For those of you who were not with us this morning, we have, both this morning and this evening, drawn our attention to the prophet Isaiah. If you want to open your Bible now, you may do so, to Isaiah 5 and 6.
In the light of the current crisis in our country, difficulty in determining who is to be the president and vice president, there has surfaced a major division. And as I said to you this morning, it is really not a division about economics; it’s is not a division about taxation; it is not a division about social policy; it is not a division about what to do with the deficit. It is not a division about how to dispense prescription drugs. It is really a division about morality. It is a division over divine truth.
We would like to think that those who are committed to the Bible, and those who are committed to biblical standards, and those who are committed to Christian morality could prevail. But we are finding out that it is extremely difficult to pull that off. We are divided between those who want to give place to God and the Bible and the moral standard that is indicated there, and those who refuse to have that intrude into their lives.
It wasn’t too long ago that those who were committed to the Bible prevailed. No more. To understand this phenomenon in our own country, we have been drawn back to the prophet Isaiah, where in chapter 5 he indicts the nation Israel.
And chapter 5, as you remember, began with a parable in which the Lord likened Israel to a vineyard. He Himself had planted that vineyard. Planted it in a fertile hill, the very best place, did everything He could to guarantee that it would produce good grapes, that it would produce righteousness and justice, only to find out that it produced sour berries, inedible; it produced bloodshed and distress.
And I pointed out this morning that the parable is really the story of Israel. God did everything He could to guarantee spiritual blessing, spiritual productivity, only to find out that the nation Israel apostatized, turned from Him, became spiritually bankrupt, rotten to the core.
There is, secondly, in that fifth chapter, what we call the penetration, verses 8 through 23, where God goes behind the parable to show the specific sins. And we looked at those - grasping materialism, drunken pleasure-seeking, defiant sinfulness, moral perversion, arrogant conceit, and corrupt leadership - and we noted that those are very parallel to our own time.
God, in His grace, planted our nation in a very fertile hill and did for us many of the same things that He did for Israel, giving us beginnings in the Christian faith, sound commitment to biblical morality and theology. And yet, we have gone the same direction that Israel went, without the protection or the promises of being a covenant people, we find ourselves, as Israel did, on the brink of judgment.
For Israel, that judgment was going to come in the form of the Chaldean culture, the Babylonians who were going to come – and did come and destroyed Judah. The end of chapter 5, verses 24 to 30, describes the Babylonian invasion. It first of all describes them like a fire consuming stubble, like a dry grass as the nation Israel, collapsing into a flame. Israel is like rotted roots or dead blossoms that blow away in the dust.
And verse 25 says the anger of the Lord is burned against His people, and consequently he is going to send a judgment army. That army is metaphorically described in verses 26 to 30, and they’re going to come and obliterate Israel and the city of Jerusalem and even the temple so that all that is left is darkness and distress. And the darkness even obscures the light of the sun.
The holocaust of devastation was pledged, and it did come to pass, its final destruction in the year 586 B.C. And the reason given is in the end of verse 24, “For they have rejected the Law of the Lord of Hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.”
The real deadly sin in Israel was rejecting the Law of the Lord of Hosts, rejecting the Word of God, the Holy One of Israel. And once they had rejected the Word of God, they became very comfortable with the sins that are described in this chapter. And that’s what brought about the woe or the curse or the damnation or the judgment.
Back in the first chapter, the book of Isaiah actually begins with this diagnosis and this judgment. “The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; for the Lord speaks, ‘Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have revolted against Me. An ox knows its owner and a donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know; My people do not understand.’” And we could add “Me.”
“Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel; they have turned away from Him.
“Where will you be stricken again as you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick; the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is nothing sound in it, only bruises, welts, and raw wounds, not pressed out or bandaged, nor softened with oil.
“Your land is desolate; your cities are burned with fire” – as the prophet looks ahead to the judgment – “your fields – strangers are devouring them in your presence; it is desolation as overthrown by strangers.
“And the daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a watchman’s hut in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. Unless the Lord of Hosts had left us a few survivors, we would be like Sodom; we would be like Gomorrah.” If God hadn’t spared some and allowed them to be taken into captivity, the whole race would have been obliterated.
And so, this is the judgment that Isaiah says is coming from God. And we drew the parallel that America is very much like Israel. As I said, we’re not a covenant people, but we have been a uniquely blessed people planted in this great land and given so much blessing and such great beginnings in our infancy, founded upon biblical truth, biblical morality, the Word of God, and the Christian faith.
But like Israel, we have rejected the Law of the Lord of Hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. In our maturity, in our adulthood, we have turned from God. We have abandoned God, and we’ve become comfortable with grasping materialism, drunken pleasure-seeking, defiant sinfulness, moral perversion, arrogant conceit, and corrupt leadership.
