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!”
I’m looking for some volunteers for next weekend. What thoughts went through your mind after I made that statement? Did you think, “I wonder what is involved?” Did you quickly mentally scan your calendar to see if you were busy then? Did some more sinister thoughts run through your mind like, “I hope he’s not looking at me.”? Some have said that there is an old rule of thumb that says you never volunteer for anything, especially if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. I guess it wouldn’t be too far from the truth to say that, at some time or another, when volunteers have been asked for, we have found excuses as to why we can’t. Some of the excuses have been legitimate, while others haven’t been. This morning, as we study the call of Isaiah, we see God asking for a volunteer. As we do so, we can also apply the situation to ourselves, as well. THE KING CALLS FOR VOLUNTEERS. 1. He Calls For Volunteers Among Sinners. 2. He Makes Volunteers With His Saving Gospel.
Isaiah gives us the time when his vision took place. It was “in the year that King Uzziah died.” That would place these events between 740 and 742 BC. Judah had experienced a time of peace and prosperity during Uzziah’s reign. King Uzziah’s death marks the beginning of the end. Even though outwardly everything was going well, judgement was on the way. Judah would even survive the Assyrian invasion, which would destroy the nation of Israel in some twenty years. However, another judgment awaited her, as the Babylonians would sweep through the land in a little less than one hundred and fifty years.
On this particular occasion, God granted Isaiah a vision of his throne room in heaven. Isaiah writes, “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Verse 1) The Lord is seated on his throne. Here the word for “Lord” has to do with his power and majesty. His regalness is shown in his kingly robes. They fill the temple.
Isaiah and God aren’t the only two who are 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) There were heavenly creatures there called “seraphim”, which is the plural of the word “seraph.” This is the only place in the Scriptures where these heavenly creatures are mentioned. We take note of their six wings. With two wings, they covered their faces. Even these heavenly creatures cannot look directly at the most holy God. They covered their feet with two wings. This was a sign of their humility. They recognized their place.
As these seraphim flew, they were singing a song of praise to God. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Verse 3) The idea behind “holy” is not just the absence of sin. Basically, it means “a separateness.” First of all, God exists in complete independence from his creation. He is not dependent on us for anything. He is also completely separate from his creation, in regard to time. God stands outside of time. He always has been, always is and always will be. He is completely powerful. There is nothing that he cannot do. In other words, as the divine and eternal Creator, the Lord God is simply unique, without equal, without a peer.
As the angels were singing this song of praise to God, we are told, “The doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” (Verse 4) The temple shook as the song was being sung. Smoke filled the temple. In Revelation 8:3&4, we read, “Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” This smoke of the prayers of the saints, together with the singing of the angels filled the temple.
Isaiah experienced this vision with all of his senses. He saw the glory of God. He heard the song of the seraphs. He felt the temple shake at the sound of the angel’s song. He smelt and, perhaps even to an extent, tasted the smoke that was rising. Isaiah was there, before the almighty, holy God. Now, put yourself in Isaiah’s place. How would you have reacted to all of this? What thoughts would have been racing through your mind as you stood in the presence of the holy God?
Listen to Isaiah’s reaction. “‘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) All Isaiah could do was to see his sin. He spoke about the sins of his mouth. More than that, he recognized that he lived among a people with unclean lips. When Isaiah stood in the presence of the holy God, he was filled with awe, but also with terror! He fully expected to die. God’s holiness threatens the sinner with eternal separation and punishment.
Does this same thought fill our minds when we stand before the almighty God? Do we have the same reaction as Isaiah? Look at your life in the light of God’s law. Look at how God wants us to use our mouths. Compare that to how we often use our mouths. For example, we read in James 3:9&10, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” The same mouth that praises God is also used to speak badly about other people or tell lies to or about them. The mouth that is to give glory to God is used to tell stories that have no place being told. The mouth that God wants us to use to build one another up is used to hurt someone else’s feelings. That’s just our mouths! Add to it our actions and our thoughts. Stand in front of God in all of his holiness with your actions, thoughts and words. When we do this, we cannot help but say with Isaiah, “Woe to me! I am ruined!” We know that, because of our sins, we deserve an eternal separation from our God in the fires of hell.
