What I like about Isaiah: It's all about God
that vision, set out for us in Isaiah 6, isn’t of any polluted, compromised God, but of God in all his true holiness
It’s about 2,800 years ago. King Uzziah has polluted the Temple of God. He has grown proud, and has himself tried to make sacrifice to God, instead of leaving that to those called to do it, the priests.
One day, in the Temple, with the unfaithful king now dead, Isaiah sees a vision of God himself. And that vision, set out for us in Isaiah 6, isn’t of any polluted, compromised God, but of God in all his true holiness. Uzziah’s kingship had led to prosperity for the land, but it was founded on injustice, and Isaiah’s vision in the Temple is the beginning of a blazing campaign to abolish the unholy practices of the people who may live far from the Temple.
The vision is astonishing and terrifying; the building shakes.
I came to Christ because I was convinced from the gospels that Jesus rose from the dead. Notions of sin and the cross came later. That’s why I like the way the story unfolds in Isaiah 6. It is as Isaiah encounters God in his holiness that he knows his own sin, and not before. That rings true. It’s just like the encounter of Peter with Jesus in Luke 5. It is as Peter meets Jesus that he knows his own sinfulness. Knowing sin as sin normally comes late, and our evangelism might usefully focus more on God’s holiness and beauty than on our own sinfulness.
our evangelism might usefully focus more on God’s holiness and beauty than on our own sinfulness
With his sin atoned-for by a touch from the altar, Isaiah is readied for service – “Who shall go for us?” / “Here am I, send me”. It’s a beautiful pattern of encounter, confession, cleansing and commissioning.
What a shame, it then seems, that everything immediately goes wrong! The reality that continues from v.8 is fiercer than the pattern so far. ‘Go, and tell this people,’ says God, ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding’. Isaiah is promised that his mission will be a complete waste of time, that he will be a prophet of God’s judgment, not a bringer of God’s mercy. Well, that’s not very ‘nice’, and we like a “nice” God. Moreover, we like a story of ‘Prophet called / prophet preaches / people respond’, and this isn’t even remotely in that pattern – for that, go to Jonah.
I can devote my whole life to ministry and it still depends entirely and utterly on God what fruit results
This passage has in it the mystery that I can have powerful personal experience of God, I can devote my whole life afterwards to ministry for God, and it still depends entirely and utterly on God (not me) what fruit results. This passage stands as a rebuke to our times, when we like to think that, so long as we murmur ‘your strength, not mine’, it’ll all come out right in the end. Not so, says this passage.
You are to do simply what you are given to do – results are for God to determine. Sometimes that will mean joy; sometimes, it will mean judgment. But most often, it means, as for Isaiah, a near-complete rejection, with only a few, a remnant bearing the hope of God for his people. It’s not ‘nice’, but it rings true to how it was for Jesus, and to how things actually are in the church of God. I love its rigour, its wonderful avoidance of sentimentality. Isaiah’s remnant, though, endured, and it gave rise to Jesus of Nazareth, long after Isaiah was dead. Work for the glory of the kingdom, but you may never see in your lifetime the results that matter.