And we are also going to experience the judgment of God. It isn’t going to be the Chaldeans. It isn’t going to be the Babylonians. What is the judgment of God? For an answer to that, let me turn to Romans 1 with you. Turn please to the first chapter of Romans, and let me show you what the judgment of God is as defined in Romans 1.
In Romans 1, verse 18, we read, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” What we’re learning here in Romans 1 is that God’s wrath is a normal, expected, inevitable reaction from heaven against ungodliness and unrighteousness that is manifestly a suppression of the truth.
America has had the truth; we’ve had the Bible; we’ve had the gospel for all the years of our existence. Progressively, we have continued the suppression of that truth. “That which is known about God is evident in them,” he says. “God made it evident to them.” It goes on to say, “Since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made so that they are without excuse.”
He says every society has the knowledge of God. They have the knowledge of God through creation. A look at creation takes you back to the Creator. They have the knowledge of God through conscience. The existence of morality takes you back to a moral authority, a moral Author. But our society has become convinced of the truth of evolution, and we now believe that every animal has the same rights as people. The environmentalists have literally gone berserk.
I was reading – I was listening the other day on the radio, and there was a special report to tell you that early cancer detection in your cat could prolong its life. This environmental movement across America has reached proportions that could be generated only by evolutionists, where what is good for and beneficial to man is set aside for the preservation of soulless animals. There is no understanding that man is not like anything else. Man is created in the image of God.
And so, we have literally taken a position against reason and against conscience to deny the existence of God which reason demands, and deny the existence of a moral law which conscience demands.
And so, it can be said of society – not just ours, but all those that have come and gone before us – verse 21, “Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God.” And that, while it is true of all societies, is especially true of us because we not only have the knowledge of God through reason, and the knowledge of God through conscience, but we have the knowledge of God through revelation. We are all the more culpable because we have had the Bible, the Word of God, and not all societies have had that. God holds all societies responsible. They are all without excuse because there’s enough revelation in reason and conscience to lead them back to a Creator and back to a moral authority. And they’re without excuse if they don’t go to that point and then seek to know who that God is and what that God says.
For us, we have it all. We have had the revelation of reason, and the revelation of conscience, and the revelation of Scripture. And the judgment, the wrath of God, is revealed from heaven against those who suppress the truth, who “even though they knew God” – verse 21 – “didn’t honor him as God or give thanks. They became empty in their speculations, their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man, and birds, and four-footed animals, and crawling creatures.” That could describe a lot of things, including those who worship the evolutionary model: no God, no Creator, no moral authority; it’s just natural selection by chance.
Now, what is the judgment? On nations that turn their back on God - nations that having known the truth, reject it, and suppress it – here is the judgment. Verse 24, “Therefore God gave them over.” Verse 26, “For this reason, God gave them over.” Verse 28, the middle of the verse, “God gave them over.” What is the judgment? The judgment is abandonment. When God looks at a nation, and they have the truth, and they suppress the truth, and they turn from the truth, God turns them over, gives them over. That is abandonment. That is the removal of restraining grace.
And the first step – you can tell when it happens – first, in verse 24, “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them.” The first thing that happens is immorality dominates. God literally gives them over to the fulfillment of their lusts. He turns them over in an unbridled, un restrained way to sexual immorality. We all know that. The ‘60s marked the beginning of that great sexual revolution which is still going on to this very day, prizing all the while more and more and more immorality, making that the norm.
You can tell when a nation has been abandoned, because they will plunge into wholesale immorality, from top to bottom. It will not only be done, it will be approved of. It will become the standard for life. But that’s just step one.
Step two is in verse 26. “God also gave them over to degrading passions; their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural” – that’s lesbianism. Verse 27, “In the same way, the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men, committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error” – which is, of course, a reference to any sexual disease, including AIDS, that is the built-in penalty for that kind of behavior – but here’s homosexuality. You can tell when the wrath of God is revealed on a society that has turned its back on the truth and suppressed the truth, because the first step is a sexual revolution, and the second step is a homosexual revolution. And we’re there. We’re there. We not only tolerate that, we elevate those people. They’re in high places across this land, increasingly more all the time. But that’s not the end either.
Verse 28, “They didn’t want to acknowledge God” – they didn’t see fit to acknowledge God anymore – “so God gave them over to a depraved mind” – to a reprobate mind. First comes the sexual revolution, then the homosexual revolution, and then comes the depraved mind, the reprobate mind.
Now, you’re in trouble when you plunge into sexual immorality. Your body is dissipated; you’re even more tragically harmed when you plunge into homosexuality because of its perversion and the implications. But the worst thing of all is not when your body is destroyed; it’s when your mind goes. And we now have a society where the people in the highest positions of leadership in the land, from those in Washington, all the way down. Those in the positions of education in the universities are advocates of sin. “They are filled with all unrighteousness” – verse 29 – “wickedness, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful.” And that’s just one day in the first section of the LA Times. “And they not only know the Law of God” – they know the Law of God, particularly in America – “that those who practice such things are worthy of death, but they still do them, and they also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” That’s why the president’s approval ratings kept going up, because he was doing exactly what this society loves.
