Back to the Basics: How God Shakes our Soul to Shake the World (Is. 6:1-13)
We have been talking about the Great Commission as part of our series called, “Back to the Basics: Knowing why you believe what you believe.” Our purpose here at Living Hope and the purpose of our lives is to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ. Living for anything less than what God wants for us is not living. If you buy a car and it sits in the garage, someone might say, “It looks nice in your garage, but that’s not what it was made for!” And if we are living to make much of ourselves and we want God to help us do that, we will be disappointed. God doesn’t exist simply to be available for us so that we can live for our goals. We exist to be available for Him so that He can accomplish His goals and purposes through us!
And His goal, as we saw last week, is that God would shake the world through us. The disciples would have been paralyzed by that command if Christ had not promised to give them the power to accomplish that goal: His indwelling presence. However, I want to back up a little and talk about how we can get to the place of the Great Commission, where we want to go and make disciples? And the text is found in Isaiah 6. I mentioned this text last week. Today we are going to look at “How God shakes our soul to shake the world.”
God needs to constantly shake our soul. This is because we are constantly letting other things shake us. Troubles shake us. False comforts shake us and move us. Our guilt weighs us down. People may shake us. When we let everything but God shake us, we are left often numb toward God. The Great Commission is far from my heart and lives. We feel cold and dry. We become self-absorbed. We live entitled to everything. We become self-sufficient. We think we know what is good for our lives better than God does. And we start to live for ourselves. So what is the cure for all this? It is allowing God to shake our soul again with an encounter with Himself. I want you to see that in Isaiah’s life here in Isaiah 6. How does God shake our soul? Let’s start with this:
I. God confronts us with His glorious holiness (vv.1-4)
How does God shake our soul? It happens by first seeing Him for who He is. The year is 740 BC. In about 20 years, the nation of Assyria will come and take over Israel. Israel has been on the decline spiritually and morally. Isaiah prophesies that judgment is coming if the people do not repent. Does Israel repent? No. They are unresponsive and resistant to God’s call to come back to Him.
Now to make matters worse, one of the best kings of Judah, Uzziah, has just died. Uzziah was king for 52 years, since he was 16 years old (2 Chron. 26:3). In fact, “Judah had known no king like Uzziah since the time of Solomon. He had been an efficient administrator and an able military leader. Under his leadership Judah had grown in every way (2 Chr. 26:1–15). He had been a true king.” He was also a builder and warrior. Uzziah did a lot of things right, but in the end, he grew proud and contracted leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-23).
As a result, the people are shaken up. When God’s not shaking you and changing your reality, you put your hope in something else. You live for something else. And when what you’re living for isn’t God and it is taken away from you, you are shaken up like a kid whose toy is taken away from him. It is devastating. So they are shaken up when their beloved King is dead. What’s going to happen now? Assyria is threatening and our leader is gone!
So in this time of uncertainty, when everything is falling apart, God takes Isaiah, whether in a vision or dream, waking or sleeping, we are not sure, to a vision of something truly secure. Notice that in the year the king died, Isaiah sees a vision of the true King. He is sitting on a throne. Isn’t that great? He’s not biting His nails. He’s not pacing around or wringing His hands, wondering what to do next. He is seated, settled and secure. Absolutely sovereign. Absolutely in control. Have you ever seen Air Force fighters scramble when enemies appear on the radar? Listen, God never scrambles. He is never caught off-guard. God rules our world with His feet up!
What is God saying? He’s calling people to Himself again, saying, people, look: Uzziah is shakeable. He is weak, dead of leprosy. Only the true King, God Himself, is not. Your earthly hope is dead and all our earthly hopes can die, but the heavenly King is alive and reigning. Put your trust in the unshakeable King. Wait, how can Isaiah see God? Can anyone truly see God? John 1:18 says that no one has ever seen God. However, John 12:41 tells that what Isaiah actually saw was the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. So before Nazareth and Bethlehem and Jerusalem, this was a vision of Jesus Christ. Isaiah uses the word “Lord” which is different from capitalized LORD (that is, God’s personal name, Yahweh). The lowercase spelling refers more to God’s title than His name. So Isaiah sees God as a ruler and sovereign.
