The Holy God Who Saves Sinners – Isaiah 6:1-8

 

 

The Holy God Who Saves Sinners

Nick Esch, 3/1/2020 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

In his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” And that quote concerns me when I think about another quote. R. C. Sproul once said, “The greatest crisis in the Christian church today is that they don’t actually know God. They don’t know who He is or what He’s like…” And that can be seen by the way many churches behave in worship and in all of life… So, I wonder, what comes into your mind when you think about God? Do you really know who He is and what He’s like? Well, today Isaiah is going to give us a glimpse of just that. Lord willing, by God’s grace through faith, today in Isaiah 6 we’re going to behold the holiness of God. And Lord willing, what we see will change our lives forever… So, look with me at Isaiah 6:1-8.

Context

Isaiah had been ministering in the days of King Uzziah. We don’t know exactly how long his ministry went during that time, but we do know that Uzziah was King for 52 years. And by and large he was a good king who ruled well over his people. Israel prospered under his leadership. However, about 10 years before he died he overstepped. God’s Word tells us, “when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16). In other words, Uzziah as a king, tried to do what only a priest could do. And there’s only One true Priest King, and that’s our Prophet, Priest, and King, King Jesus. And for overstepping and growing prideful, God struck Uzziah with leprosy, and for the last 10 years of his life his son Jotham ruled in his place.

         But, though Uzziah was the unclean king, he was still a sign of hope and stability for his people, because in God’s providence, the nation prospered under his rule. Yet, though God’s people had received grace upon grace, and had prospered much, chapter 5 tells us that by and large they received the grace of God in vain. And so, as God’s prophet, Isaiah pronounced woes on God’s people, and told them that invasion and exile were coming because of their sin. The image is striking in Isaiah 5:26; there it says that God will whistle and the king—the king of Assyria in this case—and his army will come running. Indeed, God is so sovereign that, as Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” And God, in discipline against Israel, sovereignly turns the king of Assyria against his people. But, his people, no doubt, as they had been, continued to ignore God; for they were trusting in King Uzziah, not the King of kings…

Isaiah 6

So, our passage begins in verse 1, saying, “In the year that King Uzziah died…” Isaiah is writing now in the year that the false hope of Israel, the one who they were looking to for security and comfort, died… So the context and the setting was likely one of hopelessness and despair… And in that heavy and dark time Isaiah says that he, “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the Lord, the true King of the universe, high and lifted up… In John 12:41 God’s Word tells us that who Isaiah sees here is Jesus Himself. Jesus is the Lord, the adonai, the sovereign ruler, the King of kings, high and lifted up, the exalted glorious King of the universe.

         Isaiah had come to the temple to seek God, to worship Him, and God in His grace opens Isaiah’s eyes to the heavenly temple that the earthly temple pointed to; and there he sees the Son of God upon His throne in glory. And he says that the train of his robe filled the temple… Often the robe or garment of a king was added to in length every time he conquered another kingdom; the length of the robe represented his presence and the length and extent of his rule and reign. And here Isaiah sees that the whole heavenly temple is filled with the train of the robe of Christ, as if to say that His rule and reign, His kingdom knows no end… He is the sovereign Lord of all. Indeed as Daniel 4:34-35 says, “his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” This indeed is a great and mighty God.

         What a great contrast, and what a great reminder for Isaiah: King Uzziah is dead, but Jesus is alive! And He’s on the throne… He’s in control. And if that’s true there’s no need to panic… And if that’s true for Isaiah it’s true for us as well. I mean, every time I turn on the news all I hear about is panic: hate and division surrounding the election, fear surrounding the Coronavirus… And if we’re honest, we don’t need to turn on the news to find reasons to worry… Most of us have enough going on in our life to drive us to panic: our marriage, our job, our kids, our parents, school, pain, finances, the stock market, sickness… and on and on I could go… Beloved, the world may be in a panic but we—the church—have nothing to fear because the Lord is in control… And He is good. Trust in Him… Rest in Him…