How do you know when a nation’s been judged? We don’t have to wait for the Babylonians, just watch God step back. Just watch the effect of abandonment. First thing? Sexual revolution. Second? Homosexual revolution. Third? A reprobate mind. And people sit and watch the mindless wretchedness of the Jerry Springer mentality and find it humorous.
There are some key people that the enemy used, like Hugh Heffner, to bring in the sexual revolution. There’s some key people that the enemy used to bring in the homosexual revolution, some very prominent writers. And there are some key people that the enemy used to bring in a reprobate mind. I go back to Phil Donahue, who was the first one to try to normalize every imaginable kind of deviant behavior. But it’s all evidence that God has stepped back, and we are now experiencing the judgment of God.
Now, with that, let’s go back to the sixth chapter of Isaiah. So, here we are, not unlike Isaiah. Here we are, and we know that our nation is experiencing the reality of judgment because of its abandonment of the Law of the Lord of Hosts and the word of the Holy One of Israel.
We have turned our back on the Word. We have turned our back on the God of the word. We want nothing to do with that in our society; we want to get it out under the supposed constitutional tenet of separation of the church and state, which is a false application of that principle. We want to get the Bible out of the public discourse, get God out of the picture, get Christianity out of the picture. And because of that, like Israel, the inevitability of God’s judgment falls on us. We, too, are sick from the head to the toe. And the judgment of God will come not from the Babylonians, but it will come from the abandonment. It is a self-inflicted wound that we will bear. The seeds of our destruction are built into the unbridled fulfillment of our lusts. We will literally destroy ourselves.
So, like Isaiah, the question comes, “What do we do?” Let’s look at chapter 6. There’s a lot that can be said here. I’m just going to say enough to help you get the sense of it. Chapter 6 begins in the year of King Uzziah’s death.
You say, “Is that important?”
Well, it is if your name is Uzziah or maybe Mrs. Uzziah, or a bunch of little Uzziahs – a pretty monumental day or year. But the point that Isaiah’s making here is broader than just some personal trauma, broader than just some family death. The year that King Uzziah died was 740 B.C. We’re about 150 years or 140-something years away from the Babylonian invasion. So, they had plenty of warning. And God was very merciful, and God was very gracious to allow a century plus to go by before the judgment actually fell. But the seeds of that destruction were already in place, and God has His own timetable. I’m not sure that we can assume that our judgment is delayed. In fact, as I said, if you read Romans 1, our judgment is not delayed; our judgment is already occurring.
But what makes it significant is that Uzziah had been king for 52 years. That’s a long time. Can you imagine having a president for 52 years? This was a king for 52 years. And he was a very strong leader. And he had brought peace, military strength; he had brought prosperity. And on the surface, everything looked good. And as long as he was there, it was as if God had a stamp of blessing. It was sort of like having a Christian president, sort of like having somebody who makes you believe that everything is well and God is blessing, because Uzziah was essentially a good ruler.
And then he died – 740 B.C., and he died. And he didn’t die a normal death; he died an extremely unusual death. God executed him. God struck him with a disease that killed him because he was feeling so confident about himself and who he was as king, that he tried to invade the priestly office and function as a priest. And he stepped across the Law of God and violated that Law, and God killed him on the spot. Serious.
Isaiah understood. He had been preaching judgment. He knew the judgment was coming. He was well aware of the sins of his people; he’d just chronicled them in the fifth chapter. He was well aware that Tiglath-Pileser was already on the horizon of the northern kingdom to come and destroy that kingdom. He knew full well that the Babylonians would eventually come with their horde to destroy the southern kingdom of Judah. He knew what was going on, and yet there was this one lingering hope that we have this man Uzziah, and he’s still there, and it’s like that’s sort of the stamp of God’s approval. And then he died, executed by God.
And everything seems to be unraveling for Isaiah. So, he does what you could expect him to do. He is the prophet of God; he goes to the temple. “In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.”
He refers also to the temple in verse 4. Apparently, he went to the temple, and I’m quite confident we can know why he went there. He knew Israel was a covenant people. He knew Israel was the vineyard of the Lord. He knew what God had invested in that vineyard. He knew what God expected from that vineyard. He knew that Israel was the people of covenant, promise. He knew that, but everything was going wrong. And now divine judgment was going to fall, and he was scratching his head, much like the prophet Habakkuk who couldn’t understand how God could punish Judah with a pagan nation.
