Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Here Am I! Send Me! (Isaiah 6)


In the midst of the instability after the loss of a king, Isaiah is given a vision of the One True King, the glorious one who has never left his throne. Though he was rejected by his people, the king remains in authority. It is against this King and his Kingdom that the rebel human kings of earth have rebelled.

Isaiah 6:1-4 (ESVUK)

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"

Hubble Deep Field Telescope Program (click to expand)

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.

Isaiah lived in a time of great political and social corruption, and now another king has died and a child has taken his throne. This child-king would become one of the most violent and hedonistic of a long line of oppressive kings in Judah and Israel. Before this line of kings, Israel had been ruled by God alone, by the Torah law that defined for them a radically just, compassionate, and equal society. But the people had not been satisfied. In 1 Samuel 8 they demand that God gives them a king, so that they may be strong and wealthy like the nations around them. The prophet tells them that by their request they have rejected God as their king. He warns them that in God’s place, a human king will be cruel, violent, and selfish. Upon their insistence, God grants them a human king.

India, home of half the world's poor

Exactly as predicted, the line of kings slowly destroy the nation as each generation of royalty seeks their own immediate comforts over the welfare of the nation. Against the Torah law they oppress the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner. They cease to be a nation of priests, shining the light of God’s justice in the world. They are uprooted, and dying of thirst for the life of God.

The king Isaiah was seeing on the throne was Jesus. In the twelfth chapter of John’s gospel, he quotes this chapter in Isaiah, saying that it was Jesus’ glory he had seen, and it was Jesus of whom he wrote. Just as it says in this chapter, many in John’s day refused to believe that Jesus was the powerful king revealed in Isaiah. Like the kings in Isaiah’s day, even if they did recognize Jesus as king, they wouldn’t say so because (John 12:43) “they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” Such is the corruption of power, whether political or religious. The only place in which we have any true authority is on our face before the King of kings. Before the holy one, covered in worship by warriors of light, by whose glory the very ground beneath him shook, Isaiah fell flat in contrition and humility.

Isaiah 6:5 (ESVUK)
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for 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!”

We know from the first five chapters of his book that Isaiah is very aware of the uncleanness of the nation. However, in the presence of the Almighty, Isaiah does not judge the nation as someone above them or in a place of power over them. Isaiah identifies as one of them. He has seen the nation's wickedness, and now he's seen God's holiness. He identifies himself with the wickedness of the nation, not the holiness of God.

The first time the fisherman Simon Peter encounters Jesus in the book of Luke, he comes to recognize quickly that he is in the presence of a holy man when by Jesus’ power he miraculously gathers in an enormous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-8). When he sees the nets breaking and the boats beginning to sink under the weight of the catch, “he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

We do not become aware of our need for salvation by considering our sin, but in an encounter with God's holiness.

"A Young Pulsar Shows Its Hand"
Image of Pulsar B1509 by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory

Isaiah may have compared himself to the nation, and felt good about himself. But in the presence of God, he knew he was sinful and corrupted. In God’s presence, Isaiah did not even ask to be saved from his sin. He only cried out in woeful sadness for his own sin. God's preparation for Isaiah to be his prophet to the nation is to make him broken in the presence of his holiness.

The train of the robe of the king filled the temple. God is all sufficient and all filling, like the train of his robe. The smoke fills the temple. God is first (Exodus 20:3). From God and through God and for God are all things (Romans 11:36). In God we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

Before God the six-winged seraphim are reverent. Of all of God’s attributes, it is holiness that they cry out, to the power of three, the holiest of holy in the Hebrew tradition. They cover their face to not even look at God as they worship. As the angels cover their feet with their wings they hide all of themself lest their own glory in the presence of God. They are flaming, beautiful, inter-dimensional beings that do not want anyone to be distracted a moment from the beauty and glory of God. With their last two wings they fly, prepared in a moment to go and do whatever the king wills. They are servants of the Holy One.

As a minister and church planter and activist, I am often challenged to remember not to do anything I do for my own glory or in my own strength. It's not about us. John the Baptist pointed to Jesus in this spirit, saying Jesus must increase, and he must decrease. His life pointed outward, away from himself, toward the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We ought never do what we do solely to build our own ministry or glorify ourselves. We ought to cover our feet and let all we do point to Jesus alone. We are not building brands. We are not building churches. We are participating in the growing kingdom in which we are but a small and humble part.

As Isaiah cries out in the presence of this immense glory, he is unable to speak or act before the King enables him to do so.

Once For All
Drawing by Courtney Larson as commissioned by Once For All

Isaiah 6:7 (ESVUK)

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

God is the only one who saves. God's saving work happens first, and the call second. We are not saved because of our obedience. We are obedient because we are saved. Isaiah could not answer the call until he was saved. The difference between his woeful cry over his sin, and his enthusiastic response to God's call is life and death. Now, by God’s work in him, he is able to respond to in the presence of God’s majesty.

Isaiah 6:8 (ESVUK)

And 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.”

We go by the word and power of God. We go because we are sent. The authority of God empowers us to obey the call and fulfill the mission, not our own ability or hubris. We are saved for a purpose, for a call (Ephesians 2:8-10). We are ambassadors for the Kingdom of God. We are saved for God, not for ourselves. When we are confronted with the awesome presence of a glorious and holy God, and given the grace and mercy to do so, we will want to respond with a willingness to do any and all that is asked of us.

When confronted by the corrupt and rebellious authorities for preaching about the resurrection of Jesus, the same fisherman Peter who had fallen on his face before Jesus refuses to obey, saying to them (Acts 4:19-20) "We cannot help but speak of what we have seen and heard."

Once Jesus has touched our lips, he will be eternally present upon them from that day onward.

Isaiah will face similar resistance when he preaches the warnings of God to the corrupt kings and rulers of God’s people. Like the leaders who arrested Peter, these authorities will be blinded for their love of the glory of their wealth and power over their love for the glory of God. In the presence of God, Isaiah has had this corruption burned out from within him by God’s very power. He may now go and witness to the people in darkness of the great light of True Sovereign Justice he has seen.

Isaiah 6:13 (ESVUK)

And though a tenth remain in it,

    it will be burned again,

like a terebinth or an oak,

    whose stump remains

    when it is felled.”

The holy seed is its stump.

God's people, called to be priests in the world, the vineyard of God, are pruned and purified until only the seed remains. The holy seed, Jesus Christ, is the beginning of the new humanity, the new people of God, into whom we may now be grafted, everlasting branches growing and bearing fruit from the life of the eternal divine flowing through us.

Click the above image for the entire series from Isaiah

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