A Vision that Leads to Forgiveness
On February 14, 1014, Pope Benedict VIII crowned Henry of Bavaria (Henry II), King of Germany and of Italy, as Holy Roman Emperor. For the most part, his reign was characterized as a period of centralized authority and political power throughout the Holy Roman Empire. There was a time when a ruler from Poland had a negotiation with him which was meant to be a peace treaty but later on led to further conflict. That’s how we describe an encounter with a mere man. But meeting with the Holy God is not a negotiation. It is either you will bow down in adoration having seen your unworthiness before His presence or you will bow down in seeing Him as King and you will be damned forever for rejecting Him.
Isaiah’s experience in encountering the Holy God is not a mere meeting with a man. It was not a negotiation, it was an exposition of His true condition. A true encounter with the Holy God changes a person, it results to a confession of deep sense of sin that leads to pardon.
Sermon Text: Isaiah 6:5-7
5 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!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” - ESV
This is the second part of our expository series on chapter 6 of the book of Isaiah. The previous message on the first part was God’s exalted holy character must be the center of our devotion. It is God’s holiness in Himself, from the Hebrew word Qadosh which literally means ‘separatedness’, otherness. (De 4:35 – there is no other). It is the defining character of God.
But now we ask how is it like to be exposed in the presence of the Holy One? How is it like to meet the Holy One of Israel v.6? First, let’s see who did Isaiah meet. The Apostle John in John 12:40-41 quotes Isaiah 6:10, he said that Isaiah said this because he saw His glory, the glory of the Messiah. Jesus Himself is the Holy One of God. Having seen the Almighty, he was prepared for the ministry. This is the experience of true Christians.
Message: An encounter with God’s holiness results to an overwhelming sense of our sinfulness that leads to forgiveness
Two realities of a True encounter with God’s holiness: 1) Confession of sin in light of God’s holiness and 2) Purification of sin that leads to forgiveness.
Confession of sin in light of God’s holiness
This is our response to God’s Holiness. Notice that he said woe, alas. This is a cry of despair; prior he was God’s mouthpiece to say it (6 woes in chapter 5), now he says if for himself, a real sense of desperation having seen God’s glorious Holiness v. 5. But why did he respond this way? Why not a feeling of happiness or fulfillment having met the LORD of glory?
A sight of God’s holiness is deadly for a sinner.
If the Seraphim who never sinned covered their body and faces with their wings before the presence of the Holy one (v. 2), how much more sinful creatures like us? The psalmist says, If God will mark iniquity, who can stand? (Psalm 130:3) and the presence of God is frightening (Ex 19:16-18 …the people trembled).
Two texts from Torah that explicitly speak of that it is deadly for a sinner to see the LORD.
Ex 33:20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live. Gen 32:30 So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared
We are impure, corrupt and guilty sinners and the LORD cannot look at sin with favor (Hab. 1:13). So, unless the LORD mercifully sustains us, we cannot stand in His Holy presence.
A sight of God’s holiness exposes man’s true condition
He looks inside and he saw his unworthiness toward a confession of his misery and condemnation based on his filthiness. He said, For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips… unclean lips as emblem of sinfulness are not permitted in God’s presence. When we see God as He is High and exalted, the response is self-condemnation, conviction of sin and an overwhelming sense of one’s sinfulness.
He saw that he deserves nothing but the condemnation of God because of His sins, like Job who says “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5-6
He looks around and he sees the filthiness of all …and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips… The nation is unfit for God’s presence. Israel’s rebellion and wickedness are clearly seen before the presence of the Holy One. That is what we are compared to the holiness of God. God is morally perfect and we are not.
If your Christianity is too clean, it is obvious that you did not meet the LORD. If you see yourself as someone who is good and has no dread for the fact that you are a sinner, then you are not saved. A true encounter with God leads to self-abhorrence. Yes, there’s fullness in God’s presence (Psalm 16:11) and it is the joy of His people, but your initial response when meeting God in His holiness speaks of the condition of your heart and your knowledge of God.
Modern evangelical churches today offer false encounter with God. An offer that leads to self-fulfillment. There is an Encounter with God session in a church here in the Philippines. They say that through different sessions of worship, teachings, and prayer, you will have a life changing experience with God. Each person will take an individual journey to freedom in Christ. Where you have experienced pain, you will receive healing and wholeness. God will renew the areas in your life that have grown stagnant. This encounter is devoid of seeing one’s sinfulness before a Holy God.
The challenge is to seek a real encounter with God through humble repentance in light of who God is. It should not be a manipulative encounter of putting God in a box. But a daily seeking and begging of God’s mercy that He may open your eyes to behold who He is in His Word. This is the true encounter with God, you will have an overwhelming sense of your sinfulness leading to confession in light of God’s holiness.