Read the prophet Habakkuk, and he just can’t understand it, “It is a massive problem. Yes, Israel is bad, but they’re the covenant people. The Chaldeans are worse. How can You use them to punish Israel?”
And Isaiah just wanted to check in at the temple and find out if God was still on the throne. Maybe everything had unraveled. Maybe the power of Satan had overcome God. This just didn’t make sense. This was a reversal of everything he had hoped for and everything he had anticipated. And he went to the temple, and I can tell you it must have been an encouragement to him. First it says, “I saw the Lord.” And he wasn’t lying under the throne, having been knocked off by somebody else. He was sitting on the throne. He was still sovereign. He was still in charge. This is as high as you can go; this is the throne, and there was God, “And God was on the throne, lofty and exalted.” Those words are very important. Nobody had usurped His authority. Nobody had usurped His sovereignty. It wasn’t going the way Isaiah thought it should go.
And there are many people in America who were saying, “You know, this can’t be right. Where’s the revival that we would expect God to bring?” And maybe they want to check in and find out if really if God is sovereign. There are those in theology who want to tell us that God doesn’t really know what’s going to happen, and God is a victim just like all the rest of us; He’s up there wringing His hands, wondering where it’s all going to go. And that’s really a lie. God is sovereign. He’s still on the throne as He was then. He is on that throne as sovereign. He is lofty and exalted. That is the throne of God is above every other throne so that no one can usurp or impinge upon His absolute sovereign power and authority.
“And the train of His robe is filling the temple.” That is the emanating glory of God. He sees the true and living God in all His glory, still sovereign. How critical this is. He sees God at the height of His glory and His sovereignty.
And then inverse 2, surrounding God are the seraphim, holy angels. And they are there sort of hovering about the throne. And this means that God is not only sovereign, but He still has His angelic force. He still has the power of all the 10,000 times 10,000 and thousands of thousands of holy angels. He still has a greater force than any man. If one angel can slay 185 Assyrians, and the angels of God are still surrounding the throne, then God still has His power, as well as His sovereignty.
He sees these angels with six wings. And the six wings are described as two for covering the angel’s face. Why is that? Because angels are created beings. And if they are in the very presence of God as created beings, they can’t look upon the glory of God without being consumed. They can’t see the full blaze of God’s glory. This is emblematic of the fact that they have to cover their faces as Moses did in Exodus 33 when he saw God’s glory. They are there, and God’s glory is shining as brightly as ever. And so, they cover their face; this is reverence.
With two other wings they cover their feet. This is humility. The place in which they stand, as they were, is holy ground. And with two it says they hover like celestial helicopters in motion. Two wings for reverence, two wings for humility, and two wings for service. Here are the angels viewing God with reverence, in His presence with humility, and waiting to serve. This is the view of God, folks, that you have to start with. Okay? When you come to a point like we are in this nation, and you wonder what is happening, and you fear the future, and you’re anxious about the way things are going, just remember this: God is still on His throne. He does not have diminished sovereignty. He does not have diminished glory, and He does not have diminished power. He still has His sovereignty; He is still lofty and exalted. He is still aided by the vast multitude of holy angels.
There’s one other thing we need to find out. Okay, He’s still in charge. Okay, He still has power, but has His – has His nature changed so that He could somehow be comfortable with sin? Has it become okay for Him?
Well, we find that answered in verse 3. One of those seraphim called out to another – this is an antiphonal kind of voice, back and forth – “Holy, Holy, Holy” – and the reason you have that trihagion, that triple use of holy, the only time any attribute of God is repeated three times – and this occurs a number of places in Scripture – is to show the immensity or the immeasurability of His holiness. He is not just holy, he is holy, holy, holy, as if to say it cannot be conceive; it cannot be measured. The edge of it cannot even be discovered.
And so, we have to say that God is not only sovereign, God is not only powerful, but God is holy. Nothing has changed; He has not made any kind of peace with sin. He is still of pure eyes, and behold, evil cannot look upon iniquity, as Habakkuk realized in his dilemma. God is still holy so that whatever He does is absolutely right.
When you think about things in our country, I know it’s easy to get distressed and disturbed, and some of you have been very disturbed. I got a phone call the other day from a friend of mine in Chicago who says, “I have been so disturbed. I stayed up all night, and I have been concerned and worried and consumed with all that’s going on.” And he said, “I finally got a hold of your book Why the Government Can’t Save You, and I went to sleep.” He said, “Are you worried about this?”
I said, “Let me tell you. I’m much more worried about my sermon on Sunday than that. There are lots of things I’m more worried about, and the reason is because my God is still on the throne. And whatever He does, and whatever He allows is consistent with His holiness. His nature hasn’t changed, His power hasn’t changed, and His position hasn’t changed. And I think that’s what Isaiah needed to know, and that might be what you need to know. This is not the first time this has happened. This is the cycle of Acts 14:16, that God has permitted all the nations, in the past, to go this way. This is something God has seen again and again - bright, hopeful beginnings. In the case of America, maybe in some ways unequaled except in the nation Israel. And yet, this is the way it went. He’s still holy.
