READ : Isaiah 6:1, 5-7, Isaiah 55:1-2, 8-9, Hebrews 1:1-2, 2 Peter 1:16-21
The whole message of the Bible can be summed up in three basic words: God has spoken. This is the foundation of the Christian faith.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. (Isaiah 6:1 RSV)
The men who speak for God whom we are to study in this series of messages are the Old Testament prophets. One of the most important passages in the Bible for the church today is found in the opening statement of the Letter to the Hebrews,
In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
The whole message of the Bible can be summed up in three basic words which convey the substance of this passage: God has spoken. This is the foundation of the Christian faith. When the apostolic writer says that God has spoken, he means something more than the fact that God speaks in nature. The Bible teaches us that there is a general revelation of God in nature, in history, and in the conscience of man. “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). God has not left Himself without witness. There is a revelation of God in nature and man.
But when the writer of Hebrews says, “God hath spoken through the prophets,” he is thinking of a more direct revelation of God. It is apparent that the Bible means that this is to be taken quite literally. When the Bible says that God speaks or that God has spoken or that God says, it means that He speaks in words.
This basic Christian concept of the origin of the knowledge of God has been widely repudiated in the church today. It was lost in the nineteenth century when men rejected revelation altogether and relied on reason alone. It was partially recovered in the early part of the twentieth century in what was known as the Crisis Theology. New theologians came into the church who saw that reason alone was not enough. Therefore they began to speak once more about revelation, but they gave their own sophisticated definition of it. They made a distinction between revelation as the communication of truth, which they called propositional revelation and rejected, and revelation as the self-disclosure of God. This has proved to be an utterly inadequate representation of the Biblical doctrine of revelation. It must be said, therefore, that when the Bible says “God has spoken,” it means something more than the revelation of God in nature and something more than a nonverbal, ambiguous disclosure of God. The statement that God has spoken means that revelation is the communication of truth.
I have carefully chosen the tense of the verb in the main title of this series, Men Who Speak for God. This is to emphasize the fact that the word God spoke to the prophets is the living Word. It is alive today. We have the infallible record of the word which God spoke through the prophets and in Jesus Christ His Son, and this is why we call the Bible the infallible Word of God. This is a point made by Peter in his second letter:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:16-21)
Our first study in this series of messages on the prophets takes us to chapter 6 of the prophecy of Isaiah, which contains one of the most exalted passages in the whole Bible. The chapter can be divided into two parts: first, the account of Isaiah’s vision of God, and second, the response he made to the vision.
The sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah opens with a magnificent vision:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. (Isaiah 6:1)
The reference to the death of Uzziah is more than a date in history. Uzziah was a great king who reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. This was a time of prosperity and military power exceeded only by the reign of Solomon, but Uzziah died and now his young son Jotham sat on the throne. These were days of great anxiety, and what Isaiah means when he says that he saw the Lord high and lifted up in the year that King Uzziah died is that he saw something more in this than a succession of kings. He saw in the vision that neither Uzziah nor Jotham was the true king of Israel; the true King of Israel was the Lord God of hosts who sat on the throne.
In these troubled days when men’s hearts fail them for fear, when nation rises against nation, when violence and conflict increases within our own nation, we need to remember that the living God is on the throne. He has not abdicated. I learned this lesson well when I was a seminary student in the days of the great depression. The year that I graduated the banks were closed. I had hoped to do graduate work, but all scholarships were wiped out. It was doubtful whether many of us would even get a church to preach in. About that time a man moved into town who started a new restaurant with simple food, simple furnishings, and low prices. The students flocked there. It was about the only place we could afford to eat, but what impresses me most now about those days is the cash register. Just above the line that registered the cash sales, there was a cardboard sign, “God is still on the throne.” That simple statement of faith helped bring me through a very difficult time in my life, and in the lives of many others.
Isaiah’s vision of the living God on the throne teaches us some very important things about God. The first is the reality of God. Isaiah said, “My eyes have seen the king, the Lord of Hosts.” God is not merely a word or a concept or a symbol. When the Bible speaks about God it speaks about the living God. In this vision Isaiah saw the reality of the whole invisible, spiritual world. In this materialistic age, we must remember that reality is greater than that which we can see or touch or handle. There is more to reality than can be measured by sense perception. Heaven is real, God is real, and the angels are real.
