Based On: Isaiah 6:1-8
King Uzziah was one of the “better” kings of Judah between the time of King David and the exile into Babylon. He was faithful to the Lord and the Lord blessed him with military and economic success. Instead of giving glory to God for these things, King Uzziah became proud. He decided to take on a responsibility that God did not give to him. He took incense into the temple to burn it – a duty God had given to the priests.
The priests, of course, told him this was wrong but King Uzziah reacted in anger. As the king argued with the priests leprosy appeared on his forehead. It was God’s punishment for his sin. King Uzziah was not terrified by God’s holiness when he went into the temple, but he was certainly terrified when he went out.
Terror also struck the prophet Isaiah as he found himself in the presence of God. Yet God did not punish him, but saved him and sent him out with a message for Judah. The Triune God does produce terror in sinful human beings, but he also saves sinners and sends believers into the world with a message.
Isaiah doesn’t provide all of the details, but imagine the awesome and terrifying vision he had. He saw the Lord sitting on a throne raised high above him. Isaiah realized how small and insignificant he was next to this great and majestic figure. The royal court of Caesar, Pharaoh, or even King Solomon would not compare to standing in the court of the Almighty God. The presence of the Triune God causes terror as Isaiah makes no attempt to describe God himself. His eyes can only move away from God and look at God’s robe as it covers the temple floor all around him.
Even the seraphim also show deference to the Almighty God. Seraph literally means “burning one” – a fiery being who serves the Lord. Just as Psalm 104 says, “He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.” These “burning ones” know they are in the presence of the Almighty and they, in humility, cover their face and their feet.
Smoke fills the temple and the sound of these angels praising God shakes the doorways of the temple. Their praise to God is this, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Here is the real terror of being in the presence of God. The Triune God is holy – sinless and perfect. The Father, Son, and Spirit are holy. We are not.
Isaiah cried out, “Woe to me!” He knows that he is as good as dead, because he is sinful. “I am a man of unclean lips,” he says. Being in the presence of the holy God means death for all of us who are not holy. Just as God told Moses, “No one may see me and live.”
We are in the same situation Isaiah was in. Our lips are unclean and we will stand before God on judgment day. We know the words that flow across our lips. Just remember the last time you hurt someone with your words or a time when you should have confessed your Savior but other words came out instead. Our words condemn us, as do our thoughts and actions. Even if it doesn’t terrify us now, it certainly will when the Lord returns.
We know what the sinner deserves in the presence of God. Our conscience reminds us. When we do something wrong our conscience tells us, “you deserve to be punished for that.” Satan will also use that knowledge against us. He will tell us that we don’t deserve God’s goodness, that our sins separate us from God, that we have no hope.
By Uzziah’s example we see the terror of a sinner coming into God’s presence. His leprosy is a picture of how sin makes us unclean and therefore unfit for coming into God’s presence. Perhaps Isaiah thought about Uzziah’s sin as he wrote that this vision came to him, “In the year that King Uzziah died.” Isaiah knew that our sin makes us unclean before God. But the Triune God made Isaiah clean and also makes us clean. The Triune God saves sinners.
Isaiah believed his destruction was certain because he was a sinner standing in front of the holy God. But as soon as he expressed his terror something happened that Isaiah had no right to expect. One of the seraphs took a burning coal from the altar and touched it to Isaiah’s lips. Normally we wouldn’t do this, it would burn our lips, but Isaiah had just said how his lips were unclean. His mouth represented all his sin and guilt. Now this angel took this coal from the altar – the place where sacrifices were made to pay for sin – and the angel touched it to Isaiah’s mouth. The heat from the coal purified Isaiah’s unclean lips. God removed the reason for his terror. The angel said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Now Isaiah is alive – resurrected in a way from certain death. With his sin removed he can stand before God.
On the last day, you and I will see God face to face. If our sin is not taken away we will feel the terror of certain and eternal death. But our sin has been removed – God the Father decided to do it before time began. He sent God the Son, Jesus Christ, to become the burning coal from the altar that purifies our lips – that makes us clean. And now as we hear this good news, God the Holy Spirit creates and strengthens faith in our heart so that on the last day we can stand before God without terror.
We have been freed from terror. We have been spared eternal punishment. What a relief. But that is not the end. The Triune God also sends believers. He asks us to do the work that needs to be done.
Isaiah feels the relief. His terror was replaced with joy. Now the Lord speaks. Before sin was removed, the voice of God would have only increased the terror, but now the Lord simply asks the question. “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah is excited. Now he has a way to say “Thank you Lord” for sparing his life. “Here am I. Send me!”
If I take my kids out for their favorite ice cream and afterward they tell me what a wonderful dad I am, what will happen if I say I need someone to take out the garbage? If they truly appreciated the gift wouldn’t they all volunteer?
Jesus tells us to “go and make disciples of all nations” and “go and preach the good news to all creation” and “you will be my witnesses.” What will we say? “Here am I. Send me!”
King Uzziah had his leprosy the rest of his life. The terror of that disease must have been with him until the day he died. In the same way our sin makes us unclean before the Triune God and causes us to feel terror. But God has removed this terror by removing our sin. See, Jesus has died for you; “your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”