Notice “high and lifted up.” This emphasizes God’s transcendence. God is both transcendent and immanent. Transcendent means that God is “up there,” above us. Immanent refers more to God being “down here,” with us. Notice both here. God is “high and lifted up,” but also “the whole earth [down here] is full of His glory!” Sometimes we emphasize one over the other. Certain groups emphasize God as being transcendent over His immanence. I grew up in a church like that. God is far away. Respect Him. Don’t get too close. Make the sign of the cross when you move from one side of the altar to the other. Don’t get God mad.
But in many evangelical churches, we have gone the other extreme. God is immanent. This is truth. God is near. But then He’s just becomes a buddy. He’s my best friend. What happens is that we lose the reverence. We get comfortable with His nearness and immanence, we neglect His transcendence. Then going to church is no different than going to a concert or a movie. There is no awe, humility and respect. Grace is cheap. Everything is excused and tolerated. The power is in the balance right? And I think this picture of God is good for us evangelicals who need a higher and bigger view of God. Remember John the disciple who used to lean on Jesus side, but once he saw Jesus resurrected, he says, “I fell at His feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17). No leaning there, falling in worship at the beauty and majesty of the risen Christ.
Notice also that the “train of his robe filled the temple.” Before I got married and realized what “a train of a robe” actually meant, I used to picture God, on an actual train, riding it through the temple. Little did I know that the “train” was something that was attached to a dress, particularly a wedding dress. Kings would wear long flowing robes and they usually did not have a train. So a better translation here would be the “hem of his garments.” In other words, “the very edges of his garments…were sufficient in themselves to fill the temple.”
Why do you think Isaiah is looking at the edges of the robe? Perhaps he was prostrate before the Lord? He is captured by God’s bigness that He falls down and as he peeks up, he can just see the edges of His garments, but the edges themselves fill the temple! God’s greatness is overwhelming to him. He Himself can fill the greatest and grandest of Israel’s achievements in their temple. Isaiah does not say anything. How can you say anything in the presence of such majesty and awe?
Look at v.2. The seraphim, lit. “burning ones” are mentioned. We don’t know how many there were. They seem to be fiery angels of some sort. One author says that they are “…living flames of pure, nuclear-powered praise.” Another commentator adds, “This is the only passage in the Old Testament in which they are mentioned. The seraphim are personal, spiritual beings, for they have faces, feet and hands, they employ human speech and understand moral concepts.” They are different from cherubim. By the way, they do not look like chubby babies with arrows, just to be clear. Cherubim are over the mercy seat and they have four wings according to Ezekiel. Seraphim here are standing as obedient servants, ready to serve their seated Sovereign.
Notice the six wings. Two wings cover their face. They themselves as heavenly beings cannot look upon the Lord. Two other wings cover their feet, almost as if they cannot have God look upon them either or perhaps it was an indication that “they renounced going anywhere on their own.” Young says, “perhaps we may not be wrong in assuming that the glory of the Lord was so great that just as one cannot look directly at the sun for its brightness, so one could not look directly at the majestic figure seated upon the throne.”
There are two other wings, which were for service. Interestingly, four wings in relating to God, two wings to serve God. Four for worship, two for work. If only we understood that our serving God comes out of our worship of God! Earlier in Isaiah 1, Isaiah talks about how disgusted God was with their serving Him out of religion and duty (Is. 1:10ff). The people figured that as long as they did the religious stuff, God was happy. This is different from the seraphim. They ever live to serve the Lord, but that only comes out of truly worshipping God for who He is.
