Face to Face with a Holy God

Isaiah 6:1-8

Isaiah’s Commission

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim,each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“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 LordAlmighty.”

Then one of the seraphim 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.”

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!”

Dear Friends in Christ,

This coming Friday, the 3rd sequel to the blockbuster movie “Jurassic Park” which first came out in 1993 will hit the movie theaters.  It’s called “Jurassic World.”  You’ve probably seen commercials for it on TV because there have been a lot lately.  And it got me to thinking about a neat scene in the original film where Allen Grant plays a paleontologist who has devoted his entire life to the study of dinosaurs.  Nobody knows more about dinosaurs than he does.  He has catalogued them.  He has personally handled their fossils.  He can lecture for hours on them. He knows dinosaurs!  Yet he has never seen a dinosaur. But in the movie when he finally does behold the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park he is speechless.  He falls to the ground and is simply awe-struck.

It’s one thing to know about a being.  It’s an entirely different matter though to actually know that being and to be in its presence.  And perhaps nobody understood that better than the author of our text for today, the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah knew about God.  Seven centuries before Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem, Isaiah walked the streets of Jerusalem.  He was the court priest which would be comparable to the senate chaplain in our country today.  He was highly regarded and deeply respected by those who knew him.  He came from the upper class of Jewish society.  But the day he saw God, none of those lofty credentials mattered.  Instead, his reaction was much like that of the paleontologist in “Jurassic Park.”  He fell on his face, completely dumbfounded, humbled, and awe-struck by what he saw.  What caused such a response from Isaiah?  The answer, I believe, can be found in the 3 identical worship words that the seraphs proclaimed to one another in his vision. “Holy, holy, holy,” they said, “is the LORD Almighty.”

Have you ever had a similar encounter with God that left you stunned and speechless, filled with awe and amazement at this incredible Being in whose presence you found yourself?  I’ll never forget a Promise Keepers gathering I attended years ago.  It was the Saturday morning of the gathering when the band and song leaders led the packed auditorium in what could only be described as an unplanned, Spirit-led, extended time of worship that had us on our feet at times, on our knees at times, and in tears at times.  And though we did not behold God as Isaiah did in our text, we definitely felt his holy presence among us.

Well, this morning I want to spend some time examining this incredible encounter that Isaiah had with God.  And as we do so, we will discover that a proper understanding of God’s holiness leads to 3 things, just as it did with Isaiah.  It first of all leads to an admission.  And the admission is that the throne is occupied.  Notice in v. 1 of our text, Isaiah says:  “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.”  You know, we have trouble with thrones, don’t we, because we have a tendency to put the wrong thing on the throne.  May I ask you what’s on your throne this morning?  It might be a career.  It might be a person.  It might be an object.

I remember when I was a junior in high school I had an obsession on my throne. That obsession consisted of an intense desire to have my own car.  It didn’t matter to me what it looked like.  I just wanted some wheels.  And I can remember first bringing it up to my dad and even taking him to look at a car I’d heard about.  It was the ugliest thing I’d ever seen.  It was a 1950’s something vehicle that was big, black, and bulky.  If I had purchased it I would have been the laughingstock of my high school.  But I didn’t care because just the thought of owning a car was on my throne.  Well, thankfully my dad talked me out of that car, and we soon found an old ’62 Chevy that I purchased for $175.  And it felt so good and so right to have my own set of wheels.  Until I found out about things like insurance and having to pay for repairs when the brakes went out on it and when I had a little fender bender that was my fault.

You ever done that?  You ever worshiped the idea of something only to finally obtain it and find out that it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be?  Maybe you worshiped the ground he walked on and you got married and found out that he wasn’t such a prize after all.  Or maybe you worshiped the idea of a promotion at your work place, only to get it and find that a lot of stress and a lot of headaches came with that job.

The point I’m getting at is that we were created to worship something greater than a car or a person or a job.  We were created to worship One who is so big and so awesome that the train of his robe filled the temple in Isaiah’s vision of him.  Did you catch that?  Notice, Isaiah does not say that his robe filled the temple or that his throne filled the temple or even that God filled the temple.  Rather he says that the train, or the hem, of his robe filled the temple.  Can you imagine the hem of a garment filling this sanctuary?  How much larger and greater the robe must be!  And how much larger and greater must be the One who fills that robe and sits on that throne!

So my friends, as we consider the holiness of God today, we begin with the admission that the throne is occupied and that it is occupied not by you or me, but by a God much larger and much greater than we are.  That admission by Isaiah then led to a confession.  Getting back to our text, Isaiah goes on to describe more details about this scene in heaven that he is privileged to behold.  He says that there were these 6-winged angelic beings called seraphs who were flying around God’s throne.  And they were calling out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Note the 3-fold repetition of the word “holy” there.  Repetition was the Jewish way of using a yellow highlighter.  It was a way of emphasizing a thought or an idea.  Interestingly, this is the only characteristic of God that is ever given this thrice-repeated emphasis.  The Bible never says that God is love, love, love or merciful, merciful, merciful or wise, wise, wise.  Certainly he is all of those things.  But there is only one characteristic of God that is elevated, expressed, and emphasized in this 3-fold manner and that is his holiness.

