Have you ever experienced God’s holiness? Isaiah, considered the prince of the prophets, experienced God’s holiness that forever changed him.
“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” (Isaiah 9:1).
Before looking into Isaiah’s experience of God’s holiness, let me say something about King Uzziah. King Uzziah had ruled Judah for 52 years, and the people had experienced peace and prosperity during his long rule. But now King Uzziah is dead, and Judah is without a king – just when the Assyrian empire is on the rise. God’s people seemed vulnerable. However, at this moment in history, Isaiah saw the King, the LORD of hosts (verse 5). This text reminds us that while earthly kings will rise and fall, our King of Kings reigns forever in majesty and holiness.
The train of his robe filled the temple (verse 1). Imagine how big the throne would have been and how big the one sitting upon the throne would be. Isaiah could not look at his face because no one was allowed to see God. However, Isaiah saw Lord’s heavenly beings.
“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” (verse 2)
The Lord was sitting upon the throne, and the seraphim (the burning ones, the angelic figures) were standing above him, always ready to serve. The seraphim covered his face with two wings, maybe, as an expression of awe and reverence. With two wings, he covered his feet, perhaps, as an expression of humility. With two wings, he flew, carrying out the commandments of the Lord.
Isaiah heard something significant in the ceaseless song of the seraphim. The theme of the song was “God’s Holiness.”
“And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” (verse 3).
This is the crux of Isaiah’s vision. The adjective “Holy” is repeated three times. The Hebrew language uses repetition to express superlatives or to indicate totality. The holiness of the Lord is the only truth in the Bible that is given a threefold repetition. “Holy” is much more than purity. “Holy” signifies the entirety of the divine perfection which separates God from his creation. Notice here, the seraphim do not merely say to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;” they also say, “the whole earth is full of his glory!” His holiness is glorious. God’s holiness and God’s glory cannot be separated.
As Isaiah heard the ceaseless song of the seraphim, something supernatural was happening in God’s presence.
“And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke” (verse 4).
Such shakes and smokes are not something new. Moses and the Israelites experienced these on Mount Sinai in the presence of God (Exodus 19:18).
Two things happened to Isaiah due to him experiencing God’s holiness. First, he acknowledged himself as a sinner who desperately needed God’s touch and cleansing. Second, he acknowledged himself as a servant of God who readily obeys God’s commission.
1.Acknowledgment of Being a Sinner
God’s holiness exposes our sinfulness, uncleanness, unworthiness, and inadequacies.
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!” (verse 5).
Being terrified by the sudden glimpse of a holy God and his uncleanness, Isaiah expected immediate destruction. “I am lost” can be translated as “I am cut off or doomed to die.”
Are you wondering why Isaiah being a prophet, acknowledges himself as a man of unclean lips? Remember that Isaiah was a man of words as a prophet and priest. His speech was his strength, his strongest skill! However, as Colin Smith says in one of his sermons, “When you grasp the holiness of God, you will see that what needs to be cleansed is not just the worst of you, but the best of you as well.” Sometimes even our greatest gifts need to be cleansed. In God’s sight, our purity is impure. In God’s sight, our best and greatest gifts are unclean.
The story does not end with Isaiah just seeing God’s holiness and his sinfulness. Isaiah witnessed something very significant, that is, God’s atonement.
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (verses 6-7).
In the first two verses, we saw that the seraphim were always standing with the readiness to serve. At the commandment of God, one of the seraphim brought the live burning coal from the altar. Through this, we understand that a substitutionary sacrifice has been already offered on the altar, blood has been already shed, and atonement was made on Isaiah’s behalf. The seraphim touched Isaiah’s lips, Isaiah’s greatest gift. Moreover, the seraphim said, your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.
What is true for Isaiah is true for us. We can experience God’s touch and cleansing in our worst and in our best. Well, you might wonder, for Isaiah, a substitutionary sacrifice has been offered on the altar. What about us? Thank God! Jesus “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). We receive God’s touch and cleansing through Christ’s atonement.
2. Acknowledgment of Being a Servant of God
For the first time in this vision, the Lord spoke, and Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord.
“The Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’” (verse 8).
One of the formative experiences of my early life was seeing and hearing this verse, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” over and over and over again in the mission gatherings organized by the Friends Missionary Prayer Band.
Isaiah said, “Here I am! Send me.” Isaiah’s response was immediate, and he readily obeyed God’s commission. Only a person who has been convicted of sin and experienced Christ’s atonement can joyfully acknowledge himself or herself as God’s servant. Christ’s atonement helps us to joyfully serve God in obedience (Hebrews 9:14). We are empowered to serve God through Christ’s atonement.
Isaiah served the Lord faithfully for more than 60 years (six decades), proclaiming God’s judgment and hope to the people who were wicked, unfaithful, rebellious, and hardened. I wish God gives us these many years to serve him faithfully, proclaiming God’s judgment and hope to this hurting world.
Isaiah experienced God’s holiness. As a result, he acknowledged himself as a sinner who desperately needed God’s touch and cleansing, and he acknowledged himself as a servant of God who readily obeys God’s commission. We all need God’s touch and cleansing in our worst and our best to serve him faithfully.