We’re doing a short series of sermons where we let the Bible shed light on our church’s identity statement. Today we’re focusing on “Worshipping God and listening to his Word”, and I thought it would be good to go back to Isaiah’s vision of God in chapter 6, especially at three emotions that Isaiah experiences.
First, awe. The whole vision is awe-inspiring. A throne that is far above anything else – the train of his robe filling the temple; firey creatures flying and calling to one another in voices that makes the whole room shake and fill with smoke. This truly is an amazing vision, but the heart of it is Isaiah seeing the one who sits on the throne – the awesome Trinitarian God himself. But Isaiah never tells us what the Lord looked like; all we see are people’s responses to him.
Even the terrifying seraphs cover their faces and cry out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” “Holy Holy” means “the very holiest” And God is far holier than that. Do you ever get the feeling we’ve lost something of a vision for how amazing God is? Isaiah sees him, and is filled with awe.
But there’s more than that – it’s fear too. God’s holiness is “not a quiet, anemic thing to be received with stained-glass voices and simpers. The holiness of the sovereign Lord is tremendous, vivid, and dazzling.”
Isaiah knew that all too well. You see, King Uzziah in 2 Chron 26 had thought that because he was a strong king he could go into the (1x) holy place to burn incense to God. But God struck him with a skin disease which meant he had to live as a recluse for the rest of his life and couldn’t go near the temple again. So how is Isaiah going to cope with being in the very presence of God who is holy, holy, holy? And as the young prophet realises where he is, he realises what must happen. And that’s what we get in v5 – it’s a funeral lament for himself, because he expects to die.
In Rejoice and Tremble, theologian Mike Reeves, points out that fear, in the sense of feeling so overwhelmed that we shake, is the right human response to God. But there is a right fear of God and a wrong fear of God. The right fear of God finds him overwhelming but attractive, and falls down on our faces towards him, and leads to joy. The wrong fear of God flees from him in terror. But either is a better response than just apathy.
And what makes the difference between these two types of fear? It is the third emotion we see from Isaiah – the emotion of being welcomed! (v5-7)
He is welcomed through sacrifice – the coal from the altar touches his lips. And in the same way, we’re told that Jesus, the perfect and eternal Son of God, died and took our punishment so that we can be clean instead of unclean, so that our guilt can be taken away and so that we can stand in the presence of God. And that does not decrease the fear we should feel of God – it does not lessen the trembling; it does not make the unbearable brightness of the vision dimmer. If anything, it makes it brighter still, but it also makes it beautiful instead of terrifying.
So what does this mean for us?
Isn’t it obvious by now that we need to worship God and listen to his Word? After all, what is worship but enjoying how amazing God is, and telling him, ourselves, and others, how much we see and love and adore and tremble before him!
And surely, given who God is and how awesome he is, and at what cost he welcomes and accepts us, we should long to listen to his word and seek to obey it, just like Isaiah does at the end of the passage we heard?
Sunday services (whether onsite or online) are a major part of that. They are an opportunity to remember who God is and who we are, and to reset ourselves so that we see the rest of the week in the right perspective – we don’t need to spend the week searching for other people’s validation and approval, because we already have the acceptance of the one who makes the whole earth tremble.
But as well as driving us to fall on our faces in awe, this kind of holiness affects our whole lives. Christian leadership thinker John C Maxwell says this: You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.
And over this last 15 months, we’ve all changed our routines quite a bit and several times. I’d like us to take this opportunity to evaluate the habits that we have, maybe ones that have changed over the past year or so, and to take control of them – to say “What is helpful for me in following this awesome God? What isn’t?” and then seek to modify them accordingly. There’s a helpful sheet to help us do that, with some suggestions of good and bad habits.