Watching in wonder and awe, Isaiah was swept up in the powerful vision God was giving him. The Lord’s holiness is the Lord’s God-ness, in all the Lord’s attributes, works and ways. God is in a completely different category than even the fiery heavenly beings Isaiah saw worshipping God.
Isaiah was left with the lasting impression of God as sacred and set apart, glorious beyond measure, pure beyond imagining, calling God the Holy One of Israel more than any other writer in the Bible.
A Man of Unclean Lips
In seeing God, Isaiah was flooded with a sense of his own earthiness, his sinfulness, falling so far short of God’s glory. All the cries of pain God had given him as an oracle for the people now flooded his mind once again. He realized he was no different!
Woe to those who drag iniquity along with cords of falsehood, he had cried out to the people. From God’s lips to your ears! Now they were words for his own ears as well.
And I said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”Isaiah 6:5 (NRSV)
Isaiah was convicted of being a creature of his culture. He was one of the people, who stood with them in national sin. He realized that he, also, had contributed to the wrongs of his nation. He owned the wrongdoing that was truly his, he was on the other end of his own pointing finger.
And Isaiah understood a truth that Jesus—who was sitting on the throne before Isaiah right now—would one day bring home to the temple elite of His own day.
The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.Luke 6:34 (NRSV)
Now Isaiah’s groan of horror rose up within him. How could such unholiness survive in the presence of pure holiness?
From the beginning God has always been clear about what sin (all that is unrighteous, that falls short of God’s own righteousness, including our own straying away from God’s word and way) would bring.
God had spoken it to the first human being soon after God had formed him from the dust of the ground. You may freely eat of every tree of the garden, God said to the man, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat. I wonder if God paused for a moment, as the man looked up questioningly. Why, Lord? Why may I not eat of it? To trust God and to heed God was to live.
To transgress God’s instruction was to die, for it would mean having severed himself from the source of life. For in the day that you eat of it you shall die, was God’s somber reason.
From the moment the man and the woman ate of the fruit, the Lord has seen the evil that mars God’s creation and that destroys the people God loves. God intends to rid the universe of this evil, and has been about that work from the beginning. Not as the opposite of God’s love, but as an expression of God’s love, God’s wrath consumes evil and wickedness. God’s desire is to protect and set free the object of the Lord’s affection, you and me, and all people enslaved to sin.
This is the purpose of God’s wrath. To consume sin and cleanse the universe.
Why would you or I ever want to hang onto the very thing that is destroying us? Why would we not instead repent at the earliest moment? Why would we want to be consumed by God’s wrath rather than let go of our pride and our wrongdoing?
Isaiah’s heartfelt confession was all it took for God to reach out from the mercy seat with atonement from the altar of sacrifice
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.
The seraph touched my mouth with it and said, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”Isaiah 6:6-7 (NRSV)
The writer of Hebrews explained that the earthly altar was a shadow, a copy, of the heavenly one. God was the one who started the fire burning on the original altar of sacrifice in the desert tabernacle, by causing fire from the cloud of God’s presence to ignite the sacrifices that had been lain on it. From then on, the entire people of Israel were to bring in wood for the fire, every day, and the priests were to tend it day and night, to keep the fire burning perpetually.
The ultimate sacrifice came when Jesus offered up His own life on the cross.
God’s cleansing, forgiveness, and healing come out of that ultimate sacrifice, represented here in the coal from the altar of sacrifice. Out of pain and death comes resurrection and restoration. Of the nearly twenty salvation motifs in the scriptures, there are four represented in the burning coals.
Justification: To be brought upright and into right standing with God.
Propitiation: To be restored to the fellowship and favor of God through reparation. God made Jesus like the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant, sprinkled with Jesus’ own blood, Jesus’ sacrifice made reparation for all sin.
Atonement:Think of atonement as the phrase “at-one-ment.” Through Jesus, God repairs the damage done to humankind’s relationship with the Lord through sin, for now people may be made “at one” with God once again.
Redemption: To be bought back from enslavement to sin, corruption, and death with Jesus providing His life as the ransom—because Jesus is both fully divine (there is enough) and fully human (the only currency possible).
Jesus became sin and then drank the cup of His Father’s wrath, first becoming the fatal illness of sin, then absorbing the antidote of God’s wrath.
When Jesus said It is finished, it meant this work was completed, so that God may say to you and me today, who have put our faith in what Jesus has accomplished, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.
Of course, even in our forgiven state, you and I do continue to sin. And that unrighteousness creates a barrier to fellowship with God. Instead of a life that moves purposefully towards maturity of faith, disregarding God’s word, going against God’s way, sets a Christian adrift.
Knowing this, believers continually seek forgiveness, cleansing for sin and turn away from that sin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:8-9 (NRSV)
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness
Human plans for salvation usually consist of trying to weight the scales so that our good deeds outweigh the bad. We hope we have stacked up enough on the good side. We console ourselves that we are better than that person over there, so we have got a good chance, but we are never quite sure how many good deeds we need.
So we keep trying to make sure we get the balance right, try to pay off on the bad deeds, then put some interest on the good ones.
But this is not God’s way.
There is no scale system.
Not even one tiny micron of bad or wrong can be on the scale.
God must cleanse completely, so that all unrighteousness is gone. God’s holiness requires this.
Therefore, God has already provided all that is needed and waits for you and me to let go of our pride, be honest about the truth, and like the prophet Isaiah confess we have uncleanness.