Some things we see in life have a powerful affect on us. Do you remember watching airplanes fly into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Those images stirred feelings of anger, fear and confusion. Other images evoke different emotions and reactions. Visit the nursery at a hospital. The sight of newborn babies can soften even the hardest heart. Many of nature's majestic scenes can stir feelings of awe. The sight of malnourished and impoverished children living in horrendous conditions moves us to compassion and action. Some images change us.
Isaiah had an incredible vision of God. The text before us records the events that occurred while Isaiah worshipped the Lord [he was near the altar of the Temple]. He then writes that all that transpired next was a result of seeing God: "because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" [6:5].
I wonder how we would have responded to a similar vision of God. Would we feel awe, fear, joy or peace? For Isaiah, the effect of that encounter was different from what we might imagine. Instead of elation, the prophet felt deeply unworthy.
This encounter with God raises an important question about real worship. As we worship, what would happen in us if we began to see God more clearly? The prophet experienced four outcomes, each illustrating an aspect of our relationship to God.
We will recognize our inadequacy in the sight of God - 6:5a.
"Then I said: Woe is me"
What does it mean to become spiritually aware of ourselves? Notice three aspects of this awareness.
A. Consciousness of shortcomings
We will experience a sense of reproof. Intuitively, Isaiah understood that something was wrong in his life before God. Those that worship and never sense that they are inadequate in the sight of God are just going through the motions of worship.
B. Conviction of sin
We will experience a sense of responsibility. Our capacity to blame others for our failure is enormous. But, in God's sight, we understand that our sin is not anyone else's fault.
C. Contrition of spirit
We will experience a sense of remorse. We used to call this "Godly sorrow." It is not enough to recognize sin. We must sense a brokenness over the damage that our sin has brought to our relationship with God.
In his short story, The Telltale Heart" Edgar Allen Poe casts himself as the culprit of a violent crime. Poe becomes obsessed with an old man who lives with him that has a "vulture-like" eye. To escape the eye, he decided to kill the old man. He lit the room with his lantern to find the vulture-like eyes staring at him. Poe toys with the old man. In fear the old man screams. But Poe smoothers the old man's face with a pillow and proceeds to suffocate him. He then hid the body of the old man in the dirt under of the living room floor.
Shortly after, the Police arrive to investigate a report of a scream. Poe told them that he had screamed out from a nightmare. He then invited them into the living room for tea and placed his chair directly over the spot where he had buried the body. As they chatted, Poe hears the muffled sound of a heart beat. Although the Police don't hear the sound, it grows louder and louder. Finally, he can take it no more and cries out, "I admit the deed! - tear up the planks - it is the beating of his hideous heart!"
The presence of the Police awakened an awareness of his crime. But that is nothing compared what will occur when we see ourselves in the presence of God.
We will examine ourselves differently - 6:5b.
"I am undone . . . I am a man of unclean lips"
For the first time in his life, Isaiah saw himself against the backdrop of God's glory and holiness. And when this occurred he cried out, "I am." Notice the two dimensions of his self-examination.
Our evaluation of ourselves depends on the object with which we compare ourselves.
We, like Isaiah, can make four different comparisons when evaluating our spiritual progress.
1. We compare ourselves to ourselves - our personal progress. We might say, "I'm not a bad as I used to be."
2. We compare ourselves to others. We might say, "I'm not as bad as he or she is."
Isaiah had judged others, even pronouncing "woes" upon them [5:20, 21, 22].
3. We compare ourselves to angels. We might say, "I'm not as good as the angels."
When he said, "I am a man of unclean lips," he was contrasting himself with the angels whose lips cried, "Holy, Holy, Holy." He knew he could not make that announcement with a clear conscience.
4. We compare ourselves to God. We should say, "I'm nothing in comparison to God."
Isaiah saw God "on a high and lofty throne." No doubt that vision clarified the vast difference between him [us] and God.
We must agree with God's evaluation of our lives and honestly admit our failures.
Today, the church of the living God fears honest confession. Dr. David McKenna, past President of Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, KY, calls this the "theological bluff." He writes,
"This is the contemporary ruse that makes sin a nonfatal sickness for which someone is responsible. There is the theology that objectifies our sin, the psychology that explains it, the sociology that excuses it, and the economics that pay for it." ["Mastering the OT", v.16a, 114]
But Isaiah calls our bluff. He reminds us that when we stand in the presence of the absolute and holy God, we must be honest. We must call sin by its proper name. He declares, "I am a man of unclean lips." The lips are the instrument of praise. The angels had pure lips and could sing, "Holy, Holy, Holy." Isaiah understood that his capacity to praise like the angels depended on his willingness to confess any hindrance to personal godliness.
