Faithlife Sermons

Setting Priorities

Notes & Transcripts

06/07/2009 Setting Priorities Knox 16 PC

299/653/548/592 Psalm 29 Isaiah 6:1-8 Romans 8:12-17 John 3:1-17

OOPS! John Wesley: “Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I will shake the world.”  
  UGH! A party of tourists were visiting the home where the composer Beethoven had spent his final years. The caretaker led the group to a certain room that housed a stately old piano. Lifting the cover, almost with an air of reverence, he said, "This was Beethoven's piano!" Immediately a young lady stepped forward, sat down on the music stool, and began playing one of Beethoven's sonatas. Concluding, she spun around and said to the shocked caretaker, "I suppose many people who visit here like to play on Beethoven's piano." "Well, Miss," he replied, "last summer the world famous Paderewski was here, and some of his friends wanted him to play, but he said, `No, I am not worthy.'"
Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him. This was to fulfil the word of Isaiah the prophet: "Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: "he has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, or understand with their hearts, nor turn, and I would heal them" John 12:41  
  It describes the futility that the prophet feels. Who is going to listen to them. Perhaps the people know all about the sin that the prophet has been in. They look upon him simply as a sinner, not someone who has something to say to them. At the time that Isaiah was being called forth into ministry, the northern kingdom of Israel was about to go into exile. They were troubling times in those days. Kingdoms rose up and kingdoms were destroyed.
In the midst of all this the prophet is confronted with the holiness of God, the Lord of all hosts. He is seen as the commander of the Army of the host of heaven that could come down and destroy every kingdom, in but the breath of his mouth. The prophet has experienced this in the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Just the hem of his robe has filled the temple.  
  Who can stand firm in the presence of the living God? In addition, Seraphim, that is, flaming creatures were standing around. They had three pairs of wings and they were calling out to each other " Holy, holy, holy! The Lord Almighty is holy! His glory fills the world." The very sound of their voices made the foundation of the Temple shake, and the temple itself was filled with smoke.
The prophet feels helpless in the presence of the living God because he is aware of his sinfulness. Sinful words have fallen from my lips and I live in a world where people's sinful words flow from their lips. And with my own eyes, I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!  
  AHA! To take care of that problem one of the creatures flew down to the prophet, carrying a burning coal that he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. And he touched the lives of Isaiah with a burning coal and said, " this has touched your lips, and now your guilt is gone, and your sins are forgiven." The prophet is ready to accept a call to ministry which will be unfolded before him in the days ahead.
WHEE! In the presence of the holy God, Isaiah’s telltale heart also caused him to cry out, “Woe is me, for I am undone. Because I am a man of unclean lips.” Three uncomfortable and unpopular truths confront us in this confession.  
  Here is fundamental truth: whenever we see the King, the Lord of hosts, our sinfulness is exposed. Like the pounding of the telltale heart, we can only cry “woe,” not upon others but only upon ourselves. Hugh Kerrand and John Mulder have written a book entitled Conversions in which they cite the verbatim testimonies of spiritual leaders from the apostle Paul to Charles Colson, with such notables as Augustine, Calvin, Bunyan, Wesley, Spurgeon, Tolstoy, William Booth, Schweitzer, C. S. Lewis, and Thomas Merton in between.
Using Isaiah’s vision of God as the model, the authors state that in every conversion they studied, there is agony of soul: the stab of conscience, the shame of inward uncleanness, the remorse for sin, the sensation of being lost and alone.  
  When John Bunyan, for instance, got a glimpse of the holiness of God, he reported that he felt like a child falling into a well pit. Sprawled in the water at the bottom of the pit, he could find no handhold or foothold to lift himself out. He felt that he would die in that condition. From that memory came the allegory of the Pilgrim’s Progress. Isaiah is saying that he has, no place in the presence of God, no right to praise God, and, no authority to speak for God.
Not without significance, Isaiah confesses that he is a man of “unclean lips.” Jewish people saw lips as more than a specific set of sensory organs. To them, the lips spoke the motives of the heart and the decisions of the will. So, Isaiah is confessing that through his lips, his telltale heart has betrayed him.  
  Jesus confirmed that truth when He said, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man”. For Isaiah, “unclean lips” had another meaning. Whether he had been pronouncing “woes” upon the people of Israel, or would soon do so, he was called to speak for God. But, upon seeing the holiness of God and glimpsing His glory, he asks, “How can I speak for God without a heart like God?”