Look at Is. 6:3. They are calling out to one another over and over again. What are they singing? “Loving, loving, loving!” Or how about “Mercy, Mercy Mercy!” They could have sung those, but instead they sing of God’s holiness. In the Hebrew, when you want to emphasize the magnitude of something, you would use repetition. For example, in Gen. 14:10 it says the valley was full of pits. But literally, in the Hebrew, it reads, “Now the Valley of Siddim [was] pits, pits of tar.” In other words, these were not just pits, but “pits pits.” This parenthetical disjunctive clause emphasizes the abundance of tar pits in the area through repetition of the noun “pits.”
So when you want to emphasize magnitude, you would double it. But nowhere in Scripture is an attribute of God tripled, as we see here in Isaiah 6:3, “as if to say that the divine holiness is so far beyond anything the human mind can grasp.” God is not just holy. Or holy, holy. But holy, holy, holy! This is a category beyond categories. Pastor Ray Ortlund notes, “He is not like us, only bigger and nicer. He is in a different category. He is holy.” Holiness is the otherness of God. Holiness is “setting God apart from all else, making him the Being that he is.” He is totally different from everything else in creation. Holiness describes God’s infiniteness and uniqueness. So when we say God’s wisdom is holy wisdom, we mean that God’s wisdom is infinitely beyond anyone else’s wisdom. When we say God’s love is a holy love, we mean that it is infinitely and uniquely beyond anyone else’s.
Holiness also means brilliance and beauty. You see that here. The seraphim are fascinated by God’s brilliance and beauty. They can’t stop singing it, adoring God for it and talk about it. Notice they are singing to God for who He is. Have you thought about the fact that God’s holiness is not something we would like to sing about, because it has no real use for us? We might like to sing about the power of God, because we can get excited about it selfishly. We want to use God for his power. The wisdom of God is something we can get excited about selfishly, because we can use it to get guidance. We can even get excited selfishly about the mercy of God, because we can use it to get rid of our guilt. But holiness is of no use at all. It’s of no benefit to you and it’s nothing but a threat. Anyone who worships God’s holiness is loving him just for who He is in Himself.
You see that with the seraphim here. They are not singing and worshipping God because of how useful He can be for them. They are singing and worshipping God because of how beautiful He is to them. It is kind of like listening to your favorite music. Why do you listen to it? Does it do anything for you? Does it advance your career? You might say, well, I enjoy music for music! Music is beautiful to me. In the same way, God’s holiness is not useful, but beautiful, for you are worshipping God for who He is.
Coupled with holiness is His glory, notice that in the text. The whole earth is full of His glory! The Hebrew word “glory” means, “weight.” It is the immensity of the revelation of all that God is. It conveys the idea of permanent as opposed to the temporary. It also conveys the idea of importance and the idea of something that was real. So when we talk about God’s glory, we mean that, compared to anything else, God alone is permanent, God alone is important and God alone is real. God alone matters. Isaiah hears the seraphim singing of God’s glorious holiness, that this majestic, awesome God is everything that matters in this world. He is everything that is real in this world and everything that is important in this world, compared to everything else.
And what happens when that truth is proclaimed? Things start shaking. Notice v.4. What does this teach us? This teaches us that our souls will only truly shake when we have a vision of God’s glorious holiness. Tim Keller uses this example: If you drop an object, which is heavier than water into water, there is a flood or a water quake. The object has more glory than the water, so the water quakes. Likewise when you throw something heavier than ice onto ice, there is an ice quake. The object has more glory than the ice. The point: When the reality of God’s glory comes down into our lives, we will have a heart quake, a soul quake and everything changes and rearranged. For Isaiah, his view of himself, of life, or reality, everything is shaken up! By the way, whenever God’s presence comes down in Scripture, there is an earthquake.
