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When God Calls: Isaiah

When God Calls  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:26
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When God Calls: Isaiah

The story of the Prophet Isaiah begins about 115 years before the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah, whom we looked at last week. Jeremiah was still prophet when the last territory of the children of Abraham, Judah, fell to Nebuchadnezzar, and the leaders of the nation were taken into exile in Babylon.
More than 100 years earlier, Isaiah was preaching sin and repentance to to Judah through the time of the Assyrian invasion of the northern Kingdom of Israel and for 20 years afterwards. If Israel’s sin led to their destruction at the hand Assyria, what might happen to Judah? Is there hope? It is good that Isaiah is able to give promises of hope even while he was strongly condemning sin and warning of judgement.
While Jeremiah was the son of a priest in the outlying town of Anathoth, Isaiah, the son of Amoz, was in “insider” and had access into the Temple in Jerusalem and often into the Kings’ courts.
Isaiah prophesied to the common people and to the royal court. He was a prophet in troubling times, as Assyria was constantly warring from the North; and, lucky for Judah and Jerusalem, the Northern Kingdom of Israel gave them some buffer.

The Challenging Milieu of Isaiah

When you look at the map of the world of Isaiah, it is a little surprising how small the Kingdom of Judah was compared to the surrounding powers. I’ll give you just a hint with a map.

MAP: Isaiah’s World 1

First, here is how the map looks if you zoom out enough to see Egypt to the southwest, Babylon to the east, with Media farther east and Assyria, whose capitol is Nineveh (yeah, Jonah’s mission field), to the east-northeast. When you look at this map, Judah and Israel aren’t even labeled

MAP: Isaiah’s World 2

So now, here we are zoomed in some to see just the middle east. This covers Northeast Egypt to Samaria, and you see how their is a collection of kingdoms here that probably wouldn’t make any difference to the rest of the world because of their size and population. Except, that is, unless you want to march an army from Egypt to Aram or Babylon. Then all these little nations are in the way. If you are the big guy, you want to take control of the lands you have to march through. So the empires of Isaiah’s world were always a threat, and the little kingdoms were always trying to increase their own power and influence.

The Assyrian Invasion

About 20 years after Isaiah began his prophetic ministry, Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire, and the capitol city of Samaria was taken over by the conquerors. The people of Israel to the north were not taken into exile, where there was chance of return.
Assyria did it differently, using a tactic that is not uncommon in our modern centuries: split up the people and dilute their cultural identity by means of killing the leaders, and any groups they thought would be a danger, raping the women, deporting the men and families, and taking over the properties and farms of the people and resettling people from other conquered lands in their place.
This is why, all the way through Jesus, time 750 years later, the Samaritans were seen as half-breeds and corrupted followers who couldn’t possibly know how to worship Yahweh God.
>>>Why was it that Israel fell? One thing, they were the little guy and in some ways the nice guy in the face of the strongest power of the day, before Babylon became stronger. We find out there was . . .

Chaos and Upheaval in Israel

Israel’s destruction happened according to the Judgement of God, for the ancient Israel had become idolaters and secularists and wealth-mongers. Their greatest good had become their political and economic success, and after several decades of material success, they lost all they had gained, including their unique existence as God’s chosen people.
After the civil war a generation after Solomon’s death and the division of Israel into the Northern Tribes and Judah in the south. Israel had a parade of kings who led the people farther from God, to the point that the idol worship of Baal had threatened to destroy all God’s priests.
Isaiah, in the land of Judah, was given a message that would help the Kingdom of Judah hold out for another 150 years, in their continued push-and-pull between faithfulness to God and their desire for self-government.
>>>Many of the kings of Judah found favor in the sight of God, but many did not. Faithfulness to an unseen God is difficult when the goal of a king is personal influence, power and control. It proved to be too much of a struggle for many.

