Isaiah: Hope For Eternity, 1

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A LIFE-CHANGING ENCOUNTER WITH GOD

Isaiah 6:1—13

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah lived some 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, which means he lived over 2,700 before our time.  Yet his words are just as relevant today as they were the day he spoke them and wrote them.  This prophet addressed issues we continue to struggle with in our 21st century.  For example, in our day of religious plurality and secular humanism, what does it mean to be “God’s people?”  How does Israel fit into God’s plan for the future of our world?  Is it possible for a believer to trust God even while his world seems to be spinning out of control?

We’re better off knowing what Isaiah had to say about these things than reading all the Christian “self-help” books and theology books that fill our eReaders.

Isaiah is the name of the prophet, but it also means something:  “God is salvation.”  It’s an appropriate name because it’s a major theme in Isaiah’s book.

We begin with an interesting vision the prophet Isaiah had.

A vision of God, Isaiah 6:1—4

Isaiah was certainly not the only prophet in Judah, nor was he the first.  Most scholars think he was greatly influenced by the likes of Amos, Hosea, and Micah.  He may have met them all at one time or another, but his immediate contemporary was Micah.

But Isaiah’s greatest influence was not that of any man, but of a tremendous, life-changing spiritual event; a crisis really, that occurred at the Temple in Judah in the same year King Uzziah passed away.  There are some scholars who think the vision recorded for us in chapter 6 was Isaiah’s very first vision, but others believe he had it long after he had begun his ministry.  They say that this incredible vision served to deepen Isaiah’s relationship with God and to give him a clearer understanding of aspects of God’s character and even of the nature of his calling.

Either view could be the correct one, but there is no denying this experience was truly life-changing.  The vision came suddenly, without warning, and it appealed to Isaiah’s already reverent fear of his transcendent God.  He saw and he heard things no man could conceive in his natural mind.

A King on His Throne, verse 1

The year King Uzziah died I saw the Lord! He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the Temple was filled with his glory. (TLB)

Earthly King Uzziah’s time was short; he was under the death sentence of leprosy because he dared presume upon God.

But at that point he [Uzziah] became proud—and corrupt. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the forbidden sanctuary of the Temple and personally burning incense upon the altar.  When Azariah and the others saw it, they rushed him out; in fact, he himself was as anxious to get out as they were to get him out because the Lord had struck him.  So King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death and lived in isolation, cut off from his people and from the Temple.   (2 Chronicles 26:16, 20, 21a  TLB)

Isaiah had lived and ministered during the last 20 years of Uzziah’s life, and while there was the outward appearance of prosperity and peace in the land, the truth was there was much inward corruption, spiritual and otherwise.  Because the King was living his out his final years in seclusion, the people began to wonder about their future.  They were concerned and had lost confidence in Uzziah and their leaders.  As if all that political uncertainty wasn’t enough, a great earthquake had rocked Jerusalem, frightening the people into thinking divine judgment was just around the corner.

The contrast between the dying earthly king and Heaven’s King was apparent!  Earthly thrones and kingdoms are temporary, and sometimes the grandeur of kings waxes and wanes, but Jehovah’s throne and glory are permanent.

The seraphim and their praise, verses 2, 3

Hovering about him were mighty, six-winged angels of fire. With two of their wings they covered their faces, with two others they covered their feet, and with two they flew.  In a great antiphonal chorus they sang, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with his glory.”   (TLB)

Uzziah was still king, but the throne in Judah sat empty.  There was no glory in earth’s throne room.  How different things are in heaven!  Isaiah was allowed an incredible glimpse of the immortal King and the glory that surrounds Him, day and night.

Surrounding God were the seraphim, the “angles of fire.”  This is the only reference to this class of angels in Scripture.  They are, apparently, God’s attendants with six wings and one face.  The cherubim, another class of angel seen by Ezekiel in his vision (Ezekiel 1:6) and other places in the Old Testament, had four faces and four wings.

It seems the purpose of these heavenly beings is to proclaim God’s majesty and to worship Him continually.  They are seen and heard drawing attention to God’s holiness.  Thirty times in Isaiah God is given the title, “The Holy One of Israel.”  This holiness is seen in stark contrast to the unholiness of God’s disobedient, rebellious people.  Not only is God personally holy, but His holiness fills the whole earth.  From the human perspective, and certainly Isaiah’s at this time in history, corruption, idolatry, uncertainty, and violence filled the earth, not God’s holiness.  This part of the vision served to show the transcendence of God; to give Isaiah the proper perspective on things.  Not only the transcendence, but also the immanence of God is seen here.  He is no remote divine being, hanging out way off beyond the farthest star.  He is close by; His presence co-exists with ours.  This is something the prophet state later on:

Let all the people of Jerusalem shout his praise with joy. For great and mighty is the Holy One of Israel, who lives among you.  (Isaiah 12:6  TLB)

Isaiah needed to see this aspect of God’s character, and Dave Hunt offers a reason:

The more clearly we see the infinite chasm between God’s glory and our sinful falling short thereof, the greater will be our appreciation of His grace and love in bridging that guilt to redeem us.

