Our Holy God
from sermon series
“Learning from Isaiah”
by Pastor Dave Strem
Used by permission
Isaiah 6:1-9 are powerful verses. Isaiah is having a vision that takes him on an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual rollercoaster. “In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Hovering around him were mighty seraphim, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with the remaining two they flew. In a great chorus they sang, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty! The whole earth is filled with his glory!’ The glorious singing shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire sanctuary was filled with smoke. Then I said, ‘My destruction is sealed, for I am a sinful man and a member of a sinful race. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!’ Then one of the seraphim flew over to the altar, and he picked up a burning coal with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it and said, ‘See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.’ Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom should I send as a messenger to my people? Who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Lord, I’ll go! Send me.’” This vision set Isaiah on course to have one of the most interesting and vital ministries of any Old Testament prophet.
Isaiah 6 begins with a problem. It says, “In the year that King Uzziah died….” Uzziah had been the king of Judah for 52 years. That is quite a kingship. That is a lifetime. Uzziah was the only king that Isaiah knew and the land had been very secure and prosperous. The king was no longer on the throne. Isaiah felt insecure. The future was unsure. But God had something He wanted to teach Isaiah, and us as readers of His Word. “Uzziah may be dead, but I am still on the throne. I am the one who gave Judah the prosperity, security, protection, and strength during Uzziah’s years. And I am still living! Fear me and you shall prosper.” To teach him these truths, God gave Isaiah a unique and powerful vision that forever changed his life.
The angels in Isaiah’s vision are described as having six wings, with each set of two having an important purpose. Verse two tells us about the wings. “With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.” What is the meaning of the placement of the wings? It seems to be an important part of the vision. The placement of the wings speaks to us of the character of these mighty beings. Unlike the fallen Lucifer, Satan, who proudly walks on the earth seeking whom he may devour, disrespectful of God’s authority, these angels stay around God’s throne and sing of His glory, not their own. The two wings covering their faces speak of their deep reverence and respect for God. The two covering their feet speak of their humility as they move about in God’s presence. The two that fly speak about their obedience to do God’s will. They restrain themselves to do what God wants them to do, and nothing else. If they were inclined they could fly faster with all six wings and impose their will on many because of their strength if they wanted to live independent of God. But out of humility and reverence for God they exist within His purposes for them. And they are not complaining. Satan bucks at God’s authority. These angels sing His praises. They sing of what they know about Him. “In a great chorus they sang, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty!’”
God’s holiness is the expression of His immeasurable goodness and total lack of guile, deceit, or perversity of any kind. There is no one else like Him. He is absolutely unique. The angels sang “holy, holy, holy” three times. One of the ways Hebrew writing emphasized something is to repeat it. When the Hebrew repeats something it is for impact. It is like saying, “I saw a stone. I saw a big stone. I saw a big, big stone. I saw a big, big, big stone.” If someone were to speak like this, you would understand that he or she was describing a gigantic boulder. A boulder beyond what anyone could lift, beyond what anyone could handle himself. When the angels say “holy, holy, holy,” they are saying that God’s holiness is beyond measure, beyond what they could bear. And so they covered their eyes while in God’s presence.
Isaiah was a pretty good guy by human standards. For the most part, he did the right things. He was like most of us. But compared to God, he was not good enough. In fact, as he saw God’s holy glory in his vision he cursed himself because of his sinfulness. Isaiah had no moral right to be where he was, before God’s very throne. And he knew it. Isaiah confesses his sin in the presence of God and His angels. At Isaiah’s confession, God has His angel touch Isaiah with a coal from the holy altar. This act symbolizes God’s holy provision for human sinfulness. In light of Christ’s holy sacrifice, Isaiah’s guilt can be removed from him and forgiveness granted. It is the Lord’s holy altar that makes the coal special, able to symbolize holy purity. John 12:41 tells us that the majesty Isaiah sees actually belongs to Christ Himself, the Son of God, before His incarnation. This majestic One who provoked the angels to hide their faces out of reverence and cover their feet out of humility, is the same Lord who united Himself with humanity to suffer, bleed, and die at Calvary’s cross, an act that made it possible for Isaiah’s, yours, and my sins to be forgiven.
First John 1:9 speaks to the importance of confession in God’s plan for us: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” As we see with Isaiah, the need for confession and repentance has always existed. Confession is not a New Testament invention. God’s heart is toward us, but our sin often separates us from Him. Confession and repentance, based on Christ’s work at Calvary, restores the relationship between God and sinful men and women.