May I say something to you, folks? This is the foundation of your life. Your view of God is the foundation of your life. If you don’t believe God is sovereign – worry; that’s a reasonable response. If you believe, like the process theologians, that God is up there and hasn’t got a clue what’s going to happen, not only is He not making it happen, He doesn’t even know what’s going to happen until it happens. If you believe that God is some benign being up there who can’t get a handle on things, worry is a reasonable response. Fear is a reasonable response.
But the Bible presents God as sitting on His eternal throne, lifted up and exalted above all others as the sovereign, with mighty power as expressed in the presence of holy angels, and with absolute holiness. He is the sovereign, He is powerful, and He does what is right.
Furthermore, end of verse 3, “‘The whole earth is full of His glory.’” He extends His person, and with His person comes His sovereignty, and comes His power, and comes His holiness to the whole earth. Nothing is going on on this planet that’s outside His sovereignty. I’m telling you again, this is the foundation of your life. Your view of God is the foundation of your life. That’s why we worship the Lord when we come here. That’s why we sing hymns to Him. That’s why we read the Scripture that tells about Him. That’s why, when we preach, we tech you out of the Bible the character of God, the greatness of our God and our Christ and the Holy Spirit, because believing that gives you a rock foundation to live our life on.
People ask me so much, “Does it bother you when people attack you? Does it bother you when certain things happen?” And I can honestly tell you it doesn’t tell you it doesn’t bother me, because I believe God is in charge of everything. Everything.
Isaiah got what he needed. God is looking for a man in Israel or Judah. God is looking for people today. But what He’s looking for is not brilliance; it’s not creativity; it’s not education; it’s erudition; it’s not oratorical skill; it’s not all of the stuff that our country looks to for its leaders. What God is looking for today are those who have a strong foundation; and that foundation is a true and right view of himself. That’s where it starts. Your view of God is the foundation of your life. It is the anchor of everything.
But also, it has tremendous implications. Back to verse 4. As these angels are antiphonally expressing the holiness of God, “The foundations of the threshold trembled at the voice of him who called out while the temple was filling with smoke.” Now the scene gets very, very serious. “Holy, Holy, Holy” isn’t some light tune here, folks. “Holy, Holy, Holy” elicits an earthquake, and the whole temple, in this vision, begins to shake, and smoke begins to fill the temple. Does this remind you of any other historical event? Do you remember when God came down on Mount Sinai to give the Law early in the book of Exodus? And do you remember what happened? The mountain began to – what? – to shake and was filled with smoke. This is the presence of the holiness of God. And it’s a terrifying presence. It is terrifying. It is terrifying even to Isaiah, and it is designed to be so, because while we, on the one hand, will celebrate the sovereignty of God and celebrate His almighty power as El-Shaddai, and we will celebrate the wonder of His perfect holiness.
At the same time, to be in His presence is a frightening reality. Why? Because He’s holy and we’re – what? – sinful. We’re sinful. It’s not hard to understand a guilty criminal walking into a courtroom and trembling before a judge who is going to bring the law to bear upon him. This is far beyond that kind of intimidation. The whole building begins to shake as the holiness of God begins to impact the environment in which this vision is taking place.
Hebrew 12:28 and 29 says, “Our God is a consuming fire.” Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And while we rejoice that He is sovereign and that He is powerful, and we rejoice that He is holy, at the same time that has a traumatizing effect. And it did on Isaiah.
Notice verse 5, “Then I said, ‘Woe is me’” – why did he say that? Do you think he knows what “woe” means? He does. He used it six times in chapter 5. What does it mean? Damned, cursed, punished. “I’m damned,” he says. “I’m doomed. I’m am ruined!” – the NAS says. “I am” the Hebrew, “I am going to pieces.” The word is, “I am disintegrating; I am crumbling. Sometimes you talk about a person being broken. This is being shattered. Like dropping a glass jar and watching it splatter into pieces. That’s what he’s saying here, “I’m disintegrating; I’m going to pieces.”
This isn’t an unusual response; this was essentially what happened to Ezekiel. Ezekiel the prophet, in chapter 1, saw a vision of God and fell over like a dead person. This is essentially what happened as well to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus pulled back His flesh and revealed His glory, and all three of them fell over in a coma like dead people. This is essentially what happened to John the apostle in Revelation 1 when he had his first vision of the glorified Christ and fell over like a dead man. This is traumatizing.
