by Rev. Charles R. Biggs
Pastor of Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian Church
Round Hill, VA 20142-0628
Today's study is on Isaiah 6 where Isaiah the Prophet is sent out to proclaim God's message of judgment upon the people. Before he is sent out, the LORD of Heaven and Earth allows him to have a vision of His Great Holiness and Majesty!
During Isaiah's ministry, this prophet of God had the incredible and challenging task of bringing the message of God's judgment to the nation Israel. King Uzziah had died after ruling Israel for over 50 years and the time of glory in Israel's history was about to be over. In response to the people turning away from God by breaking the covenant they had made with him to obey his Law, God would send judgment in the Assyrian army and the people would be sent into exile.
To prepare Isaiah for this difficult preaching ministry of God's Word, God revealed himself to Isaiah in a vision. Isaiah sees what is called a Theophany, or an appearance of God [2 Greek words made into 1 English Word- theo="God" + Phaneo= "appearance"= "Theophany"]. God reveals himself to Isaiah so that it would humble him and remind him of the incredible power of God's wrath, and the awesome holiness of His character and person.
This week, the week of October 5, 2003, we celebrate the 300th birthday of Jonathan Edwards. God used this man to bring true reformation and revival to the people in New England. Why? Because Edwards faithfully preached God's Word and kept his preaching focused, as well as his people's focus, on the holiness and beauty of God.
Edwards never flinched at telling the people of God about the awesome God who he served and how his holiness demands infinite punishment for sin because sin has infinitely offended a holy God. May we return to this kind of preaching and understanding of God in our time. May it be what brings us all to our knees in repentance!
Isaiah 6 Isaiah 6:1 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. 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." 9 And he said, "Go, and say to this people: "' Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." 11 Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said: "Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, 12 and the LORD removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. 13 And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled." The holy seed is its stump.
Summary of Isaiah 6
Isaiah chapter 6 is broken down into two main parts: Verses 1-7 is Isaiah's vision of God's holiness and majesty, his realization of his own sinful condition, and the atonement for his sins that God makes for him in order that he may approach him. Verses 8-13 are the commission of Isaiah to tell the people of God's judgment with a spark of good news or gospel in verse 13, reminding Isaiah that although the majority will turn away and be deaf and dumb to God's revelation and holiness, some will repent and live!
God's Throne Room
What is God's Holiness (Isaiah 6:3)?
In Isaiah 6:3, the angels are singing "holy, holy, holy". What does it mean that God is holy? The term 'holy' can simply mean 'set apart', but God's holiness is what makes God "GOD". The fact that God is holy is his glorious beauty and perfect righteousness, his perfect attributes and law, and his purity and uprightness in all that he is and does.
How have others in the past described God's holiness? Jonathan Edwards defined holiness as: "Holiness is more than a mere attribute of God- - it is the sum of all His attributes, the outshining of all that God is."
Stephen Charnock, the great Reformed pastor who wrote the classic 'Character and Attributes of God' wrote: "Holiness is God's beauty and glory. When God would be drawn—as much as He can be- - He is drawn in this attribute of holiness. Power is in His hand; omniscience in His eyes; mercy in His bowels; but holiness is His beauty!"
One writer wrote (I cannot remember at this time): "The holiness of God is altogether beyond our comprehension. It is the blazing majesty of God's perfection. It is the excellency of all that He is, in whole and in part. Everything God thinks, everything God purposes, everything God does, indeed everything God is, is altogether and consistently holy!
And Pastor John Piper wrote concerning God and His Great Holiness: "All else is creation. He Alone creates. All else begins. He alone always was. All else depends. He alone is self-sufficient."
The Goal of Our Salvation: Holiness
The holiness of God should be something that we reflect upon and consider as a people. It is God's holiness that places him in a class by himself. It is God's holiness that makes sin utterly sinful. It is God's holiness that reveals to us that he is awesome in power, love, grace, mercy, justice, and yet he is holy in all of these things. God does all things well and for our benefit as His people.
As the people of God what a remarkable difference it would make practically in our lives if we could remember that our God is holy and wants us to be holy as he is holy. Imagine if the next time you sinned, you didn't merely think of the remedy of your salvation, but also the design, goal, or end for which you were saved. What I am saying is that most of the time we merely think of our forgiveness or the remedy of sin when facing a temptation. Next time, by God's grace and Spirit as we allow this vision of God's holiness to recapture our imaginations, we think of the design, goal, or end of our salvation, which is to be made holy!
