Friday, September 28, 2012

Isaiah's Vision of the Lord

By Reverend Mark Hunnemann

Isaiah 6
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Isaiah's Commission from the Lord
8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say . . .”

I think the greatest need of the church is to understand the holiness of God. It would have many benefits . . . one of which would be the obliteration of the unholy notion of ghosts.  However, instead of an abstract discussion of this topic, let’s take a look at the close encounter the prophet Isaiah had with God’s holiness.

Notice that this encounter took place in space and time (in the year that king Uzziah died), and not in some mythology. Uzziah was a good king and he reigned for fifty years, until his death around 740 BC. This was a time of national grief and uncertainty, and it was in this time of painful bewilderment that the Lord graciously revealed that the real King was still enthroned. In times of darkness and doubt (such as I just came out of), we do well to call this fact to mind. We see the Lord seated on His throne in all His regal splendor – high and lifted up. Around the Lord are seraphim – angels anatomically designed to be in the presence of the Holy One, two wings cover their eyes from the blinding light – the refulgence of God’s glory, two cover their feet (representing their creature qualities the Creator/creature distinction is intentionally being blurred today) and with two wings they fly. These sinless angels are specially outfitted to minister in God’s immediate presence. That is why the current invisibility of God is a blessing . . . were we to see God’s face in our sinful condition, we would perish.

It is very instructive what they say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts . . . ” At that time, when the Jews wanted to accent something as especially important, they did not underline, bold, or italicize the words – they repeated the word—HOLY…HOLY…HOLY…. The attribute of God’s holiness is raised to the third level. Nowhere does the Bible say, “God is love, love, love” or “merciful, merciful, merciful” and so on – ONLY the holiness of God is repeated three times to give it maximum emphasis and importance. The three-fold repetition intensifies the superlative (Rev. 4:8).  Energy is not Ultimate reality, as many moderns believe – it is one aspect of reality created by a thrice holy God.

Isaiah was perhaps the most holy man alive at the time, and so if anybody could have merited God’s love it would have been him. And as long as Isaiah walked along and saw himself IN COMPARISON TO OTHERS, he was righteous and everything was fine. Then the Holy One of Israel visited. Did he say, “O wow, I wish I had my cell camera – the Lord is cool looking!”?  Nope . . . he cursed himself “woe is me.”  This self-malediction was based on that he felt as if was going to die. His reputed righteousness immediately appeared as if filthy rags.  He, and the people he lived with, had filthy lips. Psychologically he was disintegrating, due to, for the first time, seeing his true nature as set against the standard of God’s holiness – his infinitely burning purity.  “And all our righteous acts seemed as filthy rags . . . .”(Is. 64:6) This righteous man, when in the presence of true holiness, felt his filthiness, as well as the filthiness of the people around him. Historically, the greatest saints lamented how sinful they still were, because they were in touch with God’s holiness and how far short they fell. The more we grow in holiness, then the more spiritual nerves are exposed.  So to speak, this makes us increasingly sensitive to the deceitfulness of indwelling sin.

What does it mean to say that God is holy? There are two aspects of qadosh (Hebrew for holy). First, it speaks of God’s total “otherness” . . . His God-ness or who He is (His special room in the temple was the holy of holies). His awesomeness was experienced as mysterium tremendum – the eeriness of being in the presence of totally Other. The second meaning has to do with absolute moral purity. All of the OT (and NT) rituals and commandments express God’s own holy character – which being made in His image means we are to mirror holiness to an un-holy world. His burning holy character means He Himself cannot sin, and He hates sin. This is the nature of the one true God . . . the only God who exists in fact, and is not a demonic fabrication. No, it was not a pleasant stroll in the garden of God’s qadosh. If folks grasped a fraction of God’s holiness, then they would be kicking down the doors of the churches seeking salvation.

We can put it like this: an in depth view of God’s holiness, leads to an in depth view of our sinfulness, and an in depth view of our sinfulness before a holy God, propels one irresistibly to the cross. In a pluralistic and relativistic culture such as our own, we desperately need to obtain a fresh view of the holiness of God. Everything stands or falls with one’s understanding (or lack of it) of God’s Holiness.

What does the holiness of God have to do with the gospel? In a word, everything! Once God in His grace decided to save us, He was faced with a “dilemma” – how to forgive our sins and still uphold His holy character that has to punish sin.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory (holiness) of God . . . and the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 3:23, 26)  But praise God, in Rom. 3:26, justice and love/mercy kiss at the cross.  (Ps. 85:10) “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” The picture in Isaiah of the single seraph taking the coal from the altar and placing it on his lips is beautiful symbolism of the gospel.

Implications . . .  “So you shall keep My commandments and do them: I am the Lord. And you shall not profane My holy name.” (Lev. 22:31, 32) “You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.  A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.” (Lev. 20:26.27 . . . see Deut. 18:9-14) It is unthinkable that such a holy God could condone sin; especially participating in demons, which ghost investigating does. We are indwelt by the HOLY Spirit to effect holiness within us. Daily, let us ask that the Lord’s holiness and love would flow through us, mirroring to a lost and broken world what our God is like! Demons are un-holy, unclean/filthy spirits whom we must daily do battle with. “Greater is he who is in us (God, the Holy Spirit) than he who is in the world.” And did you notice what Isaiah’s response was to God’s inquiry after the gospel application? Please Lord . . . send ME, send ME!! May a deeper grasp of the Lord’s holiness cause us to shout, “Send me . . . send me!”

How do you love a holy God?  You ask His forgiveness, become forgiven by Him . . . the ultimate supernatural activity!
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