Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-8
Have you been somewhere we’re you’ve felt just a complete sense of awe? Maybe on an ocean beach, or on the top of a mountain? Maybe you felt it with our choir singing last Sunday evening!
When I think about times when I’ve felt a complete sense of awe, there are a number of places and times that come to mind. One is when we lie at the end of the dock at the cottage and just watch the stars with the Milky Way spread out above us as we watch for meteorites to streak across the sky. There’s something about seeing the vastness of the universe that makes you realize you are so small.
Another place I often feel a sense of awe is on mountaintops. There’s something about hiking up the side of a mountain and standing at the top with the world spread out before you. It’s similar to the expanse of space, sort of, as you see all of creation laid out before you, and again, the realization you are but a small part of it. And you are able to witness the great beauty of the earth. There’s also a sense of life and it’s delicate balance in that instance, where you might be standing just feet away from a ledge as the mountain gives way to the valley below.
Mind you, I am a careful hiker when I’m at the peaks of such hills. It’s not necessarily that I’m afraid of heights, it’s more that I’m afraid of falling from them.
What sort of moments do you have where you’ve felt an incredible sense of awe?
Now, what about moments with God? Have you felt really near to God in your life? Have you felt like God is so close you could almost touch Him or see Him?
Some of those moments may be the same answers to the previous question. There could be overlap between the experiences.
Again, when I think of a sense of awe in the presence of God, there are a number of moments in my life which come to mind. Some of them have been experienced in churches, whether in a service or just some alone time in the sanctuary. Others have been experienced in nature or my home. Sometimes I’ve been alone, others I’ve been with a group of people. There are many ways in which we can experience the presence of God in awe-inspiring ways.
Most certainly I’ve experienced a closeness to God at the Church Renewal weekend Bev and I went to last winter, but also at Cursillo weekends that we like to talk about here.
For some of you, there may be even a place you know you can go to on a regular basis and experience the presence of God. What a gift that is to have in your life. A place where you can go, a place where, for you, it feels like heaven and earth intersect, a place where you can converse with God that you cannot do anywhere else.
In our reading from Isaiah this morning, we hear of Isaiah’s call to be a prophet. Isaiah is a priest. While it isn’t exactly named that he is a priest, we know it because is in the innermost temple. A place only priests can go. So unless he’s some sort of ninja who can get into secret places, he’s a priest.
On this occasion when Isaiah enters the temple, something he has probably done many times before, this time when he goes in he sees something very different than any other time. This time in the temple, Isaiah sees God. And next to God are seraphim.
What a seraphim is, we aren’t entirely sure, but it’s thought to be sort of a super-angel. The only place in the Bible they are referenced are in the verses we read from Isaiah 6.
As the scene unfolded, Isaiah describes the seraphs and what is happening. It sounds incredibly beautiful.
“I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!’” (Isaiah 6:1-3)
What an amazing sight that must have been. Here Isaiah is in the temple, the place they called the holiest of holies, the place where people believe heaven and earth intersect, and for Isaiah, he is witnessing it for himself.
The seraphs are flying around God, with his magnificent robe filling the room, and they are singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
But this isn’t a light, melodic tune, the seraphs are singing it very loudly. So loudly that they are shaking the foundation of the temple.
And then it dawns on Isaiah what God said to Moses in Exodus 33.
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’” (Exodus 33:17-20)
Isaiah gets this deep sense that he will soon die because he has seen God. But not only that, now that he is physically in the presence of God, he is completely aware of his unworthiness.
He says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for 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)
Going back to my memories of standing on a mountaintop, or under the stars, Isaiah comes to the realization that, as he stands in the presence of God. He now feels so very small in the grand scheme of life. He is completely aware of his sin, and the sins of his nation, of all the people. Which I’m sure he expects will end his life, and for good reason, as he remembers his sin in the presence of almighty God.
We’ve talked about this already over the last few weeks, is God a God of punishment? No. Thankfully not!
If God punished us for our sins, we would have no chance, at all, ever, of entering His kingdom.
God is merciful. God is loving. God is forgiving.
It’s His mercy we see shown to Isaiah again as we have over the last few weeks.
What happens next? Well, a seraph picks up a burning coal from the altar and presses it against Isaiah’s lips. I don’t have to tell you how sensitive our lips are do I? The coal is so hot that the seraph picks it up with tongs to carry it. He won’t even use his own hands to get it, yet he then places it against Isaiah’s lips and declares him clean.
Fire is used for purification. We still do today. If we didn’t cook our food and ate everything raw, including meat, our lifespans would be a whole lot shorter because it’s the heat of our stoves which kill off the things that can make us sick.
In the coal, the intense heat purifies Isaiah. It cleanses him of his sin. The amazing thing is Isaiah appears to suffer no physical ailments because of this. The coal has only burned away, or purified, the sin from his body.
Why has God spared this small man? For what purpose does the removal of his guilt do anything?
Well, it turns out God is looking for a prophet, a messenger. This whole scene leads to the next verse. God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
To which Isaiah replies, “Here I am! Send me.”
Isaiah goes on to be the longest lasting prophet in the Bible. He is the voice of God for the people for roughly five, maybe even six, decades. The book of Isaiah is sometimes called the Fifth Gospel because of it’s revelations of God and the clear indications of the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, 700 years before his birth.
