Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Last week’s Old Testament reading was the call of Jeremiah, who was told that despite his yough and inexperience he would be used to warn the people of troubles. This week we have the call of Isaiah, probably around 740 B.C., about 120 years earlier than Jeremiah. We see that Isaiah has a magnificent vision of the Lord in his temple. I’d like us to notice briefly Isaiah’s response to this vision, especially in Isaiah 6:5.
Isaiah is undone. He calls out to this effect. He confesses that he is “a man of unclean lips” (ESV) and that he lives among people who are the same. He has seen the Lord and cannot expect to stand. This is the normal response to God’s glory. We find God’s power and majesty too great to endure.
Peter Hitchens, in his insightful book The Rage Against God, says that when he and his brother, Christopher, were young, they went into cathedrals at times. They were intimidating places, with vast expanses, huge columns, and decorations which seemed more suited for another world. This always made him uncomfortable until he began to understand that God’s presence is supposed to be errifying. He is the Lord of all the heavenly armies. He is the all-powerful king ruling over all creation. He will accomplish his plan. This is an intimidating idea, to say the least. Isaiah is rightly terrified, and so are you and I. We would never want to come face to face with such a customer.
What hope is there? After all, we are used to thinking about God’s love. Many of my acquaintances who would consider themselves theologically more liberal than I would remind us that God is love. Yes, he is, but how are we going to see the enormity of his love without contrast? In verse seven one of the seraphim touches Isaiah’s lips with a buring coal. He proclaims that Isaiah’s guilt is gone and his sin atoned for. God’s love shows in the fact that he forgives real sinners of their real sin, and that he does it with no effort on the part of the sinner. The God of all who has every right to judge us, who shows us worthy of death, cleanses us from sin. When? When we realize our sin. He, by himself, removes our guilt, even as we realize we cannot remove that guilt.
We have to wonder how many more times in his long life as a prophet Isaiah must have seen his sin and remembered God’s forgiving grace. We cannot know in Isaiah’s life, we cannot count the times in our lives. Yet when we realize the glory of God and our poverty, we can also find hope in those words, “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7b, ESV).
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