Cleansed and called and sent
Isaiah 6: Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?
Isaiah’s vision of God brings him face to face with God’s holiness and his own uncleanness. However, his cry for mercy is heard, and through the symbolism of fire from the altar, we see true cleansing for this man of God. Now here’s his commission. Immediately, I’m reminded of the need for “sent people” in the Kingdom of God. The need is great, and, as Jesus said, “The workers are few.” The Lord wants to touch every life on the planet in wonderful ways, but workers must be willing to go and work in the harvest. Also, we see that just any worker won’t do. The call comes after the cleansing, or, maybe as a part of it. A cleansed heart seeks only that which pleases the master while the carnal heart is divided between what self wants and what God wants. A soldier who filters every order he or she receives, deciding whether or not he or she really wants to obey isn’t going to be very effective in the heat of the battle. The call of God to go is for those who’ve died out to self and been purified by the work of the Lord. Finally, there must be absolute willingness on the part of the one called. The Lord doesn’t force Isaiah out into the difficult ministry to which he’s to give his life. Isaiah’s free will isn’t compromised. The call goes out for workers and Isaiah willingly steps forward with, “I’ll go. Send me!” Workers in God’s Kingdom are servants of the Lord, but we aren’t in bondage. We serve gladly and willingly.
Take Away: Workers in God’s Kingdom are servants of the Lord, but we aren’t in bondage.
God’s response to my need
Isaiah 6: Gone your guilt, your sins wiped out.
Isaiah’s vision of God’s holiness breaks his heart. In light of that vision any claims to righteousness are blown away. His brokenness brings him to the place of honest confession which is just what the Lord’s waiting for. Immediately, the Lord takes action to cleanse him of his sin. Since this is a vision, there’s a lot of symbolism here. We have an altar of sacrifice with fire, which speaks to us of surrender and purification. There’s Isaiah’s direct reference to his “unclean lips” which refer to, not just a tendency to say the wrong thing, but his whole life, which he sees as speaking in ways that reflect a deep level of spiritual need. The thrilling thing is how the Lord responds to Isaiah’s cry of repentance. A heavenly being touches his lips with the burning coal from the altar declaring the wonderful truth that his sin is “wiped out” and his guilt is gone. Listen, I don’t have to pull some surprising insight out of this passage. In fact, it’s surprising enough just as it is. When I realize the purity of God and see my own deep failure…when I confess it, throwing myself on the mercy God…when I do that, I place myself in the only place where the Lord can help me. I can’t forgive my own sin and I can’t purify my own life, but when I “repent and turn” he immediately does for me what I can never do for myself. There’s no better word from the Lord than “gone your guilt, your sins wiped out.”
Take Away: As I confess my need the Lord does for me what I can never do for myself.
Moment of truth
Isaiah 6: Every word I’ve ever spoken is tainted…words that corrupt and desecrate.
Isaiah’s first reaction to seeing the holiness of God isn’t reverence or ecstasy. Rather, it’s horror. In view of a holy God he realizes his own lack of holiness. When compared to his fellow citizens, Isaiah’s a good man, even a righteous man. However, when he finds himself in the presence of God he sees himself as he really is, and that vision brings him to his knees. Isaiah’s words are deeply personal and my reaction to this passage, if it’s honest, starts with me and not with what I perceive to be failure in others. Jesus touches on this in the Sermon on the Mount when he says, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Also, I note that Isaiah doesn’t announce that he’s now going to commence a self-improvement campaign. Instead, it’s honest recognition of his sinful ways and deep sadness as he realizes just how broken his life is. Isaiah, in just a few words, says it all: “I’m doomed because everything about me, even my words, is unclean and unholy. Now that I’ve seen God I realize the depth of my lostness. In myself I see no hope whatsoever.” The hope of Isaiah isn’t found within himself. He knows it, and the Lord knows it.
Take Away: It’s only as we’re honest with ourselves and with the Lord that the Lord can begin transforming our lives.
Isaiah 6: Holy, Holy, Holy is the God-of-the-Angel-Armies. His bright glory fills the whole earth.
Isaiah is already a prophet of God when he has his vision of the holiness of God. However, it’s that vision that fuels his ministry and transforms his relationship with God. He sees worship taking place in heaven, with heavenly beings shouting out the holiness of God. Everything’s impacted by that holiness: foundations trembling, billowing smoke…and a humbled prophet of God. So what does it mean for God to be “Holy, Holy, Holy”? While I think the triple statement of God’s being holy is intended to cause us to think of his holiness as being complete and not meant to give pastors the makings of three point sermons I do see three aspects of the holiness of God. First, his holiness is that of purity. God is untouched by sin and sin is absolutely foreign to his character. Second, his holiness is that of separateness. God isn’t humanity multiplied. There’s an “otherness” about him and while we’re created in his image, there is that about God which is forever beyond our understanding. Third, his holiness is that of transcendence. Even as the brightness of the sun both warms the earth, giving life, and at the same time is so powerful as to be frightening to us, so is God’s holiness both beautiful and at the same time awesome and untouchable by us. Had God not revealed his holiness to us we’d have zero chance of even dimly contemplating it. Isaiah doesn’t write an essay about his thoughts on God’s holiness. Rather, he has a God-given vision of it, and once he has that vision he’s never the same.
Take Away: A God who is holy, holy, holy should be worshiped and feared.
Long before the American Holiness Movement
Psalm 86: Put me together, one heart and mind; then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear.