The Bible teaches us that God is the creator of all things, visible and invisible. This vision of God discloses what we usually call the invisible world – invisible only to our natural senses. Do you remember the story of Elisha, the great prophet who was trapped in Dothan by the Syrian army? Early in the morning his servant rose up and looked at all the hills surrounding Dothan. They were filled with Syrian chariots. The city was completely encircled by the enemy; and in consternation and panic the young man ran to his master and said, “What shall we do?” Elisha was not even disturbed. He said quietly, “Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” Then the prophet prayed and said, “Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see.” The Bible says that “the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17).
Before we can really see God, grasp the reality of God, something must happen to us. Our ears, our eyes, our sight, all our perceptions must be attuned to God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
The second thing we learn from Isaiah’s vision of God is the majesty of God. He saw the Lord high and lifted up and His train filled the temple. Here we have the revelation of the transcendent greatness of God. He is altogether other than man. God says,
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God created the world without our aid or our counsel, and He is the ruler of heaven and earth.
The third point to which our attention is directed in the vision is the holiness of God. Above the throne “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” (Isa. 1:2). They sang antiphonally, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (v. 3). This is the only place in the Bible where seraphim are mentioned. They are apparently God’s highest created beings. The Hebrew word seraph refers to something that is burning and dazzling. This emphasizes the holiness of God. If the highest of the created beings, who have never sinned, had to cover their faces when they stood around the throne of God, what must be said of sinful men? The Bible teaches us that holiness is the fundamental attribute of God. It refers both to moral purity and separation from all that is evil. God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.
The fourth point of emphasis in the vision is the glory of God. Not only the temple but the whole earth is full of His glory. The vision of the holiness and glory of God is intended to teach us that we can approach Him only with reverence. We are to give unto the Lord the glory due to His name. The great sin of our age is that we have given to man the glory due only to God, and now our confidence in man is being shaken. We talk about the credibility gap. We do not trust each other. This is because we have put man in the place of God. We must go back to the right order. To give unto the Lord the glory due to His name is to recognize God as God – sovereign, holy, righteous, the one with whom we have to do. The first commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.”
Having examined the vision of God that came to Isaiah in the temple, let us now observe the response he made to the vision. There are three parts to the response. There is first an overwhelming sense of unworthiness. This vision of the holiness and majesty of God stunned the prophet. He 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! (Isaiah 6:5)
Here we learn one of the important lessons of the Bible. It is only the true knowledge of God that brings men to a sense of sin and unworthiness. When Peter saw that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, he fell down at His feet and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Until we see God in His holiness, we will never see ourselves as guilty, sinful men and women. It is the knowledge of God that produces in man the consciousness of sin, a consciousness which is generally lacking in our day.
This is the reason it is so difficult to preach the gospel. When we preach the wonderful message of salvation, that God freely forgives our sins, that He accepts us in Jesus Christ as His children so that we can call God Father, it makes no impression on the modern man. This is because, being ignorant of God, he is ignorant of himself; and in this ignorance he goes on his way to destruction and death. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “They that are whole have no need of a physician.” The church must once more pattern its preaching and teaching of the gospel after the prophets and apostles. Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Only those who are conscious of their sin and guilt have an ear for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Observe next that after Isaiah’s confession of sin comes the purging or cleaning from sin. This is how it is described:
Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which 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 forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)
This is the good news of the gospel. The confession of sin is followed immediately by the forgiveness of sin:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
The third part of the response to the vision is the call to consecration. After confession and cleansing comes consecration. Isaiah 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!’” Cleansed and forgiven, he was ready to serve. We must remember that cleansing always comes before consecration. We cannot enter into the service of the Lord until we have been cleansed from our sins. The great Puritan pastor Richard Baxter said, “A holy calling never saved an unholy man.” Salvation is by grace alone. It can never be merited or earned. Many people who have been in the church all their lives still have a feeling that if they do good for God, He will do good for them. This is the wrong order. We must first confess our sins and be cleansed from them. The guilt must be pardoned. We must become the children of God by faith, and then in that position and from that position we can serve Him.
So cleansed and consecrated, this young prophet of God went out to preach the message of salvation. The substance of his message is found in chapter 55 of his book. I can think of no better way to close this message than by repeating to you the great gospel invitation of this evangelical prophet:
Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in fatness. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
So I ask you out there in the world living it up while you can, finding no satisfaction or peace or contentment: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread? Come to Jesus Christ who is the Bread of life. In Him you will find life and peace and joy.