In the Presence of a Holy God – Isaiah 6

It was a devastating blow.  Like all devoted citizens, Isaiah had venerated King Uzziah. For fifty-two years, King Uzziah had led Judah in an administration of peace and prosperity. It was an era of expansion and achievement. Now he was dead.  The throne sat empty.  It was unfortunate that the king had rebelled against the Word of God and died a leper (2 Kings 15:1–7; 2 Chron. 26). Isaiah realized that though the nation had prospered materially, it was in terrible condition spiritually.

In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. Isaiah 6:1.  Think of a time when one of your heroes passed on.   God’s purpose… Over and over again the Lord sometimes removes our friends and family in order to put Himself in their place, and that is where we faint and fail and get discouraged. Take it personally: In the year that the one who stood to me for all that God was, died—I gave up everything? I became ill? I got disheartened? or—I saw the Lord?

I. The Upward Gaze – In the presence of a holy God, we see the Lord for who He really is…the living, authoritative, omnipotent, resplendent, revered, holy, and glorious King whom all of heaven tirelessly serves and worships. The Christ we must perceive.  The one who is worthy of all worship.  To the discouraged prophet, as he knelt in prayer at the Temple at Jerusalem, the Lord granted a transforming vision of His glory.

He thus assured Isaiah that despite the apparent triumph of evil in the world,

The Lord still reigned omnipotent upon his heavenly throne (Isaiah 52:13 – same terms used for the servant of Lord).  On the throne – Sovereign Ruler.

 

See the sovereignty of the Eternal Monarch: he sits upon a thronea throne of glory, before which we must worship,—a throne of government, under which we must be subject, God’s dominion is total: he wills as he chooses and carries out all that he wills, and none can stay his hand or thwart his plans.[1]

—and a throne of grace, to which we may come boldly. This throne is high, and lifted up above all competition and contradiction.[2]

The heavenly attendants – adored by the mighty angels of heaven (symbolically represented by the six-winged seraphim). Even the foundations of the earthly Temple trembled at the thunder of the angelic choir, and the sanctuary was filled with the incense smoke of adoring prayer.  Serephs – “burning ones.”

Covering their eyes…In the presence of a holy God, even the dazzling and sinless are overwhelmed. They are fit neither to see him or be seen by him

Covering their feet – they disavowed any intention to choose their own path.

They flew – They are swift to serve (v.2) and tireless to praise (v.3).  Calling to one another.. the antiphonal song of God’s holiness.

God lifted Isaiah’s eyes from himself and his people to the throne of heaven. There might be confusion and unrest on earth, but there was perfect peace in heaven: God was seated in majestic power and glory.

John 12:38–41 informs us that Isaiah saw Jesus Christ in His glory. “These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.”

He was on the throne of heaven being praised by the seraphim. His royal robe filled the heavenly temple, and the house was filled with the smoke of His anger against sin (Ps. 80:4). His angelic creatures, the seraphim (“fiery ones”), praised Him for His holiness and His glory. “The whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah did not see much glory that day, nor do we see it today. Rather, it seems that the whole earth is “filled with violence” (Gen. 6:11).

Holy – the word signifies everything about God that sets him apart from us and makes him an object of awe, adoration, and dread to us. It covers all aspects of his transcendent greatness and moral perfection and thus is an attribute of all his attributes, pointing to the “Godness” of God at every point.[3]

II. The Inward Gaze – In the presence of a holy God, we see ourselves for who we really are…sinners in need of cleansing. The Cleansing we must possess.

From where did the coal come?  Came from the place of sacrifice and spoke the language of atonement.  “The penalty of sin was paid for by a substitute offered in the sinners place.  The symbol applied to Isaiah’s lips (the point of most pressing need) assures him of personal forgiveness.

What was it that King Uzziah had to say after his sin and consequent affliction of leprosy?  Unclean, unclean…

A true vision of God and His holiness always makes us realize our own sinfulness and failure. Job saw God and repented (Job 42:6); Peter cried out, “I am a sinful man” when he saw Christ’s power (Luke 5:8). Self-righteous rabbi Saul saw that his own righteousness was but “garbage” next to the glory of Christ (Acts 9 and Phil. 3), and he believed and became the Apostle Paul. When believers have a true experience with the Lord, it does not make them proud; rather, it humbles and breaks them.

