six will show us that God is set apart from all of his creatures, for he is exalted above them. Does this mean that a relationship between God and one of his creatures is nonexistent or impossible? No! But it does mean that any relationship between God and his creature, to say it mildly, is a relationship between one who is big and one who is small.
Isaiah saw angels (literally, “burning ones”) worshipping God. Each of these angels had six wings, and of these wings, we are told, “with two he covered his face.” (Isaiah 6:2) Now, why would an angel cover his face before God? Because he was ashamed of his sin? No, for unfallen angels are sinless. Instead, we must conclude that each angel covered his face because God’s splendor was too awesome for him to take in! God’s glory was like a mountain that was far, far too high for that angel to climb.
If you were to see an angel that had an appearance like fire and a voice that made things shake (Isaiah 6:4), would you be in awe of the angel? Remember that this angel, who would leave you awestruck, will himself be awestruck in the presence of God! Are you in awe of God as your holy creator? Have you ever had serious thoughts about God’s holiness?
Good News or Bad News First?Perhaps you know that the word “gospel” means “good news.” But why is the gospel good news? Part three of our study in Isaiah chapter six will explain the bad news that we need to understand in order for the gospel to make any sense at all.
Isaiah’s vision occurred “in the year that King Uzziah died.” (Isaiah 6:1) Now, the Bible elsewhere reports that King Uzziah (also called Azariah) “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” (2 Kings 15:3) except that he did not purge Judah of idolatrous worship. It is apparently because of this failure that “the Lord struck the king, so that he was a leper until the day of his death.” (2 Kings 15:5) Does leprosy seem to you like an overly harsh punishment in this situation? What about death itself? Is it fair that a person would die if, with one notable exception, he could be described as doing “what was right in the eyes of the Lord”?
What do you think? Perhaps you think that, though you have done some bad things, the good that you have done outweighs the bad, and that this in itself might be enough for you to deserve to live forever and never die. Not if God is the God of the Bible, and of Isaiah chapter six! For this God is “holy, holy, holy,” (Isaiah 6:3) and part of what “holy” means is that God is set apart from all that is sinful (see Isaiah 59:2). In other words, for God to permit sin to go unpunished would be an utter contradiction to who he is. Only when you understand this will you be truly astonished at the good news that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
Where Is that Finger Pointing?“It turns me off when Christians preach repentance to me, but don’t seem to know their own need of repentance.” Have you ever had this thought? It is my purpose in part four of our study in Isaiah chapter six to show you that, if this is your reason for disregarding Christianity, it is not a good reason. One reason that this is so: a person who really and truly sees nothing of his own need for repentance is not a Christian.
Isaiah the prophet did, indeed, solemnly announce to others their need of repentance: “Woe to the wicked!” (Isaiah 3:11) This same Isaiah also said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! … For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5) Wherever you turn in the Bible, you will find apostles and prophets who will tell you of your need to repent and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But these same apostles and prophets also knew their own need of daily repentance and faith, such as Paul: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
How do you react to the knowledge that God is holy and must punish sin with death? Does it make you think of a few people you know who look like they are headed for a solemn day of reckoning when they meet their holy Maker? Or is your first reaction to say with Isaiah (and with the author of this article), “Woe is me!” The more deeply we know this, the more deeply we will know our need of Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners, who is able to save to the uttermost. (Hebrews 7:25)
Nobody’s Perfect?Do you agree with the following statement? “I am not perfect.” This might seem like a humble thing to say, but does it go deep enough? Compare that statement with what Isaiah said after encountering the holy God: “I am a man of unclean lips.” (Isaiah 6:5) There are two ways that Isaiah’s confession goes deeper than simply saying, “I am not perfect.” First, Isaiah was specific about what his sin was. It had to do with his lips, his speech. Now, one specific body part that the Bible often identifies as being involved in bad sins is … the mouth! (Proverbs 6:6, Romans 3:13-14, James 3:1-12, etc.) Do you see that you are not only “not perfect,” but that you have sinned in specific ways? For instance, do you see that the Bible takes the sins of your mouth quite seriously?
A second way that Isaiah’s confession went deep was that he used the word “unclean” to describe himself. Consider how, by using the word “unclean” to describe his lips, Isaiah was making a comparison between his lips and these sorts of things: the carcasses of animals like pigs, leprosy, etc. (Lev. 11:24, 13:3). Would you be willing to describe your own lips this way? The Bible does! (Rom. 3:13)
Now, when Isaiah used the word “unclean,” what did he need? Higher self-esteem? Or reconciliation to God through a sacrifice?
The State of the Human RaceThe stranger says he is in a pinch and with imploring eyes asks you to loan him a little money. “I promise that you won’t lose your faith in mankind,” he says. Doesn’t his appeal have some power? After all, most of us desperately want to believe that mankind is basically good. But if we actually believed in the goodness of man, why do we have doubts that the stranger will ever show up again to repay the loaned gas money? Maybe this is the way it works: there are a few truly rotten apples out there, but most of us are good and wholesome, even if some of us occasionally get on the wrong track because of outside influences. Therefore, though we might need prison cells for the rotten apples, what the rest of the human race needs are inspiring moral examples, lots of open dialogue, and the opportunity to reconnect with our inner rhythms.
