We’ve been having a wonderful time in the last few Sunday nights, really kind of talking from my heart to your heart about the state of the church. We’ve talked about many things, and I trust it’s been helpful for us to get a perspective on the church – our church – the evangelical church of which we are a part and which is around us. And we’ve endeavored to give you some insights into why things are the way they are in Christianity, to help you with discernment, being able to sort through all of the stuff that’s out there.
It’s extremely confusing today, and continues to get more confusing as people have less and less interest in doctrine, less and less interest in carefully discerning by means of the Word of God, and more and more interested in defining their spiritual experience mystically in any way that they choose.
It’s time for us to go back to foundational things and put down the anchor. And as I’ve been saying to you, there’s a real groundswell and a movement in that direction for which we thank the Lord and, of course, of which we are a real part.
But I told you what I wanted to do, eventually, was sort of turn the corner on talking about what’s wrong and what we need to understand about the church; talk about what makes it right, and what are the foundations that are essential, and what are the foundations that we, through the years, have established and put down as a church that keep us on track. And I’m going to share some of them with you, just starting tonight, and we’ll go until they kind of unfold.
And I’m not sure all that I’m going to say; I know what’s in my heart in part, but I’m sure there will be much that I haven’t anticipated that we will be able to share.
Let me begin at the beginning. If we are to be what God wants us to be, and if we are to stay on track, and if we are to be sound in the faith, we must begin with a high view of God. We must begin with an understanding of who God is.
In Proverbs 9:10, a verse that I learned very young in my life; way back when I was just a teenager, I learned, really, the foundation for everything. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It all starts with fearing God. Everything begins at that point. A high view of God is at the heart of all righteousness and all obedience and all that pleases God.
In Leviticus chapter 11, in verse 45, it says, “For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.” That statement is repeated in the New Testament, Matthew 5:48, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” The same basic statement, the same basic concept, perhaps in a little different works. You’re familiar with them, I know. “Be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The same statement is made again in 1 Peter chapter 1 and verses 16 and 17, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And then verse 17, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth.” Fear God, fear the Lord. Understand His holiness and be holy yourself.
Now, I want you to turn to Leviticus chapter 18, because in chapter 18 through 20 of Leviticus, we have what I suppose we could call the Law of holiness. It is a very, very foundational section of Scripture. And I want to just give you the feeling of this passage, the essence of it, because of its tremendous import. Remember now chapter 11 and verse 45, “Be ye holy as I am holy,” or Matthew 5:48, “Be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father in heaven is perfect,” 1 Peter 1:16 and 17 the same thing.
But in chapter 18 of Leviticus, it begins in verse 1, “The Lord speaking to Moses says, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “I am the Lord your God.”‘” Down in verse 4, “You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God.” Verse 5, “You shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.” Verse 6, “None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover nakedness” – that would be incest – “I am the Lord.”
In other words, what is behind all of these calls is that God is the Lord. You begin with a healthy understanding and a fear of God. Come to the end of chapter 18, speaking through the verses which are instructive, but for time’s sake, coming to verse 30, “Thus you are to keep My command” – or My charge – “that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them; I am the Lord your God.” And again, the highest motive is because He is our God.
If we are associated with Him, it puts tremendous demands on our lives. We are to live holy because He is the Lord our God. Chapter 19 follows the same path, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel. Say to them, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”‘”
Verse 3, “Every one of you shall keep – or shall reverence his mother and his father and keep the Sabbath; I am the Lord your God.” Verse 4, “Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods; I am the Lord your God.”
In other words, you’re learning to live with a holy reverence and a healthy fear of God. Down in verse 10, it ends, “I am the Lord your God.” Verse 12, “Don’t swear falsely by my name to profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.” Verse 14 ends, “I am the Lord.” Verse 16 talks about slander and says, “I am the Lord.” Verse 18 about vengeance, and ends, “I am the Lord.” Verse 25, it talks about how to deal with crops, “I am the Lord our God.” Verse 28, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.”
“You shall keep My Sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am the Lord,” verse 30. Verse 32, “I am the Lord.” Verse 34, “I am the Lord,” verse 36, verse 37. What is behind all of these commands and prescriptions is the fear of God who is holy.
And you come into chapter 20, and it is the same again, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘You shall also say to the sons of Israel, “Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel who gives any of his offering to Molech”‘” – a false god - “‘“shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. I will also set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given some of his offspring to Molech, so as to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name.”
If you belong to God and you name His name, you must live consistently with who He is. In verse, I suppose, sums it up, “You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the Lord your God.” Verse 8, “You shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you.”
And then down in verse 24, it ends, “I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples.” And verse 26, again, the summary, “Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.” To be Mine. It goes on from there; that isn’t even the end of it. Chapter 21, chapter 22 repeats the same thing over and over again.
Now, the law of holiness, then, in terms of our conduct and our behavior, is built on the character of God. The holiness of God – listen – is the first and central element in structuring a high view of God. You begin with an understanding of God’s holiness. And everything flows out of that.
