1Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.
2Sing to the LORD, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day.
3Declare His glory among the nations, His marvellous deeds among all peoples.
4For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods.
5For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
6Splendour and majesty are before Him; strength and glory are in His sanctuary.
7Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
8Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; bring an offering and come into His courts.
9Worship the LORD in the splendour of His holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth.
1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2Above Him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”
4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5“Woe to me!” I cried. “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.”
6Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah was given just the smallest glimpse of the glory and holiness of God, and it changed his life.
When we learn to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we will experience the same radical changes in our lives. Of course, discipleship of Jesus means there are risks and even dangers as we step out of our comfort zones, but we will find new opportunities to serve and to grow.
But it all begins with seeing God in a whole new way, just like Isaiah did. When we have some idea of His glory and holiness, we are humbled and filled with shame as we come to terms with how sin has ruined our lives, yet when we experience the mercy of forgiveness in Christ, we will find ourselves drawn to God, willing to do whatever He asks, willing to follow Him no matter how much it costs.
Isaiah watched in stunned silence as the Lord appeared on His throne, encircled by the awesome sight of seraphs, these angelic beings, who cried aloud to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”
As we saw a few weeks ago, this three-fold repetition of God’s holy character was often used in ancient Hebrew to draw attention to what they were saying. And in the Bible, the only attribute of God which is lifted to such a superlative degree is His holiness.
The main tool for creating emphasis in Hebrew poetry is the element of repetition. In the same way that we might underline or italicise a word, or put it in bold type, the Jewish writer often repeated a word for good measure. To repeat it three times indicated that the writer was elevating that word to its highest level of importance.
Only one of His countless character traits is treated to such heights of honour.
As big as God’s heart is, the Bible never says that He is “love, love, love.”
As amazing as His grace is, the Bible never says that He is “mercy, mercy, mercy.”
As true as God’s fairness is, the Bible never says that He is “justice, justice, justice.”
But it does say that He is “holy, holy, holy.”
There is an important detail in the first verse of Isaiah 6. We’re told that Isaiah was given this vision in the year that King Uzziah died. That was in 739BC, and Uzziah had ruled over the kingdom of Judah since 790BC, so they had had 50 years of relative peace and stability. They were about to begin a new era of political and military upheaval. The outlook for the Jews in the short term at least, was very bleak, and this is when God gave the prophet Isaiah a timely reminder. We need that same assurance today. The world is stumbling around in the dark, and in our country in particular, it feels like we’re on a knife-edge, so we need to remember that God is in control.
In Isaiah’s day the throne in Judah was empty, and God was showing Isaiah that the throne in heaven was full.
Today our country is full of uncertainty, but God is the same – yesterday, today and forever. He is our hope.
Uzziah had been shown to be mortal, but the heavenly King was immortal. One king had died - as all kings do - but one King lives forever as no other king can.
God appears to us through the pages of His Word to remind us that He is on the throne. We have nothing to fear, because God is in control.
There are many lessons we can learn from Isaiah’s story, and probably the most important is his initial reaction to the holiness of God.
As soon as Isaiah saw this awesome display of God’s holiness, he was filled with fear, as he cried 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.”
When Isaiah saw the Lord in His holiness, he saw himself in his sinfulness. He saw himself for who he really was.
If we were able to ask the people in Isaiah’s time what they thought about him, they’d have told us that he was a man of unquestioned integrity and moral righteousness, a man of personal holiness and virtue.
And I’m sure that Isaiah – before his encounter with God, at least – would’ve been much like us. We all know we’re not perfect, but we do try to do the right thing and we would like to regard ourselves as good people.
But after just one glance at the holy God, however, Isaiah soon saw the true picture. It took deity to reveal his sin, the sin of the people around him, and how it had destroyed his life. It took God to reveal his guilt.
And it will always be the same with us.
Just after the turn of the last century The Times of London published a series of letters to the editor on the subject, ‘What is wrong with the world?’ As you can imagine, this topic stimulated great interest for a long period of time. There were opinions from readers all over the world. Some of the views came from well-known and highly respected members of society, all trying to answer the unanswerable question of what makes the world such a difficult place in which to live.
One day a letter arrived from the Christian philosopher and author GK Chesterton, in which he answered the question, ‘What is wrong with the world?’
Chesterton’s letter read simply, “Dear Sir, I am. Yours sincerely, GK Chesterton.”
It was the perfect answer. The problem with the world is our sin. It was the problem in Adam’s day, in Isaiah’s day, in GK Chesterton’s day, and it remains the problem in 2018.
But there is good news. God has the answer to sin.
“Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’”
This all points us to the Cross of Christ, a place where the awful cost of our sin and all the righteous wrath of God was poured out on Jesus. He has paid the price of our atonement, and in so doing He has freed us to love and serve God once more.
Like Isaiah, we know it will hurt at some level to have the hot coals of God’s holiness singe away the tough exterior of our pride, but it will result in the incomparable gift of a new, redeemed and forgiven heart.
Last Sunday we were reminded of God’s call to us to be holy as He is holy. The reason this is necessary, is that in order to be effective worshippers and servants of God, we must first be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. We have nothing to offer God, because it has all been tainted by sin. Even the good things we do in our own strength are not good enough. There are many non-Christian individuals and organisations throughout the world who do try to make a difference in the lives of the poor and oppressed, and we usually admire what they do, but the problem is that we are seeing those works through human eyes. Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” Just before the Great Flood, Genesis 6:5 tells us, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” And then of course, Jeremiah 17:9. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” People look at passages of Scripture like these and they are offended, even outraged. And do you know why? Because they are correct.
This is why we need the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Without His atoning death on the cross, we would be lost forever. This is what is at the very heart of the Gospel.