I know that David has never heard of second blessing holiness. Jesus’ teachings about heart purity and Paul’s writing on being filled with the Spirit are way out in the future as David writes these words. Wesley, Bud Robinson, and a host of holiness preachers are yet to come. With that in mind, I don’t want to get carried away with David’s cry for an undivided heart and mind. Still, I see here an understanding of humanity. While David isn’t making a theological statement in this Psalm, he does make a human one. He sees division in his heart and he believes God can unify his life. I don’t have to overlay the centuries of theology that are yet to come to identify with that cry of faith. Today, the Christian who struggles with division in his or her life does well to start with this Old Testament prayer, asking God to “put me together.”
Take Away: The Lord can, and wants to, do a deep, transforming, uniting work in the lives of his people.
Now who’s on the spot?
Job 38: I have some questions for you.
Job’s insisted that his ordeal is the result of some cosmic mistake and that if only he could get an audience with God he’d straighten things out. If nothing else, God would at least explain to Job what it is he’s done to deserve these horrible things. Now Job’s getting what he asked for. The Lord has shown up. The thing is God isn’t defensive in the least and he isn’t especially interested in explaining things to Job. Through these tragic events Job has held in there. He’s remained faithful to the Lord, refusing to “curse God and die” even when he’s no longer being blessed in his faithfulness and righteousness. However, that doesn’t mean that Job is 100% correct in what he thinks about all this. Several times he’s said things that are wrong. When God shows up he first concentrates on these things. He says to Job, not “I have some answers for you” but, instead, “I have some questions for you.” Then, God begins to remind Job of Who He is and who Job is. This is a humbling experience but Job will never get a handle on many of the questions he’s asked without this. That’s how it is for us too. We sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus” and that’s a wonderful truth. Still, it has to be balanced against who God is. His awesome power in Creation, his holiness, and his nature in general must humble us even when we’re struggling with issues in life. When God begins to move in Job’s life again, his first move is to bring Job back to these truths.
Take Away: Remembering who God is is the first step to understanding many of the questions of life.
Deuteronomy 30: God will cut away the thick calluses on your heart…freeing you to love God with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.
Moses doesn’t have to see into the future to know what’s coming. After all, he’s led them for decades. When he describes the blessing and the curse that’s set before them, he speaks with authority about what will happen. They’ll rebel against God and travel the road of the curse. However, before Moses ever led this nation he followed God. Through the years he’s gotten to know the Almighty in ways that no other person of his generation has. Even as Moses speaks with authority about failure, he speaks with equal authority about the grace of God. This man of God is sure of this: when they turn back to God the Lord will be waiting to restore them. Clearly, though, there’s more than restoration here. There’s also transformation. The ultimate fulfillment of this promise will come with the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. God, the Holy Spirit, will come to “cut away” that which handicaps people from fully loving the Lord. In that work of grace, his people will be set free to love God with their whole being. That’s the way to really live.
Take Away: The Lord not only delivers people from the slavery of sin. He also transforms them, changing them as deep as their very hearts.
How do the people of God live?
Leviticus 22: I insist on being treated with holy reverence among the People of Israel.
As worship instructions continue the rules concerning types of sacrifices are given. As God’s people they’re to bring unblemished animals when making sacrifices. If someone wants to give God something less as a freewill offering, okay – but it can never be an “official” offering. Even then, there are many limitations. We get lost in the rules and regulations and are in danger of missing the main point in them. The reason for the rules is that to do otherwise is to treat God with less than reverence. Understanding the reason for the no-sick-animals rule transforms my reading of the passage. That which I bring to God and that which I do in his Name is not to be second rate. There must always be an element of reverence in my dealings with God. One answer to the question, “how do a people of God live?” is this: with holy reverence toward God.
Take Away: How can I best treat the Lord with holy reverence?
Grace plus grace
Leviticus 20: Set yourselves apart for a holy life…I am God who makes you holy.
Which is it? Am I holy because I consecrate myself to God or is it because he works in my life making me holy? You know that the answer is simply, “both.” The Lord works on both sides of this issue while I’m in the middle. He makes it possible for me to share in his holiness through his living in and through me. He also makes it possible for me to accept his gracious offer to fill my life, creating in me the capability to choose him over myself. On one hand, there’s God, ready and willing to “make” me holy. On the other hand, why, there’s God again. He makes it possible for me to say “yes” to this gracious offer. I’m in the middle. If I refuse this grace-filled offer, I open the doors to the possibility of all the horrible things described in Leviticus 20. If I accept it, if I take advantage of this grace plus grace offer, I open the way for God’s life – his holiness – to be lived out in me.
Take Away: The Lord not only makes me holy; he makes it possible for me to want to be holy in the first place..
Holiness everywhere, all the time
Leviticus 19: Be holy because I, God, your God, am holy.
This phrase is a repeated in several other places in the Books of Law. Here, it comes just before a rundown of how to live that includes everything from “no idols” to “no gossip.” This command appears along with items like how to plant one’s crops, how to cut one’s hair, and a warning against getting tattoos. It’s intriguing to see this call to holiness from a holy God surrounded by all these mundane concerns. Clearly, the Lord wants his holiness to be found in the lives of his people and not just when the High Priest enters into the Holy of Holies or when Moses ascends the shaking Mount Sinai. As I see obvious cultural concerns along with universal moral issues all being thrown into the mix together and then am told that the underlying concern in all of it is holiness I realize just how wrong it is to confine holiness to a small area of the Tabernacle. God is calling his people to apply their relationship with him to not only how they conduct worship in the new Tent of Meeting but also how they live their everyday lives. That’s a message I need today. After all, part time holiness isn’t much holiness at all.
Take Away: Living a holy life has as much to do with what happens outside the church as it does what happens inside it.