This past week, I was looking at my calendar to see what events I could look forward to for the rest of the year. As I was looking at the calendar, I found myself stopping at particular dates and taking a trip down memory lane.
April 7, 1968—that was the day I trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. May 4, 1969—that is when I began preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ at the age of 16. May 4, 1975—that is when I buried my father. February 19, 1983—that's when I married my wife, Nancy.
Dates that changed my life—I wonder if there aren't dates like that for you? It could be an anniversary, a birthday, a funeral. Tears of joy or tears of sadness came to your eyes, and you changed as a result of what happened on that day.
This morning I would like you to go back into biblical history with me to a significant date in the life of the nation of Israel and of the prophet by the name of Isaiah.
When the king died, Isaiah saw the Lord
The year happens to be 740 B.C. It's a significant date because during this particular time, we find that Israel is economically doing quite well. They don't know what recession or inflation is all about. Building projects are going on everywhere. People are prospering. Businesses are booming. Militarily, they are the strongest in the world at that time. It's a time of peace, a time of prosperity.
But spiritually, things aren't quite that good. There's a sense of apathy, and people are caught up in the materialism of the day. Yet the prophet Isaiah is hopeful because every Sabbath day, the temple is packed with people. They're beginning to listen to his message and hear what he has to say.
But one day all of that changes for Isaiah. He gets up and goes downstairs to have his regular breakfast of a bagel and a cup of coffee. He sits down at the kitchen table and picks up his copy of the Jerusalem Daily Times. As he flips it over to the front page, in big, black, bold letters the headline screams out, KING UZZIAH HAS DIED.
He puts the paper down in disbelief. He didn't even know Uzziah was sick, and all of a sudden the king is dead. For 52 years this monarch had ruled. He was the one credited with giving the economic power and the military might that Israel was now enjoying. Suddenly, the king is dead.
Isn't that the way life is? Everything is going smoothly, then all of a sudden, the king dies. Our world goes from calmness to chaos in the twinkling of an eye.
You've just finished paying off your car, and the next day, you have a wreck or get caught in a hailstorm. You have to start paying on it all over again. You have just built up that cushion in the bank account, and now a major expense comes up. One day you wake up feeling strong, healthy, ready to take on the world; the next you're in a hospital bed, flat and frustrated, wondering what is going on.
The first question that comes to mind is "Why, Lord? Why me? Why now? Why this?" It's the question that hits first and lingers the longest. I'm sure Isaiah was thinking that question.
Isaiah goes to the temple as usual. Priests were praying, but Isaiah didn't hear them. Sacrifices were being offered, but Isaiah didn't smell them. Yet before that day was over Isaiah's life was to be changed radically. Why? 740 B.C. is an important date for Isaiah because look at what verse 1 says: "In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord."
Isaiah shows us that sometimes God allows the king to die in life for a couple of reasons.
First, the best we can do in life is manage. When it comes to control, we don't have any, even with the best-laid plans.
Second, he wants to show us that God allows chaos in our lives to help us take a look at where we put our trust. Sometimes we misplace our trust. We put it in our bank accounts or our abilities. We put our hopes in a relationship. Isaiah shows us that the only security we have in life, the only constant is the one who gives life—God himself. The only place we can place our trust in the midst of unpredictability is in God.
What was it Isaiah saw that day that changed his life about God?
"In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on the throne." God wanted to show Isaiah that, though a king by the name of Uzziah had died, the King was still on the throne. He showed him that we cannot afford to put our hope and our trust in human institutions.
We do not depend on a system; we depend on a Savior. And regardless of the chaos that may be happening around us, God is sitting on the throne. What gives me comfort is knowing that if God is that involved in world affairs, how much more is he involved in my life!
There was something else he saw about God. He was sitting on the throne, high and lifted up. In those days the throne had a series of steps that would lead up to the king. The king could barely see those to the right or to the left. He could not see anyone behind him. He could only see those who were in his immediate presence.
But notice God's throne. God's throne is in a position so that he sees everything at once. What God is letting Isaiah know is, "I know Israel. I know its past. I know its present. I know its future all at the same time."
The only one who has complete perspective about life is God himself. As one old saint said, "I may not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future."
God has a complete perspective about all that is happening in our life, and none of it takes him by surprise.
