Friday, July 1, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 10

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 10

Today Isaiah describes how he received his calling as a prophet. If any of you have ever received a revelation from the Lord about your calling in life, I bet you remember exactly how it happened. You can describe it in great detail. This is what Isaiah does today.

The Lord called him in the year that King Uzziah of Judah died. We recall when we began the book of Isaiah we were told he prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, so his ministry began at the end of Uzziah's reign and ran through the reign of three more kings. Ancient Jewish legend says that Isaiah was martyred by King Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, along with many other prophets of God. 

Uzziah had been a mostly good king, reigning for fifty-two years, strengthening the nation and keeping the upper hand over many of the nation's enemies such as the Philistines and Ammonites. The people enjoyed prosperity and security in the days of Uzziah. He obeyed the Lord until, in his later years, he became prideful over his victories and actually went into the temple to perform the duties of a priest, a thing it was not lawful to do. When confronted by the priests he refused to acknowledge guilt and repent. Instead he became enraged with them and was struck with leprosy, living out the remainder of his time on earth in seclusion. Just as King Uzziah's reign ended on a sad note spiritually, it ended on a threatening note nationally, for Assyria was becoming a power to be reckoned with. J. Alec Motyer, who wrote some brilliant commentaries on the book of Isaiah, believes the end of Uzziah's reign is linked with Isaiah's calling as a prophet for a reason. He says that, like king Uzziah, the nation too had "overstepped the bounds of grace".

The king is dead and Isaiah feels the storm clouds gathering. I think he goes to the temple in a troubled frame of mind, to pray and seek the Lord. And there he ends up face to face with the King of kings. "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphim, 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." (Isaiah 6:1-3) I believe Isaiah went to the temple in mourning because the king was dead, but there he was reminded that there is a King who lives forever. Our nation is in an election year and I rarely comment on politics but I'll be honest with you: this time around I feel like we're between a rock and a hard place. A lot of people seem to feel the same way and are almost too discouraged to go to the polls. But we can take heart because no matter who sits in the White House, there is an eternal, righteous, and holy King seated on an everlasting throne, and He will have the last word. Since the creation of the earth, many kings have risen and fallen, many presidents have come and gone, but the King was on the throne before the creation and He will be on it forever. We have an unchanging Commander-in-Chief, one who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, one completely incapable of being corrupted, one who will never judge unfairly.

We might expect Isaiah to leap to his feet in the temple and start shouting hallelujahs at the realization that the King of kings and Lord of lords reigns forever. Don't we today, in our spirits, feel like shouting hallelujahs as we think about our righteous King who never changes? But Isaiah's reaction is one of abject terror, the same reaction of everyone in the Bible who received a stunning vision of the Lord in all His glory and power. "'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.'" (Isaiah 6:5) When Isaiah sees the Lord as He really is, he sees himself as he really is and cries, "Woe to me! I am ruined!" Isaiah is a godly man, a courageous man, one who stood for the Lord even in the face of death, who wouldn't back down for anything, a man whose words the Lord Jesus often quoted, and yet when he saw the Lord he recognized his faults and his sins and cried, "Woe to me! I am ruined!"

Seeing the Lord is an astounding and terrifying experience for those in the Bible. Even the Apostle John, a man who lived and worked alongside the Lord Jesus, who did miracles in His name, fell at Jesus' feet as a dead man when he saw Him in all His resurrected and eternal glory on the Isle of Patmos. I've had people say to me, "I don't want to be religious or go to church or devote my life to the Lord. I'm going to live how I want and take my chances. I believe I can put on a good defense when I stand before God someday. I've done a lot of good things; I think my good deeds will outweigh my bad deeds." This is entirely and unequivocally in Scriptural error. First of all, our salvation does not depend on works. God isn't going to put a set of scales in front of us and place our good works on one side and our bad actions on the other to see which one weighs the most. Salvation is by faith alone. Of course good works will naturally flow from that faith, but the works themselves don't save us. How can we, men and women of unclean lips, weak and prone to temptation, make ourselves holy? We can't, not by our own works. It's our faith in the salvation work of Christ that makes us holy.

Second, it's my personal belief that nobody is going to say anything before God. Not because He won't allow it, but because the sight of Him as He is, in His sovereign power, in His complete holiness, will render us speechless. If even the godly men and women of the Bible trembled in terror before the Lord, if even a man like Isaiah believed he was completely ruined as He faced the righteous King, nobody is going to stand in the presence of God and put on a defense about their life. I think we who are saved by faith in Christ will be awestruck and silent, but Christ will stand up as a defense attorney on our behalf. Anyone who has rejected Him will stand before the Judge without a defender. There's a saying in our defense system that the man who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client, and vice versa, the client has a fool for a lawyer. If we, as weak and mortal beings, were able to do good enough works to save ourselves, then why did Christ suffer and die? If we reject Him as our advocate, our defense attorney, our salvation, we have no other recourse.

Isaiah has done something the nation has not done. He has acknowledged his sins. He has admitted his works don't stand up to the laws of a holy God. He knows he has fallen short. And that's when God can work with us. "Then one of the seraphim 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.'" (Isaiah 6:6-7) Isaiah realizes he is unclean but he is unable to make himself clean. Only God can make any of us clean. I believe the coal that touched Isaiah's lips was a coal from the altar upon which the blood of an atoning sacrifice had been sprinkled. In Isaiah's day this was an actual ritual performed in the temple but it also spoke of a coming sacrifice, a cleansing blood, an atonement that could make the recipient clean forever. Isaiah, good man though he was, was still a sinner. He had still fallen short of God's holy laws. But the recognition of this isn't what made him clean; it was the faith in the One who could bring atonement that made him clean.

Now God can use Isaiah. When we admit our sins and repent, God can then do His cleansing work. And after we have been cleansed, we can light the way for others. "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here I am. Send me!'" (Isaiah 6:8) In the space of a very short time, this man's life is completely and forever transformed. Just yesterday he would not have stepped up like this. He would not have been willing to risk it all for the name of the Lord. He walked into the temple today, burdened with worries, laden with sin. And now he walks out forgiven and free, ready to be a mighty soldier in the army of God.

Did you accept the Lord as Savior during a church service? If so, you know how Isaiah feels. You walked into the church burdened with the cares and problems of your life, laden with sin, and you walked out forgiven and free, eager to serve your Redeemer. I came to Christ on the floor beside my bed. I knelt there feeling like I was at the end of my rope, painted into a corner by all my poor decisions, so heavy with guilt I couldn't take one more step. I rose from my knees forgiven and free, ready to face a new life, eager to see how Jesus would turn my mess into a miracle. You've heard the expression, "What a difference a day makes." Well, one second in the presence of the King makes all the difference! When we are confronted with a sense of His holiness and righteousness, we can't help but see ourselves as we are, just as Isaiah did. But what grace this is! What love, what mercy! Because that's where our healing begins. That's when God takes us out of the gutter and cleans us up, when He gives us a robe of righteousness in place of our filthy rags, when He transforms us from poor beggars into sons and daughters of the King. He takes our cry of, "Woe is me!" and gives us the courage to say, "Here I am. Send me!"

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