A Life Transforming Vision

October 16, 2022

Book: Isaiah

A Life Transforming Vision

Scripture: Isaiah 6

A sermon preached by Pastor Andrew Longwe of the London City Presbyterian Church of London, England at Oakland Hills Community Church in Farmington Hills, Michigan. This message was delivered on Sunday evening, October 16, 2022 – two days after the installation service of Dr. Harrison Perkins (as the new pastor at Oakland Hills) — which occurred on Friday, October 14, 2022.

Scripture Reading from Isaiah 6:1-8

(Dr. Harrison Perkins reading scripture.)

Isaiah six. Beginning at verse one. This is God’s word:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings. With two he covered his face and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory.”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook and the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes, have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?”

Then I said: “Here I am. Send me.”

Introduction and Greeting

Rev. Andy Longwe – from London, England

For me to be here on this very special weekend in your congregation’s history — it is an absolute joy to see Pastor Harrison formally installed as a minister of this church. And I want to assure you that we will be praying for you in London; praying that God will richly bless the ministry from this pulpit; praying that God would build you up, conform you to the image of his Son. And that through the preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ, many lost souls would be saved.

A Big Question

Brothers and sisters, as we begin, I want to begin this evening by asking you a question. My question is this: When was the last time you were left awe struck in life? When was the last time something made your jaw drop? When was the last time your eyes popped out of your head? When was the last time you gasped in amazement? When was the last time you were stunned into silence?

I don’t know. Perhaps it was witnessing the birth of your child or grandchild. Maybe it was seeing the beauty of your bride on the wedding day; and maybe it was when you last surveyed a breathtaking landscape. I wonder when was the last time you were left awestruck at something you saw?

The Death of the Queen Elizabeth II

For me, it was just last month after preaching my evening service in London City Presbyterian Church on Sunday, the 18th of September. I and three other members decided that we would go and join the long, long queue to see the queen lying in state at Westminster Hall.

We left the church at 6:30 (PM). We crossed the Tower Bridge. We joined the queue and we waited for nine and a half hours. At 4:30 AM in the morning, we wondered wearily into Westminster Hall.

I can’t describe to you the scene that greeted us. Westminster Hall is a room pregnant with history. As we walked up the steps and we came to the top and we looked down the room. There in the middle on a plinth was the coffin containing Queen Elizabeth II. Britain’s longest ever reigning monarch; guarded by her loyal yeoman.

And as we walked up to the coffin, I can’t describe it, it was probably the closest I’ve ever come to the Queen, but it was her dead body. And there on the coffin was the royal standard, the sovereign flag of our monarchy and resting on top of the flag was the royal crown — dazzling with its diamonds. The scepter. The globe. And I can’t quite describe it, but as I beheld this coffin, I was left awestruck. I was stunned into silence.

It was without a shadow of doubt, one of the most remarkable moments of my life.

I begin by mentioning that because in our passage tonight, the prophet Isaiah was confronted with another awesome site. Actually the most amazing and awesome sight. Not the sight of a dead monarch, but the sight of the eternal living King of Kings in all his glory. And my prayer for us as we come to this passage is that we would be awe struck by the glory of God. That we would be reminded and humbled by the grace of our God. And that we would be led to live a life of grateful service to our God for what He’s done for us.

Asking the King of Kings for an Awesome Vision of His Glory

Before we go any further, let’s bow our heads and ask for his help.

Our Father in heaven as we come to this glorious vision of who you are in your word. We pray that you would help us to be in awe of your holiness, amazed by your grace. And as a result, animated by love and gratitude to live lives of service to you our king. We pray this in Jesus name. Amen.

A Life Transforming Vision of Who God Is

In a word you’ll remember what’s recorded before us in these eight verses is the occasion when Isaiah went into the temple and he did not come back out the same way he went in. Because there in the temple, he had this life transforming vision of who God is.

God, Guilt, Grace, Gratitude

I’ve got four headings for us tonight.

Maybe four words to simplify it: God, guilt, grace, gratitude.

We’re gonna see who God is. We’re gonna see who we are in our sinfulness and guilt. We’re gonna see Isaiah experience God’s forgiveness because of his grace. We’re gonna see Isaiah respond with gratitude — to live a life of service.

