Wednesday EveningFebruary 22, 2006
“Will I Do?”
The Reverend Mr. David Meredith
“David Meredith is with us from the Smithton-Culloden Church. David himself is a faithful minister of God's word. He's been used to build up a congregation, to gather a congregation of saints. He loves to preach the gospel, he loves to see sinners be converted to the Lord, he loves to see saints built up in the word and in the faith, he loves to see saints develop a heart for evangelism. David, thank you for being here with us, brother. Preach the word.”
As I was hearing about all the missionaries this evening, a great word came to my mind in that connection. I suppose in a sense that's what Presbyterianism is about. God is a connected God, He's Trinitarian, and Presbyterianism is about connections. We’re not isolationists. And think of Uganda — we're having Henry Orombi preach in our church in September. (We couldn't ask any British archbishop to preach!) And it's great that Henry has agreed to preach for us in September. The influence of this church even in my own country, and we have a neighboring congregation of Nairn, where Bill and Dana Evans are (and I think you support Bill Evans), and that congregation has grown. It's doubled in the last three years. It's a very tough area, and the church has been vitalized.
Our youth director in my own congregation, Jonathan Kean, was brought up through RUF at Ole Miss, and the influence of RUF is really being seen internationally, and I hope increasingly so.
It's tremendous to be here this evening in First Pres meeting with you all, or y’all!... and I'm beginning to get it. I really do hope that you’ll be able to understand my accent, but more importantly, that God would speak to you. I don't matter. God does.
Let's open the word, please, in Isaiah, chapter six. Ligon and I...I don't know if we fought over this, we certainly discussed over who would preach from Isaiah 6. He was very keen to do it, and I was very keen to do it! It's a great passage, but the gracious man he is, he gave way to me to preach from our conference theme. Please open your Bible to Isaiah 6.
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphs, each with six wings; with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord Almighty. The whole earth is full of His glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts of the thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ‘Woe to me,” I cried, “for I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’
“Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth, and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ He said, ‘Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving; make the heart of this people callous, make their ears dull, and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’ Then I said, ‘For how long, O Lord?’ He answered, ‘Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted, and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste, but as a terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.’”
This is the inspired, inerrant, grace and word of God.
Let me tell you of two missionary calls, one of them quite old, one of them very old. The first one is the missionary call of the founder of the modern missionary movement. Without a doubt that was William Carey.
William Carey lived in a place called Milton in Northamptonshire, many miles away from where we're sitting here this evening. And when Carey heard God come to him in a very real way, he said this: “My attention to missions was first awakened after I was at Milton by reading The Last Voyage of Captain Cook.” Isn't it strange how some folk are called by the most amazing ways? To Carey, Cook's journey was a thrilling story of adventure, but as William Carey read that book, as he read of all the places that Captain Cook traveled, he was enthralled not by the spirit of human adventure, but he saw in all these countries many people who had given their lives to paganism. He saw the glory that was due to God being given to another, and he was jealous for the welfare of God. And the more he read and studied, the more he was convinced that he ought to go and tell the gospel to these people. He said this: “The peoples of the world need Christ.” He read, he took notes. His father was a leatherworker, a cobbler, and in his father's shop he made a leather globe. And he had that, and he looked at it each day to see where God was working, or God would work, all over the world. Carey heard the call. He said this: “If it be the duty of all men to believe the gospel, then it be the duty of those who are entrusted with the gospel to endeavor to make it known among all nations.” And Carey called out, “Here am I. Send me!” And there was a man who was led through that sense of zeal for the glory of God to spread the gospel.
Well, here we are this evening and it's 740 B.C., and another man receives a call from God with the gospel. Some argue that it wasn't his first call. He had prophesied before this. Some argue that it was just the time when in a new way God laid on him a great burden to take the gospel to the whole world.
Let me tell you about this man, Isaiah ben Amos. Isaiah was a privileged man. I suppose in many ways he was a preacher to the celebrities. He was a man who had access to the great and the good of the land. Kings would hear him, those who were nobility would readily listen to what he said. He didn't compromise, he didn't hold back. He wasn't like many of our contemporary political advisors, who told the people what they wanted to hear. His was not a therapeutic prophetic message. He came with a word from God.
