I invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to Isaiah chapter 6. We’re going to be looking at the entire chapter, but if it strikes you that it seems vaguely familiar, having read and hearing someone preach on this passage, you’re right. It was last September 30, actually, 2018, when David Strain preached on this passage; just a few months back. He did a beautiful job presenting Christ in this passage pulling from John chapter 12 which says Isaiah said these things because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke of Him. This, Isaiah chapter 6, presents Jesus even before He was born among us in Bethlehem. It’s a vivid picture. David presented it as Christ on the throne, Christ on the altar, and Christ in the pulpit. Christ proclaimed to the farthest reaches of the earth.
Now you may be asking, “Why are we looking at it again, then, if he did such a great job?” My answer is that this week you’re going to get in the mail this little booklet which is our 2019 Global Mission Conference summary. It’s going to tell you all about what’s coming in just a few weeks. I’m asking you to think about this booklet and the theme of our mission conference, which grows out of the passage, “Here am I! Send me.” Because the subtheme, the core, the trajectory of what we’re after in this year’s conference is all about building a culture of evangelism. This church, for decades, has been profoundly generous in giving money and praying for and going, giving time in spreading the Gospel across the world. And we celebrate that and want to accelerate that. However, we want to be careful to make sure that what we’re sending people all over the world to do - evangelism, church planting, discipleship - we want to make sure we are faithfully doing that here as well. This year’s conference is going to pull together the global and the local and hold them in parallel vision. That’s our goal. Building a culture of evangelism so that everything we do in this church, everything we do in our daily lives, has as a backbeat and undercurrent the call to evangelism.
And because that’s our theme for this year, as a way of inviting you to think about it and prayerfully consider which parts of these events you’re going to participate in and sign up for - incidentally, the website links all live; you can go to the church website or app and you can register for all of the different events you plan to participate in. And we’ll need to know roughly how many people are coming so please let us know. All that being said, I want to take a moment and read this text. I want to say upfront, David did such a good job looking at the front half of the text - what Isaiah experienced - I’m going to refer you to his sermon to look more carefully at that. I want to slow down and have us look at the second half of the chapter. We’ll read the whole thing. Let the scene wash over your vision. Imagine what it was like to see what Isaiah saw, to hear what he heard, to smell the smoke from the altar, to feel his body rumbling from the quaking that shook the whole scene.
Listen to God’s Word. Isaiah 6, verse 1:
“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” - literally, the burning ones. “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 I am! Send me.’ And he said, ‘Go, and say to this people:
‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.' Then I said, ‘How long, O Lord?' And he said: ‘Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remains in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.' The holy seed is its stump."
This is God’s Word. Would you join me in prayer?
Holy Spirit, as You hovered over the waters during the creation of all that exists, would You hover over this place, hover over this Word - holy, inspired and infallible. Hover over our hearts and work that miraculous transaction where You take blind and deaf, inadequate, hard-hearted people such as we know ourselves to be, and awaken new life, create within us newness, zeal and joy and delight and passion for the glory of the One who sits on the throne even at this very moment. We ask this in Jesus’ name, for His glory. Amen.
I’d like to get straight into the text. Three declarations that grow straight from what we just read and then the very important question, “How? How in the world will we ever do what we’re called to do in this text?” Three declarations and one question to be answered.
Called to Mission
The first declaration is this - If you belong to Christ, you are called to mission. Very simply put. If you belong to Christ, you are called to mission. You really see that from the transition of what happens to Isaiah and what happens within him. You think about it - when God called Isaiah, He could have sent any number of His professional messengers. As a matter of fact, they were all around the scene. The angelic messengers; God had done it before. Lots of times, you read about it all throughout Scripture. We don’t have time to detail all the incidents where the professional messengers, the angels came, and when they did they always had the wrapped and undivided attention of their audience. They were always taken seriously. They never got the message wrong. They always went back to the one who had sent them and said, “Message and mission accomplished.” But in spite of being surrounded by angelic messengers, God chooses in His sovereign wisdom to send a man, like us. Weak, inadequate, fearful. At the core - prone to failure, prone to wandering, a man like us.