This is what needs to happen first. We must encounter His glory. When we have an encounter with God as a reality in your life, the weight of it all radically changes our priorities and we are changed. If we don’t have that, you have a God who neatly fits into your agenda. You get religious because you need God to help you accomplish your goals. There is no weight, no glory there, because you are more heavier, more important, more real; you matter more than God does. However, when you see God for who He is and are truly captured and you are taken and shaken by Him, you are left never the same. Do you need that kind of quake today in your soul? Secondly, after God confronts us with His glorious holiness,
II. God convicts us of our sinfulness (vv.5-7)
How do we know Isaiah had an encounter with the glorious holiness of God? Look at his response in v.5. For the first chapters of Isaiah, Isaiah pronounces “Woe” to everybody (8x Is. 3:9, 11, 5:8, 11, 18, 20-22). Woe is a curse, pronouncing destruction upon someone; that “calamity has fallen or is about to fall upon him.” For the first time, he says, “woe” to himself. He says, “I am lost” meaning he’s a dead man or “I have been made to cease, I am cut off, undone, doomed to die.” That’s the standard Lord? That’s how high the bar is? All he sees is his heart compared to God’s holiness.
Until we have a confrontation with God’s glorious holiness, we think everyone and everything else is the problem. It’s my work Lord that’s the problem. It’s my spouse. It’s my kids. It’s my parents. It’s my circumstances. It’s my situation in life. But here Isaiah finally looks in the mirror. See, unless we see God on the throne in infinite holiness, we will never see sin in the mirror. When man sees who God is, man knows what he is. It is the breakthrough of God’s glory that brings a breakdown of our pride.
All of a sudden, this is very personal for Isaiah. A little background on Isaiah here will help us. Isaiah may have been from a royal family. In fact, “Growing up in Jerusalem, Isaiah received the best education the capital could supply. He was also deeply knowledgeable about people, and he became political and religious counselor of the nation.” So Isaiah was one of the elites. He was a man of artistic, intellectual and communicative genius. In an oral culture, he was a man with a golden tongue. He was known for his speaking prowess. Even when you read the book of Isaiah, you immediately sense that he was “preeminent among the prophets for the variety and grandeur of his imagery. His imagination produced forceful, brilliant figures of speech.” But what happens to this brilliant speaker when he encounters the glory of the Lord? He’s shaken up. God rearranges everything in his life and reengineers how Isaiah saw himself. Isaiah sees his sin. As Ortlund observes, “God’s awakening grace turns us completely around with new thoughts like, My opinion of myself doesn’t matter. What matters is where I stand with God. Here I am, breathing his glorious air, eating his glorious food, oblivious to the continual display of his glory all around me—what right do I have to be here?”
Pastor Rod Cooper adds, “The closer I walk with God, the more quickly I feel my sin and realize how much I need God. It's like a huge mirror with a great big light over it. When we stand away from the mirror, things look pretty good: suit looks in order; tie looks straight; the hair, what's left of it, is combed. But as you begin to move towards the mirror, things begin to show up. The suit has a spot on it. The tie is a little bit wrinkled. The hair is out of place. The closer we get to the bright light, the more we realize our defects. It's the same way when we get close to God. When we get close to him, we realize how much we need him and how far we are from him. We're convicted of our sin.” Yes, the closer you get to the light, the more dirt you see on your shirt.
What’s happening here? Isaiah is crushed, ruined and his self-image is destroyed. Even the best part of him, his lips, his great oratory skills, are unclean, flawed and distorted in the light of infinite holiness. He cannot join and sing like the seraphim with his mouth. He is sinful. We understand this. If you ever watched American Idol, you know for the first few weeks, you see thousands of people trying out. They think they are the best in their town and some of them might be, but when they get into the presence of someone else who is better than them and when that other person gets chosen, they are crushed. It is traumatic for so many of them. Now if we are that crushed when we see a human that is better than us with our best gifts, how crushed will we be in the presence of infinite beauty, holiness and glory of God?