         After seeing the Lord high and lifted up Isaiah tells us in verse 2, “Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.” These seraphim are some sort of angel or heavenly creature… The word seraphim literally means fiery, burning ones, and that’s the idea here: these angelic beings are literally on fire for the Lord… They are burning with passion for Jesus in white-hot worship. And their worship is filled with reverence. That’s why they are covering their face and feet… They are shielding themselves from God and seeking to shield God from their unworthiness…

         These are some sort of superhuman heavenly creatures with 6 wings, in other words, with great power… And these are sinless heavenly beings; yet even they cannot simply look upon the exalted Lord. They have to shield themselves… Even these great creatures have to humble themselves before the Lord. And if that’s the case for sinless creatures, how much more so for sinful creatures like us? We dare not take worship lightly… We dare not seek the Lord without a reverent heart. We dare not go before the Lord without first humbling our selves… That’s why we seek to be God-centered and Christ-exalting in our worship together; we want to humble ourselves and make much of Jesus… We want to magnify His glory… And we see that same posture in the next verse.

         In verse 3 we’re told, “And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” So now we see these reverent, sinless creatures, who are on fire for the LORD, and their passion and zeal for Him are leading them to cry out in worship… to cry out and magnify the glory of the LORD… They say, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” But, what does that mean? And why this attribute? Why not, the LORD is good, good, good, or love, love, love? Well, let’s think about that for a moment…

When we think about holiness we tend to think about godliness, or Christ-likeness, or moral purity and being set apart for God… And that is in part what is meant here. God is perfectly pure, and as the Creator of all He is set apart from His creation; He’s distinct and different, and has Creator rights over His creation, and thus He stands alone as LORD. And that’s important too… Notice in verse 1 Isaiah uses the word Lord, which is the Hebrew word Adonai, which refers to a master, king, or ruler… But here in verse 3 he uses the word LORD which is the Hebrew word Yahweh, which is only ever used of God alone, and it’s the word that means that God alone is the ever existing One… He is the great I AM… Because He has always been and will always be… And so in that way especially, He is set apart from His creation, because He was never created, because He has always been, and will never cease to be… He is eternal in every sense of the word. He is from everlasting to everlasting. This is true of all three persons of the Trinity, but according to God’s Word, this is Jesus that it’s speaking of here; so we need to understand that Jesus is the eternal God of the universe.

Now, notice what is said about this holy God… They say that, “the whole earth is full of his glory…” And this statement gives us some insight into what it means that the LORD is holy. Notice they don’t say that the whole earth is filled with God’s holiness, but with His glory; and that’s the key… Let me show you what I mean… In Hebrews 1:3 it says, “He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” In other words, if you want to know clearly what God is like look at Jesus, for He is God in the flesh. As Scripture says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side (Jesus), he has made him known” (John 1:18). And this makes sense because Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15a).

Now, let me show you why I point that out… God is holy… in fact, He’s holy, holy, holy… it’s what He’s like in all of His attributes. And Jesus is God in the flesh and therefore displays what God is like in all of His attributes; that’s why He’s called the radiance of the glory of God. So really, the glory of God then is the going public of the holiness of God. The glory of God shows us what the holiness of God is like, and the Son of God shows us what the glory of God is like. So, it’s no wonder that the holy LORD seen by Isaiah is in fact Jesus…

So, what we see here is that holiness is godliness, it’s who God is in His set apartness… And that being the case we could say that holiness is not merely one of God’s attributes, but it is the main attribute of God; God’s holiness is really the sum of all His attributes… And God’s holiness is attached to all of His other attributes. For instance, God is love, but the type of love He is is inherently holy… It is set apart from all creaturely loves… And I think this idea is why it says that the whole earth is filled with God’s glory instead of His holiness… Because God’s holiness is made known through His glory… And here the seraphim say that the whole earth is full of His glory… Which is true… The earth and everything in it, and the whole universe for that matter all tell us of the glory of God, because they all proclaim and display what God is like. He is the God who delights in diversity, in beauty, and in love. He is a good God; and we know that because every good and perfect gift comes from Him and derives its goodness from Him. And the seraphim knew this well…