Let me pause for a moment. If you were given a piece of paper and a pencil and you were asked one question and told that you would come up here and read the answer to this question, what would you say? The question is, “What is your calling?” Not, “Do you teach in a school, sell insurance, practice medicine or law, stay at home mom, you’re a student, you’re in elementary school?” Not that. “What is your core calling?” If God has called you to Himself He has placed a calling upon you. If you belong to Christ, He has called you to mission. This is your calling. There are no free agents of those who belong to Christ. You have been bought with a price, Paul tells us, and you are no longer your own. You were bought by the one who paid for you with His precious blood. If you belong to Christ, you’ve been called to mission.
What is that mission? The apostle Paul makes it very clear in 2 Corinthians 5 where in one, short paragraph he uses one word five times. Listen for it. 2 Corinthians 5:18 - “God has reconciled us to himself, through Christ, and has given us the message of reconciliation that God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, not counting men’s sins against them, and he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are, therefore, Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” There it is. The message and the ministry of reconciliation has been entrusted to us. We are His ambassadors with that singular message of reconciliation to carry out.
What does that look like? Well, you see it and hear it every week. You look at it in the bulletin where it says that "The mission of First Presbyterian Church is to glorify God by making disciples along the North State Street corridor, in greater Jackson, and around the world." That's our mission, not just through the people who we sent to far-flung places to do what we're reluctant to do here ourselves, but our mission is to do here what they are doing there. It is a global and local partnership. If you belong to Christ, you've been called to mission. It's not an optional thing. You are not a free agent. There is not the phrase offered to Ethan Hunt in your world: "This is your mission, if you choose to accept it." Those words are not uttered by your Redeemer, the one who bought you with His blood. If you belong to Christ, you are called to mission.
Especially, what is that mission? Well, it's the ministry and message of reconciliation, but it happens through the process and the work of evangelism at the core. How do you define that? Mack Styles, one of the pastors that I spent a day with in Iraq, he’s planted four churches in the Middle East and he’s seeing hundreds of people coming to faith in Christ. His definition is recorded in this booklet. It’s just eight words long. “Evangelism is teaching the Gospel with the aim to persuade.” There it is. Teaching the Gospel with the aim to persuade. He unpacks it this way. Evangelism is teaching - that is presenting or preaching or explaining the Gospel - the Gospel, which is the good news from God that leads us to salvation, with the aim - that is, a specific hope, intent or desire - to persuade, to convince, to convert or to win followers of Jesus.
Let me press the pause button and make an announcement. In this booklet is information about an evangelism training seminar that will be the Friday night and Saturday morning of our mission conference led by the chief strategist of all the Redeemer City to City training globally. We’ve added that because in the middle of saying, “You’re called to mission,” I realize some of you may think, “Well I’m not equipped for that. I’m not sure how to do evangelism. That’s for people who are better equipped.” Here’s your opportunity. This is the best training you’ll find anywhere to be equipped and emboldened to do the work of evangelism that is central to the calling that has been placed on your life. So you need to register for that. There’s information that, when you read it, you’ll say, “Man, I really want to learn how to do this well.” Why? Because it’s central to my calling. It’s not just what I’m called to do; it’s who I am. I am, you are an ambassador for Christ. Yes, God could have called and sent the professionals to carry out the message of redemption and reconciliation. He could have sent the angels. They were all around Him when He asked the question, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” But for His eternal glory and for our eternal delight, He condescends to send people like you and me. If you belong to Christ, you are called to mission. There are no free agents.
Called to Obedience
Second declaration - Your calling to mission is a calling to obedience, not to success. This is hard for people like us, people who grow up in the American culture which says you’ve got to constantly measure, “Is this working?” and if it’s not working, do something else. “How successful have you been lately?” and if not, come up with a different plan. But your calling and mission is to obedience, not to success. I take that from Isaiah’s job description which you read about in verses 9 through 13. And notice, Isaiah didn’t receive this job description until after he agreed to go. It was the reverse. He didn’t say, “Well tell me what the job looks like and I’ll think about it.” No, he said, “After what You’ve done for me, here I am. Send me!” And then God says, “Okay, here is what your job is going to look like.”
