This week we look at a character that was ruined, but later reconciled. We'll see that each us of can be made new, no matter our past. While God was there in our past, whether we recognized it or not, God is the God of our future, and when we trust in Him, He can make all things good.
This weeks message is based on Isaiah 6:1-10.
This is Memorial Day weekend, tomorrow being Memorial Day, the day we remember those who have fallen in service to our country, especially those killed in action. I never served myself, but my father did. I haven’t known anyone killed in action. But my father served in Cherry Point, NC, in that time between World War II and Korea. He served during a time of peace, but he saw his fair share of casualties.
He served in the Navy, as a storekeeper, not exactly where you might think he would see a lot of casualties. He was stationed with a small contingent of Navy personnel on a Marine base. I believe he served from 1948-1950. Now one thing interesting about that time is that jet engines were just being introduced, and the marines at Cherry Point were testing them, and then training pilots to fly them. And in those early years of testing and training, there were a lot of accidents, a lot of pilots went down off the coast of NC.
Even though my father’s position was storekeeper, it was the Navy personnel that had to go out on recovery missions after the crashes, and my father had gone out on some of those missions. Now there was rarely enough left of the aircraft to salvage, the recovery missions were to retrieve the bodies of the pilots who had gone down. I have no idea how often he had to go out. That’s something he never talked about. I had heard some stories about his time of service in Cherry Point, but it wasn’t until after he died, that my uncle told me about those missions. My father never spoke of them.
Those men that died off NC are among those we remember tomorrow. America is a great country because of the sacrifice of many great men and women who proudly served.
Now this message isn’t really a Memorial Day message. But I do want to make the point that if the Old Testament teaches us anything, it teaches us that when a nation honors God, it becomes a great nation, and when it ceases to honor God, it eventually ceases to be great. Tying that into our message here, in a rather bad attempt at a segue, our reading starts with King Uzziah, who had a very successful reign in Judah.
2 Chronicles 26 tells us that Uzziah became king at the age of 16 and reigned 52 years. Now there was a priest, apparently, he was a priest, named Zechariah, who became an advisor to Uzziah, and in 2 Chronicles 26:5, speaking of Uzziah, it says, “He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God” or the vision of God. Now this isn’t the prophet Zechariah, this is probably 250 years before the prophet by that name. But the thing to remember is that while Zechariah advised Uzziah, Uzziah had a strong reign, and Judah was a great nation.
But in verse 16, we see, and this is sometime after Zechariah’s death, that “After Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.” He became more and more unfaithful to God toward the end of his reign, as he saw himself getting more and more powerful. And that’s something we all need to watch out for. As we get a higher and higher opinion of our self, we think that we need God less and less. And that seems to be what happened to Uzziah. On one occasion, he entered the temple and began burning incense on the altar. This was only to be done by a priest. The Lord immediately struck him with leprosy, which he later died from.
It was that same year that Uzziah died, and some commentaries suggest that it was only a few months before Uzziah dies that Isaiah goes into the temple and sees his vision. I think the timing of this vision is fitting. Uzziah had been good king for most of his reign, but he strayed toward the end. He got a little prideful and no longer honored God. And in Isaiah’s vision, he sees the real king, the real Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted. Uzziah may have been a good king while he followed God, but the King Isaiah sees in his vision is the great King, the Lord, the Sovereign One, who is over all, including Uzziah.
Isaiah had gone into the temple to worship, probably a very routine thing for Isaiah. It was like you or me going into a church to worship. He had probably done it countless times before, but this time he sees something very different. He sees this vision we saw in our reading.
He wrote, “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Here’s a little historical tidbit for you, Kings had these really elaborate robes they wore to show their power and authority. And the longer the train on the back of the robe, the more powerful the king. After a king defeated an army in battle, he would cut off a portion of the defeated kings robe and sew it onto the train of his own robe. So with every victory, the robe grew longer and longer. The longer the train, the more victories he had won, and the more powerful he was. In Isaiah’s vision, the Lord’s train filled the whole temple. No earthly king had ever had a longer train. Showing that the Lord is the ultimate in power and authority.
Now as we get into looking at our reading this morning, I want us to see three things that Isaiah does here, kind of three reactions. Isaiah sees, responds, and then serves. We’ll spend the rest of our time this morning looking at those three reactions.
I. Seeing. First, Isaiah sees the vision. He sees the Lord. And actually, probably what he saw was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. It was probably Jesus he saw on the throne. In John12:40, John quotes Isaiah 6:10, then in verse 41 says, “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.” Where would Isaiah have seen Jesus’ glory? What could that be talking about? The only answer that makes sense is that Isaiah saw Jesus sitting on the throne.
And here’s what I want you to think about here, when you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father. That’s what Jesus told Phillip in John 14:9, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” There is no difference. Jesus is God. And when Isaiah sees Jesus on the throne, he sees the glory of God.
