Isaiah 6: God’s Holiness and Love


Introduction: King, Temple, Prophets

What’s the most scary thing you’ve seen?  That made you the most afraid?
What the most amazing and beautiful thing you’ve seen?
 
This year, we are reading the Old Testament of the Bible
two months ago, we met King David
he fought the giant Goliath – he was scary.
But with God’s help, David killed him.
 
In Jerusalem, David’s son King Solomon built a palace, the house of the King
inside was a great throne –  the chair where the King sits, made of gold (1 Kings 10:18-20)
6 steps went up to it, with a lion on each step
there was nothing else like it in the world
it was amazing.
 
And Solomon built the temple, the house of God
it was a beautiful, amazing building,
 
In the centre of the temple, behind a thick curtain was a special, closed room.
– called the holy of holies, or the most holy place.
 
Inside was a box, called the ark.
And gold statues of angels, their wings stretched out over the ark.
The Old Testament calls this the throne of God,
God is the real King of Israel
 
Goliath was scary, the King’s throne and the temple were beautiful and amazing,
God was much much more
When they built the temple, it was filled with a bright cloud.
The glory, the light, the power of God filled the temple like smoke
 
 
But over the years,
many of the people forgot about God.
They forgot that God was Israel’s true king
they hated each other, disobeyed God,
they followed and worshipped false gods
 
 
So God raised up men called prophets
to tell people how they were living was wrong, and call them back to worship God.
we heard about Elijah a few weeks ago
Elijah was a great prophet,
remember how he fought against the priests who worshipped false gods,
and God sent down fire from heaven
 

The prophet Isaiah

Today is the first of four weeks on another prophet, Isaiah.
Isaiah didn’t do such amazing things as Elijah, but he got his own book!
A big one – 66 chapters – and a good one
 
It’s maybe my favourite Old Testament book.
beautiful poetry – some of my favourite verses
Isaiah talks about the character of God – what God is like
 
And it says the most about Jesus in the Old Testament.
It’s sometimes called the “fifth gospel” – many verses from Isaiah are in the New Testament.[1]
 
 
Isaiah lived over 200 years after King Solomon,
King Uzziah was the king of Israel on the great throne
he had been King for 52 years
a long time – and now he died
 
An enemy power in the North, Assyria, was getting very strong, and starting to attack
they were not nice people.
When they captured a city, they would cut off people’s heads and make a big mountain of heads.
They were very scary – people were worried
 
Maybe Isaiah was in the temple, praying, asking God to help and protect them,
he remembered looking up at the King on his Royal throne.
Now, the King was dead
he smelt the smoke of the temple offerings, maybe heard the choir singing.
Like us in church
 
let’s read what happened
 
*********** Isaiah 6:1-9               ***********
 
I lived in Europe, and saw a lot of big churches,
St Peter’s in Rome is the biggest – it can fit 60,000 people
When I went to St Peter’s, first I climbed up the tower to see the view
then I came down a staircase, and went inside.
It goes on for ever, rows and rows of pillars.
It is beautiful and amazing.
Many churches in Europe are shaped like a cross.
So I walked up to the middle.
You know what I saw?
I thought I had seen the whole church.
But I was only in the short arm –
I knew it was big – but it was much bigger than I thought!
 

God’s Scary Holiness

Maybe it was a bit like that for Isaiah.
he knew God was amazing, knew God was very big, huge
But that day in the temple, Isaiah saw God was much much bigger
 
the King on Solomon’s throne was amazing.
But that human King had died
now Isaiah saw Israel’s true king, who cannot die, on the throne of heaven.
 
 
Like St Peter’s, the temple in Jerusalem was amazing.
But now Isaiah saw the real temple of heaven.
The golden angels in the holy of holies were just dead statues
now he heard living angels in heaven singing God’s praise.
 