But, keep in mind that this is before the cross. This is before this same Jesus, the same LORD of hosts came to earth, took on flesh, lived the perfect sinless life we should be living, and then died the wrath-absorbing death that we deserve to die. Isaiah 6 is before He suffered through the hell of God’s wrath until it was fully satisfied, and then died our death on our cross. But we know now that He has indeed done this… We know that because He is the perfect man and perfect God, He lived and died, and on the third day He got up from the grave in power, showing Himself to truly be the Lord; and doing all of this so that God’s love, grace, and joy could be showered upon all who turn from their sin, trust in, and follow Him.

But, even before all of this, even before the cross the seraphim say that the whole earth is filled with God’s glory… And indeed it is, for the heavens declare it and the creation points to it… But, how much more so in light of the gospel? If the holiness of God is who God is and what He’s like in all of His attributes, and the glory of God is the going public of that, and if Jesus is the very radiance of the glory of God, in light of creation, and especially in light of the gospel, what we see in Jesus is that the glory of God is the perfection, the beauty, and the love of God overflowing into creation and redemption. So, what it means for God to be holy, holy, holy, is that He is the triune God of the universe who is overflowing with beauty, love, and joy. And His triune holiness goes public in His glory, especially in His glory being made known in the person and work of Christ—in the gospel.

Beloved, this is really good news, because God magnifies His glory in Christ by saving sinners like us, and enabling us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. In fact, that’s in part what’s being pointed to here… When they say that the whole earth is filled with God’s glory they are in part pointing to the day when, as Habakkuk 2:14 says, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea…” Because people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will’ve bowed the knee to the One True King, and that great King will return and right every wrong, and heaven and earth will be joined together, and God’s people will bask in the radiance of God’s glory in perfect joy forevermore… There will be no more tears, no more pain, no more death, and no more sin… For King Jesus will make all things new… The earth will be filled with His glory!

What a great God!!! Indeed, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of host.” That’s what this three-time repetition is used to stress: that God is infinitely holy and therefore infinitely great. It’s not saying that God is holy plus holy plus holy, and therefore three times holy… It’s more like multiplication than addition. God is infinitely holy times infinitely holy times infinitely holy! That’s why He’s called the ever-existing LORD of hosts… By hosts it means all of creation: from the smallest atom and molecule, to the largest army, even every earthly and every heavenly army…. From all the great stars and planets, to the tiniest bacteria and viruses… As the old hymn says, “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful: The Lord God made them all…” And He rules them all… He is the holy, sovereign, great God of the universe.

And the greatness of God is what we get a glimpse of in the next verse. In verse 4 we read, “And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.” Picture a thick fog, or the deep rumble of thunder that is so loud and long that you can feel it in the ground beneath you, you can feel it in your chest, you can hear it rattling the windows around you; and it’s as if the whole building you find yourself in is going to crumble under the weight of the majesty of the great God of the universe. This scene was likely infinitely more intense than that… And the idea behind the shaking of the foundations and the smoke is God’s wrath and judgment. That because this God is so great, because the LORD of hosts is infinitely holy, and because His people have sinned against Him, and have therefore committed an infinite offense with every sin, the fury of God’s wrath is building and smoking, and shaking, and ready to be unleashed… And this leads us to verse 5…

         In verse 5 Isaiah says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” In the first 5 chapters of Isaiah he has pronounced woes on others… Especially in chapter 5, as God’s prophet, Isaiah pronounced woes on God’s people, and told them that invasion and exile were coming because of their sin. But here, after an encounter with the holiness of God, Isaiah pronounces woe upon Himself. Remember, woe is like the opposite of blessed; it’s the language of lament and being cursed because of sin.

