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Isaiah 6: Isaiah's Call and the Call of Christ Print E-mail
Sunday, 26 October 2008

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When I was in college one of my assignments was to write a paper that described God’s call on my life. I began it like this:

The day had been long and hard. In fact, the week had been a constant battle since the buzzing alarm that broke my slumber on Monday morning rang out its dreadful cry. The first days of high-school were just around the corner for me and preparation had to be made. Insurance policies, proof of vaccinations, schedule for classes, and every other piece of information possible had to be turned in immediately to the office of my new school. Supplies had to be bought, transportation arranged, and friends had to be consulted over the issue of proper dress for freshmen orientation. Not to mention that I had to practice basketball and lift weights daily to meet the requirements of my new coach. Indeed it had been a long week and it was only Wednesday, Wednesday night to be exact. I would never have guessed that things would happen the way they did.

That night, it was my turn to lead Bible study at my church for the youth. This was an activity that I had been able to do a few times and I assumed tonight would be no different. The beginning of the study went as planned, Then, something miraculous happened. About half way between my second and third point a briht glowing light filled the room. Everyone, including myself, was immediately silenced. A tremendous fear mixed with an overwhelming peace flooded my being. A voice like no other that ever graced my ears broke into the silence and began to speak saying: ‘William, preach the word!!’

The next line read: ‘Now before I stumble into the pit of blasphemy I must admit that my calling did not happen this way.’ I went on to talk about the fact that most callings don’t happen like the ones in the Bible (no visions or audible voices). Yet, as we look this morning at Isaiah’s description of his call, I do think we can find some similarities to our own. Thus, I want to begin by looking at his description and close with some thoughts about our own general calling from Christ.

For the first time since the first verse, Isaiah gives us a historical marker in his book. He tells us that this vision and his calling took place in the year that King Uzziah died. The King’s death could be dated around 740 and represents the growing difficult situation in Judah due to threatening Assyria, which would see this as a good time to strike. From here, Isaiah goes on to describe his calling. So, how does he do this?

First, he describes the One who calls (v. 1-4).

Imagine with me this morning the roof of our sanctuary being split down the middle and peeled back. As this happens, a great smoke rushes in and fills the whole room. Then a blindingly bright light begins to descend upon us and we know (because how could we not know) that the Holy One of Israel is giving us a vision of Himself. We look to see what He is wearing and all we can do is see the train, or hem, of His robe, which cannot even fit in this space. Then we see two flaming angels standing on either side of the Lord calling out to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory. As they speak, our pews begin to rattle and shake and the whole room trembles at the weight of God’s glory.

This is the type of vision that Isaiah has. Look at verses 1-4 with me. Isaiah tells us that the Lord is seated upon a throne and that He is high and lifted up. The description of the Lord’s clothing is odd, but it seems to communicate that the room couldn’t even contain what the Lord was wearing. He describes the beings who are calling out to each other as ‘seraphim.’ This term could be reference to the fact that they were angelic beings. It could also be translated as ‘the burning ones,’ like the ones who were stationed to guard the garden of Eden (see Genesis 3:24). Either way, they are majestic servants of God who are continually calling out to one another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory. Calling the Lord ‘holy, holy, holy’ is a superlative in the Hebrew.

In other words, He is the holiest, or the holiest of holies. There is none holy like Him. The term itself refers to the fact that God is separate from us, He is above us, and to the fact that He is morally perfect. Add to all of this that the foundations of the threshold were shaking as the seraphim spoke and begin to get the full picture of what Isaiah witnessed. It is because of the sheer greatness of God’s holiness and glory that Isaiah responds the way he does. I will just say at this point that when we see God as He truly is, then we cannot help but be awestruck and humbled in His presence. Unfortunately, we often substitute our ideas for God and we see Him as not nearly as glorious as He truly is. May Isaiah’s vision here help us avoid this common error.

Second, he describes the one called (v.5-8).

Look at Isaiah’s response to this vision in verse 5. Isaiah confesses that he has a serious problem: he is a sinner. His lips are unclean, which is possibly a reference to the overflow of his heart, and he lives among people who have the same problem. Why is this such a big deal. Again, the Lord is not just holy, but holy, holy, holy, and Isaiah knows that being a sinner, he cannot survive in presence of such holiness. Thus, when he says ‘Woe is me,’ he is basically saying: ‘I am a dead man. This will be the end of me.’