Just know how this chapter begins: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord”. Very simply, this statement does two things:

It dates Isaiah’s experience approximately 540 BC. It reminds us that this was a timely experience. You see, just like Queen Elizabeth’s death marked the end of an era for us Brits, and all in the Commonwealth, and perhaps in the globe — It’s the end of the second Elizabethan age — King Uzziah’s death marked the end of an era.

He was the third longest reigning monarch in Israel. After 52 years on the throne, he died. And you can imagine the nation being in a state of mourning, a state of confusion, a state of uncertainty. You can well imagine young Isaiah, the prophet of Israel, entering the temple with a heavy heart, carrying the weight of the situation in his soul.

When Israel’s Throne was Vacant, Heaven’s Throne was Occupied

But don’t you love God’s timing? When Israel’s throne was vacant, heaven’s throne was occupied. And Isaiah was given this supernatural vision to see what was in heaven. The God upon his throne.

My prayer is that this vision, as we study it tonight, would be timely for us. I don’t know what’s going on in your personal life. So I don’t know if at a personal level, this last year has been a difficult year. Or if it’s been a good year for you. I don’t know. Maybe you’ve moved, maybe you’ve started a new job and maybe you’ve welcomed a new family member.

A Year of Change

Maybe you’ve said goodbye to a beloved family member. Maybe it’s been a year of up and downs. I know that at a congregational level, it’s been a year of change for you. This weekend you’ve welcomed a new pastor. For us in London, it’s been a year of change. I became the pastor and said goodbye to our beloved associate pastor.

On the global stage it’s been a year of change. Yes, the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Then there’s the war in Ukraine — just to mention a couple of events. Oh, that we would find in this year, in fact, in this very evening, a timely encounter with our glorious God.

Notice what Isaiah is on to say: In the year that King Isiah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

God is Sitting on His Throne

It’s as if the sky was parted. It was if, as if Isaiah, for him, he was given a sneak preview of the throne room of heaven. And there’s the King of all Kings, the King of Creation alive, sitting on the throne and what a comforting site this must have been for Isaiah — to see the sovereign one in sovereign control.

What a reassuring vision. Whatever was happening all around him, his God remained in control. And as we find ourselves in a world where there’s change, wherever the up and downs in our personal lives, we need to be reminded: God is sitting on his throne. He is in complete control.

Your new pastor has come at the appointment of Almighty God who brings all of his plans and purposes to fruition. From before the foundation of the earth, our God knew we would be here this weekend. These are his good plans and purposes for you, His people.

He Saw the Lord, High and Lifted Up

Then notice again what Isaiah sees next:

He saw the Lord high and lifted up. He saw him exalted.

You know, when I, when I was in Westminster Hall and we had the moment to pass by the Queen’s coffin, that the striking thing was, is that they’d lifted it up high. So you had to look up. And that’s right for a monarch. But notice here Isaiah says that he saw the Lord high and lifted up. Exalted in the position above all powers. Above all authorities. Above all things.

But if that’s not enough, Isaiah says, and he saw the train of God’s robe filling the temple. You probably know this, but in the ancient world, kings often demonstrated their splendor in their majesty by the length of the train of their robe. The greater the king and his kingdom, the longer his robe would be.

And whenever an ancient king defeated another king in his kingdom, they would add extensions to the train of the robes so that it would impress the greatness of this king upon all other kings. But here’s the thing, while the ancient human kings competed for with one another for greatness, Isaiah’s given this vision of the all consuming majesty and splendor, and the unrivaled greatness of the king on his throne.

The Immensity and Greatness of God

See what it says there that he saw the train of his robe filling the temple. In the Hebrew it could mean he saw the hem, that is to say he saw the very edge of God’s robe and it filled the temple. And the idea here is of the immensity of God.

Isaiah just saw a little. How much more of God was there to see? And yet he saw God in all his greatness.

And brothers and sisters, we need to have a vision of the overwhelming greatness of God. Morning by morning we wake up and we allow the worries of life to fill the vision of our hearts, the situations and the circumstances of our lives. Morning by morning often it’s self at the center of our minds and hearts.

We need to see the greatness of God loom large in our minds.