         As Isaiah was allowed to behold the glory of the holiness of God, the light of God’s holiness shined upon him in such a way that for the first time he saw his own sinfulness which such clarity that it was almost too much for him to bear… Like turning on the lights in a dark room and being able to see things that were hidden before, Isaiah now pronounces woe on himself because in the light of God’s holiness he recognizes that he is a sinner. Though he’s a prophet, who’s mouth was to be dedicated to proclaim the Word of God, now he sees that even his mouth is unclean. The king of Judah, King Uzziah, the unclean king with leprosy has died, and now Isaiah sees it wasn’t just the king who was unclean, but Isaiah himself and the whole of Israel… They are all a people of unclean lips… And as Jesus said, “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18). So not only do they have unclean lips, but far worse, they have unclean hearts.

         Charles Spurgeon wrote about this, saying, “The most spiritual and sanctified minds, when they fully perceive the majesty and holiness of God, are so greatly conscious of the great disproportion between themselves and the Lord, that they are humbled and filled with holy awe, and even with dread and alarm.” And that’s exactly where Isaiah is here. He sees that God is holy, and that he is not… That he is a sinner who deserve God’s wrath. And that God’s wrath and fury are building and rumbling and waiting to be unleashed… But look at what happens next.

         In verses 6-7 Isaiah says, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’” What a remarkable scene. Put yourself in Isaiah’s place. You decide to go to church, to go worship… You’re not really expecting anything remarkable, just the same old thing… But when you get there, suddenly something happens… Something utterly remarkable… God shows up… And as He allows you to behold His holiness you are immediately aware that you are a sinner, with no hope of standing in the presence of a holy God. Isaiah said he was lost, he was undone, he was falling apart at the seems and didn’t know what to do… In fact, he knew there was nothing he could do to fix the problem. He was helpless and hopeless, standing guilty before a holy God… Can you picture yourself there in his place?… Now, look at what happens…

         One of these angelic creatures takes a burning coal, symbolizing the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit, from the altar of God, symbolizing the purification that comes from blood sacrifices… In other words, this image represents the persons and work of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. And the creature takes this symbolic—red-hot—coal and touches it to Isaiah’s lips… to the very part of Isaiah that he most identifies with his sin. No doubt, this was an incredibly painful experience, as the burning hot coal touched his lips… And this pain symbolizes the pain that comes in and through repentance… the pain of dying to self…

         Beloved, Christ is sweet, and so much better than sin… But, we have such a love affair with sin that when we seek to break it off it hurts and seems to wound us… But, it is far better to enter into the kingdom of heaven wounded, then to go unscathed into hell… Though we may have to walk away from many things we once cared deeply for, when we turn our back on sin and turn our face to Christ we find mercy, grace, comfort, and joy… And all that we find in Christ is infinitely better than all the world could give us or take away from us… That’s why, as Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose…”

         And look at what Isaiah gains here. The creature touches the coal to Isaiah’s lips and then proclaims, “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah has seen the infinitely holy and glorious God of the universe, the LORD of hosts, the One True King… And the light of His holiness made Isaiah aware of his sinfulness. He had been going through the motions, living under the Old Covenant, even seeking to be a prophet for God, but he was still in his sin… He was still condemned. And he saw that clearly as he beheld the holiness of God. But now, out of an overflow of God’s holiness and glory, the seraphim, under God’s sovereign leading touches this coal to Isaiah and tells him that his guilt is taken away and his sin is atoned for… meaning that he was forgiven of all past, present, and future sins, and thus peace had been made between Isaiah and God… In his sin, Isaiah was in rebellion against God, and was thus at enmity with God. And God’s wrath and fury were building up and rumbling and waiting to be unleashed upon him… But, instead of wrath, God gives him grace; his sin was atoned for and the two enemies had be made at one… The sinner had been forgiven and God and sinner were reconciled…

