Friday, November 28, 2014

When We Are Confronted With God's Holiness (Isaiah 6:1-8): Tinubos blog's 6th anniversary post

ISAIAH 6:1-8 (NIV 1984)
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
  "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory."

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

    "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."

    Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live 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."

    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!"
Photo credit: David A Ziser at Digital ProTalk

Unlike all other elective positions, the Constitution makes no provision for the reelection of the nation's chief executive. That means as long as this Constitution is in effect, we will have a new president every six years, except in cases where a person who has succeeded as President has only served for less than four years and decides to run for the same office just like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who served for a total of more than nine years.

We also know that whenever a new president is elected, there will be changes. For no two presidents are exactly alike; each one will have his own personality and leadership style. Each one will also have different sets of friends and preferences so the cabinet will not remain the same.

In chapter 6, Isaiah tells his story on how he was called to be a prophet. He was called in a year of impending change, for it was in the year King Uzziah died. This king's reign lasted 52 years. To put that into perspective, that is one and a half years longer than the periods of Marcos, Cory, Ramos, Erap, GMA and Pnoy combined (assuming Pnoy would finish his term and step down in 2016).

We could imagine the prevailing uncertainty in the hearts and minds of the Israelites in the year he died because this king managed the nation well. The account of his reign in 2 Chronicles shows he was a good administrator. During his reign, the water supply was improved, agriculture flourished, and the national defense was fortified. He even spearheaded a research project for the innovation of their weapons. Imagine a king who would deliver an impressive State of the Nation Address(SONA) year after year for five straight decades!

In the later part of his life, he took a spiritually fatal step. Because of his accomplishments, pride was conceived in his heart. He disregarded the law by doing the work of the priests. And when confronted with his sin, he responded in anger. As a consequence, he was struck by the Lord with leprosy and lived in isolation. Yet, still nothing changed the fact that he was a good administrator, and his death is a big change in the lives of the people.

Isaiah tells his story that in the year the great earthy king died, he saw the greater King in heaven. In the year that the life of the mortal king ended, Isaiah saw the immortal King whose reign will never end. Kings and kingdoms; emperors and empires will all pass away. But as for the one enthroned in heaven, he will go on reigning forever and ever. Psalm 90:2 says "From everlasting to everlasting, you are God". There is a King in heaven-- greater than those who are currently reigning here on earth so we have a reason to hope whatever takes place here on earth.

Isaiah's experience here was similar to John in Patmos whose eyes and senses were suddenly opened to witness what the normal eyes and senses could not see and perceive (Rev. 1:10, 4:2)

“I saw the LORD!”, Isaiah claimed. But when he described what he saw, these are all he could describe:
  • the position of the throne
  • the hem of the robe
  • the seraphims surrounding him

Suppose a friend told you that the reigning Miss Universe visited his baranggay and that there was a point when she was only a few steps away from him. Of course your curiosity was awakened so you asked your friend, “How does the reigning Miss Universe look like?” To your disappointment, all your friend describes are the following:

  • her yellow skirt
  • her floral headband
  • her personal assistants

I myself would be frustrated with your friend. I don't care about the skirt color. I don't care about the floral headband. I don't care about her personal assistants. All I want to know is what the beauty queen looks like in person!

As for Isaiah however, we must remember that the Lord's prophet is not stupid. We could assume that he was trying to give the best description of the things he saw. But what more could he do when what he saw were beyond words? That's why we sing:

You are beautiful beyond description
Too marvelous for words
Too wonderful for comprehension
Like nothing ever seen or heard

Let us therefore get the most out of the descriptions he gave us.

The position of his throne (seated on a throne, high and exalted) and the hem of his robe (the train of his robe filled the temple) is about his unequaled majesty and authority by any other power (Rev. 19:16; Psalm 2:2-4). As for the seraphims around him who each had six pair of wings, we must remember that God wisely designs his creatures for their habitat and their survival. Fins and gills for the fish, shell for the turtle, strength for the bear, speed for the cat, etc. The seraphims were given different sets of wings to cover themselves because they are moment by moment exposed to the majesty and holiness of God. They needed that to survive!