In fact, let me show you why it was that Israel conducted themselves the way they did. Turn to Romans chapter 10. Here is a clear indictment on Israel. Paul, in chapter 10 of Romans, is desirous of the salvation of Israel. He prays to God for them to be saved, and he bears them witness, in verse 2, that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. They have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. That is they are operating out of ignorance.
And what ignorance? Verse 3, “For not knowing about God’s righteousness.” What allowed Israel to sink into sin, and sink into idolatry, and sink into apostasy, and sink into pride, and sink into legalism, and sink into iniquity – what allowed it was a failure initially to understand how righteous God really is. They thought God was less righteous than He was, and therefore they conducted themselves accordingly; that is deadly.
The first and foremost responsibility of every teacher of the Word of God and every preacher and every pastor and every leader is to give to people a high view of God. We must understand how holy, how glorious our great God is. We cannot deal with God on a trivial level. We cannot make Him trite. We cannot reduce Him one iota from the stature and the majesty which belongs to Him. To do so is deadly.
In Deuteronomy 31, and jumping back to the Pentateuch in the Old Testament – Deuteronomy 31, in verse 15, it says, “And the Lord appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood at the doorway of the tent. And the Lord said to Moses” – in verse 16 - “‘Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers’” – that means you’re about to die - “‘and this people will arise and play the harlot’” – sad. “‘Moses, you’re going to die, and this people are going to turn to sin. They’re going to play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going. They will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they shall be consumed, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them so that they will say in that day, “Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?” But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods.
“‘Now therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips in order that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel. For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and server them, and spurn Me and break My covenant. Then it’ll come about, when many evils and trouble have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know that their intent which they are developing today, because I have brought them into the land which I swore.’ So Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the sons of Israel.”
God wanted them to have in their heritage the words which would remind them by being set to music, how they had turned their backs on God and thus He turned His back on them.
Over in chapter 32 and verse 9, it says, “The Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His in heritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions.” The beautiful picture of the mother eagle caring for the young depicts God’s care for His people Israel.
“God alone guided them. There was no foreign god with him. He made him ride on the high places of the earth, and he ate the produce of the field. He made him suck honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock, curds of cows, and milk of the flocks, with fat of lambs, and rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the finest of the wheat – and of the blood of grapes you drank wine.
“But Jeshurun” – or Israel – “grew fat and kicked – your are grown fat, thick, and sleek – then he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation. They made Him jealous with strange gods; with abomination they provoked him to anger. They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread. You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth.”
Whenever there is a descending view of God, there is a spiritual holocaust. God must be exalted. The whole works righteousness system developed out of a low view of God. They thought God was less holy than He was. They thought they were more holy than they were. And therefore, they could meet God on the level of human righteousness.
We’re talking about Israel, but the same thing is true in the church. God’s majesty, God’s righteousness, God’s holiness, God’s glory must be the supreme concentration of the church. And frankly, it isn’t today. We face a frightening battle with man-centered theology, the idols of self-image and ego. We live in a day when the church is in the business of selling psychological comfort, when the church is in the business of framing up a popular man-centered theology, and we have set God aside. We have treated him with shallowness; we have trivialized God; we have pulled Him down; we speak cheaply and dangerously about Him. We are active, but we are not holy. And the first and foremost responsibility of the church is to lift up God. To lift up God.
From an Old Testament vantage point - Isaiah 66 reminds us of this, and we were a few weeks ago commenting on this – Isaiah 66:2 says, “To this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.” He repeats it in verse 5, “Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word.” We are to have a wholesome, healthy fear of God. We are to live in that fear of God which is the beginning of all spiritual worship.
Now listen, we live in an irreverent age. Irreverence on every imaginable front. And that irreverence in our culture has found its way into the church, and God is treated irreverently. Even within the church there is flippancy in worship, there is flippancy in music, there is flippancy in preaching because we do not take God seriously. There are some today who would even question God’s holiness. Some people would think God is whimsical, that is that God is capricious, that He does things sort of arbitrarily because maybe at some point or another, He just gets exasperated, like we do, and sort of without any particular continuity knee-jerk reacts to His own frustration by taking someone’s life.
There are those who have accused God of such capricious behavior. Some people live; some people die. Some sinners prosper, some don’t. It seems that God is somewhat arbitrary. And in our inability to understand all of history and all of God’s purposes, we might conclude that God acts capriciously. It’s not so. The reason some are destroyed, the reason some die, and the reason others live is not because God is capricious, but because God is merciful. And He doesn’t give everyone what they instantaneously deserve.
We remember in Luke chapter 13 a very, very significant illustration of that. And it is – it serves us well to understand this illustration. Verse 1 of chapter 13 of Luke, “On the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” Here came some Galileans down to the temple in Jerusalem, and they went in to worship, and they offered their sacrifices, and Pilate literally sent his troops in there and murdered them while they were offering their sacrifices so that their own blood was mingled with the blood of their sacrifices.
