Isaiah and Jesus St Mark’s Anglican Bassendean Isa 6:1-13 Ps 24 Acts 7:44-53; John 12:36-43
I connect very strongly with Isaiah, for 21 years ago at the end of a week of prayer when I felt extremely crushed I had a manifestation of the Jesus exalted the universe which was a definite prophetic call on my life (Acts 3:19-21).
Prophesying in Jerusalem for at least 50 years in the late 8th century and early 7th century B.C Isaiah is cited in the New Testament more than all the other prophets put together. His name means “God is salvation” and he proclaims that in times of national crisis the Lord is the only saviour (43:11; 45:21). He is married to a woman called “the prophetess” and both their sons are given names by God that speak of the coming destruction and deliverance of Israel. His spirituality seems to rise above other prophets. Moses resists the call to be God’s mouthpiece but Isaiah eagerly obeys the Word of the Lord (Ex 4:1, 10; Isa 6:8). Jeremiah complains of the cost of his calling but Isaiah unquestioningly obeys the command to walk naked for three years (Jer 11:18-12:5; 15:10-18; 17:12-18; 18:19-23; 20:7-18; Isa 20:1-6). There is almost no personal history of Isaiah in scripture, but everything we need to know about him is concentrated in this story of his call.
v.1 In the year that King Uzziah died
Uzziah had began his reign doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord and he and the nation prospered greatly, but “when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.” (2 Chron 26). The vision of the Lord came to Isaiah in the midst of a nation whose affluence and pride has blinded it to its own sin and injustices (Isa 3:14-15; 5).
“I saw the Lord high and lofty”
To see God and live was a miracle in itself and (Ex 33:20), but to see him exalted over the world was a sign of a coming great transformation in Isaiah’s life.
“and the hem of his robe filled the temple”
The very edge of the garment of the great King of Israel fills the temple of Solomon, so vast is his majesty.
2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
Surrounding the exalted Lord are fiery flying angelic messengers resplendent with the awesome holy presence of God (Ps 104:4). The seraphs cover their faces in modesty before their Creator and their feet to signify they are to go only where their Lord directs them (Prov 1:15-16). They are an image of perfect servanthood.
3And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The seraphs have such an insight into the wonder of the holiness of God that they must proclaim it to one another; to declare to others the worthiness of our Maker is the essence of true creaturehood (cf. Rev 4:8. This is why Paul says we are to “address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19). Of all the attributes of God only holiness is found in this threefold repetition in scripture. Holiness is the deepest innermost being of the Lord, a purity and perfection separated from all darkness and evil that hides his character from the eyes of sinful human beings.
The Holy One is the “Lord of Hosts”, a description of the God of the angel armies; Isaiah has been issued into the divine council, a sort of war cabinet through which God prosecutes his rule over the cosmos (Ps 82:1; Jer 23:22).
“the whole earth is full of his glory.”
This universal glory of God is a consistent biblical theme; but rare is the climate change scientist who will publicly testify that an earth full of God’s glory is a world worth caring for. To deal with the denial of God’s rightful glory is the very reason why Isaiah was called to be a prophet (Isa 42:8).
4The pivots* on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
The whole temple shakes in the presence of the glory of its Creator, but it is Isaiah himself who trembles to the core (Ex 19:18; Ps 18:7-9 cf. Isa 66:2; Rev 15:8). Some Christians talk so much about the presence of God that they trivialise it; but nineteenth century evangelist D.L. Moody talks about a time when the room in which he was praying was filled with divine light and he had such an experience of God’s love that he had to ask the Lord to stay his hand. Seeking God for guidance in the midst of a crisis years ago the Lord’s peace came upon me so strongly I felt like I was going to die and had to ask him to remove his presence.
5And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’
In a scene like the Final Judgement Isaiah immediately and irresistibly confesses his utmost sinfulness in the presence of a holy God. He expects to be found guilty and justly condemned. But suddenly the most wonderful thing happens.
