Media coverage and advertising everywhere will tell you confidently that the god of this age is Autonomy. Of course, autonomy is not new to this age. We can trace the declaration of autonomy throughout humankind’s history in the pages of Scripture, from many thousands of years ago. But humankind’s experience is that this autonomy has not led to a glorious self-made paradise, neither experientially nor in terms of a relationship with the Lord Almighty. And yet, as is our human disposition, we continue to declare our autonomy in both the minutiae of everyday decisions, and the big decisions of our lives.
I have been thinking about this most recently as our church goes through a sermon series in the book of Isaiah. As I prepared to preach on Isaiah 6, I was struck by how I would respond if I stood face-to-face in front of the real king, the Lord God himself. I know how I should respond, but I pondered how I currently respond when I am face-to-face with big and small decisions. This question stems from the bigger question posed in Isaiah 1-39, namely, will you trust in the Lord Almighty or in the feeble human powers of this age?
The death of King Uzziah would have brought about uncertainty in the tiny nation of Judah, the Southern Kingdom. By all accounts, Uzziah was considered a good king (2 Chr 26), whose reign lasted 52 years. And so into this uncertainty, Isaiah’s vision of the Lord, seated on the throne and in power and majesty, ought to have immediately put the people of God at ease (Isa 6:1). Uzziah had died, but the hopes of Judah did not rely on his heir Jotham, but on the Lord, high and exalted.
Isaiah 6:2-4 then expands on just how overwhelmingly majestic the Lord truly is. The words of the seraphs accentuate the superlative – the Lord is thrice holy! There is none more special and set apart than the Lord, so much so that the whole earth is filled with his glory. This is something worth pondering. It means that his glory fills all crevices and cracks. The Lord is not just due honour in church buildings, SRE classes, on Christmas and Easter, and in Christian homes. No, the Lord is due honour everywhere. He is after all the Creator and Sustainer of all things! Such is the majesty of the Lord, that it brings both awe and trembling.
Not only did the temple quiver at the majesty of the Lord, but the same can be said for the prophet Isaiah (6:5), who immediately acknowledges his lack when standing in front of a thrice holy God. His humility and acknowledgement of his humble estate in the sight of the Lord is a wonderful example of how we ought to submit in a prostrate position when we encounter the Lord. Isaiah is of course correct in his summation of his state in the sight of God, and we can assume that Isaiah would have been trembling all the more when he sees the seraph come towards him with a hot coal picked up by tongs (6:6). Surely one unclean, as Isaiah was, deserved to be burned to a crisp?
Yet, Isaiah was not destroyed. He was cleansed of his iniquity (6:7). His sin was atoned for, allowing him to stand in the presence of God and so have a relationship with him. This is remarkable, and it teaches us so much about what it means to truly know God. Do you know God as the thrice holy one? Do you know yourself as one who is unclean and unworthy in the presence of God? Do you know God as the one who cleanses any who come to him humble and with a contrite heart? If you don’t, I implore you to look at Scripture. It is a fool’s errand to know the god of our imaginations who we conveniently keep like a genie at our beck and call. That is a chasing after the wind. The real King has revealed himself to us. How should we respond?
We should respond by listening, by seeing, by opening our hearts. There is a profound irony in the message that God gives to Isaiah to deliver to the people (6:9-10) – Isaiah’s profound experience of knowing the true and living God should have been enough to know that coming to God would mean security, safety, stability, and ultimate peace. The people do what we all do – we close our ears, shut our eyes, harden our hearts. The truth is that there is nothing to be gained by hardening ourselves to the voice of the Lord. Despite what it may seem on the surface, the powers of this world have no lasting control, and the worst thing we can do is grow callous to the thrice holy Lord Almighty, who is in control, and to whom we ought to pay homage with awe and trembling.
My prayer is that I, weak and sinful as I am, will have a settled position of coming to the Lord in awe and with trembling, knowing my humble estate and yet the loving-kindness he has lavished on me in Jesus. My prayer is also that all those within and without the church would do the same, not hardening ourselves but knowing the gracious God who has revealed himself to us in the Lord Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).