And the question is what kind of God is going to allow that to happen? These are people who come to Jerusalem to worship the true God in the Old Testament prescribed way, and while they’re there doing that, they are slaughtered in the very occasion of their worship.
“And He answered and said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Gentiles because they suffered this fate?’” Was that why? Was it because they were worse sinners than anybody else? There were other Galileans who probably sinned as well. Why these people? You have concluded in your mind that they are the worst. “I tell you no.”
And then Jesus says this astounding thing, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. It’s only a question of when. You’re all going to suffer the same death, the same fate if you don’t repent.” In other words, the point being God was not capricious in taking those lives; all sinners are going to perish. He takes those lives to serve His illustrations of what all sinners deserve and spares most out of mercy and to give them space to repent.
And then Jesus followed it up with another illustration, “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits all the men who live in Jerusalem?” Apparently a tower in Siloam had fallen over and crushed 18 people to death. And He is saying, “Do you suppose that those eighteen who got crushed by the tower were worse than all the rest of the population who live in Jerusalem? I tell you no; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The same inevitable reality is going to come into your lives, and you ought to learn from that what is coming. Death – and death in a very unexpected way. Death to an innocent bystander just walking down the street. Death to one who is trying to exercise worship toward the true God. It will come. It will come to all; it’s only a question of time. And God gives you time in order that you might repent. God is not capricious; God is merciful.
There are others who think that God is vengeful, that God is just a God who wants to take personal vengeance against those who have offended Him, and that He swings this great club, this great hammer of devastating death because He gets some personal satisfaction out of the retribution. Is that true? Is that the heart of God?
Listen to Deuteronomy chapter 7. It says, “When the Lord your God shall bring you into the land where you are entering to possess it, you shall clear away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you” – it’s going to be necessary if you want to stay in the land and occupy the land.
“And when the Lord your God shall deliver them before you and you shall defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them, show no favor to them. Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods.”
Here really is God asking Israel as His executioner in the matter of genocide. Why? Because there’s something even more important at stake than human kindness - that is one race of people being kind to another - and that is the preservation of the people of God, protecting them from being led into idolatry. Because if you’re led into idolatry, verse 4 says, “The anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He’ll quickly destroy you. But thus you shall do to them” – listen to this – “you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, hew down their Asherim” – those are special grounds where worship took place – “burn their graven images with fire.” Why? “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
“The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, because you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand, redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them. He will not delay with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face. Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and judgments which I am command you today, to do them.”
In other words, you act as God’s executioners. Is this vengeance? Is this sheer delight on the part of God? No, these nations were a cancer. It was love for His own people; it was love for righteousness and the hatred of sin that caused God to destroy these nations, to preserve His people who were the carriers of the message of salvation and to save the world from the corruption that these people brought upon them, as well as to save His own people.
Now, there are others who would say, “Well, God is just cruel; He’s just downright cruel. He as a mean streak.”
And they might take you to a passage like 2 Kings chapter 2 and verse 23 – talking about Elisha – “He went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him” – by the way, the Hebrew indicates here that they weren’t children at all; they were young men – really grown young men, and they mocked this prophet – “and they said to him, ‘Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!’” This was just sheer mockery.
What did they mean, “Go up you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!”? Well, you remember that Elisha had taken the mantle from Elijah, and Elijah, you remember, had been taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire. He never died; he just ascended into heaven. And so, they’re mocking the prophet and saying, “Well, if you’re really a prophet, baldy, why don’t you just go up?”
“And when he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two young men of their number.” It was a big crowd, and 42 of them were torn up by 2 bears. “And he went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.”
And I’m sure the word was, “Don’t mess with the prophet; it can be fatal.”
Is God cruel? No, they were blaspheming; they were mocking the prophet of God, and thus they were mocking the message of the prophet, and thus they were mocking the source of the message who was God Himself. God is holy, and His holiness will be preserved. He is not whimsical, but He will judge those who disregard His holiness. He is not vengeful, but He will judge those who pollute Him and who threaten to pollute His holy people. He is not cruel, but He will act justly and righteously and swiftly and has every right to do so against those who mock His name.
In Leviticus 26:21, you have another very shocking statement, “If then, you act with hostility against Me and are unwilling to obey Me, I will increase the plague on you seven times according to your sins. I will let loose among you the beasts of the field, which shall bereave you of your children and destroy your cattle and reduce your number so that your roads lie deserted” - I’ll destroy you; I’ll kill you. Pretty serious stuff.
God is holy. He is not to be trivialized. He is not to Trifled with He is not to be mocked. He is not to be belittled. He is not to be underestimated. He is to be worshiped with a perception of who He is.
Now, the greatest insight into such a perception comes to us in Isaiah’s prophecy. And for the remainder of our time, I want you to look with me at Isaiah, this great prophesy of Isaiah in chapter 6. Isaiah chapter 6.