And any true vision of God is a traumatic reality. Why? Because the clearer you see God, and the more you see his holiness, the more you expose yourself to him, the more aware you become of your sin and the more that holiness frightens you. That’s why we say that, you know, the beginning of evangelism is to preach the holiness of God. Nobody is going to run to God for forgiveness and grace if they haven’t been traumatized by His holiness.
And Isaiah says, “Woe is me” - it’s over; I’m done. It reminds me of Manoah, the father of Samson, who came home one day and said to his wife, “Write the will, fix everything; we’re dead.”
She said, “What are you talking about?”
He said, “I saw the Lord.”
What was his point? “If I saw the Lord, He saw me. I saw holiness; He saw sin; we’re dead.” That’s the trauma.
You can remember the story of Uzzah, who tried to stop the Ark of the Covenant, transported on a cart, from falling off. And you never were to touch it. And he touched it, and he was dead. Or the story of Leviticus 10 of Nadab and Abihu. The ground opened and swallowed them up. Coming into the presence of God reveals sin. The sinner has a reasonable and healthy fear.
And Isaiah sees his defilement. And he sees it in a most interesting way. Look at verse 5 again. This is what he says - Why am I ruined? Why am I judged? – “Because I’m a man of unclean lips” – stop right there. I the vernacular, he says, “I have a dirty mouth.” Why did he say that? Well, where he is most gifted and where he is most useful to God, even in that place, because he was a prophet - his mouth was used to speak the Word of God – where he was most gifted and most useful to God, he saw his own wretchedness, to say nothing of everywhere else.
In other words, to see it this way, “The very best of me is wretched.” Here is a man who’s come to grips with the reality of his sin. And he knows what he deserves. And what he deserves is to be damned. “I’m a man with a dirty mouth.”
And, you know, the mouth is the place where you get in touch with your depravity, isn’t it? Just listen to what comes out of your mouth and you’ll know how depraved you are, because it’s out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth – what? – speaks.
He says, “I’m a man with a dirty mouth.”
Somebody would say to him, “Oh, come on, Isaiah. That is poor self-esteem. You can’t be going around mealy mouthing yourself and feeling bad. You’re really wonderful. You’re the greatest. Hey, you’re the prophet of all prophets. You’re the big-time prophet. You’re the major prophet. You can’t be going around discrediting yourself like that; you’ll get yourself a bad self-image; you’ll feel psychologically inferior, and you won’t be useful.”
And Isaiah would say, “I don’t think you get it. I’m not comparing myself to you. I just saw the Lord; I’m comparing myself to Him. I live among a whole people of dirty mouths, and this assessment comes because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”
Let me tell you something, people – and this is about ministry, and this is about preaching and teaching and the church – you must give people a vision of God or they won’t know who He is, and they won’t know who they are. You have to show them the greatness, and the sovereignty, and the majesty, and the glory, and the power, and the holiness of God so that they can see themselves as sinners in His sight and understand the judgment that they deserve and pronounce that curse upon themselves. It’s a frightening thing to see God.
It was a frightening thing for many people to see Jesus, as we’ll soon see in Luke chapter 5. Peter saw Jesus one morning on the shore, and he said, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I’m a sinful man.” Remember that? “I can’t stand the intimidation of your presence.”
I always remember the disciples on the boat - in Mark 4 and then in chapter 5 - and they’re out on the water, and the storm comes up, and Jesus stops the storm and it becomes silent. It says during the storm they were afraid. When Jesus stopped the storm, it says they were exceedingly afraid. Because it is far more frightening to have God in your boat than a storm outside your boat. A devastating effect.
And he understands what he’s just seen. He’s seen God, and He’s seen himself. And God is holy, and he is not.
Let’s call that first opening section the presence. The presence. Isaiah in the presence of God. And now let’s come to the purification in verse 6. Watch what happens.
Somebody’s going to say to Isaiah, “You know, Isaiah, I don’t know why you feel so badly about yourself; you’re really the best man in the country; you’re the one that God uses, and God speaks through you.”
But Isaiah’s not going to hear any of that. Isaiah just feels overwhelmed by his sin. This is what you could call a broken and a contrite heart. Those are the words used in Isaiah 66, “a broken and a contrite heart.” Or Isaiah 66 also says God is looking for someone who “trembles at His word.” And that’s Isaiah; he is shaken to the foundation of his being.
And immediately, in the vision, verse 6, “One of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar” – now here’s another introduction into the vision. In the temple there’s an altar, and that’s an altar for sacrifice. And on that altar were burning coals where animals were laid as symbols of the great sacrifice that Christ would one day offer for sinners. There was the altar of sacrifice with its burning coals.
We are introduced to atonement here. The altar was the place of atonement. Here is a sinner; here is a self-confessed sinner, a man who knows, before holy God, that he is sinful. And he confesses that sinfulness, and he confesses that that the very – at the very highest point, his voice, his mouth where he speaks for God, he is wretched and deserving of damnation. And in that moment of deep and honest penitence, in that moment of confession, the seraphim flies – in the vision – with a coal from off the altar, taken with the tongs.