And in verses 9 through 13 He says, “Go.” And He doesn’t say, “Go to my people.” He says twice, “Go to this people.” All along, God had been calling His people, “My people,” but suddenly there’s a distancing. God says, “Go to this people and say to them” - and He gives him a specific message that has to be communicated with his lips. Like for us, there’s a message that we can’t just portray and hope that people get it, being kind, generous, loving people as we are, generally. There’s a message that has to pass our lips. It has to be said. How grateful I am that it’s a different message than Isaiah’s was because Isaiah’s message was designed to harden and push people away. Our message is designed to draw people in. It’s to welcome them back to their Redeemer.
Not Called to Success
And then the word, "make." Look at it in verses 9 and 10. "Go and say to this people, ‘Keep on hearing but do not understand. Keep on seeing but do not perceive.' Make the heart of this people dull. Make their ears heavy and blind their eyes lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and turn and be healed." Do you understand that there was no promise or even potential of success in the job description? In other words, when Isaiah heard God say, "This is what your work is going to look like," I imagine there was a long pause, a long pause between Isaiah hearing what God just said, "This is what your job is going to look like," and Isaiah saying, "How long? I mean is this a week? Is it a month? A year? Decade? Lifetime? How long?" Don't we always want to know the answer to that question before we take off? "How long is it going to take?" and "How much is it going to cost?"
Isaiah gets his answer. We’ll come to that answer in just a moment. The point is this. God doesn’t call us to faithfulness only when the conditions are favorable. God calls us to faithfulness even when we look at His calling and we say, “I don’t see any chance of this turning out well. I mean I hear what You’re saying, God, but You don’t know these people. They’re not going to hear this well. It’s not going to go well for me if I do what You say. I mean isn’t there another plan?” And our Redeemer smiles and says, “This is the plan. Your obedience, your faithfulness to what I’ve called you to.” The calling is not to success. The calling is to obedience.
A couple of years ago, Rico Tice was here. Rico is the pastor from London who authored the Christianity Explored material that we use here - wonderful tool for presenting the Gospel. We had dinner with him and asked him a couple of questions about, "How does this work?" and "How do you engage people in really wanting to pursue evangelism?" And his answer was four "P" words. They resonate with me. The first three make sense; the fourth one makes you stop. The first one is you have to be passionate about the glory of God and the mission He sent. That cannot be an extraneous thing. It cannot be one thing among many others. It is the core thing. We glorify God by pursuing His mission, making disciples here and around the world. You have to be passionate about His mission. Secondly, you have to preach Christ unashamedly. That is the core message. Third, you have to pray as if everything depends on God's answer to our prayers. And it does because Jesus says in John 6:44, "No one comes to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day." It is an impossible mission unless God does the miraculous. So we pray.
Permission to Fail
Passion, preach Christ unashamedly, pray, and fourth, permission to fail. And there it is again. You see, we have a hard time with this. We are disinclined to give ourselves permission to fail. We’re disinclined to give one another permission to fail. But if you look at the calling of God and the history of His sending people all over the world, every one of them walked in bold faith believing, “This could all go really badly.” See, if there’s not a permission to fail within you in this pursuit of the calling, you’re never going to take the next step of faith.
Last year, Sandy Wilson preached here during our mission conference. And in one of his sermons, he asked two questions. He asked, "What is the business of the church?" and then he unpacked that Biblically, and then the second question was, "How's business? How is it going?" So what if we asked Isaiah those two questions? "Isaiah, what is your business?" "Well, I'm a prophet. I am called to proclaim the message of repentance and call people back to God." "How's business going, Isaiah? Anybody repenting? Anybody's life-changing? Is anything changing at all?" If you followed Isaiah throughout his lifetime and you asked him that question, my suspicion is he would sigh deeply and he would say, "Not going as I had thought. As a matter of fact, the only thing changing is that people are getting harder and more resistant and more rebellious." Yet he went forward. Because what he may have called failure, what you or I may have called failure, was exactly the calling to which God had said, "Be obedient. Be faithful in this."
Emily, my wife, has a coworker who some of you probably saw on television that last couple of weeks, at least if you watch professional football. Tammy, her brother is Randy Fichtner, who is the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And one of the things he shared with his sister and through her to us, is that he has to train his quarterbacks for failure because if you're playing at that level of skill and that degree of risk where every game is one by the principle of a slight edge, you take risks and you know that failure is inevitable. There is no quarterback who doesn't fumble or get intercepted. And so his job is to prepare these high-level athletes, highly paid athletes, for failure! You know the moment where he fumbles the ball or he gets intercepted and the ball was going this way and the ref goes that way now and he looks up - and you see the athletes doing this with our technology - they look up. They're not looking at God; they're looking at the big screens because they can see everything that happened in high definition, slow-motion precision. And they look and they hear the crowd roaring and they hear the anger of the people around them, they feel the injustice of having been robbed and they hear the voices of shame in their head. And Randy said, "I have to train my quarterbacks to fail."
