In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Just for a minute, I want you to imagine that right now, in the middle of this worship service, right here in the house of the Lord, (right here in the middle of God’s creation) – imagine that God Almighty would appear, for every eye to see. How would you react? Would you breathe a huge sigh of relief? Would you say, “Finally, I get to see God with my own eyes. Now I know that the God I’ve believed in for all these years is for real. That makes me feel so good.” Or, maybe you’d go running up to him with a list of questions to ask. “God, what’s heaven like? Am I going to be able to play golf in heaven? Will my dog be there? Or maybe if God showed up right now, you’d just throw your arms around him and give him a big hug, you know, for just being…well, God.
Maybe that’s how you think you would react if God Almighty showed up in all his glory. But honestly, I doubt it. Chances are, if God were to suddenly appear before our very eyes, you would not be running toward God, you would be running the other way. Even more likely, we’d all be cowering under the pews. We’d be absolutely terrified by the sudden appearance of God. And why do I think that would be our reaction? Because that’s the reaction that the Prophet Isiah had when he found himself suddenly standing in the presence of God. Today we turn our attention to the inspired account of Isaiah’s vision of the Lord on his throne and the subsequent call that Isaiah received into the holy ministry. We’ll draw some parallels between what Isaiah experienced then and what you and I still experience today. Today we will use as our theme the words of Isaiah himself, namely:
“My eyes have seen the king, the LORD Almighty”
Our text begins with the words, In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. This was more than a vision of God seating in the temple in Jerusalem. It was a vision of God on his heavenly throne. Isaiah goes on, Above him were seraphim, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two wings they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. These seraphs were angels, created by God to be holy. And yet, even though these creatures were without sin, even though they were perfectly holy, still their holiness could not compare to God’s holiness. In the presence of God’s holiness, they felt unworthy to even look at God. They used two wings to cover their faces. And in their humility, they use two wings to cover their feet.
Isaiah tells us, And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Tell me, do you think it is a coincidence that the angels refer to God as holy three times? Already here in the pages of the Old Testament, we find a reference to the Trinity: one God in three persons. That’s something that is more fully revealed in the New Testament, something that you and I confessed moments ago in the words of the Athanasian Creed. It’s the glory of that one God in three persons that the angels were announcing. And that announcement rocked the temple walls. At the sound of their voices, the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced an earthquake, but I’ve got to think that’s what Isaiah must have felt he was going through, right? The temple is rocking. There’s smoke filling the air. These are sights and sounds and maybe even smells that underscore the power, the glory, yes, the holiness of God.
Now you might think that witnessing all this glory of God would have fired Isaiah up. But that’s not the case. Instead, Isaiah is distraught. “Woe to me!” he cries. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the king, the LORD Almighty.” Now, why does Isaiah react like that? Two reasons. First, because, undoubtedly, Isaiah remembered what God said to Moses when he asked to see the glory of God. God said to Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20) If Isaiah just saw a God in all his glory, would that mean Isaiah was now going to die? No wonder he cries out, “Woe to me!”
But there is an even more basic reason for Isaiah’s fear and trepidation. When Isaiah stands in the presence of a holy God, it only accentuates his own unholiness. Kind of like when you pull that new shower curtain out of the package. Only then do you realize how really gross the old shower curtain is. That’s how Isaiah felt. When compared to a God who is perfectly sinless, a god who is as pure as the wind-driven snow, Isaiah realized that he was filthy. Isaiah realized that he was completely unworthy of to stand in the presence of God. As Isaiah puts it, “I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.”
If you think about it, Isaiah is no different than you or I. In so many ways, we prove that we are by nature men and women of unclean lips. Whether it’s by the bitter sarcasm we use or the off color humor we share or the disrespectful or demeaning or downright hurtful words we direct toward others. Time and time again we prove that the Apostle Paul was right when he wrote, There is no one righteous, not even one; the poison of vipers is on their lips, their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. (Romans 3:10, 13) If we’re honest, we’ll admit that we people of unclean lips. By our sinful words, as well as our sinful thoughts and actions, we’ve earned God’s wrath and condemnation. That’s why Isaiah said, “Woe to me. I am ruined.” And why, if God were to show up in all his holiness, we would say the very same thing.
But thanks be to God that that Isaiah’s vision of God doesn’t end there. While Isaiah is still cowering in fear, what happened? Isaiah tells us. Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a coal in his hand which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7) Wow, talk about an amazing turn of events! I mean, here’s Isaiah lamenting that his unholiness has separated him from God, and what does God do? God takes the initiative. God doesn’t say, “Isaiah, you’ve got to clean up your mouth. You’ve got to straighten out your life.” No, Isaiah doesn’t have to do anything. God does everything. God sent his seraph to bring a coal from the altar. (That would be the altar where sacrifices were made to make atonement for the sins of the people.). From that altar a coal was brought to bring cleansing to Isaiah’s lips. It took away his guilt and erased his sin.