A number of years ago, we went through Isaiah chapter 6, and it was one of those watershed passages that has in some way set the pace and the tone for our whole understanding of God. It is, without question, one of the great chapters of the Bible because of its immense insights. We could spend weeks and weeks going through this with tremendous profit, and perhaps in the providence of God, on some occasion, we will do that.
Let me just give you a little background as we come to Isaiah 6. Isaiah is predicting the captivity that is to come upon Israel. Isaiah is predicting the Babylonian captivity that is still in the future. He is telling the people that God is going to turn them over to judgment because they are doing exactly what we have been saying God warned them not to do and that is to misunderstand and underestimate His holiness is to not understand how holy, how sacred, how majestic He is; and thus, in reducing God, trivialize Him and to feel more comfortable with your own iniquity, and that is disaster.
And so, Isaiah talks about judgment. In chapter 5, He even lists the sins for which that judgment will fall. And it is a very, very straightforward list. The first sin appears in verse 8 and following, and its materialism. The second sin appears in verse 11; it is drunken pleasure seeking. The third sin, in verse 18 and following, defiant sinfulness. You sin and you defiantly sin. The fourth one, moral perversion, calling evil good and good evil in verse 20. The fifth sin, arrogant conceit, verse 21, “Those who are wise in their own eyes.” The sixth sin, corrupt leadership, those heroes and valiant men mentioned there are terms for leaders who are drunken, who take bribes and so forth.
So, the prophet looks at Israel and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit identifies their sins as materialism, drunken pleasure seeking, defiance, sinfulness, moral perversion, arrogant, conceit, and corrupt leadership. It’s because of those very sins that judgment is going to come. The judgment is described at the end of chapter 5, starting in verse 24. Judgment’s going to come like fire burns stubble, like dry grass collapse into the flame, like rot and the blossom blow away like dust” – verse 24. Why? “For they have rejected the Law of the Lord of Hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.”
God Himself is hostile toward those who do not understand His holiness, who do not obey His word. And God Himself is going to send an army to bring the very judgment - that we read about in the Pentateuch - that was promised on those who did not honor Him.
Now, at this time, the people had a measure of comfort. Even though they were sinning greatly, and even though they had pulled God down from His proper place, they were comfortable in a measure because they had a king by the name of Uzziah. And he had been king for 52 years. And as long as he was king, it felt like God was still on their side: there was peace in the cold war; there was a strong economic position; the nation was in prosperity; they had a strong presence in the world because of their army; no enemies were attacking. Everything was going fine. They carried on a superficial kind of worship, and things were still buzzing in Jerusalem. And so, Uzziah was still on the throne, and it felt like everything still was under the approval of God.
And then the unthinkable happened, chapter 6, verse 1, “In the year of King Uzziah’s death” – King Uzziah died. The year – 740 B.C., 52 years he had reigned. People got used to him, and he was basically a capable leader. The reason for his death? God killed him. God executed him, and everybody knew it.
He was so good, from a human standpoint as a king, that he was feeling proud about himself. According to 2 Chronicles 26, he decided that he could transition from being a king to being a priest. He entered into the holy and reserved function of a priest and tried to function in that regard, and God gave him leprosy and he died. God killed him. And Israel was immediately thrust into the realization that they were without that symbol of security, their king. It is at that time, verse 1 says, that Isaiah saw the Lord.
Now, let me give you just a little bit of a background to fill this in. By now, surely Isaiah himself is wondering what’s going on. He knows God is a covenant keeping God. He knows God has promised to preserve His people, and he knows that God has but the best for them. “How can things be going the way they’re going,” must be the question in his mind, similar to the question in the mind of Habakkuk. How can it be going this way? Things look like they’re getting worse and worse and worse instead of better. Why not revival? Why more and more iniquity and judgment. He is prophesying and preaching all the time about their sins and the coming judgment, the coming destruction. And then the king dies, and he knows, in a sense, that is a symbol of divine judgment. And what does he do? He goes immediately to the temple. Why? Seeking God. He wants a divine perspective. He wants a divine, if you will, explanation, and he goes to the temple.
And God responds to this beleaguered prophet, because He gives him a revelation of himself in a vision. He says, “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” Frankly, God gives him a revelation because the incomprehensibility of God demands that. God cannot be understood in purely physical terms at all. He has to have a supernatural exposure to God.
So, God grants him a vision not unlike those visions God granted to the apostle John in the book of Revelation; not unlike the vision he granted to Ezekiel, which Ezekiel recorded in his first chapter; not unlike the great visions that He gave to Daniel, which Daniel records as well in His prophecy. God allowed Isaiah to see Him in vision form.
You say, “What is a vision?”
I have no idea. It’s spiritual reality. It’s more than a dream. It’s not just mental; it’s a spiritual reality. He went to the temple, and he saw the Lord. And I think he was looking for God. It may have been in his heart to ask the question, “Is He still on the throne?” Things are going so badly; it’s all unraveling. It seems to be going the wrong direction. Is God even there? “And immediately I saw the Lord sitting on a throne.” And we are reestablished in the sovereignty of God. The first great feature is that God is still sovereign. Nobody else is sitting on the throne.