Isaiah Beheld the Seraphim

Then we go on and we read that Isaiah beheld the seraphim. Above him stood the seraphim. Each with six wings. With two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.

Now this is the only time in the Bible we read about seraphim. The Hebrew word, the root of it literally means to burn. In other words, the seraphim we believe were fiery, burning, beings — created by God to live in the very presence of God. And Isaiah saw that they had two wings and they used them to cover their face. Meaning these creatures created to dwell in the very presence of God, never directly beheld the Lord in all his greatness and holiness. They had to shield themselves from God’s face.

In the same way we teach our children don’t gaze directly at the sun. So these heavenly, sinless creatures do not gaze upon the dazzling intensity of God’s holiness. And with two of the other wings, they flew. And the posture here is they’re heavenly man messengers ready to do God’s bidding at God’s command.

And with the other two, they covered their feet revealing their humility before their God. It’s really significant, as we see their posture in just a moment, this is going to become Isaiah’s posture.

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts

But notice they’re not just shielding themselves. They’re not just surrounding the throne of heaven. We read that they were singing to one another in antiphonal praise. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory. Now, up until this point, Isaiah has had impressed on his finite mind, the infinite greatness and glory of his God.

And now with his ears, he hears how extraordinary God is in his holiness.

Now one of our problems is we, we will never fully understand what it means for God to be holy. His absolute moral purity; his absolute distance between us creatures. God’s holiness is his set apartness. His separateness. A.W. Tozer said we cannot grasp the true meaning of holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure, and then raising it to the concept of the highest degree we’re capable of.

God’s holiness is not simply the best we know, infinitely bettered.

No! It stands apart. Unique. Unapproached. Incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power. He may admire God’s wisdom. But his holiness — he cannot even begin to imagine.

God’s holiness is truly extraordinary.

God’s Holiness Is Thrilling

But notice this as well: God’s holiness is also truly thrilling. We get that idea from the fact that these seraphim were singing. We sing about what we delight in. The reason we start the service singing is because we delight in our glorious God — and here they are delighting in God’s holiness. To them it was delightful.

Holy, Holy, Holy demonstrates their excitement and their enthusiasm at who God is. He is truly thrilling.

Dale Ralph Davis puts it like this: it thrilled them to the bottom of their burning beings to sing his praise. Once you grasp just something of the holiness of God, it will set you ablaze.

Something Greater than Great

Now, you know, in Hebrew, if you want to say something’s great, you repeat it.

Song of Songs: Greatest Songbook in the Bible.

King of King’s: Greatest King

Lord of Lord’s: Greatest Lord.

But what we have here is something utterly unique. RC Sproul says this is the only time, apart from Revelation, where God has also described as Holy, Holy, Holy — that we read an adjective repeated three times.

Holy, Holy, Holy

God is the best, of the best, of the best-est – if I could put it like that.

This is a super superlative.

Words are inadequate to try and describe who God is to the core of his being — God is holy. His love is holy. His justice is holy. His mercy is holy. Everything about him is holy. He is in a class all of his own.

He is absolutely pure. There is no one like him. But notice that the praise of the seraphim continues with this statement: The whole earth is full of his glory.

You know the word glory literally means God’s weightiness. The weightiness of God’s character is put on full display in all creation. And friends, we need to discover what that means.

That means that God is not a little God who can be confined to one building. That means that God is neither a trivial God that we can confine to one hour or two hours on a Sunday.

God is immense. The whole earth is full of his glory.

Brothers and sisters, until we see God for the Holy One he is — our lives — if we’re honest with ourselves, will be marked by callous worship, careless living. In fact, if you are at this present hour, casual in your Christianity, compromised in your godliness, passive in your attitude, I would wager it’s because you’ve lost sight of who God is.

We Desperately Need This Vision

We desperately need this vision of who God is. And finally, as we consider who God is, look, the throne is occupied, the temple is filled, the seraphim are singing — but in response to this praise, it says: the foundations of the thresholds shook.

Psalm 96: Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. Let the nation’s tremble, let all the earth shake.

You know what the response to seeing God in all of his holiness is — that we would be shaken to the very core of our being. So the first thing, and this has been our longest point, it is who God is. He’s worthy of our glorious meditation.

