1941. You don't have to be in your sixties to know the most memorable event of that year. Even the calendar date is common knowledge: December 7 - the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
1963. If you were more than two or three years old on November 22, 1963, you remember where you were when you first heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas.
2001. It's a date so near to our own - with so many of its events and happenings still fresh in our memories - we haven't yet gotten used to a year in our decade having historical significance. But mention the numbers 9-11, and each of us can recall a memory that stands ominously above all the others
The prophet Isaiah had a memorable date like that in his life. He simply called it "the year that King Uzziah died" (Isa.6:1).
If you were to ask Isaiah about the main thing that happened to him "the year that King Uzziah died" - though he, too, shared the same deep emotions of disbelief as his fellow countrymen - he'd have only one thing to say: "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple" (Isa.6:1).
Now that's a vision from God!
A Fresh Vision. Isaiah knew this was no ordinary walk in the park. He had seen God! He had seen his glory! He had seen something not everyone is open enough to the ways of God to experience!
Life under the lordship of Christ is exuberant and exciting. Sure, it's often filled with risks and dangers to our comfort zones, but it explodes with opportunities to serve and to grow. It's a daily adventure in the Master's service, complete with more joyful, unexpected experiences in a year than some people enjoy in a lifetime.
But it all starts with seeing God in a fresh, new way - looking at God through eyes like Isaiah's, willing to do whatever he asks, willing to follow him no matter how much it costs. Like Isaiah, there are several things we can do so that The King and I will be more than the title of an award-winning Broadway play. It will be the description of an unbelievable relationship between you and the King of kings.
I. Contemplate the holiness of the King
Mouth agape, Isaiah watched in stunned silence as the Lord appeared on his throne, encircled by the awesome sight of seraphim - "flaming ones" - who cried aloud to one another, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory."
Holy, Holy, Holy. Let's first establish who Isaiah was seeing on the throne. The apostle John quotes the prophet's words from Isaiah 6, which foretold that many people would see Jesus with their eyes but not believe on him with their hearts. Then John summarizes the passage by announcing, "Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory and spoke about Him" (John 12:41).
The Lord seated on his throne in the Old Testament, then, was none other than the Jesus we see in the New Testament - the Lord Jesus Christ.
And what were the words the angels were repeating in Jesus' presence? "Holy, holy, holy!" Seven out of every twelve references to the name of God in the Old Testament refer to him with the adjective holy - that's more often than any of the other descriptions of him put together!
Above all else - he is holy.
The chief attribute of God is not his virtual power. The seraphim were not shouting, "Omnipotent! Omnipotent! Omnipotent is the Lord of hosts!"
The chief attribute of God is not his visual perception. The seraphim were not shouting, "Omniscient! Omniscient! Omniscient is the Lord of hosts!"
The chief attribute of God is not his visible presence. The seraphim were not shouting, "Omnipresent! Omnipresent! Omnipresent is the Lord of hosts!"
When the angels looked at God, they just saw "holy, holy, holy!"
The main tool for creating emphasis in Hebrew poetry is the element of repetition. In the same way that we might underline or italicize a word, perhaps put it in boldface type or stamp it with an exclamation point, 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 attribute of God is lifted to such a superlative degree in the Bible. Only one of his countless character traits is treated to such heights of honor.
As big as God's heart is, the Bible never says that he is "love, love, love."
As sweet as God's 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."
God is in control. The seat of authority that Uzziah had occupied for five decades sat vacant. The stability he had represented in the eyes of his people was now being shattered by the approaching armies of the north and the real awareness that the national outlook was bleak. Yet while the throne in Judah was empty, God was showing Isaiah that the throne in heaven was full.
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.
Even in our day - with the threats of terrorist attacks and smallpox epidemics, with militant homosexuality and cultural dissipation, with increasing persecution and spiritual hostility - God appears to us through the pages of his Word to remind us that he is on the throne.
When the plane hits the tower, God is in control. When the doctor says you have cancer, God is in control.
When the boss says, "You're fired!" - God is in control.
No matter what we face in life, our holy God has already measured its impact, has already restrained it from being more than we can bear, and has already transformed it into a testimony to his glory.
God is in control.
II. Confess your sinfulness to the king
No sooner had Isaiah seen this awesome display of God's holiness than his hands went up to shield his face, tears of shame filled his eyes, and - almost before he knew what he was saying - he burst out with the words,
"Woe is me, for I am undone! Because 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." (Isa.6:5)
When Isaiah saw the Lord in his holiness, he saw himself in his sinfulness.
