Key Verse: 6:8
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!”
Isaiah is one of the Major Prophets in the Bible. We know him as the prophet who predicted the coming of the Messiah, some 700 years before the birth of Christ. Isaiah 9:6 says: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah also prophesied most vividly the suffering of our Lord Jesus for our sins. Isaiah 53:5 says: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah’s family was an upper middle class and he received good education. In his early years, Isaiah was an official under King Uzziah. Chapter 6 is his personal testimony of how God called him and how he responded to God’s high calling. Many people in history responded to God’s personal calling while studying this passage. Do you have God’s personal calling in your life? If not, may God touch your heart with his high calling as we study this passage!
I. “THE WHOLE EARTH IS FULL OF GOD’S GLORY” (1-7)
Look at verse 1. In 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. Uzziah became the ninth king of Judah at the tender age of 16 and reigned for 52 years (787-735 B.C.). At the beginning of his reign, he was humble before God. And God blessed him and his people. He extended Judah's territory and brought the nation to a time of great prosperity. He reinforced the towers of the city gates. On these towers and walls he placed huge catapults which were capable of shooting arrows and hurling stones at the enemy (2Chr 26:15). He also maintained a well-equipped army and fortified strategic places in the desert.
However, after his power had been firmly established, Uzziah became proud before God. He wasn’t satisfied with the blessings that God had given him. 2 Chronicles 26:16 says: “But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense.” Uzziah entered the temple to burn incense, which was the duty reserved only for priests. When God’s servants counseled him, he responded in anger instead of repentance. God struck him with leprosy and he remained leprous until he died (2 Chr 26:18-21). When a national leader becomes proud before God, he can lead his country into moral degradation, a tendency some of us may have noticed in recently years in our own society. I am not sure if King Uzziah kept female interns in his palace and lied about it to the people. I am not sure if there were many school shootings under his rule. Perhaps his pollsters and political strategists would dismiss such signs and say things like, “It’s the economy, stupid.” We wouldn’t know. What we do know is that in the last years of Uzziah’s reign, his nation was undergoing a moral and spiritual decline.
In fact, the long and prosperous reign of Uzziah was a mixed blessing for the people of Judah. Many of his people turned away from God. People became selfish and corrupt. The rich oppressed the poor. Young men stayed up late at night till they were inflamed with wine (5:11). Young women walked along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, tripping along with mincing steps, with ornaments jingling on their ankles (3:16). The fashion and cosmetic industries were booming. Isaiah 1:5 says that the whole head of the nation was injured and the people’s hearts were afflicted.
By the time King Uzziah died, the power structure of the region was also ominous to Judah’ national security. Only 18 years earlier, the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the invading Assyrians. Judah seemed to be at the brink of destruction as well. The Assyrian Empire was looking for every possible chance to invade Judah. Moreover, the internal corruption left the country utterly vulnerable. In this situation, many people became indifferent to their spiritual life. They struggled just to survive. Some despaired. Others gave in to their sinful desires. The leaders lost their faith in God and tried to rely on Egypt. Isaiah also wandered aimlessly without knowing what to do. The situation seemed hopeless in his eyes. It seemed that God had abandoned his people. He sighed frequently for his country’s future and said many negative things.
Isaiah must have wandered around here and there trying to overcome his despair. By chance, he strolled into the temple. What happened in the temple on that day changed his life forever. Look at verses 1-4. In 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. Above 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. 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. This was an eye-opening event for Isaiah. It taught him several things about God, about the world, and about himself.
First, God is in control. Look at verse 1 again. I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. God revealed himself to Isaiah as the one who ruled the world from his throne, high and exalted. Isaiah thought that the world was ruled by powerful kings of superpower nations such as the Assyrian Empire. Other people seemed to think so as well. The pundits within the Jerusalem beltway always paid attention to what was happening in the Assyrian Empire. The Jerusalem Post and the JNN (Jewish News Network) carried every possible angle of new developments in the Empire. The top news of the week was about the recent failed attempt for a peace agreement between Assyria and Judah. Even for domestic affairs, the media was focused more on sports and entertainment than what was happening in the temple of God.
But in the temple Isaiah discovered that history is in the hands of God, not in the hands of the Assyrian Empire. When Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, he realized that God was ruling the world according to his own good purpose. The truth that God is the Ruler of history remained in Isaiah’s heart throughout his mission life. He later proclaimed to his people, “Your God reigns!” (52:7) “Your God reigns!” These three words gave hope to the hopeless people.