Isaiah saw the train of God's robe, and it filled the temple. The train is that piece of cloth that flows from behind the monarch. It's like the train that flows behind a bride. Though you might not see her face, you would know you're in the presence of someone special when you see it. The monarch's train signaled, even though you might not see his face, that you were in the presence of royalty, of someone who was powerful and could make a change.
Notice how royal God is. Just the train of his robe filled the temple. God is showing Isaiah he is not only omniscient, he is not only sitting at the seat of power, but he is all-powerful, all-royal, almighty God with whom no one can compare!
What's your view of God? How you view God determines the way that you go about living life and handling the trials of life. What's your view of God? Is he some old man who stands at the railing of heaven with a long white beard and a wrinkly, wobbly finger who says, "No, no, no. You mustn't do that"?
A God who means well but isn't very powerful?
Or do you have an "Old McDonald's Farm" theology: "With a give-me here and a give-me there"? Is that your view of God?
Or is your view of God the one that Isaiah had—as a sovereign king and benevolent ruler, one who looks out for his children, who wants to meet their needs, one who is infinitely powerful but is intimately personal?
If that's your God, then you will live life much differently than waiting for the other shoe to fall or getting mad at God when he doesn't "give me, give me, give me." Our view of God determines the way we live life and handle trials.
Once we've seen the King, we worship
Once you've seen the King as he is, then what should be your response to God? Verses 2-8 give us three responses we should have to the King.
The first response to the King is to be available to him. It's found in verses 2 through 4. "The whole earth is full of his glory." Who's on the earth? Us.
"And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out. And the house was filled with smoke."
Isaiah shows us that the first way we respond to the King is with worship. He shows us a heavenly worship service and two key ingredients that make worship what it is.
"Above the throne stood seraphim." Seraphim are heavenly angels that are constantly in the presence of God. Each one of them had six wings, and each pair of wings had a purpose. With two it covered its face, because they could not constantly behold the glory of God.
They had two wings to cover their feet. The feet were the only exposed, naked part of the seraphim. Out of respect to God, they would take their two wings and would cover their feet.
With two wings he flew. That means this angel was constantly hovering in the presence of God. Whenever God says come, that angel comes.
Whenever God says go, that angel goes. The angels teach us that the first key ingredient for worship is availability. Worship is not a one-time act on Sunday morning. Worship is a day-to-day experience. It is a lifestyle. There is no such thing to a Christian as sacred and secular. All of it belongs to God.
Now whether we eat, whether we drink, whether we play, whether we work-all of it is done in the presence of God and for his glory. We are a people who are constantly available to him. Therefore, if we have not worshiped Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday and Saturday, how can we expect to have worship on Sunday? All we've done is attended church. Worship is a result of being available to him on a daily basis.
It says in verse 3, "And one cried out to another and said, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory.' "
The angels are singing this antiphonally. One would say, "Holy, holy, holy." The other one would say, "is the Lord of hosts." The first would respond, "The whole earth," and the other would respond, "is full of his glory."
The second element of worship is adoration. As they come before God, they give him adoration and praise. Adoration means, "To give our highest love and admiration; to revere."
Third, when you've been available and when you give adoration, what are the results of worship? "And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke." Smoke is a symbol for God's presence-once we've been available and once we've adored him, we will then experience his presence in our lives. You can't help but be changed when you've worshiped.
If you and I leave the same way we came in here today, we haven't had worship. We've just been in a service, because true worship experiences the presence of God and changes. The temple is shaken because God has entered in!
Illustration: When I was about 10 years old, I had the privilege of getting up at 4 a.m. to get the cows so we could milk them. As we came in for breakfast, I would smell the beginnings of this soup my mom used to make. She would put in hunks of beef and carrots and peas and potatoes and all kinds of good stuff. And you'd begin to smell it.
I remember coming in at lunch thinking that was what we're going to have. I'd go over to get some, and she'd say, "No, Son, you can't have any yet. You'll have to wait till tonight." We would work hard all afternoon.
And as we came back for the evening meal (that's the only time my dad beat me into the house), we would sit down, and my mom would set this huge cauldron of soup on the table. She would put this ladle in the soup, and the steam would rise off of it. And she would put it down into the bowl, and you could put your face over it and—can you smell it right now?—we would take our spoons and dip in there. It was wonderful.
I remember asking my mother, "Why is it that we had to wait all day on this soup?"
