Sermon Series: Isaiah: Judgment & Hope
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 6:1-7
Sermon Title: Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts
Sermon Text: Isaiah 6:1-7
Memory Verse: Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders? (Exodus 15:11)
MAIN IDEA: Humble yourself before the Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of Hosts.
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The recorded audio/video message differs from the manuscript. Thanks for understanding.
We sometimes encounter life-changing events. These events confront our thinking and preconceived notions. A person who always lives in the quiet solitude and seclusion of the mountains may suddenly find themselves in Times Square. A landlocked child may be taken to the ocean shore and, for the first time, gaze upon an ocean which stretches to the horizon.
Not every life-changing event is good. A young married couple may lose a child to illness and be forever stricken with grief. A man may experience an automobile accident which leaves him disabled and completely dependent upon others.
9/11 is a life-changing event where the whole world we once knew came crashing down, and we know in that instant, nothing will ever be the same.
The prophet Isaiah experiences a life-changing moment which may be one of the most amazing any living human will ever experience. We find the description of his experience in chapter six of Isaiah.
The book of Isaiah is written over a period of 40 years. Chronologically, chapter six may be the very first event which takes place in Isaiah’s life and the impetus for the rest of the book. The first five chapters are likely added to introduce the overall message of the entire book.
Isaiah tells us that his experience happens in the year of King Uzziah’s death (Isaiah 6:1). It is when Isaiah’s ministry as a prophet begins. The timing of the event occurs at a significant time in the history of God’s people.
King Uzziah is one of the good kings of Judah.[i] King Uzziah is sixteen years old when he becomes king, and he reigns for 52 years in Judah. His death takes place approximately 739 before Christ.
We learn about Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26. At the beginning of his reign, Uzziah is a good king who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” King Uzziah sought the Lord “during the days of Zechariah, who instructs him in the fear of God.” While Zechariah is alive, God prospers Uzziah and the kingdom of Judah.
Uzziah is a brilliant military leader who defeats the Philistines and Arabs, builds fortified towers, strengthens the armies of Judah, and commissions skilled men to create devices to shoot arrows and large stones at enemies from the city walls. King Uzziah’s fame spreads all the way to the border of Egypt.
After Zechariah dies, Uzziah becomes very prideful along with all the people of Judah. Uzziah and God’s people forget that God is the one who prospers their harvests and gives them victory in battle.
In his pride, Uzziah disregards the law and tries to burn incense on the altar. Only the Levitical priests may burn incense on the altar in the temple. Eighty priests try to stop the king. Uzziah is filled with rage against the priests. As he is doing so, leprosy breaks out on his forehead. God makes Uzziah unclean! Uzziah runs from the temple with a renewed fear of God. From that day to the day of his death, King Uzziah is a leper. He lives in a separate palace and is not allowed to enter the temple of the Lord. His son, Jotham, governs the people in his place and becomes king after Uzziah dies.
Isaiah tells us Uzziah is dead. Judah is a monarchy. The king is the kingdom. Death of a king is an event which brings great uncertainty. Uzziah brings prosperity to Judah, will they continue in prosperity? The surrounding nations fear Uzziah. Now that he is dead, what will happen with the enemy of Assyria who is threatening? Will the enemies no longer fear Judah?
Isaiah speaks of his vision.
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. (Isaiah 6:1)
Isaiah sees the Lord. The Hebrew word for Lord is Adonai. Adonai is a title meaning sovereign. The title Lord is fitting. Uzziah may be dead, but Adonai, the Lord, is very much alive. Uzziah is not on his throne, but the Lord is sitting on His throne.
The vision of the Lord is magnificent. The Lord is lifted high and exalted. A robe with a long train is a sign of great dignity. His dignity stretches out and fills the entire temple, leaving no place for anyone to stand. It is reasonable to conclude that which Isaiah sees is the most splendid and majestic of all thrones.
Adding to the magnificence of Isaiah’s vision of the Lord on His throne is the presence of the creatures who are attending the Lord.
Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. (Isaiah 6:2)
Standing above the Lord are seraphim. Seraphim is plural for the word seraph. It seems Isaiah made up the name to fit what he sees. The Hebrew word seraph means a fiery burning one. This is the only occurrence of a being named a seraph in the bible.
Theologians write many words about Seraphim. But, they write from ignorance. All we know about Seraphim is what Isaiah writes in six verses. Any explanation of what they are, their purpose, or anything about them is simply a guess. From what we can gather, these great and powerful beasts hide their face and feet in reverence before the Lord God Almighty.
We do not know if these are the same beings Ezekiel or John sees in their heavenly vision. We do not know if these beings are of a higher status than other heavenly angels. Why they have six wings, but only use two to fly, we don’t know.
Because Isaiah does not give any explanation, we should just marvel. The Lord has attending to Him, as He sits on His throne, magnificent, fiery, creatures. These creatures are so magnificent, that when they speak, according to verse four, the foundations and the door thresholds tremble.