In fact, I learned in my preparation for this sermon that the attribute of holiness is ascribed to God more than any of the other attributes combined.  In other words, tally up all the other attributes the Bible uses to describe God – the fact that he is merciful, gracious, loving, forgiving, faithful, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent – and references to his holiness outnumber all of them put together.  So this is obviously an important characteristic of God that is worthy of our attention.  But what exactly do we mean by God’s holiness?

Well, the Hebrew word for holy is qadosh.  It literally means “cut off, separate, unique, distinct from all others.”  Or, as I teach my Confirmation class, it means “in a class all by oneself.”  In other words, nothing and no one can come close to comparing to God.  He is not like us.  We are definitely not like him.  Now I tried to think of a way to illustrate this and finally came up with this feeble attempt so just bear with me for a few moments.  Suppose you were to take the single page insert out of your bulletin this morning and make a paper airplane out of it as I’ve done.  What’s the difference between you and that paper airplane?  Well, the difference is immense, isn’t it?  You have intellect; the paper plane has none.  You have the power and ability to move yourself; the paper plane does not.  You have desires and understanding and emotions; again, the paper plane has none of those things.

Now take that comparison and all those differences and multiply them thousands of times over and you begin to get a small idea of the huge difference between God and us.  But in reality, even this illustration falls short because you and I didn’t create the paper.  You and I didn’t create the trees out of which the paper was made.  But God did.  You see what I mean?  He is totally different than we are.  His strength is different.  His wisdom is different.  His love is different.  And I believe the emphasis of our text is that his purity is different.  And it is that which leads to Isaiah’s confession.  He says: “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.”

Did you catch what happened there, my friends?  The holiness of God had a way of highlighting and illuminating Isaiah’s unholiness, and all he can do is confess that to God – much like Peter did in our Gospel lesson before when he fell at Jesus’ feet after the miraculous catch of fish and said, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  Notice, Isaiah doesn’t make any excuses.  He doesn’t say, “It’s my parents’ fault. I had a poor upbringing or I’m a victim of my environment or I was born in the wrong nation.”  He just confesses his sinfulness to God.  And what is God’s reaction to that?  Does he say, “You know what, Isaiah?  You are absolutely right.  You are a pitiful excuse for a human being and you have no right being in my presence.  Now get out of here and never come back again!”  Is that what God does?  No!  Instead he summons an angel who takes a burning coal from the altar in the temple and presses it to the tender, sensitive lips of Isaiah, thus removing his guilt and purifying him of his sin.

And you know what, my friends?  That’s what God, in essence, does for us when we confess our sin, our unholiness to him.  Only instead of using a burning coal to purge us and cleanse us, he takes us to the cross where the power of Jesus’ blood is able and sufficient enough to cleanse us of all our sins.  And then he takes it one step further than that.  He wraps us in a beautiful robe of righteousness that Jesus earned for us through his perfect life.  And as if that isn’t enough, he does one more thing for us.  It’s the same thing he did for Isaiah in our text.  Whereas an understanding of God’s holiness leads to an admission and a confession, it also leads to a commission.  God says to Isaiah, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”   And (Isaiah) said, “Here am I. Send me!”  Having encountered the holiness of God and having received the forgiveness of God, it seemed only right and proper that Isaiah should now go out and speak for God.

And so it is with us, my friends.  God has commissioned us to do the same.  I love how the LWML pledge puts it.  It says, “We consecrate to our Savior our hands to work for him, our feet to go on his errands, our voices to sing his praises, our lips to proclaim his redeeming love, our silver and our gold to extend his kingdom, our will to do his will, and every power of our life to the great task of bringing the lost and erring into eternal fellowship with him.”   What a privilege to be commissioned by God for such a high and noble purpose!  He could have used angels or created a special order of beings to share his precious life-giving, soul-saving, eternity-impacting news with others.  But instead he chose common ordinary people like you and me to communicate to others a message that can make a difference in their life now as well as their life hereafter.

So my friends, as we encounter the holiness of God in our times of worship and as we receive the purifying forgiveness of God, let us be diligent about the pressing task that lies before us and for which God has commissioned us.  Let us say to him, “Here am I, Lord.  Send me.  Send me to my work.  Send me to my school.  Send me to my family.  Send me to my neighbors.  And use me as your instrument, as your mouthpiece to introduce others to Jesus.”