Isaiah 6:1-8 (ESV)

  • In the year that King Uzziah died, 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!”
  • And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “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!”
  • Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
  • And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Introduction

Sometimes you lose your keys. Other times you forget your iPhone. But can you misplace God? This is what I mean.

There is no more frightening feeling for a child than losing sight of his parents in a strange place. I remember losing Aunt Eva in a department store. I was terrified. It seemed like hours passed. But in only a few moments, she found me. Later, I would lose sight of her again. As I left on a prodigal journey, I misplaced Aunt Eva (more, properly, I misplaced her teachings). But she never misplaced me. In the fullness of time, I came back. I became the man (I hope) she prayed for me to be by returning to her (actually, by turning to her God). I remember putting my head on her lap and crying for close to a year. Her presence brought healing and direction. As it turned out, I might have misplaced Aunt Eva, but she never ever lost me.

I must admit: I have had seasons in my life when I wandered away from God. Usually, like Israel, there were sparkling trinkets that promised to fulfill my desire for ambition, self-affirmation, security, or another ordinary human desire that only our Creator can sufficiently meet. I suspect you know what I am talking about.

The truth of the book of Isaiah is that while Israel misplaced God, God never lost Israel. Even though they would not listen, God mercifully announced that a Savior would appear. The stump of what was once a great vine would grow. There would be new life to arise out of the despair of sin and judgment.

Isaiah Chapter One, verses three and four, declares that while a donkey knows his master’s feed-trough, Israel had lost their dependence upon God.[1] How do we put it, “You forgot where your bread is buttered!” Ancient Israel was the recipient of a Promise, a Covenant, that would bring forward a Messiah to save the world. The People’s unfaithfulness jeopardized the plan of redemption of God’s creation. So, God called the Prophet Isaiah to an incredible mission: call the People to repentance and give the hope of Christ to purify the Chosen People. The extraordinary event that accompanied that call to Isaiah is the text before us: how God would go about reaching Israel by arranging an extraordinary meeting with Isaiah. And in that meeting that happened in the Temple, we have a glimpse of not only heaven but an insight into how God’s commanding presence changes our lives. When we meet God, things happen.

There are three remarkable changes that we may pray for our in our own encounter with God.

The first personal transformation you experience from an encounter with God is this:

When You Meet God, You Encounter Perfected Glory

This passage is one of the most remarkable in all of Holy Scripture. It is noteworthy for the scene of magnificent, ethereal, beautification glory. It is the full cosmic weight of blinding light purity centered in the very creator of all of the universe. The glory is to be noted that it appears in history. The prophet marks this experience by a sort of journaling. “In the year that King Uzziah died.” He also marks this experience by what he saw: he saw the Lord sitting upon a throne the high and lifted up in the train of his robe filled the temple. Could he have seen the pre-incarnate second person of the Holy Trinity? It is hard to be theologically precise when you’re dealing with such a vision. However, the fuller revelation of Scripture would tell us that, indeed, this was the Son of God.

This was very similar to the vision that St. John described in the book of Revelation. And we remember that Jesus Christ said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus that all of the Scriptures are about him. The angelic beings which hover over the throne of God in ceaseless doxology are described with six wings covering the face, the feet, “and with two he flew.” Not only do they cover mysteriously and magnificently over the Almighty God, but cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of host; the whole earth is full of his glory!” On this Trinity Sunday we see these words and apply them to the triune God: three persons in one.[2] We would be wise to keep the counsel of Calvin who cautioned using this single antiphonal song as a proof text for the Trinity.[3]

There are many others which are more direct and reliable in any defense of the Trinity before others. As Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield talked the Holy Trinity is a doctrine that appears in time, across divine revelation, until at length we have the fullness of the doctrine from the lips of Jesus Christ himself.[4] But what can be saidis that there is wonder and there is mystery in this scene that surpasses all human imagination. What did the apostle Paul say?

But, as it is written,

  • “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 ESV).

We do not have to become mystical at this point. The glory of God that Isaiah witnessed in this transcendent vision is now fully appropriated to the person of Jesus Christ. We remember that Peter, John, and James saw the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Savior who came to earth in a manger and who had no place to lay his head was the fullness of this transcendence. Upon his ascension into heaven, he revealed himself to the Apostle John, and we read in the book of Revelation:

  • “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:12-16 ESV).