And every person who has had their soul shaken by God, this is their first response. It is conviction and confession over their sin. Isaiah says it is not only he that is sinful, but also the entire nation he represents. He and Israel are all the same now. Woe to all of us! We are all unfit to praise God. One commentator says, “Like parents facing the threat of death, who are just as concerned about saving their children as they are about saving themselves, Isaiah is not totally self-absorbed; he is ministry-absorbed.” He says this is also because he has seen the true King. They had been putting their hope in Uzziah all this time, but now he sees that there is only true King worthy of our trust, affection, love and worship. He combines King with “the Lord of hosts” which literally means, “God Almighty” in Is. 6:5, emphasizing the fact that this King God is “…the Creator, the living and true God.”
Now what will God do to sinful Isaiah? Kill him? The wages of sin is death right (Rom. 6:23)? Just as Isaiah confesses his sin, he sees one of the seraphim go to the altar and bring a burning coal, i.e. the fire of God in his hands. Seraphim always act on divine command, so this was something God ordered, though the text does not clearly say this. The fire of God often represents wrath and judgment (Gen. 3:24; Num. 11:1-3). So Isaiah assumed this was death for him. Even the seraphim cannot hold the coal in his hands, as he has to pick it up with tongs. Not because it is hot, but to emphasize the holiness of God.
Look at Is. 6:7. The seraph touches his mouth. It probably stung initially and then to Isaiah’s surprise, what was seen as God’s instrument of judgment turns into God’s instrument of mercy and grace. Notice what the seraph says. It is a word of pardon and not of judgment. God forgives you! You are cleansed. It’s not that the stone had a magical power, but it was a symbol of God cleansing and forgiving Isaiah. Confession of sin always leads to cleansing of sin. Remember that in this age of grace, “God does not reveal himself to destroy us, but rather to redeem us.” Where did the coal come from? It came from the altar. What happens on an altar? There is a sacrifice offered. Remember that holiness demands payment for sin. It is love that steps in and pays the price. In the Old Testament, unless blood was shed, there was no forgiveness or atonement for sin (Lev. 17:11). As the sacrifice was burned up, the coals would remain (unless it was an altar of incense; but regardless, sacrifice is in view here). There was a payment made here for Isaiah’s sin. Isaiah is indeed touched by grace.
Notice Isaiah did nothing to earn this grace. He simply confessed his sin. He doesn’t even go to God. God has a seraph to go to him. Isaiah simply received God’s abundant pardon. Our sin is painful when God shows us how bad it is. It is hard to look at. But instead of crushing us, God forgives. I don’t know if you feel your sin has kept you from carrying out the Great Commission. You may feel like God should ignore and be detested with you because of it. But He will never do so.
Do you know why? Centuries later, there was another earthquake. We looked at this a while ago. In Matt. 27:45ff, Jesus the Son of God is on the cross. God the Father forsakes Him because Jesus became sin. We see that He died in v.50 as He “cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His Spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook and the rocks were split.” God’s glory came down upon that sacrifice. God once again shakes up everything.
Before Jesus died on the cross, remember Him in the Garden of Gethsemane? He says there, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt. 26:38). What is He really saying? He’s saying, “Woe is me! I am undone. I am ruined. I am cut off.” But no angel came to Him to tell Him, “Your guilt is taken away, your sin is atoned for.” He didn’t get an angel. He didn’t get anyone. Even His own Father forsook Him under judgment. You see, for us, Jesus is the sacrifice on the altar that allows us to be cleansed despite our sinfulness. Jesus Christ was shaken by the judgment of God, shaken to the depths, so our sins could be atoned for. God can take the fire of His judgment and use it as a cleansing agent, because before it was already used as judgment, when Jesus was “burned up” on the altar. Thirdly and lastly, after a confrontation with His glorious holiness and conviction of our sinfulness:
III. God commissions us to faithful service (vv.8-13)
Notice the order: confrontation, conviction, confession and then commission. The same moment Isaiah felt like a wicked and unworthy sinner, upon receiving pardon, God tells him He needs someone to be His spokesperson in Is. 6:8. In other words, God needed someone to represent God in saving the world. That is the most amazing, affirming thing to be asked to do! God asks the pardoned sinner to be part of the saving work of other pardoned sinners. And Isaiah volunteers! He didn’t even hear the job description yet!