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph* touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’
Instead of annihilation Isaiah experiences atonement (Isa 44:22; Acts 3:19). God has sovereignly intervened to cleanse his conscience from all guilt (Heb 9:14; 10:22). Isaiah has experienced what he will later so powerfully prophesy, God can make the sinful righteous in his sight (Isa 53:11). As a man brought back from death to life Isaiah can no longer be simply a devout temple worshipper he has become an image and prophet of the coming Messiah.
8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’
Isaiah now stands as part God’s heavenly council; his heart beats with an urgent irresistible imperative to prosecute the case of God in the courtroom of history against all who would deny the Lord his rightful glory (Isa 42:8; 48:11).
“And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’”
An extraordinary experience of forgiveness leads to an extraordinary desire to serve an all merciful God. The prophet is propelled by his unmerited experience of divine grace to do whatever he is told (cf. 2 Cor 5:14). Isaiah is on the move but his mission will be a shocking one.
9‘Go and say to this people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.”10 Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.’”
The purpose of prophetic ministry is not always to clarify God’s plans and purposes, Isaiah’s words will blind and deafen the people of God to his word and witness. This is not some strange Old Testament reality for the ultimate fulfilment of this weighty ministry is found in Jesus.
Quoting from Isaiah 6 today’s Gospel tells us that the ministry of Jesus brought about a blinding of eyes, a hardening of hearts and a deafening of ears. Then John passes a comment which puts everything in perspective; “Isaiah said these things because he saw his (Christ’s) glory and spoke of him.”” (John 12:41). The glory which Isaiah saw in the temple was the glory of the Son of God which over the years unfolded through his prophecies of a Saviour to be born of a virgin, an Immanuel who would make the blind see the lame walk and the deaf hear yet be rejected and crushed for our sins but exalted by God and given the name before which every knee would bow as Lord (Isa 7:14 = Luke 1:26-31; 29:18; 35:5-6 = Luke 7:22; Isa 50:6; 52:13-53:12 = Rom 4:25; 2 Cor 5:21; Isa 45:23 = Phil 2:9-10 etc.) In entering the glory of the Lord Isaiah saw telescopically through history, he saw the glory of the Lord exalted in the temple and the glory of the Lord “lifted up” on the cross and ascended to heaven were one glory; the glory of Jesus (Isa 6:1; John 13:32).
Why did the prophetic ministry of Isaiah and Jesus harden human hearts to the light of God (John 9:40-41)? The answer is simple and frightening; when human beings exchange the glory of God seen in creation for dumb idols they “become like them” with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear (Ps 135:15- 18; Isa 42:16-20; 43:8-20; 47:5-11; Hab 2:18; Rom 1:18ff., 1 Cor 12:2). Wherever men and women are blind to the presence of God and deaf to his witness through nature and scripture you can be sure that they are bound in the sin of idolatry and that the stern prosecuting judgement of God is at work handing them over to their own spiritual stupidities (Isa 21:2; 63:10). This work of judgement upon idolaters is all around us in Australia today (Col 3:5)! Knowing that it is through his prophetic words to the nation that their terrible fate will be sealed the prophet utters a loud lament (cf. Pss 13:2; 74:10; Hab 1:2; Zech 1:12 etc.).
11 ‘How long, O Lord?’ The Lord’s reply is swift and to the point;
“‘Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; 12 until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.”
Through the word of God’s prophet the Assyrians will soon invade and devastate the land (Isa 7-37) and after that the Babylonians will take the nation into exile (Isa 38-48). Can you imagine a man of God standing up in Europe in 1936 declaring that Hitler must invade and defeat the continent as a judgement of God upon its sins? This is the sort of weightiness of Isaiah’s words. Yet praise God judgement is not the final word.