The means of grace — Word, Sacrament, and Prayer — are the God-ordained pathways to experience this glory in this life. No, we shall not know the undiluted and full transcendent and majestic beauty — the weight of pure perfection and blinding-white-light holiness — until we stand before the Almighty. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we come to sense and in some way to taste his glory as the Holy Spirit applies the word of God to us individually. Have we not seen his glory in the heavens? Have we not seen his transcendence in the sparkling light of the newborn babe? Have we not known his Majesty in the love of husband and wife? These are but hints at the greater glory. We have a Word more sure.

Isaiah could never be the same after this. In a way, he had to experience this before he could begin his great journey. And I know of no preacher who ever set out to preach and did so with power unless he had first met the living God in the Scriptures.

I know of no believer who can be sustained through the difficulties and trials of life unless that Christian has come face-to-face with God through the power of the Holy Spirit in his word. You say, “but how do I do this?” And I say to you “you do not do anything yourself. It is God who reveals himself to you even as he did to Isaiah.” I’m saying to you that the means of grace that God has given unto us was the sure and infallible pathways to the celestial doorsteps of God’s abode. And that pathway and that door are open to you only through faith in the living Jesus Christ. My question to you is this: “Have you paused from the frantic activities of this world to ask God to reveal himself to your spirit?” Are you so caught up in the busyness of life that you cannot find time to read the Bible, enter into contemplation and meditation upon the person of Jesus? “Be still and know that I am God” remains the constant counsel to and threshold to Glory for those who seek him.

The second personal transformation you experience from an encounter with God is this:

When You Meet God, You Encounter Piercing Humility

When I say, “piercing humility,” I am speaking of what we observe in the passages from verse four to verse five. With moving metaphysical description, this prophet of Israel seeks to portray his witness of the Almighty. He writes, “The foundations of the threshold shook at the voice of him who called. The house was filled with smoke.” This mortal witnesses this majestic scene, and then cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of the people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of host!”

Whenever we come face-to-face with the Lord Almighty we begin to see who we are and who he is and we are, like Isaiah, undone. Return with me again the apocalyptic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John and note, carefully, the response of John. Yes, John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” The close friend of Christ in his life on earth. How close? Jesus charged John to take care of His blessed Mother. Yet, despite such filial love, what does John do when he comes face-to-face with the Almighty? The Bible says that John fell on his face as if he were a dead man.

  • “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died and behold I am alive forever, and I have the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17 – 18).

My beloved in Christ, I have often pondered the situation of the American church and, indeed, the Western church in our day. I wonder if we who are called the Church have truly seen the glory of God? I wonder if we who claim His name have come to an encounter with the living and resurrected Christ? If so, how could we go before him so casually, so confidently, and so filled with ourselves? How is it that theology, yes even in our Reformed churches, seems boastful and confident in itself?

I can only reason that we have not honestly encountered the living God in the Scriptures. For, to meet the living God is to experience a piercing humility in our person, in our thinking, and in our actions, and, indeed, in every area of our existence. And, yes, this piercing humility influences the way we approach God in worship. An encounter with the resurrected Christ shapes the way we live. Such a glorious meeting controls our tongue. Such a time with God guides our decisions.

Have you come to know this living Christ in the Scriptures? Will you not leave this present evil age for only a moment and consider the vision that Isaiah gives to us in this passage? Would you not consider the vision of the Apostle John? Would you not believe that some have encountered this piercing humility and it changed their lives? Of course, we think of those like Martin Luther or John Wesley or George Whitfield or Billy Graham. These are well-known cases. This same piercing humility has been the experience of many believers throughout history. Our mothers and our fathers in the faith came to see who they were and who God was in the Scriptures and they ordered and shaped their lives and their civilization according to this vision. I tell you the truth if we come to know this glorious God our lives will change.

The third personal transformation you experience from an encounter with God is this:

When You Meet God, You Encounter Prioritized Living

In verses 6 – 8 we have the climactic movement in this series of events in Isaiah’s vision of the Lord. Isaiah is undone. He recognizes his sinfulness in the presence of blinding light purity and holiness. But we read these words, and they are words of graciousness and mercy:

  • “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away; in your sin atoned for.”