When Isaiah confessed his sins, he mentioned especially his unclean lips. Of course, unclean lips are the products of an unclean heart. The prophet knew that he could not faithfully preach for the Lord unless he was prepared and cleansed. How different from some Christians who rush out to serve Christ before taking time to meet the Lord and be cleansed. God met the prophet’s need: He sent a seraph to cleanse him with a coal from the altar.

How tragic it would be to have the throne without the altar! There would be conviction of sin, but no cleansing.

III. The Outward Gaze –  In the presence of a holy God, we see the need and receive our commission – our marching orders.  The commission we must pursue.  Note well that we are not called to serve until we are cleansed.  “Here I am, send me!” is truly a remarkable statement considering Isaiah’s previous despair in chapter 5.  Secondly, that a human voice is allowed to speak in the heavenly court.

The Call – “Here I am, all of me to go anywhere at any time at any cost.”  Total availability and accessibility.

The Cause – “Go and tell…”  Two verbs of Jesus Christ… “come and go.”  “Go and tell!” This is God’s commission to us today. “You shall be witnesses to me…to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, nkjv). It was not an easy commission God gave to the prophet, for the nation was in no mood to hear his messages of sin and judgment.

The Crown – (v.13c) A holy seed, a remnant, fruit from our efforts.

The cost – rejection and persecution

Conclusion:

Every time we gather for worship, we should experience the same thing that Isaiah did.

When Isaiah walked out of the temple that day, he was no longer a mourner—he was a missionary. He was not merely a spectator; he was a participant. God had equipped him to do the job: Isaiah had seen the Lord, he had seen himself, and he had seen the need. Knowing that God was on the throne, and that God had called and commissioned him, he was ready to fulfill his commission even unto death.

 

 

 

 

[1]Packer, J. I. (1995, c1993). Concise theology : A guide to historic Christian beliefs. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House.

[2]Henry, M. (1996, c1991). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume (Is 6:1). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[3]Packer, J. I. (1995, c1993). Concise theology : A guide to historic Christian beliefs. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House.

The Marks of a Redeemed Community – Worship Reflections

The below reflections come from studying Isaiah 56:1-8.

God wants his gathered people to seek him for Himself, not merely for His blessings, great though they are. He wants us “to minister to Him, and to love His name, and to be His servants” (Isaiah 56:6). Then, he promises to “make us joyful” in his house of prayer for all nations. He’s the one who is calling the nations to Himself. He wants us to know that we are never stronger than when we are most aware of our weakness, and therefore most dependent on Him.
– David Jackman

God values a heart for Christ. That’s how he defines spiritual authenticity… We draw lines of exclusion that God wants to erase. He throws the doors wide-open to all alike who will take Christ as their legitimacy.

What matters in church is what matters to God, especially the gathering in of outsiders (John 10:16), and nothing else matters. When we accept that and implement the implications in our churches, we move toward revival.
–  Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Try and make ourselves kings and we find only shame;
bow to become his slaves for love and we find ourselves wearing crowns.
– John Oswalt

The Bruised Reed and Smoldering Wick

What are we to understand by the bruised reed and smoldering wick in
Matthew 12:20? “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

This language is no doubt figurative. What is it that these two expressions mean?

The simplest explanation seems to be, that the Holy Spirit is here describing persons whose grace is at present weak, whose repentance is feeble, and whose faith is small. Towards such persons the Lord Jesus Christ will be very tender and compassionate.
Weak as the bruised reed is, it shall not be broken;
small as the spark of fire may be within the smoldering wick,
it shall not be quenched.
– J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

A Worship Guide for Good Friday

Grieving on Good Friday

REFLECTIONS

O all ye who pass by, behold and see; man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree; The tree of life to all, but only me:  Was ever grief like mine?

—  From the poem “The Sacrifice” by George Herbert

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?  Look around and see.  Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?”

— Lamentations 1:12

CALL TO WORSHIP  – Galatians 6:14

Leader: “The cross of Christ is the door to heaven, the key to paradise, the downfall of the devil, the uplifting of mankind, the consolation of our imprisonment, and the prize for our freedom. The cross of Christ is the safeguard of our faith, the assurance of our hope, and the throne of love. It is the sign of God’s mercy and the proof of forgiveness. The cross is the way to peace, joy, and righteousness in the kingdom of God. The way to victory over sin, despair, and death is through the cross of Jesus Christ.”