13 Even if a tenth part remains in it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.’*The holy seed is its stump.
I was out walking near bushland yesterday and out of the stump of a chopped down eucalypt a shoot had sprung forth with new life. Throughout Isaiah there is a remnant that God preserves by his mercy (10:21; 37:31-32).
The call of Isaiah is a sort of gospel in miniature and summary of his life’s message. The king is dead, the nation is about to be trampled underfoot by foreign invaders but as a man who has passed from condemnation to justification he knows the unlimited power of forgiveness. Jesus is so powerfully at the centre of Isaiah’s prophetic life and ministry because he is a man who senses he has been brought back from death to life. What about our seeing and hearing into the things of Christ (Matt 11:15)?
For those with eyes to see and ears to hear it is plain that the Church in Australia has been taken into spiritual exile. Latest research reveals that only 27% of Australians think that the Church can significantly assist people in their spirituality. As surely as Israel was taken to the city of Babylon for her sins we are exiled in a spiritual Babylon; but with one great difference. Isaiah prophesied that Israel in exile would abandon their idols but I see more and more idolatry in the Church (1:29; 2:18). Whilst Australian Christians desire above all else happy, safe, secure and comfortable lives for themselves and their loved ones they can never know the glory of Christ’s transforming power. It was a death experience that transformed Isaiah from a devout temple worshipper into a prophet, and any Church which would move from ruin to restoration must die to its idols. If the glory of the bold uncompromising prophetic spirit of Jesus would return to the (Anglican) Church today we must be overcome by a death and resurrection experience.
Last Friday a young Pentecostal pastor was talking with me about how difficult it is to break the consumer culture in the Church. Consumer Christianity is about what the Church can do for me; discipleship is about what I can do for God. I told him that one classic goal of Anglican pastoral ministry was to help people “die well”. Not just to die well at the end of their days with faith in Christ, but to die daily to all those sources of comfort and security which stop us following Jesus, like Isaiah did, in the way of unconditional obedience. I said to my friend that I can only help people from those places where God has taught me through suffering. Suffering Servanthood is at the heart of the life message of Isaiah because it is at the heart of the life message of Jesus (Isa 52:13-53:12; Heb 2:10; 5:9; 7:28). If we pray to Jesus today surely in his mercy he will take us from being devout Church worshippers to those in whom his prophetic spirit dwells with power (Rev 19:10).
 Since an angel witness tells us that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” the measure of any prophetic voice, old or new, will be their faithfulness in proclaiming Christ (Rev 19:10). By this standard the spirit of Christ was particular powerful in Isaiah as he foretold the sufferings of Christ and his glory (1 Pet 1:11).
 He is even at times called the Old Testament evangelist (cf. Isa 52:7).
 This verse hints at an extraordinary insight shaping the prophet’s life. The words “high and lofty” are found applied to God only in the book of Isaiah, 3 times. Here, in a promise to revive the broken-hearted, and most importantly in a prophecy about the lifting up of the Messiah (Isa 6:1; 52:13 57:15).
 The Bible never says that God is “love, love, love.”
Twenty five of the Bible’s thirty one uses of “the Holy One of Israel” are found in the book of Isaiah. It is also Isaiah who makes the amazing and disturbing claim, “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.” (Isa 45:15; 57:17).
 “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Ps 19:1cf. Rom 1:20).
 The old saying, “What goes deepest to the conscience goes widest to the world.” (P.T. Forsyth) is about to be fulfilled in Isaiah’s life.
 Seated with Christ in the heavenly places Christians are also a part of this council (Eph 2:6; Col 3:1).
 Cf. Jesus explained that the purpose of his parables was not to make the secrets of God’s kingdom clear but, quoting Isaiah’s words to his apostles, ““To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”” (Mark 4:11-12). See also Matt 13:16-17.
 The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had made human religious tradition their idol (Mark 7:6-8).
 Which is a foretaste of the saving death of the one “pierced for our transgressions;” (Isa 53:5).
 In the light of sexual abuse scandals the reputation of organised religion in our country has been devastated.