More than their appearance, we should pay attention to what they are saying. They call out to each other:

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."

The word “Holy” is mentioned three times for emphasis and intensity. It indicates how awed they are. One aspect of holiness is morally purity-- freedom from sin and unrighteousness. But that could not be the message the angels are emphasizing here; for they themselves are holy inhabitants of heaven. They are also morally pure

I think what's being emphasized here is another aspect of holiness which is solitariness. He is separate. He is totally of a different class; he is not like us or any other thing in existence.

There is a category for angels.
There is a category for men.
There is another category for eagles; and another for worms.

Yet angels, men, eagles and worms are all mere creatures. Only one is separate as the Creator. He is matchless. He is without peer. He is holy, holy, holy.

His perfections in all his character and attributes convey his matchless beauty and splendor, so we are told by the psalmist:

“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.” (Psalm 29:2)

The seraphims also declare that “The whole earth is filled with his glory.”

Earthly kings extend their glory by conquering other territories. The bigger the area, the greater glory for the king. The angels declare that there is no portion of the earth where the glory of the Lord is not present. He does whatever pleases him in Asia, Europe, North and South America, Africa and the whole universe (Psalm 135:6).

The purpose by which he created this world is for his glory. And there is no part of this world which is not for this purpose even the place you call your home or your personal and private room. Are you glorifying him in these places? Or are you in rebellion? Submit now or pay the consequence later! Are you in submission to the King?

What Isaiah saw was a frightening scene. The place was shaking as if there is an earthquake. Smoke filled the place as if a volcano erupted. By this time Isaiah can't take it anymore. He cried “Woe to me! 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.” (Isaiah 6:5)

Let us enumerate three things that happened when we are confronted with God's holiness.

1. When we are confronted with God's Holiness, we see the depths of our sin.
Isaiah saw the filthiness of his lips. Filthy lips indicate a filthy heart.

Luke 6:43 -45 ”No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

It's not just the mouth, but all our body parts are dirty because we all use them in our enjoyment of sin. When confronted with God's holiness, you will be grieved by all the unholy things you did by which you involved your eyes, your hands, your feet, your brain and the rest of your body parts.

Notice also that it breaks spiritual pride in Isaiah for he put himself on equal footing as the rest – to the people he lives among with.

Isaiah's account also gives us an idea of what it fells to be truly blessed. Without being confronted with God's holiness, one may think he is blessed when in reality he is not.

Social Media give you an idea of what people are doing daily: the restaurant they recently visited, the wedding ceremony they attended, what they sketched on paper when bored at work, etc. On a particular Sunday, one professing Christian posted a status at 12 noon. He informed everyone that he was present at this particular church, and that he was "feeling blessed". If that is true, then well and good! Praise the Lord!

Yet at 1pm, he posted another status. He's watching a Sunday noontime show and proudly told the whole world that he was enjoying a sensual dance number by a well-known sexy actress. I doubt the truthfulness of his claim 60 minutes earlier that he was blessed.

I would tell you what a blessed man looks like upon attending a worship service. (see 1 Corinthians 14:24-25). He comes in with sins he secretly nourishes. But in the community of saints, by the ministry of the word, the secret issues of his heart are addressed. He will fall down in humility and worship God. He then concludes that God is present in the assembly. That's what a blessed man looks like.

If secret sins are not dealt with; if after attending a worship service, you did not feel the holiness of God confronting your sin, I doubt if you were really blessed. Perhaps you enjoyed the music in the same way you enjoy the FM radio. Perhaps you enjoyed the pretty faces and friendly smiles of those in attendance. Perhaps you enjoyed the preacher's punchlines. Well the best way to describe what you have just experienced is that you have been entertained. It is one thing to be blessed and another thing to be entertained. They are not the same.

