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Do you remember what we heard Jeremiah say last week when God called him to serve as his prophet? He said, “I’m only a child. I’m too young to do that.” He didn’t think he was qualified, that he had the gifts to do what God was asking him
What about Moses. Do you remember what Moses said when God spoke to him at the burning bush and called him to go to Pharaoh and be the one to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt? He made all kinds of excuses. He claimed that he couldn’t speak well enough. He didn’t think he could convince the Israelites to follow him. And finally, he asked God to send someone else. He didn’t think he was qualified, that he had the gifts to do what God was asking him to do, even though God gave him miraculous signs to perform with his staff and promised to send his brother Aaron to help him.
Think about David. Even his family didn’t think God would choose him, so they sent him off to tend the sheep. What about Saul? Who would have ever thought that the persecutor of the church would be the one God would choose to be the great missionary for the church! Think about the twelve disciples. What qualifications did they have to become founders of the Christian church? They were fishermen, and a tax collector.
Do you see a pattern? God most often chooses the most unlikely people to do his work. He chooses those who are humble, those who know that they can’t do what he is asking by their own power. That’s who he calls and empowers to do his work. That was certainly true of Isaiah.
The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Isaiah other than that he was the son of Amoz, but we don’t know who Amoz was either. From things Isaiah tells us we know that he lived about 740 BC when Israel and Judah were at the height of prosperity, but it turned out to be the edge of a cliff. After Uzziah died, things took a turn quickly toward destruction.
We don’t know if Isaiah was praying as John was when God gave him the vision we call Revelation, or if he was just going about his daily business, but all of a sudden God let Isaiah see a glorious vision. In his vision he saw the Lord himself seated on a throne. It was clear that he was the focus, the exalted ruler of all that exists. Just as John and other prophets did, he saw that the Lord is attended by angels. Isaiah calls them seraphim, burning or glowing ones. He tells us that the seraphim had six wings, each pair had their own purpose. They used two to cover their feet, two to cover their faces, and two to fly. They were calling back and forth to each other, Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Armies! The whole earth is full of his glory! Which explains the fact that they covered their faces and their feet. Even though they are without sin and able to be in the presence of God they realize that his is the Creator, and they are humble creatures. He is their Lord and master, and they exist to serve him.
If seeing the Lord on his throne and seeing angels around his throne wasn’t enough to put fear into the heart of Isaiah, a booming voice caused everything he was seeing to shake, and the temple was filled with smoke as it was on the Great Day of Atonement. On that day, the smoke of the incense served to protect the high priest as he entered into the Most Holy Place which was a picture of the throne room of God.
What was Isaiah’s reaction? He said, “I am doomed! I am ruined, because I am a man with unclean lips, and I dwell among a people with unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Armies!”
To those who say, “I wish God would show himself. Then I would believe in him.” We say, “be careful what you ask for. Isaiah knew what God had told Moses. No one can see my face, see me in my full glory and live. The only reason Isaiah was still alive was that this was a vision. He was not seeing God in person in his full glory. But even just a vision brought Isaiah to realize that he was doomed, ruined. It brought him to feel the full weight of his sins and to realize what God should do to him and every sinner, including us. We should be doomed, sentenced to spend eternity in the fires of Hell with the devil and his angels.
Peter felt the same way when, because of the miracle he had just seen Jesus perform, he realized that Jesus was the holy son of God. He was overwhelmed with guilt and fear and said to Jesus, go away from me for I am a sinful man. If God were to show himself in his full glory, we would literally be frightened to death.
When you are tempted to think of yourself more highly than you ought; if you ever think to yourself, “look at me, look at all the gifts I have, God should choose me and be very happy with what I can do for him,” read this account of Isaiah. Read what Paul tells the Galatians, cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law. As you do, you will surely have to confess with Isaiah that you have unclean lips. You have been guilty of gossip. You have been guilty of saying hurtful things to others. You have lied, and cursed, and used God’s name in vain. You have praised God in church and made snarky comments about people at church on the way home. And those are just sins committed with your mouth, not to mention your sins of thoughts and actions.
If we are going to be of any service to the Lord, we must first admit that we are completely unworthy to serve him. We deserve to be doomed.
Isaiah thought he was doomed. He thought that at any minute, lightning bolts of glory would flash from the throne of God and that would be the end of him. But something very different happened. He saw one of the seraphim fly to the altar, grab a glowing coal, and fly toward him. This holy angel touched Isaiah’s mouth with the coal and spoke beautiful words to him. He said, Look, this has touched your lips, you said they were unclean, and they are, you have been guilty of saying things that should not be said. But your guilt is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.
Talk about a mood swing, going from the deepest depths of despair to the highest heights of joy in the amount of time it took for the angel to speak! “I thought I was dead! I thought I was worse than dead. I thought I was doomed. But I’m still alive. I have seen a vision of the Lord himself. And not only that, but when this vision caused me to be overwhelmed with guilt over things I have said or failed to say, God not only said that those sins are forgiven, but he also gave me a graphic picture of my forgiveness. He sent an angel with a coal from the altar as a sign of my purification. My heart feels like it’s going to burst it’s so filled with joy and thankfulness.”
Have you ever felt that way? Maybe someone gave you a gift you knew you were unworthy to receive. It was just what you needed, and you knew that you could never repay them. Your heart might have felt like it was going to burst because of joy and thankfulness for what that person did for you.
Do you realize that God has given you a gift that you know you don’t deserve? You are unworthy to receive this gift. It’s a gift you needed more than anything else in the world. It’s a gift worth more than all the riches of the world. It’s the gift of forgiveness in Jesus. It’s the gift that Jesus purchased for you by living under God’s law in your place and then offering his holy precious blood as the payment God required before he could forgive you of your sins. God doesn’t send an angel to you with a coal from the altar, but he sends your pastor to you with bread and wine. He proclaims to you that with the bread and wine you are receiving the body and blood of Jesus given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of your sins. He proclaims “this has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.” How can we not be like Isaiah and be ready to burst with joy and thankfulness!
Then, like Isaiah, when we hear the Lord saying, in his word, in the needs of our children, our husbands, our wives, our neighbors, whom shall I send? Who will go for us? with our hearts bursting with Joy and thankfulness for our forgiveness, we too respond. Here am I. Send me.
When that’s not the case. When we are reluctant and make excuses like Jeremiah, and Moses. When we argue that we can’t, that God should find someone else. Stand in the presence of God’s glory and feel the weight of your sin. Then listen to the gospel proclaimed to you, in a devotion, at church, at the Lord’s Supper. Be reminded that God enables unlikely people like you to serve him in faith and your neighbor in love by filling your heart with the joy and thankfulness that comes from the forgiveness of sins.