God called Isaiah to do powerful work, to share incredible news, and give hope, God’s hope, to a nation living under very difficult circumstances.
What is happening in the world is that Israel had split into two nations, the north and the south. The northern kingdom will fall to the Assyrians, and the southern kingdom is also under a great threat as well. The Assyrian army is far more advanced technologically than the Israelites. The people are afraid they will soon fall.
The people needed to hear from God. They needed to know they were not alone or forgotten. They needed to know that God’s promises were still true.
Do you remember the promises?
God promised there would be a great leader to emerge from the people. That was His promise to King David. Through Isaiah, God begins to lay out the plan in some more detail as to where this great King would come from. Where this King would emerge and what he would do, and have done to him.
God obviously chose Isaiah to do this work. Of the priests who worked at the temple, God chose the moment Isaiah walked in to make Himself visible. Sometimes we see God call in really powerful ways like this. Other times it’s quiet, more subdued. Regardless, God calls all kinds of people to ministry, using the gifts we all have to share His message of mercy, love and forgiveness.
I think of the New Testament, when Jesus spoke to Peter for the first time.
Peter was out fishing and having a terrible night. He didn’t catch a single thing. Jesus told him to throw his net in one more time, and they caught so many fish they could barely pull their net back into their boats.
Once on the shore, we read this from Luke 5,
“… when Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken…” (Luke 5:8-9)
Peter, like Isaiah, when he discovers he is in the presence of God becomes acutely aware he is a sinful man. In Peter’s case, his guilt causes him to push Jesus away.
How does Jesus respond? Does he say, “O yeah, you sure are, move along then. I have no need for you, a sinner.”
No, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” (Luke 5:10)
Again, it’s God’s mercy which is extended to Peter despite his own realization that he is unworthy because of his sin.
When I think back to my close encounters with God, those awe-inspiring moments when it feels like God is right there beside me, I think of the wide range of emotions which fill me at those times.
What I remember first is the feeling of peace, overwhelming peace. But as I think about it, I also remember feeling guilt. Overwhelming guilt. This guilt stems from my own feeling of unworthiness. I know I am unworthy of being in God’s presence. Yet, there He is, right there with me.
I have learned to deal with the guilt by laying it down before God. I confess. I offer my sin and I ask God for forgiveness. Actually, it’s probably more like begging or pleading God to take it away from me.
I don’t want to sin. Who does? If we call ourselves Christians, if we choose to be on God’s side, following Jesus Christ, then, yes, we should be wary of our sin and wish to be rid of it.
If only it were that simple, right?
The wonderful thing we see in the life of Isaiah is that God will heal us of our sin; He will forgive us; and He will use us when we humble ourselves in His presence.
Now, there’s a pretty good chance we may never see God as described in Isaiah’s witness, but God will make Himself known to us. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see God with Seraphs singing praise to Him? But the reality is, it probably won’t happen to us. I won’t say never, because we truly cannot predict what God will do, so we will have to rely on our own trust in God that He is with us.
We all have gifts to share, and there are many ways in which we can share them. We also need to realize how God wishes to use us. When Isaiah humbled himself and confessed he was unworthy, God offered him grace and forgiveness and used him as the greatest prophet in all the Bible.
When Peter confessed he was unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus Christ, Jesus offered him grace and forgiveness and eventually used him to build the church.
What can God do with us when we submit our whole selves to Him? What can He do when we humbly lay our sin and our guilt before God. What will He do?
He will do as He always does… He will offer you grace and forgiveness.
He will use you to do great and wonderful things in His name. You may not be the greatest prophet; you may not be the one to launch the church; you may not be the best preacher or prayer or singer or whatever; but God will use you.
If every one of us were to be used by God even in just small, little ways… multiply those small things by all of us who are here, and those little things together become big.
We all have a place in God’s will, His plan for this earth. But God can’t use us if our sin is in the way.
God had to purify Isaiah. Jesus had to work with Peter for 3 years. God has stuff to do in us too.
What is your sin? What is it God wants to heal you of so that you can do great things in His name?
Invite God to speak to you. Invite God to show you what you need to remove from your life so that He can work in you in ways you could never imagine.
God will do it. He’s done it again and again in the lives of people in the Bible. He’s done it again and again in the lives of His faithful people for the 2000 years since Jesus walked the earth.
And he wants to do it in you too.
God wants you to know this:
He forgives you.
He loves you.
He has a plan for you.
He’s just waiting for you to ask Him to be in your life like never before.
Come to know God. Let Him speak to you. Let His awe-inspiring love fill you.
And be a precious child of our Father in heaven.
And if He asks, “Whom shall I send?”
Be like Isaiah, touched deeply by the love and grace of our God and say, “Here I am! Send me.”
Let us pray,
Lord, we are far from perfect, but You are perfect. We need Your healing in our lives. We need to experience Your grace and forgiveness.
Help us to see what You have in store for us. Help us to know the great plans You have for us. And help us to step out in faith, assured of Your presence here and in our lives, that we may act according to Your will.
This we ask in the name of the one you sent to show us the way, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.
Amen and amen.