“Holy holy holy is the Lord God Almighty.”
Holy means clean and pure, high above us, different from us
Isaiah’s favourite name for God is “The Holy One of Israel”
 
So high and holy even the angels cover their faces – they cannot look at God.
Like when you’re in a dark room, then go outside and see the Sun
it burns your eyes it’s so bright, you can’t look at it
 
 
As the sky is higher than the earth,
    so high are God’s ways and thoughts
above our ways and thoughts.          Isaiah 55:9
 
The whole temple trembles, it shakes.
It fills with the smoke of God’s glory.[2] 
 
 
And Isaiah sees everything differently –
 
before he thought the Assyrian army was scary
he’s not afraid or scared of them any more – they are not important
God is much more scary.
 
Isaiah wrote,
  God sits on his throne above the circle of the earth,
    and people are like little grasshoppers, small insects, jumping around.  Isaiah 40:22
 
 
At university, it’s easy for me to look at students who drink, swear, sleep with their girlfriends,
and think I’m a lot better.
Isaiah was much closer to God than me
all of chapter 5, Isaiah spoke to people who were greedy and proud and selfish
he said “woe to you”, God is angry so you will be destroyed
 
 
But when Isaiah sees God,
he cries “I am a sinful man, my lips are unclean.
I am no different from the people around me
I am ugly and dirty compared to God.”[3]
Isaiah cries, “Oh no!”, “woe to me”, I will be destroyed.
I am finished, I will die, I am lost
 
Isaiah sees his real problem.
what he really needs to be scared about:
God is holy, and he is not.[4]
 
God is the high and holy judge
– he hates sin, what is wrong, and will destroy it
Isaiah says God is like a roaring lion, a fierce strong fighter, a burning fire.
God is the most scary thing he has seen
 
 

God’s Beautiful Love

But, that’s not the end of the story!
 
God says “I live in a high and holy place,
    but also with people who are not proud, who are humble and low
and sorry for their sin, what they do wrong.
  I lift up the low and give life to the humble.”  Isaiah 57:15
 
 
God hates sin, but he loves people
 
God says
“Though your sins are red – like blood,
    they shall be as white as snow”  Isaiah 1:18
 
He sends the angel to Isaiah
and takes away his guilt, he makes him clean, he forgives him.
 
Imagine you are sitting around a fireplace in winter,
or a barbecue in summer.
Someone gets some long metal tongs – like big chopsticks,
they reach in to the hottest part of the fire.
pull out a coal glowing, burning red hot
and push it on to your lips
 
That must hurt!
But it’s what happened to Isaiah
God uses painful things in our lives to make us clean and holy and beautiful like him,
for me, the times when I was most lonely and unhappy and scared,
were the times I learned and grew the most –
 
sometimes life hurts
sometimes it’s difficult to trust God.
 
 
So Isaiah tells us
God is the good Shepherd – he loves his people.
 
 He looks after his sheep like a shepherd:
    He gently holds the lambs in his arms
  and carries them close to his heart.  Isaiah 40:11
 – I love that verse – it has helped me when I was unhappy
 
The last months there’s been a lot of bad weather in Auckland – a lot of rain and wind.
It’s good to be safe and warm and dry inside your house
Isaiah says God is like that – he protects us, keeps us safe from the storm
 
King Uzziah died
maybe Helen Clark will lose the election!
Important people in our lives will leave or die
 
The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.
Maybe St Peter’s in Rome or the Baptist tabernacle will one day fall down.
Maybe global warming will put Auckland underwater!
Important things in your life may not last
 
These things can make us scared – we don’t know what will happen
But we don’t have to fear, because God is still on his throne
like the angels sang, his glory fills the whole earth
 
 
God cares for us like a shepherd,
Like a mother – but even more:
“Can a mother forget her baby and not care for her child?
Even if she forgets, I will not forget you!”      Isaiah 49:15
 
we can trust a God like this, even when life hurts.
 
God is the most beautiful thing Isaiah has ever seen.
 
At the end, Isaiah prays “send me.”
God sends us out to help other people, and tell them what he is like and what he does for us.[5]
Last week, Jonah didn’t want to tell others about God, but he ran away.
But he found you can’t run away from God!
Isaiah is very different – His whole book tells what he learnt about God.
 