I think most of us think about our forgiveness when tempted, and the flesh and the Devil come along and whisper: "Oh, it will be alright, go ahead and sin against God, he'll forgive you. He has a fine remedy for sin." However, what we should say in response is this: "I have been saved not merely to be forgiven by God, to be like God and I am called to pursue holiness. The design, goal, or end of my salvation from the LORD was so that I might be holy as he is holy!" What a difference this would make in our lives if we all were to set out to pursue Christ-likeness or holiness in this manner.
And we can, by God's grace and by asking him to give us the same vision that Isaiah had through his Word and by the power of His Spirit working within us! Remember: Without holiness, no man shall see the LORD (Hebrews 12).
The Teaching of Scripture on God's Holiness
It is interesting that Scripture describes God and His name over 900 times as "Holy". Here are a few references as to how Scripture defines God's holiness, or what makes God "GOD".
In the context of God's redeeming Israel from Egypt, Moses sings in Exodus 15:11 "Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?" David gives praise to God because of who he is in Psalm 29:2 "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness". In a Psalm concerning God's covenant promises to David, the Psalmist writes in Psalm 89:35 "Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David". Again, considering God's covenant promises, the Psalmist writes of God's holy promises in Psalm 108:7 "God has promised in his holiness: "With exultation I will divide up Shechem and portion out the Valley of Succoth. And in the later prophecy of Isaiah, Isaiah describes the place of God's habitation in Isaiah 63:15 "Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion are held back from me."
God reveals himself as holy so that we might know of our need for atonement, our distance that has been placed between God and ourselves because of our sin, and that we might return to him so that he might make us holy as he is holy! Our great goal in the Christian life is to be made holy as God is holy!
Yet, why is his holiness so foreign to us all? Our sins have made us all dull to his holy beauty and caused us to seek after everything but God in and of himself. We seek his gifts, what he can do for us, but how often do we actually pursue God and His Holiness just because of his loveliness and great beauty in and of himself?
Holiness is not something we think upon often enough. We have so many other thoughts that occupy our time, why do we not think more about this glorious vision of God's holiness? Holiness is a thing that men are least concerned with because they are tainted by sin, yet it is the most beautiful part of God and creation. We should ask God to give us hearts to pursue him for WHO HE IS in and of himself, in all his glorious beauty and holiness, rather than merely when he gives us what we want! In other words, we pray that we can say "holy, holy, holy" more often than crying to God "me, me, me!"
Do we honor God's holiness in our worship? God is present when two or more are gathered in his name to worship him. Are we overwhelmed by His Holy Presence or do we walk (or casually prance) into worship without a thought of our sin and his greatness. Do we tremble at all?? Or, do we come carelessly into the presence of God with no thought to his great mercy and holiness?
Do you remember the spiritual "Were You There?" Remember the line that says: "Sometime it causes me to tremble...tremble...tremble!" I don't think in our worship services we have enough "tremblin'" goin' on these days. We do indeed call God "Father", but even Jesus the glorious, eternal Son of God, addressed God as "HOLY" Father! (John 17)...and Isaiah when he got a glimpse of God's holiness did not say "Daddy- -what a super-duper dude you are!"
Do we honor God's holiness in our prayer: We are reminded before we ask anything of God (as we learn in the Lord's Prayer) that we first "hallow God's name" or make "holy" his name before we enter into our prayer for what we need! We do indeed pray 'Our Father Who is in Heaven' - -but then right away, we are taught to pray: "Hallowed be Your Name" - -Holy is your Name. Do you approach God in prayer as a Holy Father as our LORD Jesus did, or does your attention mindlessly wander as if he is not a God to be honored and considered "HOLY"? Remember these words from the worship service in Revelation 15:3-4
Revelation 15:3 And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! 4 Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed."
Hebrews 12:22-29 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." 27 This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of things that are shaken- that is, things that have been made- in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
We must keep God's grace, love and fatherly goodness to his people in balance with God's other attributes of holiness, justice, and wrath. We must have a healthy fear of God as we approach him in worship and prayer. Notice the genius of the Westminster Confession of Faith in keeping this biblical balance on the character and attributes of God:
WCF 2.2 God hath all life,(1) glory,(2) goodness,(3) blessedness,(4) in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He hath made,(5) not deriving any glory from them,(6) but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them: He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things,(7) and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleaseth.(8) In His sight all things are open and manifest;(9) His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature,(10) so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain.(11) He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands.(12) To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them.(13).
