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Isaiah 6:1-6:13
Key Verse: 6:8

(2012 SBC, Sara Lee)

Throughout this conference, we have been learning aspects of God’s mercy. God’s mercy is

not just anyone’s mercy. In this passage, we learn that God is the King over the whole earth. God is the King over the whole earth. He is the most powerful being; the ruler and owner of all creation. What comes to mind when you think of a King? Or a Queen? Probably not the word ‘mercy’. But this passage is full of mercy. The King, who is omnipotent, displays extraordinary mercy. This passage teaches us that God’s mercy is mercy that takes away guilt and atones for sin. God’s mercy is mercy that issues an open call, a question to which we can be the answer (if we so choose). And God’s mercy is mercy that asks us to embody his mercy. The sequence of events is very important in this passage. So let’s start at the very beginning and follow it through.

Context: This passage takes place at a dark time in Israel’s history. King Uzziah, who had been ruling Israel for 52 years, had just died. The people were anxious about their national future, but also sin-sick themselves. Isaiah describes Israel as a corrupt and sinful nation (Isaiah 1) and an unfaithful harlot (1:21).

But contrast this situation of national crisis with the vision that Isaiah saw in verses 1-4: “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.” (1-4)

Even though we can’t physically see this vision that Isaiah saw, we can try to imagine what it was like. Forbes listed the World’s Most Powerful People as: Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, and Hu Jintao (the Presidents/Rulers of America, Russia, and China respectively). Imagine meeting them, three-on-one. Wouldn’t you be amazed, extremely humbled, and somewhat star-struck? Then multiply that awe and glory by infinity. I think that kind of gives us a sense of what it must have been like when God revealed himself to Isaiah.

In the very first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, God reveals that he is the Creator of the earth and all that is in it. Psalm 24:1,2 say, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” In other words, he is truly the rightful King over the whole earth. God showed Isaiah that despite Israel’s rejection and despite the depressing national situation, the Lord is still King. And today, despite the powers that may be, regardless of space and time, the Lord God is still King.

So how would you expect Isaiah to react? See, the thing is, the Israelites were this King’s chosen people. He had promised them that if they lived under his Kingship, if they remained obedient to him, they would be greatly blessed (with long lives, fruitfulness, military victories). On the other hand, he warned them that if they strayed from his laws, they would entice the wrath of God. They would be destroyed.

So, when Isaiah came to see God properly, he realized that he and his people were doomed. He cried out, “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!” We’re not sure exactly what Isaiah meant by “unclean lips”. Maybe he and his people were full of complaints, doubts, and bitterness toward God. This confession of ‘unclean lips’ can be considered Isaiah’s confession of his sins. As Luke 6:45b says, “…out of the overflow of [a man’s] heart his mouth speaks.” Isaiah confessed his unclean lips, and hence his unclean heart. He realized that he and his people were not fit for the Lord’s Kingship.

But this King did something unexpected. Verses 6,7 say, “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.” The altar was used to make sacrifices to God. But now, God had one of his seraphs take a coal from the altar to touch Isaiah’s unclean lips. The King took what was his, and reached out to touch the sinner. And touching Isaiah, the sinner, he proclaimed him clean. Recall that we defined mercy, “not giving someone what they deserve.” Isn’t this a definite case of mercy? God did not give Isaiah the punishment he deserved. And he went further than that. He also gave him what he did not deserve (grace): he reached out and made him free from guilt and cleansed of sin.

This was the sign of the King’s acceptance of Isaiah, a sinner, into his Kingdom. From this moment on, Isaiah was restored as a fit member of the Lord’s Kingdom.

This almost seems like an appropriate place to end the passage, “and they all lived happily ever after in God’s kingdom…” But God’s mercy in this passage extends even further. Let’s read verse 8 together. “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!’” This is the main verse I want to focus on, so let’s pause and think about it in-depth.

The first thing we can note is that it contains a question-answer exchange between God and Isaiah. God asked a question and Isaiah answered. Isn’t that amazing? The King asked. King’s don’t usually ask. They command. But even though God had just re-established himself as the King and owner of Isaiah’s life, he asked. He humbled himself, giving the power of the answer in the hands of sinners.

Next, let’s look at the question itself: He asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Who is this question addressed to? Actually, it’s not specified. God’s question and call was open. It was not conditional on qualifications, knowledge, status, race, wealth, or “connections”. But recall: it was only after Isaiah was touched by the hot coal that he could hear. So the King’s question is open to all who have been restored in his Kingdom.

OK, so what exactly is the question asking? He asks, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” It kind of sounds like God is asking for an ambassador of sorts, right? Someone to go for him, to be his representative. In this passage, God revealed himself to Isaiah in a vision. Isaiah saw and heard God on his throne above the earth. But this was a very special and unique event. In day-to-day life, no one could physically see, hear, or touch God, just like we can’t see God today. God asked for someone to be his living, breathing, in-the-flesh representative to deliver his messages and reveal himself on this earth. He asked for someone to go from his throne in heaven to the earth.

So what was answer God was looking for? In order to understand this, let’s look at Isaiah’s answer: He replied, “Here am I. Send me.” Notice that in these 2 simple sentences, Isaiah is offering his entire being to God. He says, “Here am I.” And then he surrenders all control to God, as if he’s giving God the reigns, the steering wheel: “Send me.” His answer to God’s question is himself. This is not simply a question-answer exchange. Through answering God’s question, Isaiah surrenders himself, his whole life. And in so doing, his own self-will is exchanged for God’s will. His life is exchanged so that God’s life can live in him. From that moment on, he was no longer “Isaiah,” but, “Isaiah, God’s prophet.” The words that Isaiah spoke were not his own words. They were God’s words. That’s why when we look back on the book of Isaiah, we see not Isaiah, but God.