Isaiah may have felt that he would look and see an empty throne, were he to see God abdicated, or perhaps some replacement who had taken His place, and thus he could explain the tragedies that were occurring. But no, he looks, and God is still on the throne. “Lofty and exalted” - he sees Him as sovereign; he sees Him as majestic - as majestic - “with the train of His robe filling the temple.” And that is the emanating Shekinah glory comes off of God, the blazing light like a robe and just fills the whole temple where Isaiah is. He sees the sovereignty of God, the majesty of God, the glory of God. Nothing’s changed. He sees God, if you will, at the height. He sees Him at the pinnacle. He sees Him right where He belongs, right where He should be, right where He always is.
In John 12:41 it says, “These things Isaiah said because he saw his glory.” That’s what he saw. He saw Him in His sovereignty; he saw Him in His majesty, he saw Him in His glory.
Now remember, also at this time, Tiglath Pileser, the impending conqueror, is on the horizon. Things look tragically frightening at this moment. And seeing God still on the throne is immensely encouraging. There is a necessity, beloved, in the midst of all of our trials, of all of our difficulties, of all of the disasters in the world, and even within the framework of quote-unquote Christendom to remember that God is still on the throne. Right?
And sometimes I think, as we look around, we may wonder about that. We may question that, but he is still on the throne. He is still the Sovereign. He has not abdicated; no one has usurped His place. He is still lofty and exalted; He hasn’t somehow diminished in His majesty, nor has He diminished in His glory. He is intact, eternal, the same as He has always been - that great attribute of immutability, His unchanging character.
And Isaiah sees that, and there is a great measure of comfort in that reality, but it moves from that into verse 2, “Seraphim” – in this vision, he sees seraphim – “stood above Him.” And by the way, had we time, we could study the seraphim, which is a term describing angels, and it seems that they were particularly interested in protecting the holiness of God. But, “Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face” – it expresses their reverence – “with two he covered his feet” – expressing their humility – “and with two he hovered” – literally in the Hebrew like a celestial helicopter, just hovering there. And with those two we see his service. So you see those first two wings have to do with reverence, the next two with humility, and the last two with service. So, the angels are in the presence of God, reverent, humble, and eager to serve.
And then in verse 3, “One” - of those angels – “called out to another” – this is antiphonal – “and said, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts.’” Beloved, let me tell you something. That understanding is the foundation of all Christian living that God is holy. It is the essence of the gospel; it is the essence therefore of justification, of sanctification. It is everything. That view of God is the foundation of all Christian living: that God is Holy, Holy, Holy.
There are several ways to look at that. Some see it as the trihagion – hagios being the word for holy – that refers to the Trinity, “Holy is the Father, Holy is the Son, Holy is the Spirit.”
Some look at it as simply a way to say that the holiness of God is immeasurable. Holy, holy, holy – as if there is a certain infinity to that that is beyond comprehension and beyond measure.
Some view it as the way to signify that holiness is the supreme attribute of God out of which all the others flow. And I suppose I would have to say I agree with all of those. Holiness is all of that. “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” That is the only attribute of God in Scripture ever repeated three times, and that occurs on several occasions. He is never said to be love, love, love, goodness, goodness, goodness, but, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
And again I go back to the fact that that is the most significant element in viewing God. That itself becomes the foundation of everything. When you understand that, you understand the Law of God, you understand that a holy God must have a holy law against which man is broken hopelessly. And you understand that if God is to forgive the sinner, He must have His holiness satisfied by a substitutionary sacrifice that can deal with His holiness and His justice, and thus you understand the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Because God is holy, he wants you to live holy. Because God is holy, he plants His Spirit within you and gives His Word to you in order that you might follow the path of holiness.
Because God is holy, someday He will make you holy - the inner man and the outer man – and take you to holy heaven, where you will be holy, holy, holy with Him forever and ever and ever. The holiness of God is at the heart of everything.
So, here is Isaiah. He sees the sovereignty of God, the majesty of God, the glory of God, and the summum bonum, the holiness of God. And I want you to see his reaction. Verse 4, “The foundations of the threshold” – that means the foundations of the temple – “trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filing with smoke.” The place is getting darker and darker as smoke begins to fill it. Remember, our God is a consuming – what? – fire. Our God is a consuming fire. And the whole temple begins to shake at its very foundations, trembling at the angelic call to recognize the holiness of God. The temple fills with smoke.
Holiness implies judgment against iniquity; it’s very much reminiscent, you remember, of Mount Sinai, where God told the people, “Don’t go near and touch that holy mountain or you’ll die. And the mountain was filled with fire and smoke when God came down to meet with Moses and give him the Law.