You know how he does it? One, he assures them it’s going to happen. But two, he says that when the ball hits the ground and the ref moves his arm the other way, “You don’t listen to the people around you, you don’t look up at the screen to see how bad it looked, you don’t look at your feet, you don’t look at the field. You turn your eyes directly to the sidelines and you find me. You don’t listen to anyone. You don’t look at anyone. You lock eyes with me and you make a beeline toward me and you and I together will make it right. No other voice, no other scene. You come to me and together we’ll make it right.”
And it hits you, doesn’t it? This is exactly how the champion of our faith, the author and the perfecter of our faith calls us to prepare for what will feel like failure through all of our lives. He says, “You don’t look to the screens, you don’t play the tapes over in your head, you don’t listen to the people around you, you don’t listen to the voices in your own head. You lock eyes on Me. You fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith. You come back to Him; no, you run back to Him.” And every place that looks like failure and feels like failure, and He assures you, “We will make this right.” You know why? Because we know how this ends. Don’t we? We know the score at the end of the game, at the end of all of this. Win. His victory secured and finalized with a declaration of, “It is finished,” and proven by the resurrection and the ascension, His victory by union with Christ has become ours. If you belong to Christ, you’ve been called to mission. And the mission is not one to success; the mission is one to obedience. That’s the calling.
Long Obedience in the Same Direction
Third - Your mission will be a long obedience in the same direction. Borrowing a title from Eugene Peterson’s book, Long Obedience in the Same Direction, which is a commentary on the Psalms of Ascent. It's a picture of a life of obedience, a life of growing to be more like Jesus. After the job description that Isaiah receives, a pause and he asks the question, "How long, O Lord?" God answers in verse 13. After talking about all the desolation, the one glimmer of hope, He says, "The holy seed is in its stump." That may not seem like much to hope in, thinking about Isaiah's experience, but it had the echoes of Genesis 3:15 where in the middle of the curse God said, "But the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent," the enemy. The seed promised to Abraham in Genesis 17, through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed, the seed promised to David in 2 Samuel 7 who would sit on David's throne and reign forever. The fact is, we know what Isaiah didn't know. Isaiah 6 is set in the year King Uzziah died. That was 740 BC. It would be almost three-fourths of a millennium before this promised seed would actually come, long after Isaiah had died and was buried - 740 BC.
Do you realize how long 740 years is? Do the math. It’s 1279 AD until today. Do you know what happened in 1279? Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, attacked Japan and was repelled by a typhoon, a Pacific hurricane, that the Japanese attributed to their god, the wind god. In their language, the kamikaze. That’s what happened 740 years before today. Two hundred years later, Christopher Columbus would sail the ocean blue. Seven hundred forty years is a long time to wait for the promise to be fulfilled. “How long?” Your mission will always be one of waiting and patience and longing, even suffering in that longing and hoping. David Felker, last week, beautifully unpacked part of James’ letter where he said people of God have always been a waiting people. You cannot separate that calling from your missional calling. There’s nothing instant in your experience. Our lives are always lived with the long view.
And so the last question then, “How? How do I follow this call? Where do I get the motivation, the power, the courage, the resilience for this?” Isaiah knew where he stood; he understood his own condemnation. “Woe is me!” He understood his own deliverance when, in verses 6 and 7, the angel touches his tongue with a coal from the fire which indicates the sacrifice is burned up. There’s no longer anyone who needs to pay for your sin. And he declares, “You are forgiven.” And Isaiah immediately says, “Now I want to go.” He understood the dynamics. Once he was forgiven there was no reluctance on his part. I wonder if Isaiah had read what a previous king had written three hundred years before King Uzziah died. It was King David who wrote the psalm that we read earlier in the passage who said, “Against You, and You alone, have I sinned. Woe is me!” Do you hear the echoes?