You see, when you truly experience the glory of God and the forgiveness of God, your heart melts, but your hands and feet also start to move. You want to tell everyone about this incredibly glorious God, who is more important, real and permanent than anything in this world. You want the world to know the God who shook your reality and rearranged and wrecked your heart and life as you knew it.
And God tells Isaiah how the ministry will be like. In Is. 6:9-10, we see God basically telling Isaiah that the rest of his life, no one will listen to his preaching. It will be horrible. You will be unsuccessful and ineffective. He will preach and preach, but no one will care. They will persecute you the whole time. It will be incredibly frustrating. He will see no fruit. In fact, people’s hearts will become more and more hardened. Notice the mention of eyes, ears and heart (v.10). If they, like Isaiah, were willing to be confronted with the glory of God, convicted of their sin, they too would have been forgiven quickly as Isaiah was. They too would have been sent out to be God’s representatives, as Isaiah was. But they refused. Isaiah honestly does ask in Is. 6:11: “How long O Lord?” Like, “Is it just a season Lord? It will be tough for a few years and then it will be amazing ministry right?” God replies in Is. 6:12-13, “No. Judgment will come. The people will be exiled. The whole thing, like a tree chopped down, will come down.”
Now if this was me and I heard that job description, I would say, “Here I am. Send someone else!” But we know from the rest of the book, Isaiah does go and serve this God. Tradition says by the end of his life, he was sawn into two.But why go through all this? Isaiah gets nothing out of this! I think for Isaiah, God was more real to him than his needs. Keller says that Isaiah saw that “His needs are not as important as God. He doesn’t work his ministry around his needs or whether they’re fulfilled. There was no individual fulfillment here at all.”
There is also a warning here for us who hear the Word of God. Ortlund makes a convicting point here: “Every time you hear the Word of God preached, you come away from that exposure to his truth either a little closer to God or a little further way from God, either more softened toward God or more hardened toward God. But you are never just the same. And if you think you can hold the gospel at arm’s length in critical detachment, that very posture reveals that you are already deadened. The same truth enlivening someone else is hardening you. And don’t tell yourself that if only God would perform a miracle in your life, you would believe and open up. Jesus performed miracles, and the people who saw them only became further hardened (John 12:37–41).” Some people are determined to make their heart sermon-proof and will lead them astray. So write this down as Richard Baxter once said, “Lord, help me fear my own hardness of heart than anything else.” Ortlund adds, “Beware of rigidity, ingratitude, a demanding spirit. Beware of an unmelted heart that is never satisfied. Beware of a mind that looks for excuses not to believe. Beware of the impulse that always finds a reason to delay response. Beware of thinking how the sermon applies to someone else. God watches how you hear his Word.”
I pray this message today will not harden you, but cause you to desire your soul to be taken and shaken by God! Lastly notice the hope that God does give Isaiah. The tree of Israel will fall, but there is a seed in the stump, and a remnant will remain (Is. 6:13). You might not see it Isaiah, but I will use your ministry in other ways than just fulfilling you. Be faithful!
As I think about Living Hope, I honestly don’t know what God will do with us and through us. But I do know that when our soul is shaken by the glory and holiness of God and our sins rise to the surface to our disgust and we see at the same time how incredibly we are loved, we will be at a place where He will be glorified as we will go and do anything for this God and we will be satisfied because He is more real to us than our needs. When we worship Him not to use Him to make ourselves great, but because He is worthy of it and it is His due, I know He is pleased. I know He will not waste our labor. But let us labor in the beauty of His holiness. Let that shake our soul. And who knows, there might a seed in this stump that might just shake the world.
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