 

Holding both in balance

So what did he learn?
 
God is scary,
powerful and terrifying,
high and holy,
he is the King and the judge who hates and destroys sin
when we see this,
we realise we are low and little, small and sinful
 
A good prayer at times like that: “I’m sorry”, “forgive me”
 
 
But God is beautiful.
He is gentle, kind and loving,
He is the good Shepherd, who cares for his people
he forgives us and makes us clean
 
a good prayer: “Thank you”, “I love you”
 
 
God hates sin, but loves people
he is holy and loving, scary and beautiful
We need to remember both.
 
I see these two sides to God when I look at nature.
 
When you’re tramping in the mountains,
sometimes you come to a gentle stream,
it cools you down, and washes away your dirt and sweat
but if it starts to rain, a few hours later, the same stream may become
A huge angry river, that can drown you, kill you.
God is like that – comforting and dangerous.[6]
 
Mountains are amazing and beautiful, but scary and dangerous.
some people fall in love with the beauty of mountains – like Edmund Hillary.
They keep climbing mountains, although they know they might die.
– some do – on the news lately
Yesterday those Australian climbers at Mt Cook were rescued – they nearly died
But they said they’ll go back, because it’s their passion.
 
imagine if we loved God like mountain climbers
 – we just couldn’t stay away from his beauty, we loved him so much, even if it costs our lives.
 
 
One day we will see God like Isaiah did,
when we see the King in his beauty (Isaiah 33:17)
we may be very afraid or very happy, or probably both
but we won’t just not care, whatever
 
Who has seen The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, or Prince Caspian?
When people meet the lion Aslan, they either love him, or hate him.
But they don’t just ignore him
Aslan is very beautiful and very scary.[7]
 

Conclusion

When Isaiah saw God in the temple, he was amazed and afraid,
and cried “Woe is me, I am lost, I am a sinful man.”
nearly 800 years later, on a boat on a lake, a fisherman called Peter saw Jesus, and felt the same
he was amazed and afraid.
He fell at Jesus’ knees, and cried.
“Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man”               Luke 5:8
Jesus was the most beautiful, amazing, scary thing Peter had seen
 
Remember the burning coal from the altar that made Isaiah clean.
Jesus is a bit like that – he died to forgive us and make us clean
 
Isaiah says a lot about how Jesus did this.
But that’s a story for the next three weeks.
 

Questions

What did Isaiah see? 
How did he feel?
What did God do?
What does this say about God?
 
 
What are the most scary and most beautiful things you have seen?
What most shows you God’s holiness?  God’s love?
 
 
If (or when) you see God, like Isaiah did,
What will you feel, or do, or say?
 
 
If there’s time, you could think about:
 
“No one has ever seen God.”  (John 1:18)
But Isaiah said “I saw the Lord”.  (Isaiah 6:1)
 
Or you could read Revelation 4, another vision of angels in heaven saying “holy holy holy” to God on his throne.
 


[1] The New Testament has maybe 250 references to Isaiah, and names Isaiah 20 times.  Isaiah has been called the “Bible in miniature”, with its two main divisions of judgement and hope corresponding to the Old and New Testaments.
[2] Like when Solomon first built it, and like when God gave Moses the 10 Commandments at Mt Sinai.  An anti-smoking campaign once used these verses: when the house was full of smoke, Isaiah cries “woe is me”!  (In John Sawyer, 1996, The Fifth Gospel: Isaiah in the history of Christianity, page 145).
[3] Devout Jews won’t even say the name of God – it is too holy for our unclean lips.
[4] The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, Proverbs 1:7.
[5] “The fire has not touched our lips so that we can taste the candy better” (John Oswalt).
[6] Or like fire, that can be a nice little campfire to keep you warm, or a big forest fire, that destroys everything in its path.
[7] The whole book of Isaiah is about these two sides of God.  Isaiah is often divided into two sections:
1 the book of judgment – about God’s anger at people’s sin.
2 The book of comfort – about a God who still cares for his people.

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