Peter had a similar experience when He grasped the full nature of Christ. He cried, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man."
God will provide His remedy for our restoration - 6:6.
"a glowing coal . . . taken from the altar"; "the seraphim" - means "the burning ones"
Since we can do nothing to remove the stain of sin in our lives, God intervenes in response to our confession. Here we see two beautiful acts of God toward us.
A. "the glowing coal"
We see God's mercy toward us.
We deserve a fiery judgment yet God spares us. We can define mercy as God not giving us what we do deserve.
B. "the altar"
We see God's grace toward us.
In order to extend mercy God's justice had to be satisfied. Something had to die in our place on the altar. It reminds us that God paid the cost of redemption for us. This, of course, reminds us of God's ultimate sacrificial lamb -His Son Jesus. Jesus died in our place and as God's gift to us. We didn't deserve this or earn it. God simply made this provision on our behalf - we call that grace. So we could define grace as God giving us what we don't deserve.
"A story is told of Peter Miller, a plain Baptist preacher living in Ephrata, Pennsylvania in the days of the Revolutionary War. Near his church lived a man who maligned the pastor to the last degree. The man became involved in treason and was arrested and sentenced to be hanged. The preacher started out on foot and walked the all seventy miles to Philadelphia to plead for the man's life. Washington heard his plea, but he said, 'No, your plea for your friend cannot be granted.' 'My friend!' said the preacher. 'He is the worst enemy I have.' 'What!' said Washington, 'you have walked nearly seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I will grant the pardon.'"[CD]
And God has done the same for us.
God will declare our purification - 6:7.
"your wickedness is removed, and your sin is atoned"
The word "atone" in the Hebrew carries several significant meanings.
A. God cancels the debt we owe Him
A sign in a convenience store read, "Check Cashing Policy: To err is human. To forgive, $10." It's a funny way to recognize the fact that we make mistakes, but it's also evidence of the way many people think about forgiveness. This is the opposite of God. Since we could not repay it anyway, God cancels the debt.
B. God covers our iniquity that He sees it no more
"A woman summoned for jury duty said to the Judge, 'Your Honor, I can't serve on a jury. I don't believe in capital punishment.' The judge said, 'Ma'am, this isn't a capital charge so that doesn't matter. This is a case where a husband emptied out the wife's savings account of $14,000 to take a three-day weekend with his girlfriend in Atlantic City.' The woman said, 'Okay, I'll serve. And I could be wrong about capital punishment.'" Thank God, He promises to casts our sins as "far as the east is from the west."
C. God cleanses the stain and shame of sin
God removes the obstacles to fellowship with Him. In so doing He gives us peace and our guilt is gone.
D. God consumes our lives
Rev. Trueblood writes, "A good fire glorifies even the poorest fuel." [McKenna, 118]
We see this aspect of cleansing in the life of Moses at Mount Sinai. In the presence of God, Moses' face shone with the glory of God. When he descended to the camp the people saw in Moses what Moses did not see in himself. They saw God radiating from the former murderer. All of his past was consumed by the presence of God. Thus, true worship flows from a clean heart.
And this is the great work of God. He forgives those that don't deserve it.
"John Ehrlichman and Charles Colson were embroiled together in the Watergate scandal that ultimately led to President Nixon's humiliating resignation. Both men spent time in prison for the roles they played in Watergate. Colson became a Christian through this experience but Ehrlichman, a Christian Scientist, seethed in anger. For over twenty years he openly despised Colson and wrote defamatory articles against him.
Less than a year before Ehrlichman's death in 1999, Colson learned of his antagonist's failing health. The former domestic affairs adviser, whose office was once immediately above the Oval Office, was now alone in a nursing home. He was dying of renal failure, his third wife had left him, and he was alienated from his children. Into this setting, Charles Colson came and not only shared the love of Christ, but also demonstrated it as well. Ehrlichman was amazed at the forgiveness and concern offered to him by a man he had so vehemently attacked. That one-hour meeting led to Ehrlichman's journey toward God. Three months later he called Colson and told him the doctors said he wouldn't live much longer. Colson was sick at the time so he sent a good friend who led John Ehrlichman to Christ. He died shortly thereafter and entered into the presence of God because one Christian decided to extend Christlike forgiveness. Genuine forgiveness is incredibly powerful!" ["The Blessing of Forgiveness," Pastor to Pastor, Vol. 43]