She said, "Son, it needed to simmer so we get all the juices out of all the ingredients. And then they're all mixed together; that's what brings forth that good aroma. And when you taste it, you're getting the best of what's in each ingredient."
That's the way I look at worship. Sunday morning is a culmination of a people who've been simmering all week in the presence of God. When we simmer every day in the presence of God and then come on Sunday morning and mix all of it together, there's an aroma and a smell of the grace and the goodness of God that lifts up to heaven. And God pulls off the lid and goes, "Mmm, that's my people in Galilee Baptist Church." That's worship.
Once we've seen the King, we confess our sin
"Then I said 'Woe is me, for I am undone, because 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.' "
Once you've seen God as he is, the automatic response is to humble yourself before him. John Flavel, an old Puritan writer, used to say this: "You cannot think highly of God and yourself at the same time." Once you've truly seen God, you must humble yourselves before him.
What's the natural response when you've seen God? You're convicted of sin. "Woe is me, for I am undone." The closer I walk with God, the more quickly I feel my sin and realize how much I need God.
It's like a huge mirror with a great big light over it. When we stand away from the mirror, things look pretty good: suit looks in order; tie looks straight; the hair, what's left of it, is combed.
But as you begin to move towards the mirror, things begin to show up. The suit has a spot on it. The tie is a little bit wrinkled. The hair is out of place. The closer we get to the bright light, the more we realize our defects. It's the same way when we get close to God. When we get close to him, we realize how much we need him and how far we are from him. We're convicted of our sin.
The next thing we do is confess it. "Woe is me. I'm undone because I am a man of unclean lips." Now, what does he mean by "unclean lips"? The lips are a reflection of the heart. Once he's seen how heaven worships, he looks at himself and says, "My worship? That's been very ritualistic. Oh, I come to church every Sunday. I have a quiet time every day. But is it just so I can say, 'Now I'm done?' "
Isaiah was undone. "I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." Once we're convicted of our sin and we confess it, God will take care of it. God never raises a need in your life without taking care of it: "Then one of the seraphim flew to me having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it and said, 'Behold, this has touched your lips. Your iniquity is taken away and your sin is atoned for.' "
Once we are convicted of our sins and confess them, God automatically comes in and cleanses us of our sin. Isaiah had a particular need, unclean lips. Notice where the coal was placed. He applied it directly to that need. Some of you have come here this morning thinking, Surely God can't forgive me of that. Surely that's too great of a sin. Surely that's too much for God to take care of.
One thing I've discovered is that God's grace is so abundant it cannot only take care of that sin, it will cover all the others you forgot about. God's grace can take care of every facet of your sin. But we can't enjoy God's cleansing without confession.
Illustration: After I graduated from Dallas Seminary, waiting on my first ministry, I went home to live with my mother. My mom gave me chores. She said, "One of your jobs is to take out the trash, Son." So every week I put out the garbage.
One week I forgot to put out the garbage. Garbage has a way of making itself known. It began to smell. Every day we kept piling more garbage onto it. It even began to spill over, and it was right where you came into the back of the house. Every time we went into the house we would get a whiff of it.
The aroma began to seep into the house and infected the atmosphere. Then it started to infect my mom's relationship with me. Every time she looked at me, it was as if she were saying, "Why don't you take out the garbage?"
The next week, I took out the garbage. The atmosphere cleaned up. Our relationship was better. Everything was okay.
My brothers and sisters, if you don't take out the garbage on a daily basis, it piles up. It begins to stink. It can pollute your relationships and cause you to move further away from people. So if we want to be cleansed by God, we must confess to God and put out the garbage on a daily basis.
Once we've seen the King, we go where he sends us
There is one more response we are to have to God: going where God sends. "Also, 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.' "
Notice the progression of the passage. Before I can be available to God, I first must see God for who he is. I must be ministered to by God, then I can hear God's voice telling me what he wants me to do. Instead of saying "Here am I, God. Send him," it's "Here am I, God. Send me."
We are to respond with an attitude of gratitude because he has cleansed us through the blood of the Lamb. There is a sense of healing in our lives. It's not that we have to serve God. We just want to serve God because of what he's done.
You don't do what you do to maintain your salvation. You'll never do enough for that. But you do what you do because of your salvation.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Rod Cooper is Kenneth and Jean Hansen Professor of Discipleship and Leadership Development at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and author of Holman New Testament Commentary: Mark (Volume 2) (B H Publishing, 2001).