Nature here becomes the interpreter of the holiness of God. The whole earth begins to shake; the building begins to shake; fire comes, and with it comes smoke and darkness. And the prophet is seeing a manifestation of the holiness of God.
Now, here comes the important part in verse 5. This has a devastating effect on him. “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” Woe is me, for I am ruined! What’s he saying? It means to damn, consign to judgment, to punish, to destroy. And he is literally saying to God, “Destroy me, blot me out, wipe me out, because I am” - in the Hebrew – “disintegrating, going to pieces.” It’s the same reaction that Ezekiel had when he fell on his face at the vision of God in chapter 1. It’s the same reaction that John had in Revelation chapter 1 when he fell over. It’s the same reaction that Peter, James, and John had on the mount of the transfiguration when they fell over like dead people in a coma, so shocked, so terrified, so traumatized at the vision of God, the vision of the glorified Christ. It’s the same basic response. And it’s the appropriate one. It’s the appropriate one. “Damn me, I am disintegrated! I’m falling apart. I’m crumbling to pieces.”
Now, beloved, let me tell you something, this is right where God wants this prophet. And this is right where we need to be as well. We are living in a disintegrating culture. We are living in a society that is crumbling all around us. The sins of Israel are the sins of our society: materialism, drunken pleasure seeking, defiant sinfulness, moral perversion, arrogant conceit – all those down in chapter 5 – corrupt leadership. We’ve got all of that stuff. And the same holy God, who has no covenant relationship with us to bear any special mercy on us, is certainly going to bring about a judgment. And what our people need to see is not a better view of themselves, but a better view of God. They need to be elevated to that point, and the ministry of the church must begin at that point.
My responsibility is to lift up God. And you do that as you exposit scripture. And every passage reveals Him in whatever marvelous way He has so chosen to reveal Himself, from verse to verse and chapter to chapter and book to book. We need a vision of God. That is why, when we come together on Sunday morning, I read the Psalms, in order that you might see God. That’s why we sing great hymns that exalt God and speak of His glory and His majesty and His sovereignty, because we want you to focus on Him.
We’re not interested in you focusing on you; we’re interested in you focusing on Him. When you get Him in perspective, you’ll see you for who you really are. It’s not important that you have an elevated view of you; it is important that you have an elevated view of Him. It’s not important that you understand you; it’s important that you understand Him as much as is humanly possible.
The church has completely lost its way in regard to this. There is little concern for this. In fact, if a church is really committed to this, it is pretty typical for people to say of you, “You are irrelevant; you’re not meeting the needs of people.” What we all need to do is come under an understanding of the glory and majesty and holiness of God.
And look at Isaiah’s response, “Woe is me, I am ruined! I am disintegrating.” Why? “Because I’m a man of unclean lips.” What he means is, “I have a dirty mouth; I’m exposed. I have a dirty mouth, and I live among a people with dirty mouths.” “I’m no better than my people.” The same thing Daniel prayed in Daniel 9:4. He kept using “we” when he talked about the iniquity of his people. “I’m no better than them.” Why does he say that? Why does he say, “I have a dirty mouth”?
Somebody’s going to say to him, “You have the best mouth in the country; you’re a prophet. You open your mouth, God talks. Why are you saying that? Why are you saying you have a dirty mouth?”
Well, there are a couple of reasons. First of all, where he is most gifted – where he is most gifted, he sees himself as most defiled. Now, that’s a depth of perception, isn’t it?
Some of us might say, “Well, you know, I’m really good when I exercise my gift, but I’ve got these bad spots in my life.”
Not Isaiah; he sees himself as defiled where he is most gifted. He sees his defilement as having corrupted even that which he does best, and he is worthy of judgment even on that. He has the best mouth in the land. He speaks for God, but he knows his own defilement extends even to that degree.
He also knows that the mouth is a great way to comprehend your depravity because it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks, and you can certainly see your fallenness manifest in the things you say.
Somebody is going to rush to his side and say, “Look, Isaiah, you’re never going to make anything out of yourself with a bad self image. You can’t go around saying, ‘Woe is me, damn me, curse me; I’m disintegrating. I have a dirty mouth, and I’m just one of a lot of people with dirty mouths; woe is me.’ You can’t – you’ll never get off the dime.”
That’s exactly where God wanted him. And the key to power and the key to effectiveness and the key to ministry in the life of the church is humiliation, not exaltation. It’s just the opposite of what we are hearing today. “I’m ruined!”
Somebody’s going to say, “Well, you don’t want to feel that way. Why are you saying that?”
His answer, “My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” – you don’t understand; I just saw God. And compared to him, I am doomed.
I suppose another way to say it would be to, “I saw God, and I saw holiness. And if I saw God, God saw me. And if He saw me, He saw sin. And sin can’t exit in the presence of a holy God; I am doomed.”
It’s reminiscent of Manoah, the father of Samson, who came home one day and said to his wife, “We’ll die.”
She said, “Why?”