2. When we are confronted with God's Holiness, we realize that we are deserving of punishment and in need of salvation.
“Woe is me” is the opposite of blessing. It was used by Isaiah in this book at least 20 times to indicate that the Lord is about to repay evil deeds. It is fair to say that it's a well-used part of Isaiah's prophetic vocabulary. But before he ever uttered a woe upon others, he first issued the woe upon himself. Recognizing God as holy, holy, holy means acknowledging he has every right and authority to inflict punishment upon us.

One of the principles I use when sharing the good news is this: Bad news before the good news.

One must first be confronted with who God is and what he demands. Then show the prospect how he failed, and that he cannot save himself. It must be clear before him that he is in trouble before the holy God, unless God himself provides the remedy. Only after hearing the bad news will he be ready for the good news of forgiveness and cleansing.

Such is the case of Isaiah. God did not immediately cleanse his dirty lips. He first showed him his holiness so that Isaiah might see his sinfulness and realize the bad news. When Isaiah understood the bad news, then he was ready for the good news: God's provision of cleansing and forgiveness.

In verse 6, one of the seraphims flew toward Isaiah with a burning coal with him. As he came nearer and nearer, Isaiah might have had thought this is punishment for him. The seraphim would harm him with the burning coal. The seraphim finally came close enough to Isaiah and with the coal, he touched Isaiah's lips, one of the most sensitive of our external parts. To Isaiah's surprise, the coal did not harm him. On the contrary, it did him good. His iniquity was taken away and impurity cleansed.

To whoever is broken by God's holiness, he is ready for the next step. The forgiveness and cleansing through the blood of God's son (Ephesians 1:7)

3. When we are confronted with God's holiness, we are convicted that the majestic King must be served
So far the one who sits on the throne hasn't spoken yet. Now he does. He announces a job vacancy in his Kingdom. He was looking for a prophet. God announced this vacancy to a sinner named Isaiah. That's grace. In fact all the workers the Lord has ever hired were all sinners.

Having been cleansed, Isaiah did not hesitate to join the King's work force. He replied, "Here am I. Send me."

Up to this day, there are vacancies in the Lord's field:
"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)

In whatever capacity the Lord has gifted and equipped us, let us serve him. The writer of Hebrews tells us that the blood of Christ cleansed us that we may serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14). Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms (1 Peter 4:10) and that for the praise of God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:11).

Serving God would not be easy. Isaiah's task was hard for he was sent to a people who would not receive the word. There rarely was a “prayed to receive Christ” (PRC) check mark on his evangelism blitz report sheets. Yet Isaiah persevered. It was in the year of Uzziah's death when he was called, and he lived and served in the times of three more kings: Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah-- 53 years of faithfulness in a ministry full of heartbreak. Yet it is all worth it when you think about the privilege of serving the holy, holy, holy God.

My final word for all of us--- for us who have unclean mouths, hands, feet, hearts and minds. Let us continue exposing ourselves to the word of God. For in it the holiness of God is revealed. It is the only hope for morally corrupt men and women.


Works consulted:
  • Raymond Ortlund, Jr.; Isaiah: God Saves Sinners (Preaching the Word Series; Crossway Books 2005
  • R. C. Sproul; The Holiness of God (Tyndale House Publishers 1985, 1998)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

We Shall Be With the Glorious Christ (John 17:24)

I was very much blessed with my study of Isaiah 6. Since November is Tinubos blog's anniversary month, I'm planning to post that material later this month. If the Lord wills, it will be posted on the 28th, the very day Tinubos was born way back in 2008. For the meantime, I'm posting this material which is really a spillover from my study of Isaiah 6.

This is also to grant the request of She Yap and Chewvy Orlanes. They graciously visited Guiding Light Dagupan and heard me preach this material on the afternoon of August 3. Thank you dear friends; I'm sorry for the delay. Though slightly modified, this is essentially the same message given to us on that blessed afternoon.

