Honor the Lord

Explore the Bible Series

March 8, 2009

 

Lesson Passage: Isaiah 6:1-13

 

Introduction:

 

One morning a week, a colleague of mine and I meet to discuss a book we have chosen to read together.  My friend, a professor of philosophy, has a deep interest in the things of God, and he is a devout Catholic.  Even though we, of course, have our theological differences, I have learned much from our Thursday mornings sessions.  This semester, at my colleague’s suggestion, we have agreed to study Peter Kreeft’s book, Jesus Shock.

 

Kreeft’s book reminds me of the importance of mystery and astonishment as Christians approach the worship of God.  One chapter chronicles a host of New Testament passages that describe the astonishment that people experienced when they encountered Jesus.  Sometimes, the Lord’s words startled the crowds, such as the debates a twelve-year-old Jesus had with the scribes, in the Temple (See Luke 2:47) or the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 7:28-29).  Other times, Jesus’ power over disease and the forces of nature amazed the disciples (See Mark 2: 12 and Mark 6:51).  As I read Kreeft’s chapter (a chapter that included the actual biblical text of many of these “astonishment” passages) my heart was stirred concerning my own need to renew my amazement at the shocking majesty of the Lord. 

 

Is it my imagination? Am I uncharitable to my fellow Christians when I suggest that American evangelicals, to a large measure, have lost their sense of awe and amazement at the person and work of Christ?  Listen to people around you as they reflect on the reasons they attend a particular local church.  Perhaps, like me, you will hear much about youth activities, concerts, children’s choirs, senior citizens’ programs, mother’s day out, crisis counseling, dramatic presentations, gift shops, Starbucks, and a thousand other activities and attractions.  Some of these things may have some place in the life of the church, but they serve as poor substitutes for “Jesus Shock.”  Evangelicals claim to be “Bible Christians”, but, in some cases, they settle for amusement rather than amazement.    Examine the four Gospels, and mark each time the crowds marveled at the words and works of Jesus.  Like Isaiah, fall at the Lord’s feet, smitten and prostrate before the Lord of Hosts.

 

“Jesus Shock” must permeate preaching as well.  For years I have agreed with those who assert the centrality of preaching, in worship, and, generally, I still regard this principle highly.  However, the worship of God can have only one central thrust, the glory and wonder of the Godhead.  In a sense, preaching is sacramental, or it should be.  Christ is present in the appropriate ministry of the Word, and his presence becomes a means of grace for attentive hearers.  Preaching that does not center on Christ and produce, in the power of the Holy Spirit, true “Jesus Shock” is not preaching at all. Again, like Isaiah, may the Lord purge the lips of those who preach to God’s people.  May the study of Isaiah’s amazing vision renew our astonishment at the glory of God.

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                    Isaiah’s Vision of God (vv. 1-4)

A.     The approximate date of Isaiah’s vision (v. 1a): Isaiah connected this vision with the death of King Uzziah.  This monarch (also called Azariah) governed Judah for more than fifty years, and generally he proved a capable, wise ruler.  Amaziah, Uzziah’s father, was murdered at Lachish, and Uzziah assumed the throne at age sixteen.  As he neared the end of his life, Uzziah foolishly tried to burn incense in the Temple, and the Bible says he was struck with leprosy as a result of his impertinence.  He died about 540 or 539 B.C (See II Chronicles 26:16-23).  Isaiah saw this vision in the year of the king’s death.  Interestingly, the text highlights only the death of Uzziah and does not mention the ascension of Jotham.  Perhaps the prophet intended to affirm Jehovah’s sovereignty.  Human kings will live and die, but the Lord of Hosts transcends the passage of time and the eddies of earthly circumstances.

B.     Isaiah’s Description of God (v. 1b): The prophet, according to his claim, saw the Lord sitting upon a throne; however, we find no description of the Lord’s appearance.  Perhaps Isaiah could find no words that would do justice to the glory he beheld.  Of course, God does not have a corporeal body like men, but the Lord did reveal himself to Isaiah in some observable manifestation.

C.     The Description of the Lord’s Throne Room (vv. 1b-4):

                                                            1.      “sitting upon a throne”: the text emphasizes the royal prerogative and authority of God. Isaiah saw God in his regal splendor, glorious sovereign of the universe.

                                                            2.      “the train of his robe”: Isaiah’s description of God moves no higher than the hem of the Lord’s garment.  The train of his robe filled the Temple with wondrous glory.

                                                            3.      “above him stood the seraphim”: These six-winged, angelic beings stood poised above the seated Monarch.  With two wings they covered their faces, indicating the radiant glory of the Lord.  The seraphs employed two wings to cover their feet, perhaps as a mark of humility, and with two wings they flew.  The scene must have flooded Isaiah’s senses as the majestic cry of “Holy, Holy, Holy: coupled with the stately image of the enthroned Sovereign.

                                                            4.      “the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called”: The cries of the seraphim rocked the very foundations of the Temple.  Smoke filled the sacred scene as well. Oswalt surmises that the smoke came from the altar of incense.  The context, however, suggests that the smoke may have arisen from the sacrificial altar from which the coal was taken in verse six. 

 

II.                 Jehovah’s Commission of the Prophet (vv. 5-13)

A.     Isaiah’s response to the glorious vision (v. 5)

                                                            1.      “Woe is me”: Isaiah perceived his utter sinfulness before this majestic scene. He realized that he was ruined, just as the people of Judah had brought destruction on themselves.

                                                            2.      “I am lost”: Isaiah realized that he had no place in the Temple.  How had he come here, such an unworthy creature?  He, no doubt, felt that he had intruded into the Temple. 

                                                            3.      “I am a man of unclean lips”: The chorus of the seraphim seemed so magnificent that Isaiah realized his sinful lips could not add to the worship.  His defiled mouth could not utter the name of the Lord of Hosts with the purity of the seraphs. 

                                                            4.      “I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips”: Isaiah identified himself with the sinful people of Judah.  At heart, he was not different from them; therefore, he shared the same condemnation as the people. 

B.     God’s grace toward Isaiah (vv. 6-7): Note that Isaiah seemed overwhelmed by his unworthiness, and the text gives no indication that he sought cleansing.  Perhaps he felt his case hopeless.  From the midst of the smoke a seraph emerged with a burning coal from the altar.  The angel touched the prophet’s lips with the coal and pronounced the poor sinner cleansed of his sin.

C.     God’s plan for Isaiah (vv. 8-13): Finally, God spoke from his throne, and he asked, “…who will go for us?”  Immediately, Isaiah volunteered to go wherever God would send him.  Then, Jehovah revealed to Isaiah the impending difficulty of the task.

                                                            1.      “make the heart of this people dull” (vv. 9-10): Isaiah’s task was a judicial act.  God sent him to blind Judah’s eyes and deafen their ears.  Jesus cited this passage when explaining the use of parables (See Matthew 13:10-17)

                                                            2.      “How long, O Lord” (vv. 11-12): Isaiah recoiled a bit from the difficulty of the assignment.  God told him that the prophet’s message must continue until God had completed his judgment on Judah.

                                                            3.      “though a tenth remain” (v. 13): God’s judgment will thoroughly cleanse Judah from its sin, but, even in the midst of justice, God remembers mercy.  Jehovah will spare a tenth of the people, a small remnant will he preserve.  The “tree” of Judah will be hewn down, but a stump of hope will remain.