This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-8
How can God be worshipped? You’ve probably heard of the “worship wars” which is a reference to the struggle some congregations experience as they vacillate between so called “contemporary” or “traditional” worship. Nothing probably creates more division and derision among church members than a throw down between those who want a praise band or an organ, well-crafted liturgies or spontaneity. What is often lost in the battle, however, is a clear understanding of who God is and how he has revealed himself in his Word. Style should never triumph over substance. We shouldn’t really care when a song was written, and it is not so important what musical instrument accompanies the song. Rather we should be asking ourselves if the words spoken in the song and in the liturgy are rooted in the truth of God as he has revealed himself in his Word. Further to that, we also ought to be asking if the Word proclaimed from this pulpit is centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ or is it all merely a “pep talk” giving you the so called steps towards your best life now or maybe the keys to raising healthy and happy children or some other such topic.
In many of the worship wars what ought to be the main thing is no longer the main thing: that is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In our society’s relentless movement towards self centered interests: my needs, my wants, my preferences - no longer do people understand that worship is not about us, it is about God and knowing him as he has revealed himself in his Word. It’s not about having your needs met, but about having your needs revealed as God changes us and gives us a new identity in Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord.
A former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, once said, “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God. All this is gathered up in that emotion which most cleanses us from selfishness because it is the most selfless of all emotions – adoration.”
This morning I invite you to follow along with our text. Isaiah the prophet sees and hears and is changed by an encounter he has in the throne room of heaven. In our reading from Isaiah 6, the veil between heaven and earth is pulled back for just a moment and the prophet stands before the throne of the Sovereign God. He hears the words from the throne and he is sent to be the Word made flesh to a people who need a radical reworking of their hearts and lives. Isaiah 6 is not a word about traditional or contemporary worship. It is not a proof text for any one side of the worship wars debate because Isaiah 6 is not about style, but about substance. It reveals a Sovereign God, seated on his throne, who condescends to sinful humanity and raises them up to the heights of heaven in order that they might be his voice to a world gone blind and deaf to the reality of God’s sovereignty, glory, love, and grace. The veil between earth and heaven is pulled back and a new reality is shown. Let’s take a look.
Notice the very beginning in Isaiah 6:1, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted ...” Would you believe that this introduction is of immense importance? It is a revelation of profound implications both ancient and modern. When the monarch of Great Britain dies the traditional proclamation is this: The King is dead! Long live the King! (or queen, depending on the situation). The idea behind the proclamation is that the nation is never without a sovereign. There is always one who sits on the throne of the empire. Now if we understand that to be true for a worldly empire, than how much more is it true for the Kingdom of God? Isaiah 6:1 is saying, “The King is dead! Long live the King!” The implication in this text is that the Lord is the true King.
Uzziah (who also was known as Azariah) was an important king of Judah. You can read about him in II Kings 15 where it says that he became king when he was just 16 years old and that he ruled for 52 years. He was also a righteous king who followed in the ways of the Lord. Now the king is dead. What is to become of the nation? What do we do if the next guy isn’t as good as the other guy? The same kind of hyper political discussion happens in nations all over the world. But as Christians we don’t have to buy into that nonsense. Isaiah is given a vision that peals back the so called reality of this world in order that he might see into the universe as it really is and what he sees and what we need to see is tremendous. The Lord is seated on the throne! In front of him is an endless worship service that gives the Lord all the glory. Isaiah is being shown and told this truth: Rejoice, the Lord is King!
The next part of the vision tells us in verse 2 that in front of the Lord Almighty are “seraphs” or “burning ones” which represent angelic creatures who sing out their praise before the Holy One: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” This is no lullaby, no ditty, no cute little praise song. No, this song sings of the glory, the majesty, the holiness, and the righteousness of God all at the same time. The weight of each word would sink this sinful world into oblivion were it not for the grace of God which holds us up before his face. “Holy, Holy, Holy” is a three word acclamation and declaration that declares beyond any doubt that the Lord alone is holy.
An Old Testament theologian by the name of John Oswalt writes, “For Isaiah the announcement of God’s holiness meant that he was in the presence of One distinct from - other than - himself. The function of the threefold holy is the strongest form of the superlative in Hebrew. Its use here indicates that Israel’s God is the most “godly” of all the gods.”
Another teacher on this text by the name of R.C. Sproul says, “Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that he is merely holy, or even holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that he is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Six syllables on our lips may not carry the weight of glory that they ought to in our world anymore, but they can and they will. Isaiah’s vision of the throne room of God and the worship that takes place before his throne, reminds us that true worship not only stirs the imagination and inflames the mind with the truth of God, true worship will also shake the foundations of the Creation. The vision in our text shows the shattering of the boundaries as “sacred space”, in this case the temple of the Lord, as it breaks out into the whole universe. And so, as Isaiah hears the words of the song it says “At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” Where the Lord Almighty is proclaimed and praised, the Creation responds to the glory of the Lord. Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” In Psalm 29 it says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” Where glory of the Lord is proclaimed, heaven and earth respond.