My friends, doesn’t God do the same thing for you and me? When we come to God with our unclean lips, and hearts and minds, God doesn’t say, “Why don’t you clean yourself up first?” No, God takes the initiative. God does it all. What does Scripture say? While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) and again, The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. (1 John 1:7) and again, We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10). Just as God came to Isaiah with a coal from the altar to touch Isaiah’s lips and make him clean, so God comes to us with his body and blood, in, with and under the bread and wine, placed on our lips to make us clean, God comes to us through the washing of holy baptism, to wash our sins away. God comes to us in his word, announcing the good news that in Christ our guilt is taken away and our sins atoned for.
Talk about a life-changing event, for Isaiah and for you and me, too. To go from filthy in the presence of God to being declared absolutely holy in God’s eyes. How can that not have an impact on a person’s life? It certainly did for Isaiah. Do you remember how Isaiah’s vision concludes? Isaiah says, Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Just as an aside, did you notice, here’s another reference to the fact that the Lord is more than one person? God says, “Who will go for us?” similar to when God said in the garden, “Let us make man in our image.”) But don’t miss what God is asking here. God wants someone to go. God wants to send someone. God wants someone to go on a mission for God.
So, in response to that clear invitation, what does Isaiah do? He says simply, “Here am I. Send me.” If you think about it, that’s a pretty remarkable statement, isn’t it? I mean, at this point, Isaiah doesn’t even know what god is sending him to do. You don’t hear any questions like, “God, how long is this going to take? Will I enjoy doing this? Will it be fulfilling work for me?” No, Isaiah basically says, “Lord, whatever you want me to do, I will do. Wherever you need me, I will go. The word you want me to speak, I will speak.”
My friends, you realize, that very thing is still happening today. Last week, a whole class of seniors sat in the auditorium of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, waiting to hear where in the world they would be assigned to serve. Every one of them was basically saying what the prophet Isaiah said, namely, “Here am I. Send me.” A week before that, it was graduates from Martin Luther College saying, “Here am I. Send me.” And somewhere between 25 and 40 years before that it was Mrs. Sarah Sehloff, and Mrs. Julie Neujahr and Mr. Brian Root who said the very same thing, “Here am I. Send me.”
You think about the practical implications of a statement like that. To not really know where in God’s kingdom the Lord is going to call you, to not know how far away from your family you’ll be. To not know what state or even what country you’re going to be serving in. To not know what grade you will teach or what size congregation you will serve. To not know whether people will welcome you with open arms or give you the cold shoulder or even slam the door in your face. I mean, with so many unknowns, why would anyone kind of offer themselves up with the words, “Here am I. Send me”?
Two reasons. First, because of the question that God asked Isaiah, namely, “Who will go for us?” Right? God was looking for someone to represent him. Someone to bring his saving truth to the people who desperately needed to hear it. Deep in the heart of every called worker, be it a pastor or teacher or staff minister, at some point every called worker has wrestled with that question from the lips of God himself, namely, “Who will go for us?” In fact, maybe you’re thinking about that question right now. When you think about the number of pulpits that are standing empty. When you think about how many classrooms are in need of a teacher, when you think of the millions of people around the world who have not heard the good news of God’s love in Christ. When you think about the number of people who are now entering the ministry as second career candidates. When you think of the number of grade school or high school students who have the gifts for the public ministry of the gospel—maybe you are one of them. Or maybe you are praying for them. Remember Jesus words to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. (Luke 10:2).
But now let’s go back to Isaiah one more time. Remember, I said that there were two reasons that Isaiah said, “Here am I. Send me.” The first was because of God’s question, “Who will go for us?” Isaiah realized that God was calling him. But there was an even more fundamental reason why Isaiah responded the way he did. It’s simply this. Isaiah had just experienced the most powerful display of God’s glory that any human I had ever seen. God’s holiness exposed Isaiah’s sinfulness. Isaiah admitted that he was a man of unclean lips. But more importantly, Isaiah had experienced God’s grace. Isaiah knew what it was to have God transfer his holiness to Isaiah’s account. Isaiah knew what it was to have God, through the sacrifice of his son, wash Isiah clean, to remove his guild and take way his sin. Truly, that’s what made the difference in Isaiah’s life. That’s what prepared Isaiah, yes, that’s what empowered Isaiah to say, “Here am I. Send me.”
My friends, you realize that you and I aren’t that different from Isaiah. Maybe God has not revealed himself to us in all his glory. But that day is coming. And between now and then, God will continue to use inspired accounts like the one before us to teach us the truth about ourselves, namely, that when compared to God’s holiness, we are all unclean. But through the sacrifice of God’s Son, God has done everything to atone for our sin and take away our guilt. And that’s what motivates us to dedicate our lives in service to God. Whether it’s as a pastor or teacher or staff minister, whether it’s as a Christian father or mother or spouse. Whether he’s calling us to bring a word of comfort to those who are hurting or calling us to bring a word of correction to those who are straying, or whether he’s calling us to simply be a light in a dark world—because of what God has done for us in Christ and what God promises to still do in us through Christ, our response to God’s call can forever be, “Here am I. Send me. Send me.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.