Isaiah 6 sermon calling
Often when God's call on our lives is discussed, the focus is on what we should do. Sometimes there is also a focus on who we are in Christ. But I want to look behind even that to start with, to the question of who God is, or what God is like. Because it makes a huge difference to how we respond to God's call. If your boss at work tells you to be on time, you're likely to listen. If the checkout operator at Tesco tells you, you may not take any notice.
So what is God like. Well the first emphasis of this chapter is that God is holy. He is high and lifted up. The train of his robe fills the temple. Now the temple had been custom built to God's specifications as the place on earth where he could dwell and interact with humans. Yet here we see that it only just contained the end of his robe! The angels who flew around him kept their eyes covered, as they could not look on his glory. They sang that the whole earth was full of his glory – not just the temple, not just Israel, but the whole earth. And their song causes the temple to shake. So not only was the temple unable to contain God's glory, but it also shook when God was praised. The whole picture is one of the inability of creation to cope with the presence of God. His custom built temple is shaken to its foundations when he is worshipped, and the angels which were created to worship him cannot even look at him. But it is not a private holiness, maintained only by being shut away. God's glory fills the whole earth – it is an invasive, pervasive holiness.
But there is a problem. It starts in verse 1 - “Isaiah saw the Lord” - and is expressed fully in verse 5: “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord almighty.”
And this is not simply an OT problem. In John's Gospel he writes that in this vision Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus. And in Revelation 1 John has a similar vision of Jesus which leads him to fall down as though dead. We cannot survive in God's presence on our own merits. And as the whole earth is full of his glory, we cannot get away from his presence. Isaiah's problem was unclean lips. Ours may be different – laziness, apathy, gossip, overwork, self-centredness... And if this chapter ended at verse 5, we would be in a desperate situation. God's call would be “Just try harder.”
But in verses 6 and 7 the second aspect of God's character appears: “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal from the altar. With it he touched my lips and said, 'See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.'”
God is gracious and forgiving. He does what we cannot do. He approached Isaiah and dealt with the exact sin which was troubling him. Isaiah had no time to reform his character; he had made no effort to change. God acted and forgave him on the basis of a sacrifice which has already taken place. And it is at this point that God speaks and calls in verse 8.
We need to know that God is holy. In chapter 5 Isaiah pronounced a long list of “Woes” to other people. “Woe to you” and “Woe to you”. But here, on seeing God's glory, he says “Woe is me” and identifies with the people around him as a man of unclean lips. Isaiah is called in verses 9 and 10 to speak strongly against the people. But he does so from a position of humility. We need to be humble in our calling. But we must also work from a position of grace. We do not work to earn God's favour. We follow our call because we know God has forgiven us. And God's call is primarily to be rather than to do. God calls us to be holy and gracious, as he is. And this is the case wherever we work, whatever we do. I can get very impatient in the queue at Tesco when people ahead are taking a long time. I need to learn patience! It may seem a small thing, but when God's standard is perfection, every little helps, so to speak.
Do you know God? Perhaps you do. Perhaps you have been following God a long time. Well, let's just look at one man mentioned in the passage – King Uzziah. Let's flick back to 2 Chronicles 26:16-21. Uzziah was generally a good king. But he's one of these people, like Samson or Solomon, who do well and then fall short. He did well until he decided to sacrifice in the temple. It was not allowed – only the priests could do so. Yet when he was stopped, rather than admitting he was wrong, he got angry. So God struck him with leprosy and Uzziah was never able to enter the temple again. He entered with pride and demanded to seek God on his own terms and lost everything. Isaiah entered on God's terms and gained everything. Do not lose sight of God's grace and holiness. Do not lose sight of God's call, like Uzziah did.