John Calvin writes in his book that, “It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of Himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.” (John Calvin, Institutes Book 1.1.2)
Purification of Sin that leads to forgiveness
Now, what is God’s response? Instead of taking Isaiah away, since God could have blotted Him out from His book as a sinner (Ex 32:33) and from His presence as vile and filthy man, God responded with mercy and grace (see: Luke 18:9-14).This is God’s response to our sinfulness.
God’s response portrayed
See that it is initiated by God …Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar (v.6). The burning coal in the hands of the seraf is a symbol of God’s holiness. God is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:12, 33, 36). Notice also the origin of the coal. It is from the altar of the burnt offering. The place where holiness is accepted, and God was satisfied by, the death of a substitutionary sacrifice (Lev. 17:11). We read in the previous verse that it’s taken not from an earthly temple but from the heavenly one. This points to the unblemished offering to God.
So, the LORD responded as soon as he felt the need. And he touched my mouth… (v. 7). It was a slight momentary touch, sufficient to be a sign or token that he was cleansed. At the touch of the live coal, he received pardon from God.
So, the live coal (stone), taken from the altar of the heavenly temple, a place where God is satisfied, touched his sinful lips. Note, that the coal has no power to effect anything or forgiveness. It is a mere symbol. There is a meaning, it is not divorced from words. God did not only do something, but he also made sure that Isaiah knew what it meant.
God’s response explained
Cleansing from God. – Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.. The guilt was taken away or turned aside (removal of dirt). Whatever sin that may hinder him to communicate God’s message and to be a worthy messenger is removed. Later on, we read that God used him to deliver His message. The language that Isaiah used here is packed with rich theological doctrines and it encapsulates the ideas of atonement, propitiation, satisfaction, forgiveness, cleansing and reconciliation (Alec Motyer, TOTC).
Forgiveness by God. Some translated it as being forgiven (NLT, NASB 1995) but it should be properly rendered …and your sin is atoned for (ESV), and atonement is made for your sin (NASB). Atoned (kippēr): ‘to cover, to pacify, to coat (first used: Gen 6:14 – the ark is covered with pitch, cement), to propitiate’, ‘covering’. The idea here is that in order for God to forgive, there must be a covering, his sin must be atoned for. Literally, it says. ‘Behold, as soon as this touched your lips your iniquity went, and, as for your sin—paid by ransom!’ (Alec Motyer)
The coal being taken from the altar of the heavenly temple is a picture of that once-for-all accomplished yet eternally satisfying sacrifice of the Lamb of God. When our sin is covered by the blood of the Lamb, God’s justice is satisfied, His wrath is appeased or propitiated. The sacrifice of the Son of God alone, as he shed His blood is necessary that there may be forgiveness (Romans 9:22). Pardon is obtained only through the atoning sacrifice.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he says “God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands (Col 2:13-14). The cancellation of record happened so there may be forgiveness. Sin must be purified, taken away and atoned for so you may receive pardon.
The point is that God’s response when we have true conviction and confession of sin is cleansing and forgiveness. This comes from God alone and real forgiveness from our sins can only be obtained when we trust in the sufficiency of the blood of Jesus Christ that alone can cleanse us from all of our sins.
Have you been forgiven? Are you covered by the blood of the Lamb?
Tim Challies in his 31 days of Purity writes,
Every sin that you have ever committed has been put on record. Every sexual sin. Every lustful thought. Every shameful action. Every dark secret. Everything. And just one of those God-belittling sins is sufficient to cast you into hell for eternity. This is your record of debt… Yet it is equally true that if you are among those whom God has “made alive together with Christ,” the record is no longer yours. You will not endure even the smallest measure of the wrath of God against you, because Jesus already endured it all. He paid your debt in full. There is not one sin on your record of debt (past, present, or future!) that has not been paid by Jesus.
Oh saints! We may be saddened by the fact that we sinned, we failed to trust in the LORD, we do not serve the Him as we should, we disobey, and we see our unworthiness before His presence. But come to Him in humble repentance and faith and be glad because that posture is welcomed with God’s pardon, acceptance, and purifying grace that is in Christ Jesus, our LORD.
However, for the rebels remember that a sight of God’s holiness is deadly for a sinner. If you continue in your rebellion, at His return, you will meet Him. Are you prepared? February 14 as they call it Valentine’s day is met with preparation, surprises, and excitement. But are you preparing for the day of the LORD? God’s response to those who do not repent and deny acknowledging their sinfulness is anger and eternal damnation. God’s holiness is frightening. The call for you is to repent. Come to Christ and be forgiven.
SOLI DEO GLORIA