Although sin is primarily personal, we cannot deny that sin has a social impact. So when we see the holy character of God, we also see the pervasive influence of our sin. “A people of unclean lips” symbolizes corruption at the heart of the culture. The pervasiveness of our sin is frightening.  
  Statistical reports show that 70-95% of the perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual abuse learned the behavior as either victims or witnesses of violence and abuse. Other reports show that teenage pregnancies have increased so dramatically that the problem of teenage parents is costing billions of dollars and creating a host of other social problems. The breakdown in personal morality has a social price that we cannot count.
Isaiah comes to bring the word of God in a troubled time in history. Once again we are being brought into a time of need in a crucial time in history. Who will go to bring the word of God into the world?  
  After Isaiah’s confession of sin in himself and in his people, fire is the metaphor that again commands our attention. In the image of a coal of fire upon Isaiah’s lips, there is more uncomfortable truth for contemporary Christians. If our spiritual cleansing is partial, our spiritual consecration is dull, and our spiritual commitment is shaky, God has a word for us in Isaiah’s vision. The word is the one that the philosopher Blaise Pascal used to describe his life-changing encounter with God in 1654. In bold, capital letters he wrote in his journal the word, “FIRE!”
A live coal from the altar of God reminds us that behind the love that takes away our guilt and the forgiveness that atones for our sin is a Cross that extracted a cost no less than the life of the Son of God Himself. No, we do not throw the Book at sinners any more than God throws the Book at us, but we cannot deny the depth, totality, and spread of our sin that requires the violence of the cross and the purging of fire if our guilt is to be taken away and our sin is to be atoned.  
  Each of us has a point of vulnerability that Satan attacks and God redeems. For Job, it was his righteousness; for David, it was his lust; for Peter, it was his self-confidence; and for Paul, it was his zeal. In each case, the point of personal vulnerability is the entry point for sin or cleansing.
Elton Trueblood shares insight in his book The Incendiary Fellowship. He interprets Jesus’ words, “I come to bring fire upon the earth,” not as His day of judgment, but as the fire of the Spirit that ignited the disciples at Pentecost. This is the welcome fire that strangely warmed the heart of Wesley; this is the contagious influence by which Augustine portrayed the spread of Christianity when “one loving heart sets another on fire.”  
  Thomas Edison’s plant was on fire. As he helplessly watched it burn, taking his costly experiments up in flames, he called his son Charles. “Come!” he said. “You’ll never see anything like this again!” Then he called his wife. As the three stood gazing, Edison said, “There go all our mistakes. Now we can start over afresh.” In two weeks he started rebuilding the plant, and it was not long before he invented the phonograph.
This past week Cathie Best and myself had the opportunity to hear about a new ministry which is being started by Ron Shantz. Ron used to be the Executive Director of Kerr Street Ministries. Ron is beginning a new ministry in the Upper Middle Road and Sixth Line area. Signs are beginning to bubble up under the surface to show that there are problems arising in this area of our town. If this goes unattended, then there will be trouble the days ahead. Social services and police services are getting more and more calls each and every day.  
  Ron shared with us a vision of reaching this community with our presence with something as simple as a barbecue. The challenge is simply to get to know these people on a one-to-one basis. Called to be present in this vision are a large number of churches, who were represented at that meeting on Wednesday and some more again on Thursday of this past week.
There is also being considered at the present time the use of a local tavern as a drop-in centre before it opens up at three o'clock. Could you imagine a more sinful place to begin a ministry? Remember, the angel came with a hot coal from the altar to cleanse the lips of the sinner. As we dare to reach out in the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Hosts will reveal himself. He is saying the church today, "who will go for us? Who will be on our messenger?"  
  YEAH! It was announced that General Booth, of the Salvation Army, was losing his sight, and that his days of usefulness were over. After many weeks’ seclusion this Christian of 80 years appeared having had one eye removed and possessing only imperfect vision with the other. To an audience of over 4,000 in London, he spoke for an hour and a half. “I want to do more for humanity,” he said, “and I want to do a great deal more for Jesus. There are thousands of poor, wretched, suffering and sinning people crying out to us for help, and I want to do something for them.”
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