When Isaiah saw the Lord in his holiness, he saw himself in his hellishness.
When Isaiah saw the Lord in his holiness, he saw himself for who he really was.
If you were to have asked people on the street what they thought of Isaiah, they'd have told you he was a man of unquestioned integrity and moral righteousness, the epitome of personal holiness and a paragon of virtue.
If you were to have asked Isaiah (before this encounter, at least) what he thought of himself, he'd have probably shifted his feet a little, ducked his head in customary humility, and told you . . . well . . . he wasn't perfect by any means, but he figured he was a pretty good old fellow.
After just one glance at the holy God, however, Isaiah came clean with his filthiness. It took deity to reveal his dirtiness. It took God to reveal his guilt.
And it will always be the same with us.
The trouble with me. Many years ago, The Times of London ran 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, generating opinions from readers all over the world. Some of the views came from well-known and highly respected members of society, all intent on answering the unanswerable question of what makes the world a difficult place in which to live.
One day a letter arrived from the great Christian philosopher and author G.K. Chesterton. His entry was brief and to the point:
And with that, the case was closed. Everyone realized that he had hit the nail on the head. The problem is our sin.
But the news gets better. God has an answer.
One of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged."(Isa.6:6–7)
Boy, does that feel better - not that it required such a precious sacrifice from God's throne to pay the penalty we owed on our sin, not that the price of Christian faith is the burning away of our old flesh - but that God has supplied a remedy.
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, forgiven heart.
Bring on the burning.
III. Commit to usefulness for the King
When God chooses to use us in his service, it's not because he's seen something in us that's worthy of being tapped for his purposes. It's not because he needs a guy with our credentials working for him.
What he sees is his own holiness . . . and a few clean vessels that are willing to let his love pour into and out of them at the bidding of the Master.
Clean vessels. I have always loved the passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul illustrates this so well:
"For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who commanded the 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" (2 Cor.4:5–7 NKJV).
Until we have lowered the assessment of our own value to the level of an "earthen vessel," we can be of little or no use to the Father. 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's considered intact and invaluable on the outside but dirty on the inside is of no value to him. But even a broken vessel - if it's been scrubbed clean by God's grace - can be put into a place of his choosing and used to refresh all who come near.
So Isaiah's humiliated pride is not the end of his life's story, as it might have been if God had just been trying to pull rank on his subjects. No - God's loving, merciful desire is to get his people where he can equip and use them. Thus, when we come to the end of ourselves, we arrive at a whole new beginning.
You see, after the confession comes the cleansing. And after the cleansing comes the calling.
Here am I. Let's hear Isaiah tell it:
I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me."(Isa.6:8)
"Here am I."
Not "there he is, send him."
Not "here am I, but send the pastor."
Not "here am I, but send the missionary."
Not "here am I, but send the seminary-trained professional."
Not even "here am I, but send anyone else."
Isaiah said it the only way someone can honestly say it when they've seen God's holiness and been sickened at their own sinfulness: "Here am I, Lord. Send me."
What about me? Some people would argue that this kind of selfless surrender is no way to chart your path through life. How could anyone, they might say, find their personal destiny by putting it all in someone else's hands?
Those who are in a little closer proximity to the church, who know how to phrase their objections with the right kind of spiritual terminology, might put it this way: "I do believe we should love God and strive to do what's right, but I've seen people who take their faith too far. They've become too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good." If we are honest with ourselves, we will see that our opinions are sometimes similar. Hearing temptation talk in our own heads, we know what it's like to think, I know God demands my total surrender, but I don't see how that will leave me time to take care of all the things that are important to me and my family. I mean, I'm ultimately responsible for them and for myself. I can't just quit work or be away from home every night doing God's business, can I?
Good questions. But let me put it to you this way: The only path to a personally blessed life (and I use the word only very deliberately) is through full submission to Christ's lordship. You can try another way, but I can guarantee its failure.
The Lord Jesus Christ is our suzerain 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 afresh. When we do, we become kingdom-minded. Then we are truly in the driver's seat.
Because whatever the King desires is best for the kingdom. Whatever is best for the kingdom is best for the church. And whatever is best for the church will be best for me.
It is my prayer that we, his subjects, will crown him King moment by moment so that with his power and by his grace we can get on with kingdom business!