And verse 7 says, “He touched my mouth with it” – just imagine, next time you have a barbecue in your backyard, putting one of those coals – red-hot – in your mouth. That’s the imagery. “Behold” – says that seraph – “this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is atoned for.” Boy, what a moment. Repentance is painful. That’s the imagery. And purging is necessary. His mouth needed to be cauterized; it needed to be cleaned, purged. And in that image of that vision, that penitent, heart-broken, contrite, self-effacing, self-deprecating, self-condemning prophet, in the midst of his brokenness, was forgiven. And the altar of atonement was applied to him. His iniquity was taken away, and his sin was forgiven.
So, now what you have – this is an amazing things – is you have this beleaguered prophet, heartsick over the events and the decline and demise of his nation. And he has a vision of God. He has a vision of himself. He pronounces a curse, realizing his utter sinfulness and unworthiness and immediately is forgiven. That was the purification.
Now we come to the main point in verse 8. Let’s call it the proclamation. This is really amazing, and this is going to answer our question, “What is God looking for in a nation in crisis?”
“Then I heard the voice of the Lord” – oh, first time; up to now, only the angels have spoken – “Then I heard the voice of the Lord” – God finally speaks - “‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’” Can’t just send anybody. You can’t send people to preach salvation who haven’t received it.
So, “God says, ‘Who am I going to send?’” Send where? Send to this nation on the brink of judgment. Somebody has to go to them. Somebody has to preach to them.
I remember, as a boy, hearing somebody preach on this, and they kind of gave the idea, the image that Isaiah stood up and said, “Here am I. Send me!” I doubt it. The fact of the matter is there wasn’t anybody else there but him. And he may well have kept his head down, ashamed to look up like the publican in Luke. And he may well have been beating on his breast, with his head down, even though he had been forgiven, feeling broken and humble. And he may have, rather humbly and fearfully, said, “I’m here; you could send me.” What in the world is the Lord going to do with a dirty-mouthed prophet who just pronounced a curse on himself?
But verse 9, “He said, ‘Go, and tell this people.’” Wow. Let’s stop right here for a minute. What kind of person is God looking for in a nation in crisis? A person who has a view of God that is accurate; who understands that He is sovereign; who understands that He is powerful, almighty, nothing is beyond His power; who understands that He is holy – that is to say that everything He does is right; and who understands that His glory extends to all the earth. And somebody who not only understands and has a glorious view of God, an accurate view of God, but God is looking for someone who has an accurate view of himself, who knows himself or herself to be nothing but a sinner, worthy of judgment, who has, in true repentance, cried out to God and been forgiven.
God isn’t looking for perfect people; God is looking for purified people. Understand that? Are you one of those? Do you have a true view of God, a true view of yourself? And have you been atoned for, as it were? Has the coal been placed in our mouth so that you have been purged and purified and your sins forgiven by your faith in that sacrifice offered once for all on that altar of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? And the Lord says, “This is exactly who I’m looking for.”
There were some other kings in Israel after Uzziah, before the captivity came. They played a role, but the kings weren’t the important people. And there are presidents and vice presidents, and there are senators, and there are congressmen, and there are all kinds of people in power in America, but they aren’t really the important people. Who are the important people? Oh, the people who have a right view of God and the people whose sins have been cleansed. Right? That’s us. And we are the ones who have to answer this cry in verse 8, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us” - that is for the Trinity – by saying, “Here am I. Send me!”
God isn’t looking for great intellectual brilliance; He isn’t looking for oratorical skill; He isn’t looking for literary genius; He’s not looking for the movers and the shakers and the power brokers; and He’s not looking for those people that the world assumes to be the leaders of choice. What He’s looking for is people who have been cleansed.
So, He says in verse 9, “‘Go, and tell this people’” – now I love this. Here’s what you tell them – and by the way, this is quoted in four gospels, Acts, and Romans; so, it’s a very important passage. “He said, ‘Go, tell the this’” – go tell this people on the brink of judgment - “‘Go tell them, “Keep on listening, but don’t perceive; keep on looking, but don’t understand.”‘”
Wow. How would you like that as your ordination mandate? “You go out there and you tell them the gospel, but you tell them also that they’ll hear it, but they won’t understand it.”
“‘Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, their eyes dim, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.’”
And as I said, that’s repeated often in the New Testament – “You go preach to those people, and when you do it, you give them the truth, and then you tell them that you don’t expect them to believe.” Their eyes are dull, their ears are fat – or their ears are deaf, their hearts are fat. They don’t understand; they don’t see; they don’t hear. That’s a discouraging ordination mandate.