This is a popular opinion, but it is incompatible with the teaching of the Bible. Isaiah said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because 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, emphasis added) Now, the “people of unclean lips” doesn’t just mean Israel, but the whole human race (Rom. 3:9, 13-14)! Does it bother you that the Bible forbids you to believe in the basic goodness of mankind? What mankind needs is not higher self-esteem, but a crucified Savior and risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
Whose Glory?Whose glory did Isaiah see in the temple, as recorded in chapter six of his prophecy? That’s simple, you may say, he saw the glory of God. True. And we also know what John tells us (John 12:41): “These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.” And to whom, in John 12, do “His” and “Him” refer? To Jesus! (John 12:36) To see the glory of Jesus is to see the glory of God. It is in Jesus Christ that the glory of the triune God is revealed.
But what do we see when we see the glory of Jesus? We see one who is holy, holy, holy (Isaiah 6:3), so that those who see Him for what He is are conscious of their sin and its consequences (Luke 5:8). And we also see one who has been “lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1 and John 12:32). And how was Jesus lifted up, so as to “draw all peoples” to himself? He was “lifted up” in his bloody, accursed, sin-bearing death on the cross (John 12:33). This, the cross of Christ, is the wisdom and power of God! This is the way that a holy God is reconciled to His sinful people. This is the ultimate answer to the mystery of why Isaiah did not die when he saw the Lord of hosts. If you have seen the holiness of God, then you will see your life-and-death need to be reconciled to God. Have you been reconciled to God through the death of His Son?
How Can I Make It Up To You?“I pretty much forgot our anniversary last summer, so I’m going to atone for that by making a big deal of Valentine’s Day.” Did you have this thought last week? Or, in other ways, are you accustomed to using the words “atone for” to mean “make up for by doing something really nice”? Well, the Bible teaches us that atonement is not something that you or I can do, but that it is something God does to sinners! After Isaiah lamented that he was ruined because he, a man of unclean lips, had seen the all-holy God, this is what happened: “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it.” (Isaiah 6:6-7) Wow! Granted, this is a vision, but … to have a burning coal touched to one of the most sensitive parts of your body, and right under your nose! Do you think Isaiah ever would have forgotten this day? Do you think that his memory ever would have become fuzzy, so that he would say, “Well, there was this day when I decided to touch a burning coal to my lips …” No! Clearly, it is not that Isaiah is doing something for God, but that, as the messenger says, something has been done to Isaiah.
What is this unforgettable thing that God has done to Isaiah? The angel interprets: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” (Isaiah 6:7) Do you believe that taking away, purging, and atoning for your sin is something that only God can do to you, or do you believe that it is something that you can do for God?
What to do With a Clean SlateSuppose you had a guarantee that the guilt of your whole person was taken away. God said to you, “Look! I have covered your sin.” (see Isaiah 6:7) How would you live as a result of this? Would you say, “Great! Since yesterday’s sin is gone, I can sin all I want today.” Or would you live all your days with trembling hands because your next sin might ruin you, staining the white garments that God had given you?
Let’s suppose that the proper attitude is to see how much sinning one can do. Then, when the pardoned Isaiah hears the question from the Lord, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”, we would expect Isaiah to respond, “Hey, thanks for the clean slate, God. It means I don’t have to worry about what you think anymore. Now I’m free to serve nobody but myself. See ya’ later!”
But this is not how Isaiah responds. So maybe the proper attitude is to cultivate the fear of falling out of God’s forgiveness. Then, when the Lord calls for a servant who will go, the proper answer would be, “Oh, I could never be so arrogant as to think that I actually belong to you, God. The thing about the atoning coal was really nice of you, but I know that you wouldn’t want me to presume that you had actually qualified me for serving you.”
This response is not right either. Isaiah’s actual response shows his trust in God’s great atoning work, his humility, and his desire to use his freedom by submitting to the command of God his Savior: “Here am I! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)
They Will Respect My SonLet's suppose you could look at a satellite picture of Illinois on a Sunday morning at 10AM. How many cars would be parked at home, at movie theaters, at restaurants? How many would be parked at churches? Let's further suppose that you could look inside of the churches. How many of the hearts inside would be dull? How many of the ears would be heavy, and how many of the eyelids would be drooping?
Is there a large majority of people in our state and town who are buzzing with wonder, love, and white-hot devotion toward the holy, holy, holy God of Isaiah? Is there a great hunger and thirst in our land for the glory and grace of the God who saves sinners? Are people thronging to hear the Word of God from the ones whom He has sent to speak for Him?
The author of this article does not pretend to be, in his own right, an expert witness in these matters. But the Bible has spoken. Here is what Isaiah was to expect as God's spokesman: "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes." (Isaiah 6:9-10)
But surely, you may say, Jesus, God's beloved Son, has managed to get a better response than Isaiah got! Not so. In fact, Isaiah 6:9-10 is one of the few Old Testament passages that is quoted in all four gospels, and it describes the response that Jesus received, by and large.
I do not write these unsettling words for any other purpose than to drive you to cry out to the God of Isaiah. Consider these awful realities, and plead with the God who saves sinners: "Lord, how long?" (Isaiah 6:11)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.