Second, the whole earth is full of God’s glory. Look at verse 3 again. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah had thought that the world was full of despair, hopelessness, disgrace, blasphemy, violence, and immorality. The people were weighed down so much by the burden of life that no one thought the world was full of God’s glory. They could not see that the whole earth was full of God’s glory. In the midst of their daily struggles, they reduced and narrowed their view of God. Likewise people in our generation often narrow their view of God. They sigh frequently by looking at the mounting problems that mankind faces such as broken families, drug culture, violence, crime, AIDS, and so on as well as personal problems they have to struggle with. From a human point of view the earth is full of ugly problems and ugly people, like the Bethesda Pool we learned about this morning.
However, when we come to know God personally and learn to see the world through God’s eyes, we can have a very different perspective of the world and of ourselves. When you look at the earth from an astronaut’s vantage point, it looks so peaceful, even as storms are raging through some parts of the earth. Likewise, the basic difference between Christians and non-believers is their view of God and of the world. Some people view this earth as a place where they struggle all their life trying to make a living and as a place that may be someday destroyed by an alien invasion, a giant meteorite, or a nuclear holocaust. They may also view their own life as one who is born into this world by some accident, struggles hard just to survive, enjoys some small sinful pleasures here and there along the way, and disappears meaninglessly like morning dew. However, in God’s eyes, the whole earth is full of his glory.
Once a tragic thing happened to Mary and Martha. Their only brother got sick and was dying. When Jesus heard the news, he said that the sickness happened for the glory of God (Jn 11:4). What a different perspective of life! And indeed, God revealed his glory when Jesus raised the dead Lazarus from his tomb! Even though it seems that this world is dark, God sees many men and women of faith who love and obey him. He sees each of us as one who is here for a purpose. God sees this world and us with his eyes of hope.
Look at verse 4. At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. Isaiah personally experienced the greatness of God. Our God is holy. Our God is the Lord Almighty. His power and majesty can shake the universe. When Isaiah experienced the majesty of God, his spirit was renewed. The fear and despair of this world were dispelled from his heart. The Spirit of God filled his heart. He began to see hope and light for the world. Like Isaiah, we must experience God’s power and majesty so that we may overcome our despair and see the world with the eyes of God.
Third, “Your guilt is taken away” (5-7). Look at verse 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.” Isaiah used to think that he was a little better person than other people. But in the presence of the holy God, the first thing he realized was that he was a sinner. He found that he was a man of unclean lips and he felt like dying. Peter had a similar reaction when he realized who Jesus was. He said, “Go away from me; Lord. I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8)
It is also important for us to stand before the holy God and realize that we are sinners, before we can be healed. We tend to think that we are a little bit better than others. Some people who commit small sins would like to point out other people’s bigger sins. They would say, “I am glad I am not like them.” But sin is sin, no matter how small it may be. Sin cuts our relationship with God. If your phone line is disconnected from the phone jack, it does not matter whether the line lies half an inch away from the jack or 3 miles away. You are still disconnected from God.
Why did Isaiah say that he was a man of unclean lips? Was he like some people who have filthy mouth and cannot speak a word without uttering profanities? The words that come from a man’s lips are originated in his heart. You can tell what’s on a person’s mind by his or her spoken words. Before the presence of the Holy God, Isaiah realized that he had not used his mouth to praise God; instead, he had used it to utter only words of complaints and despair.
We also live among a people of unclean lips. Complaining and gossiping seem to be favorite pastime for many Americans. Tabloids and kiss-and-tell books make a lot of money. Just listen to what people say when they gather around. Even some Christians have the habit of saying negative things constantly, instead of praising God in all circumstances as the Bible says. However, this passage teaches us that it is sin to speak unbelieving words, let alone profanities or gossips.
When Isaiah met the Holy God personally, he realized that he was a terrible sinner. He was a sinner because he did not trust in the almighty, loving God. He had been a man of unbelief; he used his mouth to express his despair instead of praising God. But when he met God personally, Isaiah became aware of the corruption of his own heart as well as of the sins of his people. He cried out, “Woe to me.” He repented before God of his unbelief. He repented that he had had a bad influence on others by speaking unbelieving words.
What did God do for Isaiah? Look at verses 6-7. 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.” Something amazing happened to Isaiah. One of the angels touched Isaiah’s mouth with a live coal. Now, don’t try this at home. Only God can do this without giving you a second-degree burn. Besides, we don’t need a live coal; we have the cross of Jesus! Anyway, God took away Isaiah’s guilt, just like that. God atoned for his sin. His life of unclean lips was not a small matter; it was the life of sin. It was the life of unbelief. When Isaiah met God personally, he realized that his nagging life problem was not his human situation, but it was his sin. Then God took away his sin and guilt. This is a spiritual secret. God stretches out his hand of mercy upon us when we confess our sins before him. He sets us free from the bondage of our sin and guilt. He makes us a new person. With a live coal, God cleansed Isaiah’s unclean lips. From then on, Isaiah was to speak the word of God with his new lips, words such as “Have faith in God” (Mk 11:22) or “Hallelujah for the cross!”.