Woe Is Me, For I Am Lost

But notice that in response to seeing who God is Isaiah now comes to see who he is in God’s presence. Look at verse five. Woe is me for I am lost. For I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. For my eyes of seen the king, the Lord of hosts.

Isaiah has this most profound of realizations. He is more sinful than he’s ever dared to imagine. The standout words: I am ruined. I’m a man of unclean lips. Filthy lips. When we see, when we discover God in all of his holiness, we discover who we are — in all of our sinfulness.

Isaiah feels the horror of his own sin. He says, I am ruined. When was the last time you you felt that? You know one of the scary things, it’s when we show up to church and we try to give everyone else the impression that we’ve got it all together.

You wanna come and worship God in all his greatness? See Him in his word, this glorious vision of who He is. In one sense it leaves us undone.

Guilt Exposed at the Crime Scene: Detective Work, X-Ray Vision

Dunno about you, but I like watching a crack detective. One of the things that’s always striking, like, you know, there’s a crime scene and the experts come in. Forensic squad. In the room that they’re examining, it just looks spotless. They turn off the lights, they turn on their UV lights, and instantly you see the blood and the bodily fluids, everything. The fingerprints are highlighted.

Here is Isaiah standing in the presence of God and under his x-ray gaze it’s like if we were to see him, his mouth was filthy, dirty, disgusting, revolting! And if you were to look close as you look at the x-ray, you would see that it’s source was his heart.

Because it is out of the heart, out of the overflow of our hearts that the mouth speaks. You know, God sees a corruption that you and I try to cover up. God sees us for who we truly are. God doesn’t reveal himself to us because he wants to destroy. But rather because he wants to redeem us.

Amazing Grace

So we’ve looked at God, we’ve looked at Isaiah’s guilt. Now we will see God’s amazing grace.

You see Isaiah came to recognize his own guilt and his own sinfulness. Then we see that there is a God who is gracious.

Look at what we see in verse 6: Then one of the seraphim flew to me having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar, and he touched my mouth and said: Behold, this has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away, and your sin is atoned for.

Now this image is so, so beautiful.

The solution fits the need perfectly. God’s messenger comes with a live coal taken from the altar that is ablaze, and he will press it on Isaiah’s lips. One commentator describes this as open heart surgery. And notice that it was brought to Isaiah. Here’s a key point of salvation, as you all know, cleansing is something God does rather than something we do ourselves.

Notice where the coal comes from. It comes from the altar, the place of sacrifice. Because without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sin. Notice that there’s the fire on the altar, a pit, a perpetual reminder of God’s holy wrath, which burns against sin.

And if we were to just imagine a sin for a moment, as the seraphim comes with the tongs and picks up the coal, and then it comes speedily towards Isaiah.

You can imagine how overcome, overwhelmed he must have been at the thought that if he touches him with this coal, there will not just be searing agony, but he will be destroyed.

And yet that’s not what we see. We see an act of in incredible grace. Because as this coal touches his lips, the angel says: Behold, this has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away. Your sin is atoned for. Your sin has been covered. The payment, which covers a debt that cannot otherwise be paid.

And brothers and sisters is always meditating on this chapter… Here’s where we see more of the incredible glory of this moment.

Grace, Glory, and Gratitude

This all of course points us to Christ. But you miss it if you miss this. The vision Isaiah caught of God was clearly a vision of the pre-incarnate son before he took upon himself flesh. He’s the one sitting on heaven’s throne, high and exalted. He was the one with a train of his robe — just the very edge of it, just the hem of it filled the temple.

And how do we know this? Because John chapter12. Isaiah said these things because he saw Jesus’s glory and spoke of him. So if we ever met Isaiah and had the opportunity to say, Isaiah, whose glory did you see when you were in the vision in the temple? He would say, Yahweh’s. And then we’d meet John, and say, John, who’s glory did Isaiah see? He would say, Yahweh, but he’s Jesus. Let us never miss the wonder of the son and all that he gave up in the incarnation. Let us behold our God who took upon himself flesh to save sinners like you and me to be sacrificed on the altar of the cross — to shed his own blood — so that your sin could be atoned for, your guilt taken away.

Listen, when you appreciate who Christ is and what Christ has done, then you begin to appreciate grace.