And so, when God chooses to use us in His service, it’s not because He’s seen something in us that’s worthy of being used for His purposes. It’s not because He needs someone with our credentials working for Him.
What He sees is His own holiness, and the clean vessels that have repented of their sin who are willing to let His love pour into and out of them in obedience to Him.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:5-7, “We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”
Until we have lowered the understanding of our own value to the level of nothing more than an earthen vessel, we can be of little or no use to God. But once we have believed what God has revealed to us about who we really are without Him, there is no limit to what He can do through us. A vessel that has been redeemed and cleaned by God’s grace can be put into a place of His choosing and used to His glory.
Isaiah’s humiliated pride and the shame he felt as the real Isaiah was revealed to him was not the end of his story. And it doesn’t have to be the end of our stories too. I was sharing at Bible study on Wednesday that a colleague of mine told me years ago that one of the most important tasks of a preacher is to make it clear to the congregation that we’re all a bunch of miserable sinners. So, just in case you haven’t heard it before, you are nothing but a bunch of miserable sinners…
But then he told me that in the same breath, people need to be pointed to the Gospel of Christ. The good news is that God did not leave Isaiah in his state of misery, but He lifted him up as Isaiah experienced the grace and mercy of God. We have that same hope. Miserable sinners who deserve condemnation, but who through repentance and faith in Jesus, are lifted up by the grace and mercy of God.
God’s loving, merciful desire is to bring His people to where He can equip and use us. So when we come to the end of ourselves, we arrive at a whole new beginning, because after the confession comes the cleansing, and after the cleansing comes the calling.
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
“Here am I.”
Not, ‘there he is, send him.’ Not, ‘here am I, but send the minister or the missionary.’ Not even ‘here am I, but please send anyone else but me.’
The call to take God’s message of hope and peace into the world is the call of every Christian.
This doesn’t mean that we should all sign up to be missionaries in a foreign country, but it does mean we should listen to what Paul teaches us in Philippians 2:12-13, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” In other words, spend time in the Word and in prayer. Ask God what He is calling you to. Seek out those opportunities you have every day to make a difference for the Kingdom. As CS Lewis once said, “You have never met a mere mortal.” Every person you meet every day was created in God’s image, and every interaction you have with them is a Divine appointment.
As Christians we understand that because we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and because we are called to reflect His glory and holiness in all we say or do, there is no such thing as a secular part to our lives. It’s all holy. Someone once said that you can even wash the dishes to God’s glory…
The Lord Jesus Christ is our king. We are His subjects. His desire is always to do what is best for His Kingdom. That is why each day of our lives we must crown Him King. When we do, we become Kingdom-minded. If we don’t crown Him daily, we will quickly usurp His authority over us and put ourselves back on the throne of our lives.
The root meaning of holy is to cut or separate. A holy thing is cut off from and separated from common or secular use. Earthly things and people are made holy when they are distinct from the world and devoted to God.
The Bible speaks of holy ground, holy assemblies, a holy nation, holy garments, a holy city, holy men and women and so on. Almost anything can become holy if it is separated from common use and devoted to God.
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”
The glory of God is the manifestation of His holiness. ‘God is glorious’ means that His holiness has gone public. His glory is the open revelation of who He is.
In Leviticus 10:3 He says, “I will show my holiness to those who are near me, and I will reveal my glory before all the people.” When God shows Himself to be holy, we have seen God’s glory.
This is the King of Glory, the eternally Holy God whom we are able to love and serve.
We’re able to do these things because of His grace shown to us through Christ. Just like Isaiah, we all reach a point where we understand that we have offended our Holy God by our sin, but because of His immeasurable love for us, He sent Jesus to die for those very sins which separate us from Him. As we grow in grace with Him, we find He not only calls us to be holy as He is, but that He calls and equips us to Christian service and ministry.
The choice to refuse to respond to His call will always remain ours, but without Him, our lives will always be empty.
During the past 5 weeks we have been trying to understand just something of the holiness of God, but as I wrote in the bulletin today, eternity itself will not be long enough for us to fully understand His holiness. That truth in itself is exciting, because we will never stop learning about this awesome God we serve.
As we close, I would like to quote the Christian author David Wells: “The loss of the traditional vision of God as holy is now manifested everywhere in the evangelical world. It is the key to understanding why sin and grace have become such empty terms. What depth or meaning can these terms have except in relation to the holiness of God? Divorced from the holiness of God, sin is merely self-defeating behaviour or a breach in etiquette. Divorced from the holiness of God, grace is merely empty rhetoric, pious window dressing for the modern technique by which sinners work out their own salvation. Divorced from the holiness of God, our gospel becomes indistinguishable from any of a host of alternative self-help doctrines. Divorced from the holiness of God, our worship becomes mere entertainment. The holiness of God is the foundation of reality. Sin is defiance of God’s holiness, the Cross is the outworking and victory of God’s holiness, and faith is the recognition of God’s holiness. Knowing that God is holy is therefore the key to knowing life as it truly is, knowing Christ as He truly is, knowing why He came, and knowing how life will end.”
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Isaiah 6:1-8
There are at least 5 phases in Isaiah’s call to service:
His exposure to God’s holiness, his recognition of his own sin and of the world around him, the atonement and forgiveness he received, God’s call and Isaiah’s response.
Discuss these in your group.
How can we apply them to our own life?
In what ways have you felt God calling you into some form of Christian ministry, and what was your response?
Read Genesis 6:5, Isaiah 64:6 and Jeremiah 17:9
What do these verses teach us about our own efforts at being good people?
Why do so many people find these and other similar passages so offensive?
What does personal holiness mean to you, and what do you think it means to live a holy life?
Read Ephesians 4:22-24
Discuss how as Christians, we are able to live this new life.
Close by spending time in prayer acknowledging the glory and holiness of God.