And so tonight we're going to look at Isaiah's call, and we're going to see what God has to say. We’re not here this evening to listen to a preacher. We’re not here to be disinterested observers, but rather, we want God to be here. And this weekend, I know that more than anything else we don't want to hear man-centered success stories. We want to go bigger. We want to go wider. We want to go greater, and we want to hear God speak personally to every single one of us. So, let's look at Isaiah's call to the mission field, and he had a multi-faceted vision.
I. First of all, we notice that he had a vision of God.
That's what mission is about. Mission is about building kingdoms. No, it's not. Mission is about building the kingdom. It's not about our own little empires and our own little ministries.
What sort of vision, then, did Isaiah have of God? Well, first of all, he had a vision of the sovereignty of God, didn't he? If you have a Bible in front, look at verse 1: “In the year that King Uzziah died....” Someone has called this “Israel's 9-11” — a time in the history of Israel when there was a momentous change.
King Uzziah was largely a good king. During his reign the kingdom advanced in many ways. He was a man who reigned for 52 years. In his early days he had done right in God's eyes. Defeating the Philistines is always a good vote-winner, if you do that! He restored the morale and power of the army. Things were going incredibly well. It wasn't a perfect reign, but it was a strong reign, and now it had ended.
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” The end of an era: change in his life; change in the national life of the kingdom. And I don't know about you, but I think most of us are inherently conservative. We like things to be the same as they have always been. And that's one of the great features of the South, it's one of the things that maybe I like here about the South. There is a sense of continuity, the sense of things which are traditional, things have always been that way...and that's good, in a sense. But you know, sometimes change comes into our life and we don't like it. It's difficult for us to handle. And I suppose for Isaiah there was a crutch of political stability. There was a crutch of that which had been known to him and to them, and now it was taken away. There was change in his life.
I wonder is that the case here this evening with someone. Has something or someone that you depended on gone? Times have changed, things are different now. Your job has changed. You are no longer enjoying it, you are no longer getting the same satisfaction that you once did. The course of your life is altered. Maybe you have been disappointed in love, maybe you have been disappointed in some other way, and for you it is a disaster. But what has happened is that our comfort zones have been taken away and God is saying, “I am sovereign.”
Notice again in the first phrase here, we have a contrast of two sovereigns: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” One is earthly and limited; the other one is heavenly and unlimited. One is mortal — King Uzziah; one is immortal — the great God of the universe.
And so as Isaiah ponders the loss of a king, he sees another King. (You all sort of did away with kings a few years ago...you couldn't get a handle on them.) But we have this expression, “The king is dead; long live the king!” And look at the language there. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord...”– Adonai, the sovereign One. Indeed, more than that.
John 12:41 says something utterly spellbinding. Do you know who Isaiah saw in the temple in chapter 6? Yes, Adonai, the sovereign One, but John 12:41 said that he saw the glory of Christ Himself, in all His majesty and in all His beauty. He saw the compelling face, if you like, of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And again we see that expression in verse 5: “My eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Remember where we're going: Point No. 1, He had a vision of God. A. Subpoint No. 1, if you like, of that vision of God, we see the sovereignty of God.
This was the beginning of a new orientation. The bearings of his life had changed from being a political, now to being a spiritual...from being a man-centered bearing and orientation to being a God-centered bearing and orientation. His fixed point was now the sheer wisdom and glory of God.
I love the opening words of A.W. Pink's book, The Sovereignty of God. The opening words are these: “Who is regulating affairs in this earth today, God or the devil?” And you know, friends, I hear colleagues and Christians speaking as if they are sorry for God — ‘Poor God, He's having a hard time these days. We must give Him a hand. Things are looking very bleak. I wonder does He need our help.’ He is the sovereign One! He is majestic and holy. Spiritual vigor comes when we see God in all His glory, and spiritual vigor comes when we see the full character of God. It is only as men and women see God...and the more they know about God, the more they are compelled to speak of Him.
He also saw the majesty of God. Where is the majesty seen in this passage? Well, frankly, it's seen everywhere! The high and exalted throne, the seraphim that could not look at Him...
Let's look at the seraphim (or the seraphs, as the NIV said).
“Above Him were seraphs, each with six wings; with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.”