What if God left Isaiah in that state – trembling, overcome with grief? How horrible that would have been for Isaiah! Yet, God shows his mercy in verses 6&7, “Then one of the seraphim 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.’” Those very lips that Isaiah had languished over were touched with a coal from the altar, where sacrifices were made for the sins of the people. When that was done, Isaiah was told that his guilt was taken away and his sin was atoned for. In other words, that sin was gone. It no longer stood between God and Isaiah. God came to Isaiah and told him that his sin was forgiven.
By God’s grace, we also have been given this message. Our sins have been forgiven. Please note that it was not by anything that we did. Just as Isaiah did not reach out and take the coal and touch his own lips with it, we do not reach out to God to take forgiveness. No human hand can reach out to the holy God. The vast separation between sin and God’s holiness is too great. God must reach across the differences between his own holiness and human sin. That is exactly what God did when he sent his Son to be our Savior. Because God demands holiness, and we cannot do it, Jesus was holy in our place. God has demanded that blood be shed to pay for that sin. Paul reminds us in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” However, rather than exacting this from us, God sent his Son to die for us. Jesus Christ, the innocent Lamb of God, was punished in our place. He suffered the very torments of hell for us. This was all without any merit on our own. Again Paul wrote in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus Christ lived for us and he died for us, so that our sins, including the sins of our mouths would be paid for. Then, to show us that our sins had indeed been paid for, Jesus rose from the dead. With these acts, Jesus tells us in unmistakable terms, “Your sins are forgiven.” He gave sinners the cleansing that they needed, with the guilt forever gone and all infractions against God’s law covered by his grace.
Perhaps, we do not have anything as visually dramatic as an angel touching our lips with a live coal to tell us that our sins have been forgiven. Yet, God comes to us in just as special a way, when a child is brought into the family of God through the washing of Baptism. There God says, ‘You are mine. I have forgiven you.’ God comes to us when we read his Word, and see his great love in sending Jesus to be our Savior. Jesus comes to us through his body and blood together with the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper and tells us, ‘This is for you. I died for you. You are forgiven.’ Rather than leaving us tremble before him because of our sins, God comes to us and assures us time and again, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Isaiah continues his account by saying, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’” (Verse 8) God was looking for someone to go out for him on a task. What was Isaiah’s response? “And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’” (Verse 8) What a difference! Just moments before, he had been cowering because of his sins. Now, he stands up to volunteer to do whatever it was that God wanted him to do. What caused the change? The answer is the knowledge that he was forgiven. Courage replaced fear. Willingness replaced the sense of unworthiness. We, also, take note of the fact that Isaiah didn’t even know what God was asking him to do. He just wanted to do whatever it was, because he wanted to thank God for the knowledge that his sins were forgiven. It turns out that God had a message for Isaiah to deliver. It would not always be what the people wanted to hear, but it was the message that they needed to hear.
The Lord still calls out to us today. “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” May God move us to answer as Isaiah did, out of thanksgiving for all that he has done for us. For some, this call might take the form of the public ministry, as it did with Jesus’ disciples, when he called them to be fishers of men. If the Lord wants to use you in this way, you have the assurance that God places you wherever it is that he wants you to be.
Yet, it is not only pastors and teachers who have this call for volunteers to go for God. We all do. We serve God in whatever capacity that he has placed us. Whether it be as a husband or wife, parent or child, student, employer or employee, God has work for us to do. Sometimes, it may be that God calls upon us to do some things that may not seem pleasant at the time. Look at Isaiah. His task wasn’t always easy, but he knew this was what God wanted him to do. He did so gladly, because he knew his sins were forgiven. May that same motivation be there for us as we serve our Lord.
Earlier this morning, as I asked for volunteers, I’m sure that we could all come up with excuses as to why we couldn’t serve. Some of them may have been legitimate. Many probably would not be. The King calls for volunteers. There are many excuses why we can’t. Look at some of the great leaders of the Bible. They came up with excuses, at first, too. For example, there was Moses. God called him to lead the people out of Egypt. He came up with all sorts of excuses why he couldn’t. He wasn’t important enough. He didn’t know whom to say was sending him. ‘What if they don’t listen to me?’ ‘I’m not a good speaker.’ For every one of Moses’ excuses, God gave him an answer. Finally, God told him to go and do it. Our King calls for volunteers. What makes this so amazing is that he is looking for volunteers from sinners like you and me. Yet, he makes us volunteers through the saving message of his Gospel. May it be then, my dear friends, when our King calls for volunteers to serve him, we are led, out of thankfulness for all that he has done for us, to say with Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me!” Amen.
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