This is love so undeserved. Love, unmerited. The most holy God coming in flesh to pardon us and cleanse us from all our sin.

Gratitude: A Life of Grateful Service

And as we draw this to a close, what is the response. We’ve seen God, guilt, grace… gratitude. It’s a pattern that runs through the Bible, isn’t it? When one experiences salvation, the only appropriate respond is to live a grateful life of service to our glorious King.

You know, if you’re here at church tonight and, and you’re just going through the motions… If you’re here and you just dragged yourself along… One of the most glorious things about coming to church, even when you don’t feel like it is, we’re given an opportunity week in, week out to rediscover who God is… To rediscover who we are… To rediscover how great our salvation is, and to respond afresh by saying God in grateful joy, I will give you my life, my all.

Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?

God speaks for the first time in verse eight, and this is what Isaiah says: I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?

It’s an incredible moment. When God speaks, he comes to Isaiah and it’s with a question. He wants to employ a saved sinner in the service of the King of Kings. He’s got seraphim and angels to do his bidding, but no, he’ll use a saved sinner — to do his bidding.

John Calvin, in his commentary says: “With regards to Isaiah’s response, this shows how great is a cheerfulness that springs from faith”.

Another commentator says: “Having believed with certainty that he was about to be crushed into non-existence, having received unmerited grace and complete cleansing, what else could he do than throw himself into complete service?”

Here I Am, Send Me.

He didn’t need to be persuaded to give his life in service. It was his heartfelt joyful response — because of gratitude — to say these words: “Here I am, send me.”

Do you know why Harrison is your pastor? Because God has shown himself to him. Because he has come to see his own sinfulness, his unworthiness, his own guilt, and he’s come to experience salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.

And his response to it is, “Lord, here I am, send me”. And God’s response to him is here, here, Oakland Hills, here’s my servant for you. And God comes to us, all of us tonight, and he and he comes to us to respond to what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard. Will you go? And our only response is to say: “Here am I. Send me.”

As Harrison begins his new ministry here, what would it be like if this was a church of grateful servants of the Lord ready and willing to do God’s bidding. You know, as I draw this to a close …. yeah, I saw a dead monarch. I was awestruck. I was stunned into silence. But as I read this passage, I’m awestruck, I’m stunned into silence.

But here’s the most incredible thought: There is coming the day when each one of us with unveiled faces will see Him, and in the twinkling of an eye, we will be made like Him. And in that day we’ll not look at the crown he gives to us as a gift. But we’ll look, as we sang in Samuel Rutherford’s hymn, his pierced hands.

And so brothers and sisters, as we prepare for the day where we will enjoy the beatific vision forevermore, let us respond right now and say: “Lord, Here I am. Send me”.

Prayer

Until that day… Let’s pray and respond:

Our holy God, in heaven right now. The angels sing your praise. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory. They sing worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive all glory, honor, power, majesty, and authority.

And as we’ve come tonight to join the anthem of the angels, and the chorus of creation, and the songs of the Church of Jesus Christ throughout the world, we come now and we respond to what we’ve heard in this sermon… To seeing a vision of who you are, and all your greatness, and all your grace to say, Lord, here we are. Send us, use us.

Lord, we thank you that in your word, we’re reminded how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. And so we pray that Lord, Harrison’s feet (as it were), would be so beautiful as he stands in this pulpit Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day and proclaims the good news of the gospel.

Lord as we come as needy sinners, who are so often forgetful of who you are and who we are and what you’ve done. We pray that every Lord’s day they would, that this church would be reminded of the good news of the gospel. And in response, Lord, we would go and live lives of grateful service.

God, please, would you be gracious to us — to use us as instruments in your hands? You’re the God who can draw straight lines with crooked sticks. You’re the God who can use saved sinners for your glorious purposes, to bring the good news to bear on a world in great need. And we pray this in this, the name of your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Benediction

Brothers and sisters, please stand and receive the benediction as well.

Now may grace the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you this night and forever more. And all God’s people said: Amen.


Note: Pastor Longwe mentioned standing in the long queue — waiting to see Queen Elizabeth II on September 18, 2022. The photo below is from the same day in London.

People in London waiting in a long queue to see Queen Elizabeth II on September 18, 2022.