If we only experience the fear of God without the mercy of God, we would be immobilized by the vision. But just as the angel in this passage demonstrates with unforgettable symbolic actions the cleansing of the prophet by the mercy of God coming from the very altar of God, so Jesus would tell John in the book of Revelation, “but he laid his right hand on me, saying, they are not…” (Revelation 1:17b).

This powerful passage is a picture of the saving mercy of God come down to humanity in the person of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. It shows his kindness and his love and his desire to cleanse us from our sin. And what happens?

When Isaiah receives the forgiveness of God, the prophet recognizes that God desires a relationship with him even though there is a vast cosmic distance from God’s holiness to Isaiah’s condition. It is in this place of recognition that Isaiah receives his vocation. Instead of commanding that Isaiah go to the people of Israel and declare God’s word, the thundering sound of the voice of God comes to Isaiah and reverberates throughout heaven and through the mind and heart of Isaiah, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” We see the evidence, if not the hint, of three Persons in one God. God says “whom shall I send” and who will go for “us?” Once more, we are humble in our interpretation of this mysterious mixture of pronouns. We recognize the Trinity from the fullness of the word of God, and it may very well be that there is a primordial hint at the reality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons in one God. What I desire you to see from this part of God’s word is that God calls out to Isaiah with the question.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said,

  • “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hears my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me:” (Revelation 3:20 KJV).

When we move from the God of glory to the God of mercy, and we experience this God in our person every facet of living is now transformed in such a way as we must prioritize the answer to the question. “Who will go?” There is no other response but Isaiah’s response, “Here am I! Send me.”

This reply is not only the response of the preacher or missionary or some other vocational minister. This reply is the response of the sinner who says “I will receive you, Lord Jesus Christ. I repent and turn to you and you alone.” It is the response of every believer who has encountered the holiness of God and the mercy of God. How can we say anything but “Here am I! Send me.” Send me to do your will in my workplace. Send me to do your will and my family. Send me throughout all the days and the years of my life to serve you in such a way as when I stand before you I will hear, “well done, thou good and faithful servant.” There is no other response but prioritizing God in all of our lives when we experience his mercy.

Perhaps you don’t know the fullness of his mercy because you don’t know the extent of his Majesty. Maybe you do not know his mercy because you have never moved from the fear of his glory. Today is the day where you are a witness to the vision of Isaiah in your own life. Today is the day when you say, “Oh my God, you are so glorious, and I am a sinner. But you have sent your only begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, from the very altar of Paradise and through the power of the Holy Spirit your forgiveness has seared the sinful nature of my soul. You have cleansed me by covering me with the righteousness and the atonement of your only begotten Son. I yield my life to you.”

Conclusion

So, we, also, experience the vision of God through his word and the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. The transforming vision of God changes us. And when we meet our Lord Jesus Christ we, also, experience the transformative consequence: as perfected glory moves us to a piercing humility that brings about prioritized living.

I once preached at Chapel in the south of Wales. I was to preach at 6 o’clock in the evening. I went into the narthex of this lovely chapel and there I met the pastor. He was the quintessential Welsh preacher with a Dylan Thomas-like command of the English language, and an oratorical presentation that sounded like the wind dancing darkly through the hills and the valleys of that quaint and beautiful countryside. I was excited that I had the opportunity to preach in this church.

The area was significant for the Welsh revivals of the early 1900. The pastor greeted me and he asked me to go to the door separating the narthex from the sanctuary. There was a window — a sort of portal — and he asked me to look through there to see how many people had come “to hear the American preacher.” I peered through the thick antique glass. I saw no one. I looked in the pews of the nave, I looked up into the seats in the balcony, but there was no soul in that sanctuary. My host stood, head cocked for an answer, and arms folded in waiting.

The old Welsh pastor was toying with me like a clever old Welsh cat and a feeble American mouse. The preacher asked me, “Well, how many valley people have come to hear you?” I knew that I had been tricked. I replied with some mild humiliation, “There are, of course, no people whatsoever. But you already knew that, didn’t you?” The Welshman put his arm around my shoulder, moved closer to me, and he looked at me as a father might look at his son when he is about to give him advice. The preacher spoke in whispering tones, “My dear brother in Christ, in 1967 Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones came. ‘The Doctor’ stood where you are standing now. The great surgeon-turned-preacher also gazed through that very window and he saw a sanctuary filled with people who had come to hear the renowned Doctor. He turned to me, for I was the pastor even then, and he told me that he would not preach. I said to him, ‘Dr. Lloyd-Jones, these humble people have come from the valleys all over your own home country to hear you.’ He looked me in the eye and he spoke somewhat sternly, “Do you think that I have some sort of power of my own? Unless this sanctuary is emptied, and the people go down to the basement to seek God in prayer I shall not preach. Cry out for the anointing of the Holy Spirit so that this room may become a sanctuary and our lives may become receptacles for the Spirit of God. Then, and only then, will anything that I preach have eternal value. Then and only then, will we be able to hear from God.’”