Interestingly, notice what happens next. Isaiah does not try to defend himself. He does not give a list of excuses for his sin. No, he knows that he is sinner and left to himself there is no way that he can survive this. So the Lord acts. That is how it must be. When we come in contact with the Holy One of Israel, our only reasonable expectation can be judgment. We have no hope in ourselves for what hope is there to have? We are sinners just like Isaiah. Thus, the Lord must act on our behalf. He must provide the solution if a solution is to be had. And that’s what happens here.

Look at verses 6-7. One of the burning ones goes to the altar, the place of sacrifice, and picks up a burning coal. He then proceeds to touch Isaiah’s lips and tells him that he has been forgiven because his sin has been atoned for. Isaiah’s sin was not just overlooked by the Lord. No, it had to be atoned for and this could only happen at the sacrificial altar. All of this of course foreshadows what Isaiah will say of the coming Messiah who will be wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. He will be our offering for sin. The Lord will act on our behalf because there was nothing that we could do.

At this point the story shifts and Isaiah overhears the Lord speaking. Look at verse 8. Isaiah quickly responds to the Lord’s call. Do you see the amazing transformation? Isaiah goes from ‘I’m dead’ to ‘I’ll go’ in just a couple of verses. This is what happens when we come into contact with the Holy One of Israel, confess our sins, and He provides atonement. He radically changes everything. Our whole outlook is transformed. He takes guilty sinners and turns them into faithful servants. In light of such glorious grace, Isaiah could not help but joyously go.

Third, he describes the content and duration of the call (v. 9-13).

If we are honest, we are probably not expecting the message that the Lord gives to Isaiah. Unfortunately, most of the sermons that we hear preached on this passage end at verse 8. When you look at the message that the Lord gives Isaiah in verse 9, maybe we can better understand why so few messages comment on it. Look at verses 9-10. What was his message to be? Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Wow, no mistaking that for the prosperity gospel. What is going on here? The Lord is calling Isaiah to speak the truth, which we will see as we continue to look at the book. Yet, at this point in Israel’s history, this truth will only lead to the hardening of the hearts of the people.

Thus, Isaiah is called to preach a message of judgment that the people will stubbornly reject. Some are set free by the truth and others are only hardened (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). In God’s sovereignty, Isaiah is told, much like Jeremiah, that his message will have the effect of hardening the hearts of its original hearers. We foolishly at times esteem those who produce results. We call them successful in ministry. Yet, the Lord commands faithfulness to His message of truth. We do not get to protest at this point. We either obey or disobey. The Lord measures success in terms of faithfulness and not in our perceived results. He commissions and, like Isaiah, we are to obey.

Isaiah then asks in verse 11: How long, O Lord? What will be the duration of this ministry? Look at how the Lord responds in verses 11-13. The Lord tells him that he will continue this message until the judgment on Israel is complete. This judgment will be thorough. It will be like a burned forest where only the stumps remain. Yet, at the end of verse 13, we see at least a glimmer of hope. Out of the stump will come the holy seed, which is a reference to the remnant of Israel or the coming Messiah or both. There is hope for God’s people, which we will see more of in the coming weeks.

Thus concludes Isaiah’s description of his call. So we can ask at this point: what does the call of prophet who lived 2700 years ago have to do with us? In order to answer we must speak more of the One that Isaiah foresaw. He knew the Messiah, the forever King, the Lord Himself would come. And we know His name: Jesus of Nazareth. He was the Promised One who came. And He is calling us today to follow Him. If you think about it, the calling of Christ on our lives is not that different from Isaiah’s. Granted, we are not called to Israel and Judah and our circumstances are different from the prophets. Yet, consider the similarities.

It is still the Holy One of Israel who is calling us to follow His Son. He is the high and exalted One. He is holy, holy, holy. And when our eyes are opened to see Him in all of His glory our first thought should be: ‘I’m dead for I am a sinner.’ We must come to the end of ourselves. Yet, when our eyes are opened to see the grace of God in the work of Christ, we can respond with Isaiah: ‘I will go. I will obey.’ Amazingly, God still calls and uses sinful men to deliver His message of truth. Likewise, at times that message will only serve to harden hearts as in Isaiah’s day. Yet, sometimes that very message will be what God uses to grant life to those who are dead in their sins. Thus, in response to the glorious atonement that God has provided in Christ, may we respond to His call and serve Him well by His grace. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 11 November 2008 )

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