He said, “I saw the Lord” – we’re dead, write the will, pack the bags, call the kids; we’re dead.
“Why are we dead?
“Because I saw God.”
“Why should that mean we’re dead?”
“Because if I saw Him, He saw me. I saw Him; I saw holiness. He saw me; He saw sin; we’re dead.”
That’s the fear of the Lord. Job said at the end of his tremendous trial, “I have heard of Thee with the hearing of mine ear; now my eyes seeth Thee, and I repent in dust and ashes.” I never even saw myself until I saw you. And the more clearly I saw you, the more clearly I saw myself. And what I saw is a wicked, vile sinner who needs to put ashes on himself and repent. It’s a frightening vision of God. All these people who run around saying, “I saw God; I saw the Lord; I saw God,” and think it’s something trivial never saw Him at all. Never at all.
I remember telling about a pastor who said that sometimes when he was shaving in the morning, God would come into the bathroom and put His arm around him and talk to him – the incarnate God.
And I said, “You mean the real incarnate God does that?”
And he said, “Yes.” And he said, “Do you believe that?”
And I said, “No, but what distresses me is you believe it.” And then I just said one question, if, “When He does that, do you keep shaving?”
Because if God ever showed up anywhere where I was, I couldn’t have anything other than the reaction of Isaiah in sheer terror, I’d fall down in a – as a dead man and curse myself. This foolishness about people who saw God and go bouncing around the country, pronouncing themselves as some special people who had a vision of God or who were taken to heaven and sent back again is foolishness indeed. If ever a man would have such an experience, it would crush him the way it crushed the others in scripture who had such a vision.
I think about the New Testament when I think about this. I think about even the disciples, who when they saw Jesus Christ manifest as God were absolutely devastated. You remember when Jesus calmed the storm? They came to Him when the storm on the sea was going on, and they said, “Don’t you care that we’re going to die?” And it says they were afraid. And then Jesus calmed the storm, and it says, “They were exceedingly afraid.” What’s worse than having a storm outside your boat is having God in your boat. Holy infinite God. The God who created the universe. Holy sovereign God right there in your boat, looking at you.
Peter was fishing, couldn’t catch any fish. Jesus said, “Try the right side of the boat.” He did; he got all kinds of fish.
What did he say? “Oh, this is a great miracle; I think I’ll go on Christian TV with this deal.” He didn’t say that. He said this, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I’m a sinful man.” He realized what was going on. He realized that was the God who controlled everything who had commanded Him to do that, and he knew that if he could see God, God could see him, and he was in some profound trouble. And he said, “Go away. I don’t want you exposed to what I am.”
You say, “Well, why is this the – why is this the right thing?”
I’ll tell you why. Follow the narrative in verse 6, because it is at this point that a most marvelous thing occurred. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. And he touched my mouth with it and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is’” – literally “‘atoned for.’”
Here is a picture of atonement. Here is the altar, the place of atonement. And here is a personal application of atonement from off that altar. A marvelous picture of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Yes, repentance is painful, but it is purging; it is cleansing.
And so, absolutely important that we understand the greatness of God, and that we understand our sinfulness. You see, that’s what Israel didn’t understand. They did not understand how holy God was; they did not understand how sinful they were. And so, they developed a system of self-righteousness and became apostate and judged, as God had told them they would. And church, I think and fear, is in the danger of the very same thing. Not understanding the holiness of God, they don’t understand how sinful they are, and they are developing a sort of an evangelical self-righteousness, sort of a mystical methodology of getting to God through their feelings, intuitions, and emotions. They think they can achieve it other than with an absolute understanding of God’s holiness. Having been broken over His law, they are crushed about their own sinfulness. They can do nothing but cry out for cleansing, which is provided for them by God, from off the altar, where atonement has been made by the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is mercy to the penitent. The sinner says, “Damn me, curse me; I’m destroyed; I’m ruined; I have a filthy mouth.” And in the moment of that recognition and that repentance, God moves to cleanse.
And then verse 8, God finally says something. This is the first time God speaks. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’
“And then I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
There’s still a nation out there that needs to hear the message. There’s still a nation that needs to be warned. There’s still judgment. Somebody needs to preach. “Who am I going to send? Who will go for Us?” A Trinitarian reference there. The rest of the people can’t preach salvation because they don’t have it. “Who am I going to send?”
I don’t think Isaiah was bold and said, “Here am I. Send me!” I think he was probably cowering in absolute fear, and looked around and there wasn’t anybody else there. And he said, “Well, I’m here. You could send me.” And then went like that, thinking he might get crushed.
And then in verse 9, God said, “Go, and tell this people.” What kind of person is God looking for? Clever, erudite, skilled in marketing, smart, educated, personable, charming, oratorical, inventive, creative? What is He looking for? No, He’s looking for someone who’s broken. And later on in chapter 66, to whom does the Lord look? “He that is of a broken and contrite heart and trembles at My word.” That’s Isaiah. And that’s the kind of person God uses. But it doesn’t happen without a vision of God. It doesn’t happen without a high view of God as sovereign, majestic, glorious, and Holy, Holy, Holy.