And I'm interested in them. I'm interested by what in today's parlance we would call their “body language.” What are they doing? They’re covering their faces, they’re covering their feet, and they’re flying. Let's don't go into the detail, but let's look at the big picture. I believe that what this is saying is they’re almost covering themselves and saying ‘It's not about us. We don't want some Scottish preacher a thousand-odd years later to talk about us and explain what our arms were doing.’ It's almost as if they’re saying ‘Look, we're just part of the background here. We’re part of the scenery.’ And they’re almost closing themselves off and saying ‘It's all about Him! All the attention, all the honor, all the praise must go to the throne.’
Now, again, we're not sure in what sense Isaiah saw God. Yes, perhaps he had the privilege of seeing the incarnate Lord in some sort of theophany. We’re not really sure of all the detail here.
I think we see here a key to the goal of Christian mission. Exodus 33:19 — “No one can see the face of God and live.” But we see here that, in a sense, Isaiah saw God. And we see a wonderful thing here. In the Old Testament, no one could see God and live — and yet, through what we do in missionary evangelism, the day will come when God's people will see Him, and we will see Him face to face! Because of what we see a hint of here with the coals from the altar, we shall see Him as He is, and we will have a greater privilege than that even of the angels, and that's something. He had a vision of God. He saw the sovereignty of God, “A”; “B”, he saw the majesty of God.
But then also he saw the holiness of God. Now the holiness of God is obvious in the passage. It's overt in the song, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty. It's almost as if Isaiah used every literary device available in the Hebrew language and he brought them all together. There is the antiphonal singing (verse 3) and they were calling to one another. Antiphonal singing — there was this echo, there was this tremendous divine liturgy keeping it going to give the exaltation to God. The holiness, the continuous nature of it, on and on, repetition of “Holy, Holy, Holy,” which expresses a superlative. His holiness is a superlative holiness, and the totality of it. He is utterly holy.
What does holy mean? There is the image of the brightness of God, the weight of God, the grandeur of God.
In our sanctuary in our church at home we have four big sodium lights at the apex of the ceiling. We never put them on because — I don't know...the architect overdosed one day — and they’re so powerful we cannot look at them! And we’d probably be sued by the people if we ever put the lights on! We can't look at them, they’re so bright.
We see here a picture of God in all His majesty.
Notice also, Carey had his leather globe; look at Isaiah's perspective: “The whole earth is full of His glory.”
There is nothing worse than parochialism. The people of God are never parochial. My dear friends of First Pres, do not ever be parochial. Have this vision of a God whose glory will fill the whole of the earth. And behind this call for evangelism is a desire that God would be seen, and God is seen here. Not through things that we can produce...the smoke did not come from dry ice, the images were not in PowerPoint™. What happens here is that God in all His majesty was seen.
In a recent survey of ex-church members they were asked, “Why did you stop going to church?” and most said that they found it a boring experience. They did not find worship a thrilling and moving experience. My dear friends, I hope that the worship of this place, the worship in Uganda, Malawi, that seedling worship in Yali, Tibet, the worship of God in Mexico, is not boring; as men and women join together there is a sense that God is there, not produced by artificial choreography, but produced by a sense of the wonder and the majesty and the awe of God.
What are we seeing here? He had a vision of God.
II. The second thing in his call was he had a sense of ruin.
Verse 4, “The doorposts and threshold shook.” You know, if the building shook, it didn't shake as much as Isaiah shook! Because when he saw who God was, he felt as a dead man.
Now the scholars argue that Uzziah was an example of the type of man that Isaiah was called to reach. And they kind of argue this: that Uzziah's death was a kind of prompt to Isaiah, and Isaiah felt, well, if a man like Uzziah died...as the darkness of death closed in on him, as Uzziah was separated from God (according to II Kings 15:15), some scholars say Uzziah was an example of a fallen man. It may or may not be true. I believe something even more powerful here: that Isaiah did not see the sinfulness of Uzziah, but Isaiah saw his own sinfulness. And when he saw that, a vision of the majesty of God and the vision of his own inherent depravity led to him evangelizing and going with the gospel.
