Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Isaiah 6: Isaiah's Vision & Call

Isaiah 6:1-9 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:  "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." And he said, "Go, and say to this people..." ESV

The vision and commission of Isaiah in this chapter is probably one of the most familiar passages in Isaiah. This has often been used to illustrate worship and how God calls His servants into ministry. We can learn some principles of divine commissioning:
  • Vision of God ("I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up"): The beginning of any prophetic ministry of God does not begin with our own "vision" of what we want to accomplish for God but a vision of God himself. If we start with our own vision of greatness about the ministry, it would not be prophetic, neither would it be from God. The beginning of ministry is found in a personal encounter with God and understanding His glory and greatness. Isaiah saw God as "sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up". Only a great God can be the foundation of a great ministry. While theological education is helpful, it cannot be the starting point for ministry. Prophetic ministry must start with a vision of God's holiness and power: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" Humanistic ministry begins by focusing on human potential; prophetic ministry begins by focusing on divine power.
  • Confessing & Cleansing ("Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips"): It's impossible to come near the light of God's glory and not see ourselves as we really are -- full of sins and wickedness. The nearer we draw near to God, the greater the depth of our sin-consciousness. A good example of this progression is the apostle Paul. When he first started his apostolic ministry, he was being challenged regarding his apostolic credential. And he had to defend himself against his critics. He wrote: "For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle" (1 Cor 15:9). So, among the apostolic cream, he considered himself at the bottom of the pile because he persecuted the church of God. Mid-way through his ministry, writing to the church at Ephesus, he longer compared himself with apostles but with the ordinary believers (saints): "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given" (Eph 3:8). Finally, just before he was executed as an old man, writing to Timothy he wrote, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" (1 Tim 1:15, KJV). From least among the apostles to least among the saints to chief of sinners. Did Paul backslide as he got older? Not really, it's just that the closer we are to the light, the more we become aware of our real motives and sinful attitudes.  
  • Commissioning: Once we know how to avail ourselves to the cleansing from the coals through self-aware confession: "Woe to me!" we are ready for ministry. To hear God's commissioning call, we have to be near enough to Him to hear their intimate communication: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" The Trinity was speaking to one another and Isaiah was near enough to hear and to volunteer for the ministry: "Here am I! Send me!" Isaiah was sent to a people who would remain stubborn and unresponsive until the city fell and was burned to the ground in 586 BC. However, while Isaiah's ministry looks like a failure in his lifetime, his influence goes beyond his lifetime. His ministry would produce a remnant that will be the seed for another major revival of the nation that would transform not only Israel but the world: "The holy seed is its stump."
Just because we are called and commissioned does not guarantee that our ministry will be "successful" as defined by bodies, buildings and budgets. Some believers are called to minister in hard places. But we can be assured if God wants a "successful" ministry, He can grant it to us anytime. But that's not why we go into ministry. Whether we should continue our ministry to a people or place does not depend on whether there is "success" but whether God is still calling us to minister at that place and to that people. For Isaiah it was a ministry of "hearing, but never understanding...seeing, but never perceiving" (v.9). 

The call to ministry to a people or place is not determined by us: we simply go where the Spirit sends us. No pre-conditions, no guarantees, except the Lord of glory goes with us. 

Father, thank You that our responsibility is obedient and faithfulness to Your call. Even when we don't see immediate results, maybe not even in our lifetimes. May Your Spirit commission and send us to the place and people You have assigned us. Amen.

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