St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Isaiah’s Reaction To A Holy God

Sermon on Isaiah 6:1-8

Text: 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. 2 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. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
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.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
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!”

Have you ever met someone famous? Did you ever get the chance to shake hands with a sports hero or an actor or an astronaut or a presidential candidate? If so, what effect did it have on you? If it was someone that you liked and had a great deal of respect for, it probably left you with a feeling of awe. It’s common on televison or in books, if the character meets someone famous and shakes their hand to say, “I’ll never wash my hand again!”. Meeting someone we respect can have a lasting impression on us. This morning we read of the prophet Isaiah, who was given an opportunity to see God. Let us look at and learn from ISAIAH’S REACTION TO THE HOLY GOD. He was 1. Overwhelmed By Despair and 2. Moved To Service.

Isaiah dates the events of our text very clearly when he said, “In the year that King Uzziah died.” King Uzziah of the Southern Kingdom of Judah died in 740 B.C. In that year Isaiah was granted a most miraculous vision. He was allowed to see the Holy God. One can scarcely take in all of the things that Isaiah saw. God was seated in his holy temple, that is, heaven. He was on a high and exalted throne, showing the power and glory that are his. He was adorned in kingly clothes. His royal robe was so large that it filled the place where God was at. The robe showed the majesty that belongs to God.

Isaiah and God were not the only two that were there: “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.” (Verse 2) This is the only place in the Bible where seraphs are mentioned. They are an order of angels that attend the mighty God. We are told that they had six wings. With two wings they covered their faces. Even these heavenly beings cannot look directly at the glory of God. With two wings they covered their feet. They showed their humility before the Lord, recognizing that the Creator of all things was there. With the other two wings they flew about, hovering around God to sing his praises.

Isaiah records the words of their song for us. “They were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’” (Verse 3) This song was repeated over and over again by the seraphs. Again and again the word “holy” is used. The repetition underscores the holiness of God. When we think of the word “holy” we think of being without sin. However, that limits the meaning of the word a bit. The Hebrew word for “holy” comes from the word meaning “to separate.” There is a great difference between God and everything else. God is separated from the rest of his creation, that is to say, he exists in absolute independence from his creation. He doesn’t need his creation, but his creation is absolutely dependent on him.

It also points to the separation between God and man. God is perfect. He is perfectly powerful, perfectly wise, perfectly loving, perfectly good. He is eternal. He is sinless. He is everything to the nth degree. No one can come close to him. He is perfectly just. He doesn’t look the other way when his law is broken. God’s holiness shows that he is far and above the rest of his creation.

The angels continue their song by singing, “The whole earth is full of his glory.” All around us we see evidence of God’s power. He causes food to grow and people to live. He causes the sun and the moon to run in their courses. He has given us many evidences of his power. When men see them, they will be filled with praise for the wonderful works of God. Everything he does causes man to glorify him as the supreme and holy God.

The angels’ voices shook the very foundations of the temple in which the Lord was. Their thunderous songs of praise caused the doorposts and the thresholds to begin to shake. Smoke filled the temple. It was quite a sight for Isaiah to behold.

Listen to his reaction to the scene, “‘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.’” (Verse 5) Isaiah is filled with despair when he sees the sights and hears the sounds of this vision. His sinfulness comes clearly into focus for himself. All he can notice are his imperfections as he stands before the holy God. He sees his sins before him and realizes that he has no right to be there. Sinful man cannot stand in the presence of God. For there he realizes that he has sinned and that he is deserving of punishment. That is why he says that he was ruined. He sees that he is a sinful man and a descendent of sinful people. Isaiah is overwhelmed with despair as he sees the holy God.

Imagine, if you will, that you are going to meet someone famous, but, unbeknownst to you, a large speck of mud ended up on your clothing. When you met that person, you would be ashamed, because of that speck of mud. My friends, such is the case when we come before God on our own. We might try to meet him, dressed in our own finery, that is, our good life. However, as we stand before the holy, perfect God, we see that our finery is not what it should be. We see large holes, where we have lacked in what we should have done. We see large stains where we have done what God said should not be done.

Just, for example, we turn to Isaiah’s words, “I am a man of unclean lips.” Think of all of the ways that we misuse our mouths. First of all, in regard to God, we sometimes use language that is a misuse of God’s name. We may say all of the right things, but our hearts are elsewhere. We fail to give God the glory that is due him. We also fail to use our mouths correctly in our human relationships. Children backtalk to their parents. Husbands and wives can say hurtful things. We lie to each other. People tell off-color stories. We tell the worst about others rather then the best. My friends, indeed, we too must confess that we are a people of unclean lips. We confess that we have sinned.

Now, as we stand before the holy God, we cannot help but echo Isaiah’s words, “Woe to me! I am ruined!.” Our sins have earned eternal punishment in hell. As we stand before God, we see that all of our finery, our good lives, are nothing but filthy rags. Indeed, a feeling of shame comes over everyone who stands before God, dressed in their sinful lives.

We, easily, can understand why Isaiah would speak as he did. Yet, Isaiah gives a completely different reaction to this vision later in our text. God said, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”. Isaiah, who just moments before despaired in his unworthiness, speaks, “Here am I. Send me!”. What changed this despairing man into one who was willing to be sent by the Lord?

Isaiah speaks of something special that happened to him. After he spoke those words of despair, “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.’” God knew what Isaiah was feeling and he wanted to take care of the despair that Isaiah was feeling. He sent one of his seraphs to Isaiah. The seraph touched Isaiah’s lips with a coal that he had taken from the altar. He touched those lips that Isaiah felt so conscious about. By doing this, the seraph told Isaiah that he was cleansed from the sins of his mouth. God wanted Isaiah to know that he had been forgiven. That is why Isaiah so quickly volunteered to go and speak to the people of Judah for God. His action was a reaction to God’s loving forgiveness.

So also God does not leave us despairing in our sins. He also wants us to know that our sins have been forgiven. So, he sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Just as the seraph took a live coal from an altar, the Holy Spirit points us to another altar, the altar on which the Lamb of God was slain. He points us to the cross showing the Jesus has paid for all of our sins. He shows us that Jesus suffered the punishment that we deserved because of our sins. With the hand of faith we can reach out and take the robe washed in the blood of Christ. Because of the faith created in us, we can put this robe on, covering our filthy rags. Now, when we stand before the Almighty God, we needn’t be ashamed. Rather, we proudly wear the garment that has been given to us. We know that, because we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, eternal life in heaven is ours. We have gone from ruin to perfection, because of Jesus.

Indeed as a reaction to God’s action, we say with Isaiah, “Here I am. Send me!”. ‘Lord, use me in any way that you choose. In whatever situation I find myself in, may I be your servant, doing that which pleases you.’ My friends, we have been given something more precious than silver or gold or all the wealth of the world. The cost was the precious blood of Christ. It cost him his life. All of this has been given to us free of charge. May our lives reflect the love that God has shown to us. When we see God’s love poured out to us, may we also be moved to service.

We will meet many people in the course of our lives, some more important, some less important, in the world’s eyes. When you meet people, you will react to them. There are those whom you seem to get along with from the very moment you meet, as though you’ve known each other for years. There are others whose personality just doesn’t seem to mesh with yours. You never seem to get on the same track. We react differently to different people. Every single day, we have opportunity to meet God, both in his Word and in prayer. When we think of our sins, we react with shame. When we think of Jesus’ sacrifice, we praise our God for his love. May each of us come before him confessing and also praising God. Then our lives will be filled with service. Then we will in thanksgiving say, “Here I am. Send me!”. Amen.