And I would ask the question Isaiah asked in verse 11. That’s the same question I would ask, “Lord, how long?” Wouldn’t you ask that? “How long do I do that? Like two weeks?” This could get discouraging. How long do I do that?
“‘Oh,’ He said, ‘do it until the cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people, and the land is utterly desolate, the Lord has removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.’”
“You just do it, and do it, and do it, and do it, and keep doing it until there’s nobody left to do it to. The judgment’s coming, but just keep doing it. Preach the message. Preach the message. Go to this people and tell them about Me; tell them the truth. You can tell them that I’m a God of sovereignty, and I’m a God of power, and I’m a God of glory, and I’m a God of holiness. And tell them that I’m a God who forgives sin, because you’ve experienced that. You tell them, but don’t expect them all to hear, and don’t expect them all see, and don’t expect them all to understand or perceive, and don’t expect them to return and be healed.
In fact, do you know what’s going to happen? The implication here – and it’s expanded in the New Testament – the more you preach it, he harder their hearts will become. It’s part of the judgment.
“How long do I do that?”
“You just keep doing it until nobody’s left.”
And that leads us to the last verse, the promise. And this is a very complicated verse in the Hebrew. I’m not going to take a lot of time to struggle with it; I’m just going to give you the sense of it.
Verse 13, “‘There will be a tenth portion in it” – stop right there. Not literally, but there will be a representative group. This is what we often call the “doctrine of the remnant.” Most won’t listen; most won’t hear. But there’s a remnant there. There’s a remnant there; there’s a tenth. And He says it’s like a stump after the tree has been felled. There’s a stump there, and He calls them “The holy seed.”
Frankly, folks, I don’t have any illusions that I can crank it all up and save the whole nation. I don’t believe that a nation that has abandoned God, turned its back on God, walked away from the truth, literally subverted the truth, that has rejected the Law of the Lord and the word of the Holy One of Israel. I don’t have any illusions that all of a sudden, as the nation has been abandoned by God and plunged into immorality, homosexuality, and a reprobate mind, that we’re going to go through this nation and the whole nation is going to repent. But there is a remnant. There is a holy seed. There is a stump. There is a tenth out there. And that’s our promise, that the Lord is going to use us to bring the saving gospel to some, to that – I love this phrase – that “holy seed.” And when the tree has fallen, the stump is still there, that holy seed. And there’s life in that stump, and it’s our great privilege and responsibility to bring the message of salvation to them.
And so, who was God looking for? He’s looking for you. Do you understand who He is? Do you understand who you are? Have you been cleansed? Then God is asking you the same question He asked Isaiah, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”
And your answer is, “Here am I” – what? – “send me.”
And, you know, you’ll beat your head against the wall, and you’ll run into difficulty, and you’ll run into resistance, and you’ll run into rejection, but there’s a holy seed. There’s a holy seed.
I remember flying – and I’ll close with this – flying on an airplane. I was actually flying over St. Louis; I’ll never forget it. The pilot had said, “We are currently flying over St. Louis.” And I looked out the window, and, of course, it looks like anything else you’re flying over. But I just remember that comment.
And there was a young man sitting next to me who had gotten on the plane in Chicago. And I had my New Testament open, and in other words as reading my New Testament. And he said to me, “Sir, I hate to bother you, but could I ask you a question?”
And I said, “Sure.”
He said, “You wouldn’t – I see you have a Bible.” He said, “You wouldn’t know how I could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ would you?”
Ha-bah-bah-bah-bah-bah-bah-bah. Wait a minute. Don’t I have to prove the Bible or something? I mean I wouldn’t know how you could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? I baptized that young man right here some years ago.
There is a holy seed, and what God needs in this country – forget the politicians, what He needs is Christians everywhere - maybe in the political world, anywhere else and everywhere else – who are willing to go with the gospel and let the Lord use them to reach that holy seed. That’s our calling. And in that God is glorified, and we are obedient and blessed.
Father, we thank You for the insight that we receive from Your Word, and we just so greatly praise You that no matter what’s going on around us in our world, the Word of God speaks so particularly and relevantly and powerfully to our time and our condition. Make us that people.
Help us to know that we’re more important than all the educators and all the legislators, all the important people and all those who are in positions of power, because we are the only ones who can bring the message that changes the soul. Help us to realize, Lord, that it is the gospel that promises eternal life, and the gospel alone. We’re not even citizens of this world; our citizenship is in heaven. We’re members of the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and we are only here that we might be used to reach that holy seed.
Use us, Lord, to communicate the gospel. First to live it and make it believable, and then to speak it faithfully. And lead us to that holy seed that we might be the instruments that You can use to bring salvation even in the midst of judgment. Thank You for that great privilege. And all the glory we give to You, in Christ’s name, amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.