II. “WHOM SHALL I SEND?” (8-13)
Look at verse 8. Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” This verse reveals the compassion of God toward his people. Even though his people rebelled against him, God did not abandon them. God looked down with great sorrow upon his people who lived under the power of sin and death. They were like sheep without a shepherd. So God wanted to send them a messenger to deliver a message of hope and warning.
What was Isaiah’s response to God’s compassionate calling? Let us read verse 8 again. 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!” Isaiah responded to God’s calling immediately. How was it possible for him to accept God’s high calling so promptly? It was possible because he realized that God is in control of the world. It was possible because he was healed of his sin-sickness.
Last night, I received much grace from the testimonies of the 8 speakers; especially I was touched by Shepherdess Jennifer Roberts’. I heard her testimonies twice before and I can see that her vision in God is becoming clearer each time. She prays to become a doctor shepherdess, healing sick people with her medical training and taking care of God’s sheep with God’s word. Being a medical doctor is hard enough. So why does Shepherdess Jennifer want to carry a double cross? We know that it is because she knows the grace of God through his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus has healed her wounds and given her true meaning and direction in life. So now she can dance and sing joyfully and pray for young students earnestly.
When Isaiah was cleansed of his unclean lips, he was ready to go out and proclaim God’s mercy of healing. Isaiah was able to accept God’s calling without hesitation because he understood the heart of God toward his people. He acknowledged the broken heart of God who wanted to send someone to become a shepherd for his people.
God wanted to send Isaiah to his people with a message of repentance. Isaiah accepted God’s calling. But the people were hardened by sin and pleasure seeking life; God knew that they would close their ears to his message. God warned Isaiah about his stubborn people. Look at verses 9-10. He said, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” God did not promise an easy ministry.
Look at verse 11. Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?” Sometimes we feel like asking God the same question. For how long should we struggle with students when they don’t seem to any spiritual desires or are very proud? Some of us are beginning to have gray hairs. For how long should we go out to campus to humbly invite young people to the word of God? When Missionary Deborah goes fishing with Missionary Pauline, students begin to ask if Missionary Pauline is her daughter.
What was God’s answer to Isaiah? Look at verses 11-13. Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?” And he answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
How long must God’s servant preach the word of God? These verses tell us that there is no time limit in proclaiming the gospel. The messenger must declare God’s word to the end. It is a life-long mission. Isaiah delivered God’s word to his people throughout his life. As God had warned him, his people did not pay attention to his messages. Isaiah tried everything. He even went around naked for three years in the hope of getting their attention.
Why did the Lord send his servant to such people who would not pay attention to his message? It is because of the mercy of God. People reject God’s invitation in their sin and pride. But God is still mindful of them. He eagerly waits for his sinful people to listen to the gospel and return to him. God is the God of hope. God wants his servant to spread the message of hope to the end. Then, there will be some who repent, some who humble their hearts and listen to the word of God. Even when the world is like a cut-down tree and there seems to be no hope, God still finds some people who repent their sins and come to God. God calls them “the stump,” “the remnants,” “the holy seed.” God works through remnants. Let us read verse 13 again. “But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
Sometimes, we experience great pain in our hearts when we see our sheep run away from God’s ministry because of their desires for the world. But this passage teaches us that God works through remnants. There are always some people who repent and find their life direction in God. This is the hope of God.
I’ve known Shepherd Patrick Keenan since our days of Pittsburgh, when he played his trumpet with his bellybutton exposed. On Thursday evening, I was thankful to God for helping him to deliver the powerful opening message for this conference. He may not have achieved a lot for the last ten years, but he is precious because he is a remnant in God’s work. I pray that from the stump of Patrick will rise a beautiful branch that will bear much fruit for the Lord. Likewise we are surrounded by remnants in God like Shepherds Bruce, David, Paul, Bob, and many others.
Indeed, the work of God is the work of the remnant. Isaiah remembered verse 13 and later named his first son “Shear-Jashub” which means “a remnant shall return” (Isa 7:3). Isaiah himself remained a faithful servant to the end, delivering the message of repentance to his people whether they listened or not. His 40 years of preaching did not turn his people toward God, but it sowed the holy seed in them.
What will you say to God when God asks you, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” God has already asked the question many times at this conference. Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” He also said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” And “Get up, take your mat and walk.” God told us, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars.” Tomorrow Shepherd Paul Sambuco will speak more specifically about Jesus’ call for world mission.
Knowing God’s loving heart toward young souls of our generation, Missionary Jacob Lee would like to ask the question, “Whom shall we send? Who will go for us to pioneer the Udel (University of Delaware)?”
Praise God who uses remnants in his redemptive history. May God help
each one of us to be a remnant in God’s redemptive history! May God help
us to respond to his high calling!