A God like this must be revered as an awesome God! As Pastor John Piper has written so effectively: "God's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Himself forever!" This captures the ultimate aim of God as a Holy Being and it should cause us to fear Him and to strive by His grace to do the same with our own lives!
God's Provision for Sinners to Approach Him
Notice when Isaiah gets a glimpse of God's holiness and his majesty as He is seated on the throne. He is undone. He realizes that he is a sinner. He says in essence: "Lord, you're sending me out to a sinful people to tell of your judgment on their sins, but I too am a sinner! I too have unclean lips!" We can imagine God's reply to him: "Yes, but I have chosen you to go- - and I will prepare you by atoning for your sins specifically so that you might approach me and represent me to others."
Remember: Unclean Lips Reveal Unclean Hearts- "Lips are the tip of the sinful iceberg" Isaiah's problem was that his heart, his sinful problem in the heart, was revealed by his lips. From out of the heart comes uncleanness, Jesus says (Matt 15). So, Isaiah's lips are a "dead giveaway" that he is a sinner in need of redemption if he is to stand in the presence of a Holy God!
Isaiah was God's man to preach his Word and through his lips men would hear judgment and grace. Yet, this was the opening, the outlet, the tip that revealed Isaiah's sin and guilt and need for God's assistance if he was going to stay in his presence. So, Isaiah is cut to the heart- "Woe is me!!" He is terrified. The other people in Isaiah's day were not so fearful of God. They continued to break his Law and step on the grace and mercy that God had shown to them.
"I am undone", says Isaiah - -unraveled: It is this vision of the holiness of God that reveals our sins and our need for his help. Listen to Calvin on this:
…Until God reveal himself to us, we do not think that we are men, or rather, we think that we are gods; but when we have seen God, we then begin to feel and know what we are. Hence springs true humility, which consists in this, that a man makes no claims for himself, and depends wholly on God…
Many in our day are the same. We get "accustomed" or "used" to hearing of God's grace and forgiveness. We recognize that we are truly forgiven and have been given the righteousness of Christ, yet we forget that God is HOLY and is a consuming fire. Even today, many of us are trying to change certain behaviors or habits rather than focusing on the real problem which is the heart.
Only God can fix this deep and radical problem of the heart. He begins this good work of fixing the root in the heart by atoning for our sins and sending his Holy Spirit to change what we love, what we set our affections upon, so that we might ultimately set our heart's eye and focus sincerely and singularly on the LORD's beauty and holiness!
God's Forgiveness of Guilt and Sin
God is willing to remove Isaiah's guilt and sin, and send him out as an imperfect but faithful representative of God's message of judgment as well as his message of salvation for the few who will hear, see and believe!
When we hear "Holy, holy, holy" we are like Isaiah: We hear "guilt, guilt, guilt"! But God takes away our guilt in Christ Jesus. God gives us new hearts so that we might find him utterly lovely. The angel in Isaiah's vision takes tongs from the altar, takes a hot, burning coal and makes atonement for Isaiah's sins by touching his lips. This is symbolic to the Person and Work of Christ for us in atonement. Christ Jesus our Savior lays down his life and sheds his blood on the altar in heaven, taking God's wrath upon him so he can send the Holy Spirit to us.
The coal from the altar symbolizes punishment and purification. The altar from which the coal was taken was the place where bulls and goats were placed to shed blood before God and to offer a substitute in place of the sinner. The fire that consumed the animal on the altar was God's purification. In Christ, Jesus lays down his life once and for all as a man, a once and for all sacrifice for sinners to be punished in their place. After his resurrection from the dead and ascension back to the throneroom of heaven, Jesus sends forth His Spirit to us so that we might then be purified. So, the coal from the altar symbolizes the punishment and purification that would come in time because of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ!
When we get a glimpse God's beauty by His Sovereign Grace in the face of Jesus Christ, we see the ugliness of our sins and the life our sins have tainted! We glimpse God's holiness, we understand a little more the unholiness of our sinful affections. Yet God is gracious to us as well! He takes our sinful hearts, when we are dead and cold to the life and warmth of God's grace, and he transforms us.