         But how is this possible? A coal cannot atone for sin… A creature cannot provide forgiveness for sin… How is Isaiah’s sin atoned for? I mean, if God is really holy He must also be truly good and just. And if He is, then He cannot merely forgive sins. Justice must be satisfied. An infinite offense demands an infinite punishment… All that wrath that was building up must be unleashed… And that’s exactly right… As I said earlier, the altar and the coal represent the redeeming and purifying work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And all of this is looking forward to what Jesus will do, what we know He has done on the cross. As 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…” That He might bring unrighteous sinners like Isaiah, unrighteous sinners like us to God… Jesus, the infinitely holy, ever-existing Lord, suffered the infinite punishment we deserve in our place to provided atonement, to make peace, to reconcile God and sinner… And because Jesus is God, and because He took on flesh and lived and died in the place of man, He was able to drink down the cup of God’s wrath due us for our infinite offense down to the dregs, until God’s wrath was completely satisfied…

         Friends, before this, you can be sure that Isaiah thought he was good with God… After all, he had been a prophet for God in King Uzziah’s day. He had done ministry. He grew up going through the motions… He was like many of you who have been going to church most of your lives… Yet, he had not really encountered the holiness of God, and he had not yet encountered the saving grace of God. And I fear that the same may be true for some of you. That you know all of the right answers… That you have been going through the motions for so long that you’re even fooling yourself… Or maybe you know you’re not a Christian and you’ve never claimed to be… Wherever you are this morning, if you aren’t right with God, I’m pleading with you, cry out to God, ask Him to open your eyes to His holiness, to your sin, and to lavish His amazing grace upon you, that you might be saved. Notice how passive Isaiah is here… Isaiah doesn’t do anything to make God forgive Him or atone for his sin. The only thing Isaiah contributes to his salvation is the sin that made it necessary… And the same is true for us… So cry out to Him for mercy. Trust in Christ, for He is mighty enough to save even the worst of sinners.

         And maybe you’re wondering if God has already saved you, or what you should do if He has… Well, the answer to both of those questions is the same; and we see it in verse 8. There Isaiah says, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’” We’ll look at this verse and the rest of chapter 6 in more detail next week, Lord willing, but notice what’s happening. God has a mission, and He wants to know if there is anyone willing to embrace His call, His mission. And Isaiah, out of a redeemed heart that is amazed by the grace that he has received says, “Here I am! Send me.” He doesn’t ask questions, he doesn’t need details, he is just in… He’s all in no matter what… When he says, “Here I am…” he’s not informing the Lord of his location, he’s offering himself to the Lord. He’s saying use me for your glory however you see fit, if you’ll have me. And that is the heart of a redeemed sinner. That is the heart of a true Christian… “Send me, I’ll go!” So in part, the way we know we are Christian is that we have new desires, we have a new heart that delights in the Lord and delights to serve the Lord. And what we should be doing as Christians is joyfully serving the Lord: going anywhere, saying and doing anything, giving whatever it takes to magnify the glory of this great and holy God, until the earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea…

Conclusion

So, have you beheld, by faith, the glory of the holiness of God? Have you seen the depths of your sinfulness? And are you trusting in and treasuring Christ, in a way that you know that your sin has been atoned for… that you are forgiven and at peace with God, not because of anything you’ve done, but because of the finished work of Christ? And are you amazed by God’s grace? Are you so amazed and so moved by Jesus that your heart joyfully cries out, “Here I am! Send me!”

Friends, what we see in Isaiah 6 is the one true and holy God. Sproul said, “The greatest crisis in the Christian church today is that they don’t actually know God. They don’t know who He is or what He’s like…” So I ask you, do you know this God? Have you encountered His holiness, your sinfulness, and received His amazing grace? And has His grace in the gospel taken a hold of your life? Friends, that’s what the gospel does! It grips our hearts and transforms our lives. As one of my favorite hymns puts it, “My sin, o the bliss of this glorious thought… My sin, not in part but the whole… Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more… Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, o my soul! It is well!”