And interestingly, when David wrote Psalm 51, he talks about “Cleanse me. Create in me a pure heart. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation. Grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Then, then, knowing that I have been forgiven, then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will turn back to You.” It’s the same thing. Once Isaiah knew that he had been forgiven, his next response was, “If You’ve done this for me, then send me as an instrument to make that known to others.” The same grace, you see, the same grace that forgives us also emboldens us and equips us. It’s the same grace. I’m trying to finish quickly. I can’t recreate for you Isaiah’s vision. I wish I could because that vision changed the rest of Isaiah’s life. We can imagine what it was like, but we can’t recreate it. What I can do is tell you a story of what happened to me when I was a camp counselor in the hill country of Texas in the 1980s; a long time ago.
There was a teacher there, a Bible teacher whose name was Kathy Boice who told a story and she told us repeatedly over the course of the five summers I worked there. And it changed me. It may very well be part of what the Lord used to lead me into ministry because my perspective on life, myself and my future, changed. She took a ball. If you're - we're not accustomed to doing children's sermons here, but here's one in the pulpit, Sunday morning! She took a ball and said, "This is the planet earth." This planet on which we live, 7.7 billion people today - at current population growth rates will hit 8 billion in three and a half years - 7.7 billion people on this planet, if this is the size of the earth on which we live, then the relative size of the sun would be a ball, you'd have to deflate it and then inflate it in here because it would be from this platform all the way up to the ceiling; earth - sun. And the relative distance, if those were the accurate sizes, the earth would be here; the sun would be down by the capitol building; more than half a mile away.
Now let’s compress that. If the distance between this earth and the sun, 96 million miles, were compressed to the thickness of a sheet of paper - right? You with me? The distance between the earth and the sun, 96 million miles is the thickness of a sheet of paper, then the distance between our earth and the next closest star would be a stack of paper 70 feet tall. That’s twice the height of this ceiling. This is the distance between the earth and the sun. The next closest star - a stack of papers 70 feet tall. Let’s zoom out even further. The distance between, actually the diameter of our galaxy, the Milky Way, if this was the distance between the earth and the sun, the diameter of the galaxy would be a stack of paper 310 miles tall. That’s just our Milky Way galaxy - 100 billion stars, give or take a few; and ours is one of the smaller galaxies of a hundred billion galaxies in the universe.
With that image in your head - firmly fixed, right? Listen to what Isaiah says in Isaiah 40 verse 26: "Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts, one by one, and calls forth each of them by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing." Not one. And the one whom Isaiah saw seated on the throne, the writer of Hebrews looks at all of this universe, the earth, the sun, all the other stars, all the other galaxies, and he says Jesus upholds it all by the word of His power. You think this is big? You think your stuff is big? Do you think your problems are insurmountable? Do you do think you've been waiting a long time, praying the same thing over? "God please, my kids. God, I don't know what's going to happen with my daughter. I don't know what's going to happen with my son, my parents, my job, my future, my health. God, this is too big." It's a big God. It's a really big God.
Back to Isaiah 6. Do you know what? When Isaiah experienced this vision and received this call from God, I really doubt that it was with a swagger or an inflated chest that Isaiah said, “Here am I. Send me!” My humble suspicion is that it probably sounded more like this. “I’m here. Would I do? God, do You think You might be able to use someone like me?” And then it fits. The mission is way too big. It’s impossible if it’s up to us. But we serve a God who really delights in saying, “Hold on to the professional messengers.” He says, “Watch what I’m going to do through them. Just watch.” And for all eternity we will celebrate what God has done through weak and broken people such as we know ourselves to be on this little planet. So what’s your response? “I’m here. Would I do? God, do You think You might could use me?” Let’s pray.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of His glory. Holy Spirit, may our hearts be filled with what already fills the entire earth. Would You win eternal praise to Your matchless name as people like us, who have already tasted of the goodness of the Lord, who already have begun to see His glory and beauty, as people like us are used for the great ingathering for the bride of Christ, to the end, that on the day we see Jesus face to face, it will be He standing up, arms raised high in victory saying, “Yes! Look at what we accomplished as you humbled yourself and chose the path of obedience! Welcome home! Aren’t you glad, aren’t you glad you said, ‘I’m here. Will I do?’” Send us forth with joy and expectation for Jesus’ eternal glory, for the spread of His fame, and for our eternal joy. We ask in His name, amen.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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