Long ago we determined in this church that that would be our focus, that we would establish a high view of God. From the very earliest years I preached and have repeatedly emphasized the glory of God. The glory of God. “Whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.” “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” “I am the Lord your God,” and you have to live in that recognition.
And when you see who He is, you will see who you are. And in your brokenness you will be cleansed, and in the cleansing you will become useful. It’s not by elevating us; it’s by crushing us under the greatness of our God. When you see God for who He is, you see you for who you are, then the cleansing, then the usefulness.
Just to finish out the chapter, you have a section there in verse 9 and following that is used four different times in the New Testament – Acts and Romans.
But, “He said, ‘Go tell this people: “Keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.” Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.’”
And that is strange to say that. I mean he’s just basically been ordained to go and preach. And immediately God says, “Nobody’s going to listen and understand. They’re not going to be able to see and discern. Their ears are dull; their eyes are dim; their hearts are indifferent; they won’t listen.” What kind of a calling is that? That’s the truth, folks. That’s the truth.
We go, and most don’t listen. They won’t listen. They won’t listen to the message that there’s a holy God who has set an absolute law which has been violated. They won’t recognize that they have broken that law and they must to Him in repentance. They won’t accept that today any more than they would accept it in Isaiah’s day. Well, Isaiah asked the right question in verse 11. After having been ordained into the ministry and then told nobody’s going to listen to anything he said, he asked the right question. Verse 11, “Then I said, ‘Lord, how long?’” How long do you want me to do that? A week? A couple of weeks? I mean there’s no sense in wasting my life since nobody’s going to listen.
But, “He answered, ‘Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, till houses are without people and the land is utterly desolate, until the Lord has removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land” - you do it until there’s not left a single soul to hear you.
Why? Why? Verse 13, one of the most difficult Hebrew verses to translate. And I’m not going to get you caught up in all of that. The simple understanding is, “There is a tenth” – you see it there, later in the verse – “there is a stump” – and finally – “There is a holy seed.” What’s that saying? That though most won’t listen, God has a remnant. There’s a tenth; there’s a stump; there’s a holy seed out there, and you’re going to be able to reach them.
That’s our whole reason to be here. That’s why the church is here. The church is not going to reach the elect. The church is not going to reach those planned by God for His eternal purposes. The church is not going to reach them by some of its own methodology, by its cleverness and by lifting up itself and exalting self-image and making people feel better about themselves. The church is going to reach them when it is broken over its sin under an understanding of the greatness and the holiness of God. Everything is so messed up. We are committed that this is the pattern, that God, when He is exalted, is glorified among His people, will cause the people to see their iniquities, to be broken about them.
Following that comes the purification. Following that the humble willingness to serve. The call of God and the usefulness. And as I said, this is an irreverent age, but it calls for a reverent church, without a flippant approach to God at all, but with one that sees God for who He really is. God is holy, and we have to start with His holiness. We have to take God seriously, and we begin at that point.
No trite familiarity. We exalt him, and we abase ourselves. James, I think, so wonderfully summed this up, and I’ll close. James 4, verse 6, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” So basic.
Verse 7, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners” – whenever you draw near to God, that’s what’s going to happen. You draw near to Him; He starts to draw near to you, and all of a sudden, you are made aware of your sin. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord.” That is exactly what Isaiah did. And then what happens? “The Lord will” – what? – “lift you up.” That’s the pattern.
I concern myself about this so often. The church is so off track. There’s so little concern about the greatness of God. I tell pastors all the time, when I do pastors conferences, that whenever I study a portion of Scripture – and I’ve told you this, too – whenever I study a portion of scripture, I never study it to get a sermon. That’s the easy part. In fact, sometimes the sermons don’t even come together until I get here, and sometimes I wonder if they ever come together even when I’m here preaching.
I never study a passage to make a sermon; I study a passage to understand God. I’m always asking the question, “What is being revealed about God?” I want always to bring myself under that revelation. That’s the most compelling thing in my life. And as I told you a few weeks ago, it is a healthy fear of God, a healthy respect of God, a prizing of God, a loving of God, an exaltation of God that is the most controlling element in your Christian experience. It affects everything – absolutely everything.
When you fear Him most and prize Him most, temptation has no charm; its allurements are destroyed because you fear Him and because you honor Him. That’s what makes the church the church. That’s where it all begins. And we’ll go from there next time; let’s pray.
Father, thanks again for this wonderful evening to share together. We thank You for the truth that You’ve shown us in Your Word and for eager hearts to learn. Bless this precious people who come with hungry hearts, wanting to be all that You want them to be. Show us Your greatness; show us Your glory; show us Your holiness, that we might see ourselves for the sinners that we are and be humbled and broken, that we might be useful. We give You praise in Christ’s name, amen.
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