When I was a little boy, when I was 10 years old, I dreamed of my 10th Christmas. All my friends had new two-wheel bicycles and I wanted one. Christmas morning I could not wait to get up. At 6:00 am, I crawled out of bed, opened the door, and looked in the living room and saw a bunch of presents under the tree. None of them was big enough to hold a bicycle. I thought, “Well, maybe they just haven’t put it together yet, maybe it’s not time yet.” Around 9:00 my parents got up. We opened the presents but there was no bicycle. I had new underwear, a little tool set, so I was somewhat happy, but there was no bike. Another year without a bike. All my friends would cruise down the road in their nice bikes and I had to ride my old clunker. My dad said, “David, time to clean up and take out all the packages.” That was not what I wanted to do at that moment. I was wallowing in self-pity. But I did it. When I rounded the corner with my arms full of trash I walked into a big red bike with a red ribbon tied to it. Until that point, I was thinking that maybe I asked for too much. My parents did not have a good crop on the farm that year. Maybe they could not afford it. Maybe it just was not going to happen for me this year, again. Maybe I did not deserve it. I even thought that they did not love me. After all, I was an afterthought, an accident. I was not planned. My next sibling is 17 years older than I am. But when I turned that corner and saw the bike, I knew I was wrong. I had manufactured all kinds of things in my mind that were false. I had plenty of evidence that my parents loved me, but I let my disappointment deceive me.
How many of you are disappointed with God? How many of you feel like I did, frustrated and lonely. Do you say things like these to yourself? “Maybe it is too much to expect. Maybe, I am not deserving. Maybe, I am not one of the chosen. Maybe, I am not really loved by God.” All those are wrong. Psalm 22:3 says, “The Lord dwells in the praises of his people.” You say, “Huh, that is a picture I cannot grasp.” He lives, He dwells, He is enthroned, it says, in the praises of his people. When you praise God, God becomes real to you. He begins to dwell in your heart, you recognize who He is. It is like saying “Hello,” rather than ignoring Him. And then God can respond to you. The word “worship” comes from a Hebrew word that means, to bow down, to have affection for, to kiss. Worship and praise are two different things. Praise is extolling, lifting up, valuing who He is with our words. Worship comes from the inside, from our hearts. We sing worship songs, but the goal is not to sing worship songs, the goal is to worship. Let me be very clear about something. You do not have to sing to worship. Worship is what happens when we catch a glimpse of God’s Being and then internally bow before Him out of reverence and love–reverence for who He is and love for what He has done.
The correct response to what God has done for us is a thankful willingness to let Him influence our lives. That is why Isaiah says, “Here am I, send me.” Isaiah had a willing, responsive heart. Contrast this with Moses who was asked, “Will you do this for me?” but came up with all kinds of excuses why he could not. Isaiah overheard God saying, “Oh, I wish I could warn my people, to express my words and thoughts in a clear way they can understand. To paint the pictures that I see of what they are doing. I wish there was someone who could go.” Isaiah went. Isaiah was willing to go and speak God’s message to His people.
God has created each one of us to have a personal relationship with Him. The scene Isaiah describes in chapter 6 does not depict a close, personal, intimate relationship between God and His angelic messengers. They cannot even look at Him as He shines in His glory. A celestial hug does not seem possible.
Brothers and sisters, this very person who struck awe and fear in the angelic hosts took off His kingly robe, descended the heavenly throne, passed the angelic hosts, and wrapped Himself in swaddling clothes, thorns, sweat, blood, and heartache. The Bible tells us in two major passages who God is at His core. The two passages are Isaiah 6:1-4 and 1 John 4:7-8. We have already read Isaiah 6:1-4. Now listen to1 John 4:7-8: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God—for God is love.” God is, at His core, holy-love. Holiness points to His goodness. Love points to His caring. God loves His own goodness and is willing to defend it from all who would try to pollute and overthrow it. God cares about His goodness because it results in blessings for His creatures. God’s goodness cannot help but overflow into the lives of His creatures, it is His nature to care. A definition of God’s holiness offered by Thomas Traherne gives us a connection between holiness and love. God is not two qualities at His core but one viewed from different perspectives. Traherne said this about God’s holiness: “The infinite love of his own goodness is the holiness of God…. Holiness is that virtue in God, by which he loves the most perfect things, and infinitely delighteth in them. For by virtue of this affection he shuns and hates all that is profane, pursuing and delighting in all that is holy” (Christian Ethicks, p. 87). Now, How does someone who is holy-love in His core solve the relationship problem? He gets involved! Personally!
Ironic, isn’t it? The Lord sits on His throne and even the angels have to shield their eyes because of His holiness. At Calvary, in plain view, the Lord hangs on the cross, half-naked and beaten, and Jew and Gentile look and sneer. It is at Calvary where God exhibited His greatest glory for all who are willing to see. It is not the blinding light that grabs our hearts, it is the crown of thorns, the spittle on the face, and the heartache of separation from the Father that draws us toward Him.
With this picture in your mind, will you allow God to touch your lips? Will you agree with Isaiah and give God’s message to others around you? America is growing more corrupt much as Judah was in Isaiah’s day. God commanded Isaiah to warn the people. Most did not listen. But some did!