And so does the prophet in our text – but notice what he says. Isaiah says in verse 5, “Woe to me! 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.” This is the “fear of the Lord” that is a fitting response to the vision that he has seen. We need to know that God is not safe, but God is good. Contrary to what some people might want to believe, God is not our equal, our buddy, our boyfriend, or even our pet. God is the King, the Lord Almighty whom when we meet, we are filled with awe and dread because of our sinfulness. Isaiah says he is “ruined” which literally means that he is “undone”. He is “disintegrated” as he finds himself in the presence of God’s holiness. Do we still have such an awe and respect for God? Does our worship reflect the glory of his majesty and holiness? Or have we domesticated God and made him safe, comfortable and approachable in spite of our sin? The truth of the matter is this: no one approaches God on his or her own terms. We come before God on his terms and this will only happen when he extends to us his grace.
And grace is what comes in the next part of our text. Isaiah is undone, he is condemned, but something happens next in verse 6 that reveals God’s grace. The text says that one of the seraphs takes a live coal from the altar and touches the lips of Isaiah and says, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” The fire burns, the fire hurts, grace is violent, but grace also cleanses and saves. I John 2:2 says, “Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” The gospel of Jesus Christ is burned onto the lips of Isaiah and the one who entered into the throne room of heaven and saw with his own eyes the Lord Almighty, is cleansed. When we approach the Lord of heaven and earth on his terms, when we assume nothing, then we receive everything by grace. All of this speaks of the depth of God’s grace.
Again the theologian John Oswalt writes, “God does not reveal himself to destroy us, but rather to redeem us.” “The appropriateness of fire as an image of God’s holiness is apparent. Fire can be a source of great blessing but it is never easily controllable. Fire can destroy but also cleanse. Fire is fascinating but also slightly terrifying.” “Without forcing the imagery to say more than it does, one cannot doubt that ‘our God is a consuming fire’; yet that fire is a fire of righteousness, in the midst of which only unrighteousness is devoured.”
And so what now? How does a person respond to the revelation of God? Notice the movement within our text thus far:
- A vision of God the King has revealed a heavenly scene of worship and adoration.
- Worship and adoration is centered in the revelation of God’s holiness.
- Holiness has revealed human sinfulness.
- Human sinfulness reveals further that our Holy God is a God of grace and cleansing.
- Grace must not leave us as we were, and in this text it doesn’t for Isaiah either.
What happens next is this: True worship of the Lord Almighty leads to a response of service. The Lord asks in verse 8 who he should send to his people as the Word made flesh. Isaiah says at the end of the verse, “Here am I. Send me!” Those who have been cleansed by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ, are sent to be the Word made flesh to a world that needs to be put right. Our gatherings on the first day of the week, on the Lord’s Day are for the purpose of worshipping the Lord in the rest of the week to come. It is here in church that we are reminded of who we are and who we represent in the day to day activities of our lives. In our text Isaiah is chosen, called, cleansed, and commissioned - and so are we. Through Jesus Christ: crucified, risen, and Lord, what happens to one of God’s servants in Isaiah 6 is now endowed upon the whole Church.
So remember who you are and before whom you live your life. Know that you live your life for the King of kings and his Kingdom of grace. Fear the Lord, not the empires and powers of this world. Be the Word made flesh to the world and be full of grace and truth in the life you lead. Isaiah saw the veil between heaven and earth pulled back and in Jesus Christ, what he saw is now the reality for us as Kingdom citizens. The Lord is holy and the whole earth is full of his glory. Amen.
Prayer of response
Father in heaven, may our worship be focused on you, on your power, your glory and your holiness. Humble us, forgive us, equip us for further service in your Kingdom. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.
Order of Service
WE GATHER IN GOD'S PRESENCE
Welcome and announcements
Call to Worship: Psalm 95: 6, 7
Silent Prayer concluded with “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” PsH# 625
Votum: “Our help is in the name of the LORD who made the heavens and the earth.”
Prayer for God’s Greeting, “May God’s grace, mercy and peace be ours in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Opening hymn: “Holy, Holy, Holy” PsH# 249
SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 130: 7-8
Hymn: “Not What My Hands Have Done” PsH#260
God’s Will for our Lives: Exodus 20: 1-17
WE HEAR THE WORD
Hymn: “Break Now the Bread of Life” PsH#282
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8
Sermon: “How Can God Be Worshipped?”
Prayer of Response
Hymn: “Praise God, You Angel Hosts Above” PsH#628
WE DEPART WITH GOD'S BLESSING
Prayer for God’s Blessing, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen.”
Doxology: “Rejoice the Lord is King” PsH#408