At that point, the Welsh pastor invited me to follow him down to the basement. Halfway down the stairs, I begin to hear the faint voices of supplication. I was stunned as I heard my own name spoken. I stood still on the stairway and sensed the presence of Another. “Come, Mr. Milton,” the Welsh preacher encouraged. So, I resumed my downward journey through the narrow stairway. As we arrived at the basement, a most humble room with just a few chairs, I saw a sight I shall never forget: men and women and boys and girls on their knees; some on their faces to the floor; others in groups of twos and threes. Some of the intercessors were in prayer alone. But all of them were praying “for God to come down.” I heard that very phrase repeatedly. It was only after the prayers were completed that the group of one hundred climbed the narrow stairway passage, took their seats in the sanctuary, many still in worship. Then, and only then, we began the worship service. And you can imagine that I preached that night with a renewed sense of the presence of God.

We ask ourselves how we can be better witnesses for Christ? How can the Church be strengthened to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ in this present evil age? We ask ourselves how the church can have a more significant impact on the culture? The answer, my dearly beloved, is not in some ingenious methodology or in a new way to conduct church or in anything of the sort. The answer to the question of power in the Christian life and in fulfilling the mission of God in the world is, now as in Isaiah’s day, a fresh encounter with the living God. Such a meeting is available to you today, but it will require something of you. God is calling you to listen to his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who says, “Come up here . . .” (Revelation 4:1 ES).

Commit today to take the time in your life to put your mind on the things that are above. Commit in your life today to separate yourself, if only for a short while each day, to seek God and his word. When you approach the table of the Lord’s Supper, pause to gaze with the eyes of your praying soul upon Jesus Christ dying on the cross for you. When you see the baptismal waters of the Covenant of Grace dripping from the heads of God’s children, close your eyes and give thanks to God has washed you in his forgiving grace.

Dear friend, often speak to God in prayer through all of the days of your life, so that on the day when you are translated from this life to the next you will come upon a vision of God that you have been anticipating all of your life. This is what happens when you meet God. Everything changes.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Calvin, J., and Calvin Translation Society. Commentary on Isaiah, 1850-53.1850. https://books.google.com/books?id=Qzi4AxJbzysC.

House, Paul R. “Isaiah’s Call and Its Context in Isaiah 1-6” (n.d.): 16.

Labuschagne, Jacobus (Kobus) P. “Calvin and Mission.” HTS Theological Studies 65, no. 1 (January 2009): 0–0. Accessed May 26, 2018. http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_abstract&pid=S0259-94222009000100078&lng=en&nrm=iso&tlng=pt.

Pringle, William, and John Calvin. Commentary on the Book of the Prophet of Isaiah by John Calvin. Vol. 1. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

Warfield, Benjamin B. “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity.” The Works of Benjamin B Warfield Volume II (1929): 133–172.

Endnotes

[1] “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged” (Isaiah 1:3,4 ESV).

[2] William Pringle and John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet of Isaiah by John Calvin, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 205.

[3] “Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts. The ancients quoted this passage when they wished to prove that there are three persons in one essence of the Godhead. I do not disagree with their opinion; but if I had to contend with heretics, I would rather choose to employ stronger proofs; for they become more obstinate, and assume an air of triumph, when inconclusive arguments are brought against them; and they might easily and readily maintain that, in this passage, as in other parts of Scripture, the number “three” denotes perfection. Although, therefore, I have no doubt that the angels here describe One God in Three Persons, (and, indeed, it is impossible to praise God without also uttering the praises of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit,) yet I think that it would be better to employ more conclusive passages, lest, in proving an article of our faith, we should expose ourselves to the scorn of heretics.”

[4] Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity,” The Works of Benjamin B Warfield Volume II (1929): 133–172.