So he sees Jesus, in his ultimate glory and holiness. He sees the train, indicating that this is the King of Kings, the only true power and majesty, the Sovereign One. Then he sees the seraphs, or the seraphim. This is the only time the seraphim are mentioned in Scripture. The word seraphim literally means, “fiery ones.” They each had six wings, two of which covered their feet, and they held up two of the wings to cover their eyes, indicating that even the seraphim couldn’t look directly on the glory of God.
These Seraphim, as they were flying about, were calling to one another, or maybe singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with his glory.” Their singing or chanting was so loud that the doorposts and thresholds shook. This was an incredible vision! Can you imagine it? Can you picture in your mind what it would have been like? The One sitting on the throne was the very image of holiness and glory, the train of His robe suggesting the very ultimate in power and majesty, these strange creatures, fiery ones or burning ones, the very presence of which were filling the temple with smoke. The loud chants or singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty.” How would you respond to such an incredible vision?
II. Responding. In our reading, we saw Isaiah’s response. In verse 5, he cries out, “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.” Isaiah’s response was a response of ruin. Of ultimate conviction. He has seen God, and in seeing the holiness of God, and the glory of God, he is struck by his own lack of holiness. When he sees the greatness of God, he is struck by the nothingness of man. Compared to God, Isaiah has nothing to offer. Compared to God, none of us has anything to offer.
His instinct is that seeing God’s holiness will be the end of him, his ruin. He’s knows that no one can see God and live. We know that every time even an angel of the Lord appears to someone, their response is always fear, they are always afraid. That’s why every time we see an angel, we see words like fear not, or do not be afraid. Isaiah is afraid. He is feeling guilty over his sin, in light of the one who has never sinned.
But he learns that Jesus’ holiness can mean his forgiveness. Jesus doesn’t judge Isaiah. He doesn’t condemn him. Rather He forgives him. And as a sign of that, one of the Seraph flies over to the altar, takes the tongs that are there, and picks up a live coal from the fire on the altar. Then he flies over to Isaiah and touches Isaiah’s lips with the burning coal. And he says, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Two things you need to notice here. When Isaiah saw Jesus, his first response was that he was a man of unclean lips. So the Seraph touched his lips. Second, the only way to atone for sin before Jesus’ sacrifice, was a burnt offering. Fire. The Seraph used fire, the burning coal, to atone for Isaiah’s sin. So Isaiah’s response was his unworthiness, his nothingness before a mighty God. Jesus’ response to this unworthiness was forgiveness and reconciliation. When we come to Jesus and recognize our unworthiness before a holy God, we can be reconciled, too. So you see, Isaiah’s response is ruin, but it brings about his reconciliation.
III. Serving. Immediately after Isaiah is forgiven, we see his commitment to serve. We see in verse 8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’” Jesus is looking for someone to send to the Israelites, a prophet who will speak for God. Isaiah, after just being cleansed of his sin and forgiven, replies, “Here am I. Send me!”
Our response when seeing God at work and seeing the majesty of God, and seeing His greatness, and our nothingness in comparison, is to seek his forgiveness. And when we are reconciled, our response is almost always to serve Him. In Acts 9:20, right after Paul’s conversion experience, right after the scales fall from his eyes and he can see again, we see, “At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” True conversion leads to surrender and service.
Now for Isaiah, serving God isn’t going to be easy. He is to witness to a people who will not listen. We see in verses 9-10, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 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.”
So Isaiah’s message was a message of doom. Sort of like the message that Jonah was called on to preach to Nineveh. God is going to destroy you. He has seen your wickedness, and He has found you guilty. He is going to bring judgment on your people. The end is near. Of course, the Ninevites responded. They sought God and His forgiveness and were ultimately spared of His judgment. The Israelites didn’t. And eventually the Babylonians came and executed that judgement, and Israel was carried into exile.
I can’t help but wonder if that’s where our country is today. If we have become so prideful and so wicked that God is making our hearts calloused, making our ears dull, and closing our eyes. As I look around I see morality in a free fall, I see an attitude of anything goes. I see a lack of respect for anyone in authority. Rest assured, God’s judgment will come. We seem to be closing our minds, and I wonder if God will just let that run its natural course. And soon we will be unable to realize what God is doing. And when that happens, judgment will come. It’s not too late for us, we can follow Nineveh’s example and repent and turn to God. But I’m not sure we will…
But the message for us this morning is that when Isaiah saw God on the throne, he realized he was ruined before an almighty God. He was nothing. But when he was cut to the heart and thought he would be destroyed, God forgave him and called him. Isaiah was ruined, then reconciled. When we look to God on the throne, and see Him in His splendor, and fall at his feet, and realize that we are nothing before him, then He will forgive us, and we will be reconciled.
In Isaiah’s vision, he was overcome with his sin and the sin of his people. In the vision, God purged his sin; and Isaiah responded, “Here am I! Send me!” If you have been saved, and the Holy Spirit is living in you, understand that you have been saved to witness to others. Your presence with others is Christ’s presence with them. Stay close to God through prayer, bible study, and obedience. And others will begin to sense God’s presence when you are near.