So what does the book of Isaiah, and in particular this chapter, Isaiah’s commission, tell us about God? In verses 9-13, God gives Isaiah his first mission. He says: “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes…until the cities lie ruined…and the land is utterly forsaken…but the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” Here, God seems to be sending Isaiah out on a mission that seems sure to fail. The message itself contains the prophecy: Isaiah will be rejected again and again. Why would the Lord, King of all the earth do this? Why would he send his ambassador to a place where he will be repeatedly rejected? This means that he is opening himself up for repeated rejection? Through this paradox, God reveals himself. God reveals that he is the God of mercy. He is the God who, through Isaiah, intentionally and knowingly reached out to those who would be hard-hearted and stubborn. He reaches out even to those who repeatedly rejected his Kingship. And even though Isaiah would be rejected and cut down, he would remain as a holy stump in the land, a marker of God’s patient and forgiving mercy. Isaiah became the living, breathing proof to the people of his time that God is a God of mercy.

I want to clarify something: I hear this passage most often quoted during a missionary call or in reference to some missionary. But God’s question, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” is not for missionaries alone. It is not simply a call not to go from the homeland to the foreign land. After Isaiah was called by God, he did not go to an exotic foreign country as a missionary. He went to his own people, the Israelites, as a prophet of God. So where, then, is God asking us to go? From where to where? God asks us to go from his throne, in the invisible spiritual realm, to the physical realm, the earth. He is asking us to go from the life ruled by the Self, to the life ruled by Him.

This is demonstrated even more clearly in Jesus Christ. In fact, this passage can be considered a foreshadow of Jesus. Recall that God referred to himself as “us” in verse 8. “Us” signifies the Trinity: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. [Just as the angels sang, and as the hymn song declares, “Holy, holy holy, Lord God Almighty…God in 3 persons, blessed Trinity.”] Jesus is part of the Trinity. He is God in the flesh. Jesus bore the full, untarnished image of God, but he was also fully human. Jesus gave up himself, his own will, in order to “go for” God. He mediated and bridged the gap between the throne of God and the earth. Through his birth, life, and death, Jesus demonstrated the love and mercy of God. Through Jesus, we know that God is Immanuel, God with us. And he is the God who asked a demon-possessed man, “What is your name?” He healed a paralytic both physically and spiritually. He was crucified on the cross in our place, praying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Through Jesus, God lived and revealed himself on this earth. Jesus was the embodiment of God on earth.

And now, through Jesus, we are called to do the same. 1 Cor 12:27 says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Remember God promised Isaiah that he would remain as a “holy seed…a stump in the land.” And in this Body, he does. All the individuals throughout history who have answered God’s call with, “Here am I. Send me!” make up the Body of Christ, the Church. The Church is God’s household. He lives in and through it. And God asks us if we want to be a part of this. He is asking us, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” He is asking us, inviting us, to join Isaiah, all the prophets and all his people throughout history, to join the Body, and to go for him. God wants to live in and through us, and show the world his mercy through us.

In God’s message to Isaiah, I could see myself. I was callous-hearted, with ears that refused to hear and eyes that refused to see. I grew up in a Christian home, with the Bible everywhere, but I still could not recognize God’s Kingship. But he revealed himself as the Creator God and King; the owner, source, and sustainer of all the earth when I studied Genesis 1 with Mary Moon back in the summer of 2005. As I look back, I can see how patient and merciful my King is.

And through this passage, God asked me to go for him. At first, I couldn’t perceive what he was asking. I already had set life-plans. I wanted to do an MD-PhD at Harvard, or University of Chicago, or UPenn. I planned to be a medical doctor and professor who could revolutionize medical schools throughout North America. But I couldn’t shake God’s question, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” God convicted me that I was actually still living life for myself. He asked me to give up my self will and my life to do his will and to have his life live in me. He asked me to come to his throne, receive his word and his message, to learn of him and then to live him out in this world. And I realized that there is no greater question than this. He is asking me to go for him; to suffer for him; to be rejected for him. He is asking me to join all the other great men and women of God throughout history, and to be part of his Body, right now, on this earth. In particular, he asks me to serve from the ministry he put me in, UBF. It was in this particular part of Christ’s body that I came to the throne of my God, that I grew in faith, and was nurtured by his words. In this body I experienced the love and patient mercy of God, through the prayers and humbleness of missionaries and shepherds. I was often proud, cold, and self-centered, but they loved me anyway, embodying the love of Christ to me. I want to do the same for them and for others. So through this passage, I made the decision to follow the way of Isaiah and Jesus, who gave up their lives to go for the King. I am committing my life to be a full-time shepherd in UBF. “Lord, Here am I. Send me!”

God’s question is in the form of an open call, but it is also very unique to each one of us. Some of us, he is asking to go as missionaries. Some, he is asking to stay in our home towns. Some he is asking to re-commit, to newly and whole-heartedly reply his question. In every case, he is asking us to go for him, not for ourselves, just as Isaiah did, and just as Jesus did. Listen: he is asking, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

I have great love in hope for all of you here today. In Christ, I love you as I love God and love myself. Why? Because you and I could very well be part of the same body, Christ’s body, on earth! We can embody our Lord God on this earth. We can show each other the mercy we have received from the throne of the King. We can show each other and this world how great our God is. Will you answer the Lord’s question with “Here am I? Send me?” Will you join me?

Let’s pray: LORD, we come before your throne. You are perfect in power, but also in love; mighty, but also merciful. And you are asking, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” You want us to go for you. You are calling us to be part of your body. LORD, help us to look up at you, and answer your call, “Here am I. Send me!” As we follow Jesus, use us to show each other and the world who you are. I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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