King Uzziah’s Failure

In fact, the king Uzziah, also called Azariah, the one mentioned first in the list of kings Isaiah served, had been a good king. He reigned a total of 52 years, and held the nation together through the upheaval in Israel and the reign of Jeroboam II who led the Northern Kingdom 41 years; then his son Zechariah was king 6 months before he was assassinated by Shallum, ending the 4-generation reign of King Jehu’s line in Israel.
Shallum was instantly marked as a traitor to the nation, and in just one month was assassinated by Manahem from Tirzah, the original capitol city of Israel. But Menahem was a selfish, vile, and violent man who held the throne for 10 years by threat and intimidation. King Uzziah in Judah, the Southern Kingdom, had to continually protect his small territory from Israel, and did it successfully.
But then Uzziah got proud of himself as his strength as a king was on the rise, he decided he could be not just King but also Priest. He entered the holy Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem, and began to burn incense before the curtain of the Holy of Holies. This is where the High Priest Azariah stood up to this popular but over-proud king, bringing 80 armed and valiant Temple guards, who were also priests, and courageously went to expel the King. “You aren’t allowed to burn incense in the Temple! Get out now!” Uzziah, caught in his sin and too proud to admit it, turned back angrily to the High Priest Azariah, and the Lord God afflicted the king with leprosy. It appeared right in the middle of his forehead, as the High Priest was watching.
2 Chronicles 26:21 ESV
21 And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land.
Everyone, Priests, the King’s bodyguards, the Levites in charge of the chores in the temple grounds were horrified, threw a robe over him and ushered him out of Temple. He never went back to his palace, but had to live in quarantine in a separate house until the day he died. His son Jotham held court and ruled until Uzziah died and Jotham was crowned king at age 25.

Isaiah’s Ministry and Message

Isaiah’s message is a message of sin that has a solution in God’s grace; this is the basis on which forgiveness is considered, yet it is only guaranteed by the work of the Son of God, self-sacrificed for our sins, which became effective for all people in all times, from the earliest of God’s chosen ones, Abraham, into the times of Isaiah, and through the centuries all the way to our time and until Jesus comes again.
It is in the latter parts of the book of Isaiah, that we have amazing words pointing directly to the Suffering Messiah, Jesus Christ.
All of that is for background to Isaiah’s ministry. But my theme is this series is “When God Calls.” I haven’t forgotten that. But I like the context of the whole Bible when I look at any one person or incident.
>>>Isaiah opens up his writings by giving a quick note of what he is sharing, who he is and when the Vision of God and his message for the people came to him.
Isaiah 1:1 ESV
1 The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
The “vision” is of the state of the Kingdom of Judah and her people, and to the surrounding kingdoms. Isaiah helps us to see our condition in the eyes of God.
His “who” is pretty brief and doesn’t tell us much about him. Son of Amoz, but we don’t know who Amoz was. We don’t know the place of his birth or home. In what we will see in a minute, we know he had access to the Temple, so he must have been a Levite and/or a from a priestly lineage.
Then the “when” is defined by listing the names of these four kings, he gives us a pretty clear picture of his times. He began his prophecies about 742 BC and kept going until about 701 BC. Later parts of the book have to do with later histories, but the hope of Isaiah continues.

When God Calls Isaiah

So why did I spend time in context? Well, the first 5 chapters of Isaiah are context to his call that we find in chapter 6.
I shared already about the setting of Uzziah’s death. He reigned 52 years in Jerusalem. He was known as a good king for most of his reign. He is one of those who “did right in the eyes of the Lord.”
This was certainly the only king that Isaiah had known for his whole life. The last couple years King Uzziah was out of the picture and his son Jotham was taking care of the business of the kingdom. Isaiah would have known the stories of what had happened in the Temple. He would have been in the loop on that one. He might of seen it happen. His hopes had been dashed, his world turned on end, his thoughts about what is and is not OK for a king to do and why the other branch of government in Judah, the Priests, had to confront him with God’s truth.
The good news is that after his death and the ascension of his son Jotham to the throne, we find in 2 Corinthians that...
2 Chronicles 27:1–2 ESV
1 Jotham was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jerushah the daughter of Zadok. 2 And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord according to all that his father Uzziah had done, except he did not enter the temple of the Lord. But the people still followed corrupt practices.
King Jotham did well following his father. His mother Jerusha is named, probably because after the quarantine of King Uzziah she held an honored position, and because, as Queen Mother, she assisted him in those days before he was elevated from Prime Minister to King. Scripture says he did what was right before the Lord as the King.
He let the priests be priests, and didn’t intrude into the parts of the Temple where only the priests were allowed; but the people were still a mess. They had really never returned to a pure worship of the Lord after some bad leadership in past generations. Read 1st and 2nd Kings and Chronicles and you find out that the ungodly leadership of a single king can mess up generations.
>>>So here we are at the point when Isaiah’s call to serve Yahweh God as his mouthpiece, to be God’s prophet, comes to him in a visit to the Temple