The power of God’s presence, verse 4

Such singing it was! It shook the Temple to its foundations, and suddenly the entire sanctuary was filled with smoke.  (TLB)

Sometimes God’s power is manifested in things like an earthquake or earth tremor:

After this prayer, the building where they were meeting shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly preached God’s message.  (Acts 4:31  TLB)

And often His presence is indicated by smoke:

As he entered, the pillar of cloud would come down and stand at the door while the Lord spoke with Moses.  (Exodus 33:9  TLB)

Ultimately, though, God would unveil Himself in the person of His Son:

Christ was alive when the world began, yet I myself have seen him with my own eyes and listened to him speak. I have touched him with my own hands. He is God’s message of life.  This one who is life from God has been shown to us, and we guarantee that we have seen him; I am speaking of Christ, who is eternal Life. He was with the Father and then was shown to us.  (1 John 1:1, 2  TLB)

Cleansed for service, Isaiah 6:5—8

Awareness of his sin, verse 5

Then I said, “My doom is sealed, for I am a foul-mouthed sinner, a member of a sinful, foul-mouthed race; and I have looked upon the King, the Lord of heaven’s armies.”  (TLB)

J.C. Ryle, the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool and prolific writer, offered these relevant thoughts that explain how Isaiah felt:

I am convinced that the first step toward attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin.

Indeed, the clearer God becomes to man, the worse that man appears to himself.  Nobody can stand long in God’s presence without becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the state of his own life.  No wonder so many people—Christians included—avoid going to church!  Who wants to feel that uncomfortable?  Yet, that sin and the guilt of that sin cannot be taken care of apart from a personal work of God.

Isaiah’s sin cleansed, verses 6, 7

Then one of the mighty angels flew over to the altar and with a pair of tongs picked out a burning coal.  He touched my lips with it and said, “Now you are pronounced ‘not guilty’ because this coal has touched your lips. Your sins are all forgiven.”  (TLB)

To serve God effectively, Isaiah needed to be cleansed.  Regardless of when this vision took place—before or during his ministry—Isaiah’s spiritual state needed to be constantly cared for and tended to.  For any believer to grow in his faith and be of continual use to God, he must always see himself accurately (a redeemed sinner) and he must be willing to let God work in him.

For God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants.  (Philippians 2:13  TLB)

Commissioned to prophesy, Isaiah 6:9—13

An unresponsive audience, verses 9, 10

Here’s a job nobody with good sense would want:

“Yes, go. But tell my people this: ‘Though you hear my words repeatedly, you won’t understand them. Though you watch and watch as I perform my miracles, still you won’t know what they mean.’”  (verse 9  TLB)

Basically, Isaiah was told that in spite of his all his work, the people would never receive his words.  He would, in effect, be a failure by man’s measurement of such things.

We can see why Isaiah in particular needed to see this great vision.  His would be a life and ministry full of disappointment.  Preaching and preaching with no converts was the promise.  In spite of Isaiah’s best efforts, the people would remain spiritually dull.  But to add insult to injury, Isaiah learns the awful reason his people would never change:

Dull their understanding, close their ears, and shut their eyes. I don’t want them to see or to hear or to understand, or to turn to me to heal them.  (verse 10  TLB)

You read that right!  God allowed the spiritual understanding of the people to become dull; God prevented them from hearing Isaiah’s preaching.  So, hands up, all of you faithful Christians, who would be willing to do what Isaiah was called to do?

A message of judgment, verse 11, 12

Then I said, “Lord, how long will it be before they are ready to listen?”

And he replied, “Not until their cities are destroyed—without a person left—and the whole country is an utter wasteland, and they are all taken away as slaves to other countries far away, and all the land of Israel lies deserted!”

Talk about depressing!  But now we know why God wanted Isaiah to preach a message that wouldn’t be heeded.  It was part of a bigger plan of judgment on the people that involved an exile and deportation.  The instruments of this judgment to come would be the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

“Who does Isaiah think he is,” the people say, “to speak to us like this! Are we little children, barely old enough to talk?  He tells us everything over and over again, a line at a time and in such simple words!”

But they won’t listen; the only language they can understand is punishment! So God will punish them by sending against them foreigners who speak strange gibberish! Only then will they listen to him!  They could have rest in their own land if they would obey him, if they were kind and good. He told them that, but they wouldn’t listen to him.  So the Lord will spell it out for them again, repeating it over and over in simple words whenever he can; yet over this simple, straightforward message they will stumble and fall and be broken, trapped and captured.  (Isaiah 28:9—13  TLB)

So then, if the people won’t listen to Isaiah’s message in a language they can understand, the next words they hear would be in the language of the Assyrians.

Isaiah was a great prophet and man of God. He was a man in need of a constant relationship with God, who was willing to step out from the crowd and do the hard work to which God had called him.  To do that work involved great personal risk, but that singular vision of God and His glory pushed Isaiah on in a ministry that speaks to us even today.

Today some Christians are content to merely exist until they die.  They don’t want to risk anything, to believe God, to grow or mature.  They refuse to believe His Word, and have become hardened in their unbelief.  Now they’re living just to die.  (David Wilkerson)

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