There is a verse in the New Testament that links Jesus Christ to the high and lofty vision of God's glory in Isaiah 6; that verse is John 12:42 where it is written:"Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him." John identified Jesus as the one whom Isaiah saw; the YHWH whose glory fills the whole earth.

Yet that was far from obvious on Jesus' days here on earth. While the king in Isaiah's vision possessed a blazing glory that even angels must cover their eyes, the carpenter  from Nazareth looked so ordinary. People saw no beauty, no majesty in him. The Pharisees and the Sadducees saw nothing special in him. Pilate and Herod saw him as a powerless suspect on trial. The crowd mocked him. The soldiers scourged. They spit on him, probably on his face.

Yet there will come a day when Jesus will be revealed in his full glory. When he comes, people would rather wish to be buried alive than to face the Wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16)

This glory was the first concern of Jesus when he opened his prayer at Gethsemane (John 17:1-5). He wants it back-- that blinding splendor which was veiled when he took the form of a servant. After praying for other matters (verses 6-23), he returns to the first concern in verse 24, so that his disciples would see that glory when they shall finally be reunited in the end. His specific prayer was:

NIV 1984

I would like to share three things we are assured of based on this short prayer item of the Lord:

First, this assures us that we ain't seen nothing yet.
Yes the disciples saw glimpses of his glory. They witnessed him turn water into wine. They heard him command the winds and the winds obeyed. Demons trembled before him. He made the sick well. He made the lame walk. He made the blind see. He raised the dead back to life and other things too many to mention.

And you my friend, if you have been a Christian long enough, there is no doubt that you have your own experiences of answered prayers and other wonderful things. Yet we have not yet seen the best of who Jesus is. We have not yet experienced the best of what Jesus has prepared for us. We will be with him and see his unveiled glory. We will be awed by his infinite majesty moment by moment and it will be unending. It will be an eternity of pleasures and joy in his presence (Psalm 16:11)

Second, this assures us that all our present troubles will soon melt away in the presence of Christ.
When the disciples began to understand that Jesus would soon leave them, their hearts were immediately filled with grief. As early as in chapter 14, Jesus has already presented the cure to that grief-- that is the promise of reunion with him (John 14:1-3).

Jesus' request in John 17:24 for his followers to be with him shows that he wants eternal comforts for us. We could then look beyond our present sufferings; they are not worth comparing to the glory that shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). "Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Cor. 4:17). Our Shepherd will lead us to the springs of living water, and there God will wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev. 7:17).

Third, this assures us that we will be changed into a people that fully enjoys God's glory.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible's testimony is consistent: Sinners don't enjoy the glory of God:
  • After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid themselves among the trees upon hearing that the Lord is approaching (Gen. 3:8).
  • After hearing God spoke the ten commandments, the Israelites saw a frightening sight. The mountain was covered with smoke. Lightning flashed followed by the deafening sound of thunder. They trembled in fear. So they ask Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." (Exodus 20:18-19)
  • Isaiah saw God's glory and his conclusion was, "Woe to me... I am ruined!"
  • Earlier we saw that people would prefer being buried alive than face the Glorious Lamb (Rev. 6:16)
The presence of a holy and glorious God is a threat to sinners. But with Jesus' request in John 17:24, we are assured that someday we would be transformed into beings fully capable of enjoying God's glory. Facing God will no longer be a threat but a blessing (Matt. 5:8). Through the process of sanctification, the transformation has already began and it shall be completed when we are finally reunited with our Lord (1 John 3:2)

You may ask, "Will I ever arrive at that?"
Well, who doubts the potency of Jesus' prayer?  If you have put your trust solely on the Lord Jesus Christ for your eternal destiny, then this prayer is for you.

James picked Elijah as an example of a righteous man whose prayer is powerful and effective (James 5:16b-18). If a mere mortal's prayer is powerful and effective, how much more with the sinless Jesus Christ who has been in indescribable intimacy with his Father before the world began. "YES" we shall be with the glorious Christ and shall enjoy him forever.