Isaiah’s Amazing Encounter with God

Isaiah 6:1 ESV
1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
Isaiah wasn’t in intruder into the temple. He was there to pray and minister the incense before the Lord to remind all that the people’s prayers were rising to God like the incense rises and fills the room. He was not in the Holy of Holies; he was in the great room of the Temple. We read it was the year that King Uzziah died, but we don’t know if it is before or after the King’s death that he was there.
In either case, Isaiah was dealing personally with what he had seen in the land of Judah in which he lived. The king had become absent. The people were afraid of the encroaching Assyrian enemy from the North and wary of Egypt to the South. A nation in a sandwich, their own ideologies messed up by the environment in which they lived, and the threats of being taken over by the other empires were very real.
That’s when the vision came to him. “I saw the Lord”.
I wonder if you can kind of get a handle on what that means to someone who had ministered faithfully but had always known God at arms length? Knowing God by faith, by scripture, through ritual recitations and by the practice of prayer.
He had always talked to God; But I think he had never sought nor expected a vision of God. Now, God’s purpose for Isaiah was becoming very personal and clear.
What Isaiah says is that he saw Yahweh God. How could he know what that would be like?
The Lord was seated on a throne, but his throne was not on the floor or the dais. Not even on a high platform. It was like, WAY up there in this room with a 45-foot ceiling. OK, already vision of the unexpected.
Then there was his robe… more than the most deluxe wedding gown ever worn by English royalty in Westminster Cathedral. Greater then any human king with leopard-skin collars and red velvet luxury.
“His train filled the temple.” 1800 square feet in this one magnificent building; 30 feet by 60 feet in the great room of the temple, over 50,000 cubic feet. That wasn’t counting the private office of God, Holy of Holies containing the Ark of the Covenant. No one went in there but once a year, and Isaiah doesn’t claim he was in by the Ark. That was another 30 feet by 30 feet. Another 25,000 cubic feet. In these ancient days, spanning a ceiling 45 fee from wall to wall needed some heavy timber. In the Temple this was cedar from Lebanon.
Of course, we don’t know exactly what Isaiah means when he says “filled the Temple”, but we know it was a lot of space to fill with a robe flowing from the Throne of the Eternal God.
>>>So the vision continues:
Isaiah 6:2 ESV
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.
The Seraphim. These were the winged beasts of the ancient visions that transported deity. The body of a lion, the head of something else, and wings. Now, we know from modern physics that the Lord could have just used magnetics or something. But in Isaiah’s day, as in ours, the Lord comes to us where we are. And he came in a way that Isaiah would understand as his holy presence, carried by the beasts that carried the gods, and bigger than life.
I’m not saying the seraphim were not there. Just that those unseen beasts were understood to be at the beck and call of the God-King. There were pictures engraved into the walls of ancient Babylon depicting seraphim, by their imagination…but usually with just 2 wings, not 6. The 6-winged seraphim are unique creatures as God’s attendants. Isaiah’s description
There is imagery in how the wings were used. 2 to fly with. Makes sense. 2 to cover his face. God’s holiness and glory was great, and the right to peer upon God is restricted throughout scripture. The last two wings covered the lower parts of the beasts. The English translation says feet, and the comparisons with other ancient writings shows us this could be a statement of modesty, covering the private parts.
>>>Now we read that this wasn’t a quiet appearance. These beasts spoke, and called to one another from their corners of the throne:
Isaiah 6:3 ESV
3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
We sing this verse sometimes.
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory, the whole earth is full of His glory, the whole earth is full of His glory, Holy is the Lord!
In our best worship of ascribing majesty and glory to the Lord, we are simply repeating the sounds of heaven that echo continuously in the presence of God.
>>>You might already be expecting what it says next in Isaiah’s writings:
Isaiah 6:4 ESV
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
Surrounded by the glory of God, astounded by the majesty of God, and hearing the beasts ascribe honor to the Lord, Isaiah was struck with the shaking of the ground, the smoke which was more than incense normally gave.
Isaiah’s trying to give us an idea of what he saw when God appeared to him inside the Temple in Jerusalem. But his words become inadequate for the task, as are mine.
When you read this encounter of God and Isaiah, dream past what Isaiah says, and see the “so much more” that God is beyond the greatest we can dream.
>>>Now, feeling very face-to-face with God, we hear of...

