Sunday, January 06, 2013
“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isa. 6:8).
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 6:1–11
The adventures of Robinson Crusoe have long captivated the hearts of readers. Perhaps it is because everyone has at one time or another dreamed of being stranded on some island paradise. Robinson Crusoe, a master of resourcefulness, set about to provide himself with food and shelter to sustain life. He trapped goats until he had his own herd. He built a lodging for warmth and protection. Every day he explored the island for food. His activities were determined by the fact that he was alone on an island. Suddenly one day he discovered a footprint in the sand. He was not alone after all. Now his whole concept had to change. His little island was not as solitary as he had assumed.
Isaiah 6 is the moving account of a statesman who, living in a secure circle of royalty, suddenly discovered the imprint of God’s presence in his own life. In a moment, all was changed. His plans, his commitments, his whole future had to undergo drastic revisions.
Isaiah was made acutely aware of God—and of an embarrassing question: “Who will go for us?” The Septuagint reads, “Who will go to this people?” One of the Jewish Targums translates, “Who will go teach?” Although this passage has been the basis of many missionary sermons, the immediate context reminds us that this is the call to witness right where we are. Isaiah was not even asked to move across the street. He would not even have to leave Jerusalem for a weekend. The call was to stand for God in the very same city where he had lived since birth.
For a number of reasons, God’s question, “Who will go?” is an embarrassing question.
1) Because of past sin (Isa. 6:5).
You cannot see the holiness of God without also seeing your personal sinfulness. The person who claims a personal experience of faith but whose life continues in complacent self-righteousness is deceived. Isaiah’s first thought was of his own unworthiness: “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5).
Suddenly Isaiah saw that his private life had not been private at all. Rather, it had been going on in the very midst of God’s throne room. The angelic beings announced what was to Isaiah a new concept: “The whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3).
Isaiah’s lips had been given to secular and political causes but not to God’s cause. Perhaps Isaiah was like some of our contemporary politicians who feel they must use enough vulgarity to appeal to the person in the street and enough Scripture to satisfy the people of God.
No doubt Isaiah had been involved with many people in whose eyes he had lost respect. Now he was asked to be a witness to them of God’s righteousness. Perhaps he already was reminded of homes where he would not be welcome because of some business deal. Yet the excuse of being unfit was not acceptable, for God offered a way of cleansing. One of the angelic beings touched Isaiah’s “unclean lips” with a live coal from the altar fire, signifying the cleansing power of God.
2) Because of past blindness (Isa. 6:1).
Another embarrassing aspect involves the sudden realization of past blindness. When Isaiah finally became aware of God’s holy presence, he was overwhelmed by how blind he had been.
People often see clearly for the first time through tears. Telescopes may intensify our awareness of the distant heavens, but tears sometimes make us aware of the heaven that is all about us.
King Uzziah had died after a rule of more than fifty years. Uzziah and Isaiah probably were cousins. At any rate, Isaiah had lived and worked in the royal court and had no doubt depended greatly on the king. Uzziah had done much for his nation and perhaps was second only to David in this respect. Sadly, the records (2 Chron. 26) indicate that late in life Uzziah was filled with pride and assumed the role of a priest. Instead of confessing his trespass, he was angry with the priests who warned him of his action. In the heat of wrath, he was suddenly stricken with leprosy. His last years were spent in a leper colony. At last the king, so long a symbol of power, lay dead.
Suddenly Isaiah realized that no matter what man sits on the throne, the real King of Kings is the Lord. To trust in man is to find one’s hopes buried in a coffin. Only God’s power is everlasting.
Sometimes only death can show people that there is more to life than carefree pleasures and earthly riches. In our brightly lighted festivities, we would never see the stars unless from time to time God turned out the lights, took us by the hand, and led us to the window.
3) Because the task is undesirable (Isa. 6:10).
The call to stand for righteousness in the midst of one’s hometown is a call to an undesirable task. Isaiah was a wealthy man of position accustomed to walking in the king’s court and circulating with the upper class. No doubt, because of his royal rank, he had been a popular figure at all the gala festivities of the court. Now he was asked to become unpopular, to become a fly in the ointment. He was called to stand as a messenger of God and confront his lifelong friends with the reality of their ungodliness and call them to repentance.
Adding to the undesirability of the task was the promise that Isaiah’s ministry would be a thankless one. He would often see his eloquence wasted on dull ears, blind eyes, and hard hearts: “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed” (Isa. 6:10). This was God’s way of telling Isaiah that his witness would often merely result in the hardening of hearts as people rejected God’s message. Isaiah’s task was to be comparatively fruitless. Great crowds would not flock to respond to his message.
In light of God’s warning about the difficulty to which Isaiah’s call was a summons, we hear the prophet’s natural response: “Then said I, Lord, how long?” Sooner or later, every faithful disciple asks this question. When faced with uncaring and unmoved audiences, when confronted by the frigid selfishness of the world that warms up only to earthly lusts, we ask, “How long, Lord, must we continue?”
The answer is always the same: “Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, and the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land” (Isa. 6:11–12). In other words, God expects us to serve him as long as there is life, as long as there remains one solitary person on the earth. The only way to “graduate” from the role of disciple is to die.
Yet the task is necessary. Whether or not people listen, our responsibility is to see that they have the opportunity to decide. Jesus himself attracted only a meager minority, but this in no way branded him a failure. The few who do find life make all efforts worthwhile.
4) Because of the personal aspect of the question (Isa. 6:8).
Regardless of how large the crowd we are in, when God speaks, it is always on an individual basis. Isaiah realized he was an audience of one. God was asking who would yield to his call, and Isaiah was the only one addressed. God was asking him to be a part of the working of an invisible kingdom. He was asking him to labor for unseen, though eternal, rewards.
Now in Conclusion
Life is never rightly spent until seen as a divine errand for God. When one greater than Moses legislates and one wiser than Solomon speaks, we do well to listen.
God bless you, Pastor Mike