— Abbot Rupert of Deutz, ca. 1100 AD

People: Therefore, “may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified.”

SCRIPTURE READING #1 – John 18:1-11

With clubs and staves they seek me, as a thief, who am the Way and Truth,

The true relief; Most true to those, who are my greatest grief: Was ever grief like mine?

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

See, from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down:

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

SCRIPTURE READING #2  – John 18:12-24

See, they lay hold on me, not with the hands—Of faith, but fury: yet at their commands

I suffer binding, who have loosed their bands:  Was ever grief like mine?

There is a Fountain

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains . . .

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away . . .

SCRIPTURE READING #3 – John 18:28-40

Then they accuse me of great blasphemy, That I presumed to be the Deity,

Who never thought that any robbery: Was ever grief like mine?

What Wondrous Love is This?

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

SCRIPTURE READING #4 – John 19:1-9

The soldiers lead me to the Common Hall; There they deride me, they abuse me all:

Yet for twelve heavenly legions I could call: Was ever grief like mine?

Man of Sorrows,” What a Name!

“Man of sorrows!” what a name for the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!  Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude, In my place condemned He stood,
Sealed my pardon with His blood; Hallelujah, what a Savior!

SCRIPTURE READING #5 – John 19:10-16

Thus trimmed, forth they bring me to the rout, Who Crucify him, cry with one strong shout.

God holds his peace at man, and man cries out:  Was ever grief like mine?

O Sacred Head

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down;
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

SCRIPTURE READING #6  – John 19:17-27

O all you who pass by, behold and see; Man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree;

The tree of life to all, but only me:  Was ever grief like mine?

Tenebrae Hymn—Were You There?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

SCRIPTURE READING #7  – John 19:28-30

But now I die; now all is finished.  My woe, man’s weal: and now I bow my head.

Only let others say, when I am dead, Never was grief like mine.

Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?

BENEDICTION

Father, into your hands we commit our spirits.  AMEN

– Adapted from Psalm 31:5

For Zion’s Sake, Church Hopping and Anti-institutionalism

In recent days, I have spent time with people from various parts of our country who have a legitimate beef with the church of Jesus. They have been hurt or disappointed by the church. Church leaders have failed them. Pastors come for counsel who have been hurt and betrayed by their leaders. Church leaders have been maligned and marginalized by their pastoral leadership.

I think it is important that we do three things: First of all, we need to know that we are in the midst of a spiritual battle and that the devil delights to send ravenous wolves among Christ’s sheep to devour, and all church leaders have wolf-like tendencies that we need the Holy Spirit to curb. Secondly, we need to know some of the cultural trends and riptides that are eroding the effectiveness, peace, and purity of Christ’s church. Thirdly, we need to recommit ourselves and our resources to see the gospel make progress through our intentional commitment to a local church that is led by imperfect leaders who have feet of clay.

Recently I was reading some of the research from George Barna about the anti-institutional spirit that is pervading the United States. He writes:

“In recent weeks the Occupy Wall Street movement has focused on the economic gap between the wealthiest one percent of the population and the remaining 99 percent. As others have observed this movement reflects a mix of anti-institutionalism and disillusionment with the economy, government and financial industry. But perhaps Americans’ growing dissatisfaction with institutions is more influenced than they realize by their own personal expectations and experiences. While people are increasingly skeptical of external forces, like religion and government, the research shows that internal doubts about fulfillment, faith, emotion and personal history significantly define millions of the nation’s residents.

Then I was studying today for an upcoming sermon and came across this verse: Isaiah 62:1. It is a neglected Biblical emphasis today in our country. It reads:

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet,
Until her righteousness goes forth like brightness,
And her salvation like a torch that is burning.”

The prophet is deeply moved. Something grips him. What is it? Zion, the city of God, the church, is reduced to contempt. Salvation is not going forth from her like a burning torch. the nations see nothing of God in the human landscape. Isaiah’s heart is broken for God’s people in his generation. When salvation is not going forth as a burning torch, God is saying, “Your life passion should be defined with these three words: for Zion’s sake. When they lay you in the grave, this should be the epitaph on your gravestone: ‘For Zion’s sake.’ That should be the statement your life makes, because I have appointed my church as the human delivery system for joy inexpressible overflowing onto a dying world. That’s my plan, and there is no Plan B.