These are amazing creatures which strike fear into the heart of those who see them and hear them speak. The kings of the earth surround themselves with human attendants dressed in battle armor, but the Lord of the Universe surrounds Himself with fiery Seraphim.
As Isaiah is standing in the presence of the Lord’s throne, one Seraphim calls out to another and says,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)
Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts. A host is a word used to describe a massive gathering. With this title, we have a greater understanding of the breadth of authority which the throne oversees. God is the Lord of angels and the armies of men. His glory fills the earth as the train of His robe fills the temple of heaven. Jehovah sits on the throne of authority over all beings.
All creatures sit under the throne of Yahweh sovereign rule. His rule is eternal and completely encompassing. There is no authority outside of His authority. Yahweh of hosts raises up kings and sets kings down. Yahweh of hosts calls one army here and another army there. They all obey His orders. There is no appeal. There is none who may resist His authority. Yahweh of hosts is supreme.
This God who rules over all the hosts of heaven and earth is holy. Of all that Isaiah experiences with his vision of the throne room of God, the declaration by the seraphim of the holiness of God is the most significant.
The Seraphim declares, Holy, Holy, Holy. The phrase appears twice in the Bible. Here, and in John’s Revelation. Each time, the creatures who stand near God’s throne speak this phrase. The three-fold repetition of the word holy is to say it with force and intensity. It multiplies rather than adds depth to the meaning.
When we think of the word holy, we often think of moral purity. In thinking this way, we do not fully understand what is meant by the word holy. Holiness is perfection in all things; including moral purity. God’s love is amazing because God’s love is holy. God’s justice is perfect because God’s justice is holy. The holiness of God permeates every attribute of God and makes all that He does without fault, completely good, and totally right.
God is holy, and Holy is God. When we have no understanding of holiness, we have no understanding of God. The very essence of God is that He is holy. Holiness is what makes God, God. God is set-apart and distinct from the rest of creation. God is not a creature. God is incomparable.
The prophet Isaiah stands before the Lord who is on His throne, lofty and exalted. The train of the Lord’s robe fills the temple. Isaiah sees fiery, seraphim standing above the Lord, each having six wings: with two wings covering their face, two wings coving their feet, and with two wings they flew. And one Seraphim calls out to another and says, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” And as the Seraphim speaks, the foundations of the thresholds tremble at his voice and the temple is filling with smoke.
Isaiah tells us of his response:
Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
Isaiah confesses what every human being ought to confess when standing before the all-powerful, all-knowing, holy God. Isaiah confesses, “Woe is me.”
His eyes are opened to see the King, the Lord of hosts, and his eyes are opened to see that he is unclean. He sees he is guilty and worthy of condemnation. He is wicked.
Standing in the presence of God is to stand in the presence of a bright, shining light which reveals every sin, no matter how trivial we think them to be. Every unkind word, every covetous thought, every lie, curse, which he thinks of as an anthill suddenly becomes a looming mountain. Every speck of sin which looks like dust in Isaiah’s eyes appear as large boulders before a perfectly holy God. There is nothing he may do to reverse his course.
Isaiah realizes, for the first time in his life, his complete, utter unworthiness. All those years being around other humans made him look, oh, so very good. But now, he realizes the depth of his depravity. Isaiah is shaking to the core of his being. His home and career appear futile. Retirement plans suddenly become worthless. Everything in his life, including his family and friends, becomes utterly meaningless.
It’s as if his whole life flashes before his eyes and his only thought is, what a waste. All his hopes and dreams amount to nothing.
It is also at this moment that Isaiah realizes, it is not just his fate, but the fate of all the people of Judah. He is unclean, and they are unclean. To be unclean is not to be holy.
Unclean, common items are made holy when they are purified and set apart for use by God. The priests take common, unclean, utensils, purify them, and make them set apart for holy use in the temple. They are no longer common utensils, but holy utensils. They did this with everything in the temple service.
The people of Judah are called to be a holy people set apart for the service of God. They are not to be like the rest of the world. But, they are not clean or set apart. Isaiah realizes the people of Judah do not understand, nor do they value the holiness of God. The people of Judah disregard the holiness of God as unessential.
The people of Judah will participate with idol worship on one day and bring a sacrifice to the temple on the next. Their religion is nothing more than lip service. By disregarding their call to be set apart for God, they disregard God.
As Isaiah stands before the holiness of God, he realizes that he, and the people of Judah are unclean. They have no place in the temple of God.
The central theme of the book of Isaiah is that the people despise the Holy One of Israel (Is. 1:4) and that the Lord of hosts will be exalted in judgment, and the holy God will show Himself holy in righteousness (Is. 5:16).
As Isaiah’s life appears to be completely undone and of no value, something strange happens.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)
A heavenly being takes a burning coal from the altar and presses it against the lips of Isaiah. Isaiah’s sin is purged, and he is made clean.
