1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8Then 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!” (NRSV)
|Prophet Isaiah by Marc Chagall. Courtesy of wikiart|
Both of my grandfathers served U.S. Army Air Corps during World War 2. For the first time ever, as I looked at their military photos, I was struck by the youth in their faces.
When they went off to war, they were half my age. At a time when I was preparing for my future, their futures were put on hold. They, along with hundreds of thousands of other Americans, were sent either to the Asia-Pacific or Western Europe to defend freedom against the deadliest empires in human history.
Many were drafted into the service. They weren’t given a choice. Others enlisted voluntarily. Nevertheless, every man and woman who’s ever served in our armed forces knows that their service may cost them their lives. When I look upon my grandfathers’ youthful faces, I see an undeniable love of home and country.
You could call the Old Testament prophet Isaiah a draftee of sort. His story begins in a tumultuous time for the Old Testament country of Judah. King Uzziah has just died, and the Assyrian Empire, which by now had already an evil empire is threatening them to the East. God’s chosen people have turned to other gods and neglected their basic duty to love their neighbor as themselves. They were consumed by their own selfish interests and ambitions. They allowed poverty and oppression to run rampant among their fellow Israelites. Those who did worship God merely paid God lip service.
Isaiah knew this full well on the day he was worshipping God in the temple. Suddenly, he sees the Lord sitting on a throne. Seraphs were in attendance before him. These weren’t cute little baby angels. In Hebrew, the word actually means fiery ones and they would’ve looked more like snakes with wings. The foundations quake and the room fills with smoke as the seraphs sing “holy, HOLY, HOLY is the Lord.”
Isaiah is terrified as he stands before the glory of God. “I am a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips,” he cries out. He knows he cannot see the Lord and live.
Immediately, one of the seraphs takes a hot coal and touches it to Isaiah’s lips (which had to have been excruciatingly painful). The angel declares Isaiah forgiven—and then the Lord says, “whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah says, “here I am, send me.”
Let’s face it—how could he have said no?
I would love to tell you that Isaiah leads a dramatic spiritual revival, and everyone turns back to God. But that’s not what happens.
God sends Isaiah to tell God’s chosen people that their days are numbered. But God already knows that the people won’t listen. They won’t understand. They won’t care.
So why does God bother sending Isaiah in the first place? And what good came out of Isaiah’s obedience?
God drafts Isaiah into a service that will not produce the kinds of results he would want to produce.
God sends Isaiah to suffer firsthand the people’s rejection of God.
God sends Isaiah to weep with God as God’s people turn away.
God sends Isaiah to love a people who will turn on him and kill him. Legend has it Isaiah is executed by King Manasseh, one of Uzziah’s successors.
With all this talk of gloom and doom, let us not forget that God has not forsaken God’s chosen people. God sends Isaiah as an act of faithfulness to Israel and to Isaiah personally. God is reaching out to Isaiah, who’s caught up in the chaos happening all around him. God sends Isaiah to live out God’s love and grace which will ultimately save the world.
God’s faithfulness will be the refuge that will comfort and sustain amid all the hardships he will face. God’s faithfulness will make Isaiah’s work to be fruitful, even in the absence of what we’d call success. God’s faithfulness will give Isaiah Godly joy as he goes.
This same God sends you, too—drafting you into God’s outpouring of love and grace for all the world. This isn’t something God does to make you prove your worth. It’s a gift to be sent. God drafts you as you are, just like Isaiah. God takes away all the impurity, all the fear, and all the helplessness—and replaces it with God’s own life. God sends you out to be a living, breathing embodiment of God’s love for the world—with God’s power to transform lives and transform the world working in you. Regardless of whether the world receives you with open arms or it rejects and kills you just as it did Isaiah and Jesus Christ, nothing you’ve done will be in vain. Because God is alive and working in you, God will have the victory. God’s faithfulness saves, endures, and triumphs—no matter what a sinful humanity does in response.
So let your eyes and ears be open and your heart prepared—for as the world groans in grief and pain; as God’s children cry in want for shelter and food, and wander through life as strangers to the God who created them, hear the voice of God calling: “whom shall I send?” When, in faith and hope you answer, “here I am, send me” God will come alive from within you; all your weakness and inadequacy shall vanish away. And no matter what people say or what results you see, God has already won the victory.