Over the last thirty years of so we American Christians have diminished our very capacity for revival, and we’re laying a foundation of sand for the future. We’ve jury-rigged our own hybrid version of Christianity that doesn’t even think in terms of the loyalty inherent in the words “for Zion’s sake.” So many Christians today are living a conveniently free-floating way of life, it doesn’t feel misaligned. It feels normal, and costly involvement feels like a super-spiritual option. But to God, church -hopping, self-protecting, me-first Christianity isn’t even recognizable. “For Zion’s sake” defines a way of life that works and prays and tithes and gets involved. Church membership vows could be summarized with these three words: “for Zion’s sake.” But our generation is disinclined to that kind of gutsy intentionality.

What’s happened to us? We’re being changed not by the gospel but by a hyper-individualistic ethos of devotion to self. Complicating that is the fact that many people have been wounded by the church. Personally, the worst experiences of my life have been within the church. Why go back in? Because of God. God has made an everlasting covenant with his church, and her salvation will go forth like a burning torch. That’s the future of the world.

Isaiah has been showing us in his prophetic crystal ball a future day when the nations will run toward Christ through his church. Maybe you need to embrace Christ by re-embracing his church. If your relationship with your church is ambiguous and sporadic and subject to convenience, the problem is not your relationship with your church. The problem is your relationship with Christ. he has made his loyalty clear. He even delights in his church. He is committed to the revival of the world through the revival of the church. To God, the most important thing in all of created reality is his church, a crown of beauty in his hand. Your own greatest happiness is the revival of your church. Are you praying for your church? Are you praying for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Or will God have to wait to find people who will share the burden of his heart? About 200 years ago Timothy Dwight, the President of Yale and a leaders of the Second Great Awakening, wrote:

I love thy church, O God; her walls before Thee stand;
Dear as the apple of Thine eye and graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend.
To her my cares and toils be given, till toils and cares shall end.
 

The above lengthy quote and insights come directly from Ray Ortlund Jr.’s commentary on Isaiah entitled Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, pp. 414-415. I would commend it strongly to you.

When Your Church Frustrates You… Remember

Cover of "The Screwtape Letters"

The Screwtape Letters

Ray Ortlund Jr. writes in his commentary on Isaiah that “every faithful church is a gateway into the future of the world.” If we are honest, it doesn’t seem that way at times. We are quickly annoyed, frustrated, and challenged by living, worshiping and serving Jesus together as vital participants in the body of Christ. On top of this, we have an adversary who oppresses, tempts, and opposes us at every turn.

C.S. Lewis, in his classic Screwtape Letters, reminds us how a senior devil trains a junior devil to deceive young and old Christians. Listen to a demon’s strategy on how he uses a person’s disappointment with the church to ensnare, and pay careful attention because this phenomenon is pervasive in the church of Jesus today.

One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces on the next pew.

It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father Below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of ‘Christians’ in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armour and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real – though of course and unconscious – difficulty to him. Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like. Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.

Personal Worship Guide: The Transforming Power of God’s Book

Teach: The Transforming Power of God’s Book (click on the link here for guide)

I.  God’s Book grants us discernment into how He works (Isaiah 29:1-8)

The Holy Spirit uses His Word to show us how God has worked in the past. The first eight verses of this passage show us two things: God humbles his proud people (vv.1-4). Secondly, He powerfully and suddenly delivers the humbled (vv.5-8).

How should knowing this change us? God’s Spirit uses His Word to transform proud hearts into humble hearts.

II.  God’s Book summons us to accept and not deny His diagnosis of us (vv.9-16).

He knows our hypocrisy (vv.9-13) and sees our rebellious ways that we try to hide (vv.14-16).

How should knowing this change us? God’s Spirit uses His Word to transform hypocritical hearts into hungry hearts.

III.  God’s Book instills hope as we anticipate the coming transformation (vv.17-24).

God promises to renew the entire world (vv.17-21). He also promises that His city will be holy (vv. 22-24).

How should knowing this about the future change us now? God’s Spirit uses His Word to transform complaining, despairing hearts into hopeful, steady hearts. See especially verse 24.