Isaiah’s Human Crisis

So this unexpected vision is way past anything that could be imagined. And this was a vision of God! Isaiah was in the presence of the Holy God in the midst of the Holy Temple of God in Jerusalem. Perhaps the place we go in our prayers, but not in our physical encounters.
Do you think Isaiah was good with all this? Did he just leave the building after saying, “Now that is interesting”. He didn’t even know if he could breathe. His knees were weak. His body was trembling. His mind was reeling.
>>>What could he do but confess his humanity before the divine?
Isaiah 6:5 ESV
5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
“Woe is me! For I am lost!” 750 years later the Apostle Peter would repeat that sentiment when Jesus calmed the raging winds and the dangerous storm: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner!”
That’s a feeling we have largely trained ourselves out of. When you come to worship, week by week, do you come with and expectation of the vision of a holy God, in whose presence your knees shake and the windows rattle and the realities of your own unholiness begin to appear to you?
Probably not. We enter church ready to sit with Jesus in the family room, maybe watch the game on TV, maybe have a casual chat, ignoring our sins, ignoring our failures, living out our selfishness even in the presence of the Son of God.
If we can’t get a grip on God’s holiness, we are going to find it hard to get a grip on our own sinfulness.
When did you last experience God so powerfully that your own sin would seem be your undoing?
“I can’t even speak without sinning. And I’m not really different than anyone else in the land.” Isaiah said.
“My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” or, in a more cultural parlance, “Oh Lord, just take me now!” for how could he live after such a sight of God’s Holiness and glory? His own sin was a deadly reality to him.
>>>So the next thing we read that happens by the hand of God’s present messenger is...

God Meets Isaiah’s Need

A holy God. A sinful man. The only bridge between holiness and sin is grace. The only bridge between holiness and sin is grace. An that is something that only happens because the Holy God wants it to happen. Although the glimpse of his glory was possibly deadly, Isaiah’s confession set him up for God’s grace to meet his need.
Isaiah, this man of unclean lips in a land of unclean lips used that thought as an illustration of sin in general. When we truly see our own sin, we truly fear for our eternal souls. Who am I to expect a simple audience with the Holy One?
Isaiah 6:6–7 ESV
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
God’s grace comes right to the place of Isaiah’s problem. A peice of still-glowing charcoal held with tongs so the heavenly beast would not be burnt was brought and touched the lips of Isaiah. A cleansing fire was his only hope, but that means facing the fire, experiencing the pain of sin, and receiving the absolving grace of God because of it.
“He touched my lips” with the burning coal, the prophet experienced then not just the voice of the Holy God, but the power of the holy God to save him.
Isaiah presented his sin to God, knowing it was a death sentence to confess. God had to take the next step for Isaiah’s heart to be cleanse. God did what was needed for Isaiah to have his guilt taken away and his sin atone for.
This is an image of what Jesus Christ, the Son of God does for us. We can’t brush off our sin in the face of the holy, sinless God; but God can and does remove the guilt of sin through the death of Jesus Christ and his shed blood, our atonement so we can be fit for His presence.
And when we truly get it, that we need God’s forgiveness and grace to stand in His presence, we get it that we are in God’s presence 24/7. Noting is hid from God. Ever.
>>>This record of Isaiah’s salvation from his own sin is not here to stand by itself as a marvelous tale of God’s work in Isaiah. This is just preparation for ...