He makes atonement for our sins in Jesus Christ who steps down from the throne of God, takes off the robe that filled God's temple, to find himself in a land of sin and misery as a poor servant under a tyrant king! Jesus takes off this royal robe not to merely wear our clothing, but to wear our very humanity! He came to represent us and to be holy as God is holy- - perfectly. Then he laid down his life not on an earthly altar that merely represented atonement, but he laid down his life on the altar in the very throneroom of God (Hebrews 7-10). This makes us worship our Holy God as David does in Psalm 27
Psalm 27:4-8 One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. 5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. 6 And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD. 7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! 8 You have said, "Seek my face." My heart says to you, "Your face, LORD, do I seek.
The Dullness of Our Hearing and Seeing God
You probably aren't a prophet being sent out by God as Isaiah was (in fact I know you're not!). But as a mom seeking for your son or daughter to grow in the LORD; a father who worries about how much time he spends with work; a home school parent who wonders if your children are being taught as much as they deserve; a busy person who is trying to find your goal, a husband or wife, a career and calling, etc. You approach a holy God who has stepped down from his throne to make you holy- -to make you like him.
This is the Holy God who you can trust because he is faithful and he will do above and beyond that which you could ever ask or imagine. You too have been sent out much like Isaiah in order to tell the gospel in word and deed and to call men to repentance (Matthew 28:18-20). Don't be surprised when people are bored by holiness and especially bored or taken back by the Holiness of your God!
Isaiah sent to bring good news, but the majority of the people were deaf, dumb, and blind. Jesus comes in the fulness of the times to proclaim the same gospel and to visibly show God's holiness in flesh and the majority are deaf, dumb, and blind (John 1:9ff; 12:36ff). That deaf, dumb, and blind kid might be able to play a mean pinball as the song goes, but they sure cannot get a vision of God's holiness and their sin until the Sovereign God awakens them to their peril!
Are we in Christ's Church deaf and dumb to God's holiness? Is there true fear and at the same time an understanding of grace in our lives? Do we think on God's glorious holiness in our private times? Indwelling sin makes our heart's callous to God's beauty and we have to fight it and put it to death! I dare say that there is too little of the "tremblen''" (lack of fear) that we spoke of earlier.
I truly believe if we will ask God to recapture our minds and imaginations with the vision that Isaiah had, through His Word and Spirit, that we will see reformation and revival in our days. We might just even begin to see true holiness in our lives- -even a pursuit of holiness as the deer pants for the water.
The Hope of the Holy Spirit!
I am not trying to be obvious when I say this, but God gives to us his 'HOLY' Spirit (maybe this isn't that obvious). His "HOLY" Spirit is sent to us to make us like Jesus, to make us Holy! That is why Paul says we "quench" Him when we do what He tells us not to do as the people of God. Remember Galatians 5:17-18: the Spirit wars against the flesh. That means that it is the flesh that most wants you to deny the "HOLY" found in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's work is to point to Christ and His atonement so that you might have salvation and assurance in that salvation (John 14-16). Once the Spirit begins a good work (Phil 1:6), he continues to make us Holy as Christ was Holy, so He might present us to Christ as a pure and unspotted bride (Eph 5:28ff).
In other words, when God grips us by His grace, he begins a transforming work in us by His "HOLY" Spirit. Just as when his presence before Moses turned plain earth into Holy ground; just as when he gave the priests of the temple garments to wear, they became Holy garments; just as when God came to accept the sacrifices in the small room in the temple, his presence made this small room, a cubed box, the Holy of Holies; so he comes to dwell in us and by his presence he takes those corrupted and tainted by sin and makes us HOLY PEOPLE. Allow this reality in Christ to fuel your pursuit of holiness and encourage you to combat sin, flesh, and the devil with all you of the power you have within you (Eph 3:14-21).
The wonder of God's Spirit indwelling us as God's people is that the Holy Spirit indwelling us is not merely a gift from God, but is a gift of God. If we want reformation and revival in our time, it will be because of God's Spirit and grace working through the preaching of His Holy Word and a continuous meditation on and glimpse of Our Holy God!
Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Pastor Charles R. Biggs
Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian Church
9 S. Locust Street
Post Office Box 628
Round Hill, VA 20142-0628