We are given no reason why and how the burning coal takes away Isaiah’s sin. All that we know is that it does. God is sovereign. He has the power to remove sin any way He chooses. God has the Seraphim cleanse the lips of Isaiah, so he may be made holy, set apart as a prophet of God. The next words Isaiah will speak are, “Here am I, send me.”
Isaiah encounters a vision which changes his life forever.
There is more to Isaiah’s vision, but we will stop for now and continue next week with Isaiah’s calling to service.
What may we learn from these simple, but profound verses of Scripture?
The Bible is clear, we die once, and then the judgment. Nobody goes to heaven or hell and returns to earth. All the accounts of heaven in Scripture are visions, not journeys taken by dead people. Visions of heaven are extremely rare in Scripture – Isaiah, Ezekiel, John, and Paul.
We live in an age where spiritual discernment is at an all-time low in the church. Despite what the Bible says about heaven, evangelical bookstores populate their shelves with books written by people who claim to go to heaven and return to write about their journey. People want to feel good, so they turn to these fake accounts which contradict one another (examples: 90 Minutes in Heaven, by Don Piper; The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, by Kevin and Alex Malarkey; and Heaven Is for Real, by Todd Burpo). They write of heaven as though it is like Disneyland.
The experience and vision of heaven in these books are vastly different than the Bible. Isaiah’s vision is terrifying. Unlike every biblical account, the modern books never speak about the grandness of God’s glory. Nor do they speak about the holiness of God and how it makes them exclaim, woe is me.
If we want to know heaven is for real, we need to trust in the sufficiency of Scripture.
Which experience do you believe will enhance your evangelism the most: spending five minutes in hell or five minutes in heaven?
If we were to spend five minutes in hell, we are very likely going to hate God. We will never understand how a loving God could create such a horrible place. We would say, “Yes, God is the author of evil because I have spent time in the hell He created. God is not good.”
Thankfully, God gives His prophets five minutes in heaven. And this changes the life of the prophet forever. Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John all preach with passion and fervency. They have seen God. They see His glory and His holiness. They know God alone is worthy of their praise and adoration. They know God is good and anyone who rejects God and despises His holiness deserves to be in hell for eternity.
We need to ask God to humble us in the presence of His holiness. We need to take time to sit and meditate on Isaiah’s vision and Isaiah’s response. We need to ask God to reveal to us the depth of our sin. We need to stop comparing ourselves to the standards of the world’s measure and compare ourselves to the only measure which counts; which is the measure of God’s perfect holiness.
Once we understand the depth of our sin and when we get to the place where we say, “woe is me, for I am ruined,” we need to look for Jesus. Jesus is always present to give forgiveness to a repentant heart.
We see Jesus in the middle of Isaiah’s encounter. Adonai is the Lord Jesus Christ.
In chapter 12 of John’s Gospel, John quotes from chapter six of Isaiah (we will see more of this next week). After quoting from Isaiah, John makes this amazing statement about Jesus:
These things Isaiah said, because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. (John 12:41)
John tells us that Isaiah speaks of Jesus and that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory. Isaiah is given a vison of Jesus, Adonai, sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Isaiah sees Jesus in all His glory, surrounded by seraphim who do all that He bids. Jesus tells them, “Seraphim come, and seraphim go,” and they obey His every command.
Jesus tells the seraphim to make Isaiah clean by touching his lips with a burning coal from the altar in heaven, and the seraphim obey. It is Jesus of whom the seraphim say, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Yahweh of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.”
This mighty, powerful, lofty and exalted King is the one who left His throne. He came to earth and wrapped Himself in human flesh. The seraphim do not stand by His side to bring Him food and drink as He fasts in the wilderness. The seraphim are silent as the whips of the Roman army fall upon His back and rip open His flesh. All the hosts of heaven watch as sinners spit on His face, tear off His flimsy robe, and nail His feet and hands to the cross, and mockingly affix a crown of thorns onto His head.
What Isaiah did not know is the King he sees on the throne will die along with King Uzziah. Uzziah deserves to die, for the wages of his sin is death. But, King Jesus does not deserve to die because He is without sin.
King Jesus is laid in a tomb. But, He does not stay there. One of the great angels of heaven, perhaps one of the Seraphim seen by Isaiah, rolls the stone from the tomb and the risen King Jesus emerges. He ascends to heaven, and He takes His place again on the throne where He is seen sitting and ruling once again by the Apostle John in His vision.
The whole earth is full of His glory. His glory is His great love which is made perfect in His holiness. His glory is His holy justice and condemnation of evil. His glory is the forgiveness, mercy, and grace which the lofty, and exalted King offers to all those who see His holiness and cry out, “woe is me.”
[i] Information on Uzziah is from https://www.gotquestions.org/King-Uzziah-in-the-Bible.html. This is a great, reliable resource for finding thorough answers to questions.