Isaiah’s Commission

We’ve spent all this time to get to the heart of the message today, for When God Calls, Isaiah responds. The Lord does not list the sorrows of the land, for Isaiah has already written of those in the previous 5 chapters. Isaiah knew the problem, but did not know he would be used as the means of a solution.
In chapter 5, just before the record of his call and commission we have here, Isaiah had already been given the words for the Song of the Vineyard that Jesus would later allude to in his own teachings.
>>>After describing God’s work to build the nation of Israel and the betrayal of its people, the song says:
Isaiah 5:3–4 ESV
3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
It’s not just the imagery of betrayal that is here; there is also the practice of the people that adds sin to sin:
Isaiah 5:8 ESV
8 Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land.
Isaiah 5:11–12 ESV
11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them! 12 They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands.
That’s not all:
Isaiah 5:18 ESV
18 Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood, who draw sin as with cart ropes,
Isaiah 5:20 ESV
20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Isaiah 5:21 ESV
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!
Isaiah 5:23 ESV
23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!
Anything sound familiar? Those words of Isaiah 2,750 years ago ring as true in our present moment. God had already listed the problem.
>>>But back to the theme—For Isaiah, he is recording an encounter with God that empowered him to keep sharing the words of God with the people of God for the purposes of God. It’s time for us to read...

God’s Call and Isaiah’s Response

>>>Now Isaiah, in the Temple, in the presence of the Holy God, hears God’s invitation to serve and responds with the words that are part of the song we have sung:
Isaiah 6:8 ESV
8 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.”
Isaiah already had a clue what he was in for. He was sensitive to God; he loved his King who died this year. He saw some hope in the reign of Uzziah’s son Jotham over Judah. He knew the tough political climate for Israel, Judah, and all the land.
>>>Assyria was at the door. Israel to the north would soon be destroyed, by the words of God Isaiah wrote in
Isaiah 5:13–16 ESV
13 Therefore my people go into exile for lack of knowledge; their honored men go hungry, and their multitude is parched with thirst. 14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure, and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down, her revelers and he who exults in her. 15 Man is humbled, and each one is brought low, and the eyes of the haughty are brought low. 16 But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.
So, Isaiah heard God’s call: “Whom shall I send? Into this mess, who will go for me? Who will be bold enough to say what needs to be said to those who need to hear it?”
And then Isaiah replies, “I’m here. I know what needs to happen. I will listen to your word and share it with the leaders and the people. Here I am. Send me.”
Isaiah 6:9 ESV
9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Oh, this is good. I get to tell them to listen and see, but they won’t get it. That works for me. Really?
>>>The true prophet of God must go fearlessly to offer the word of God to a people that doesn’t want to hear it. And that’s what God told Isaiah to do.

Isaiah’s Mission Assignment

Isaiah 6:10 ESV
10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
Wow. Tell them what I think, but bore them to death. Just like a lot of us preachers. Drone on until people don’t really hear anymore, so they quit listening and their eyes glaze over and their hearts forget that they have a problem. After all, why should those who hear the word of God want to admit that they need the salvation of God in order to act like the people of God?
>>>That’s when Isaiah asks God an important question:
Isaiah 6:11–12 ESV
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, 12 and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
Oh Joy of Joys! I keep preaching, and people keep sinning, and nations will fall because of their sins against God.
Yet God will always save some because of individual faithfulness in the place of national sinfulness; but it won’t be pretty.
>>>God says,
Isaiah 6:13 ESV
13 And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.

So What’s the Point?

Isaiah’s task seems pointless; but God is always faithful to give his word and his warning to his people, that is, whoever will listen.
God wants to save, even when we want to ignore him. God wants to use you, even if you think you are unable. God has plans for you, if only you will hear his voice and answer His call. Will you do that?
Are you available to God?
Are you willing to hear his word and obey with open hearts?
Are you willing to respond to God’s call on your own life, and say, “Here I Am. Send Me.”
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