Verse 5, he knew that he was a sinner: “Woe to me!” There's a special form of speech in the Bible known as an oracle, and that's what we have here. The prophets used them all the time: “Woe to me, for I am undone!” You see, as long as Isaiah could compare himself with other people, he was fine. He wasn't as bad as other folk were. But now he gets a view of God.
We had friends, visitors last week. We call them “the Burberry's.” I don't know if you have Burberry here in the United States — the fashion house, Burberry? Well, these two...this couple...visit us every year, and they always have the same effect on us, because they are so immaculately turned out that I always feel so untidy when I'm in their presence! Their shoes are polished, you can see their face...they've got a crease in their, what we would call trousers, that you could cut your finger on. They’re so smart! Sometimes you think you’re fine, and then the Burberry's come in and we feel all not so good!
But you know, for Isaiah, when he saw a vision of God in all His holiness, he realized he was unclean. Not only is he unclean, he says I've imbibed the spirit of the culture, and “I live among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King.”
You know, folks, it's not folk who've got a great sense of their own greatness who make missionaries. It's not folk that think that they’re God's gift to the un-evangelized world; it's men and women have been broken by God and see their own sinfulness before Him. God will only use crucified people to speak of a crucified Savior. This is no mega-prophet with a purpose-driven mission, but this is a man broken by God. He had a sense of God, he had a sense of ruin.
III. And, thirdly, he experienced a touch of atonement.
One of the emphases of this conference is going to be the centrality of the gospel. With the Singles Ministry on Saturday night, we're going to ask ourselves a question: Zeal for souls...is this past history or is this tomorrow's agenda? Here we have the key, don't we? Dominating this vision is the altar, the gospel. The altar was the place where heaven met earth, the place where God's wrath met God's mercy, a place where a holy God met a sinful people and was satisfied by a blood sacrifice. And here we see all the things of atonement, propitiation, satisfaction, brought together, and the forgiveness and cleansing:
“Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’”
Sunday evening before I left I was reading of the infamous ‘Lord's Army’ in Uganda, these young children who are captured, and in the most appalling circumstances are led into, forced into a life of utter depravity. What do these kids want more than anything else? They want to be clean. What about the kids at our university campuses throughout the United States, in their fraternity and sorority houses getting stoned with the effects of alcohol and drugs? You ask them in a moment of God-inspired sobriety, “What do you want?” “I want to be clean.” We need our sins atoned for.
You ask people in Tibet or Mexico who are being anesthetized by religion, “Does it bring satisfaction to your souls? Is there assurance in this idolatry?” “No.” But Isaiah knew it. These must have been the most beautiful words he had ever heard in his entire life: “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
There is a contemporary worship hymn we sing in the United Kingdom. Not all are good, but occasionally one reads lyrics which are good: “We worship at Your feet, where wrath and mercy meet.” The experience of ...touched you, atonement.
IV. Fourthly, and perhaps just as important as all the others, he responded to a call to go.
What did he see? He had been in the court of the King of Kings. He himself had experienced full salvation. All his guilt had been taken away. And that's what's happened to many of us - I hope to God all of us here. But is that going to be a private experience for you? Are you going to selfishly say that you will take all the good things that God has given and that you will take it to yourself, and you will not tell others in a clear Trinitarian allusion, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
I'm at an advantage here. I know hardly any of you, and so I may offend you. Do I care? No!! There may be some folk here who are peripheral, nominal, people in this church. There may be some folk whose religion is just part of their social thing...it's what they do. Maybe as we are exposed to God's word we realize there's more to it than this. Yes, we may not be the best member of First Pres...we may not be. In fact, in our quiet moments maybe we lament our lack of spirituality. But tonight God's beginning to speak to us, and as we hear all this stuff about the majesty of God there is something within us which warms to that. That's a sign that you are a believer. An unregenerate person does not warm to the majesty of God. They don't have that experience.
Sinclair Ferguson tells a story — I cite Sinclair because the story's a little bit dodgy, and I want him to get the blame, not me. He speaks of after the ascension, the Lord goes into glory and one of the angels says to the Lord, “What's Your strategy for bringing the gospel to the world?” (Now, the angel may have spent significant time in America when he asked that question!) What's Your strategy for bringing the gospel to the world? And the Lord looks down at these eleven disciples, and said, “That's it.” And the angel looks at them and says, “What's Your second strategy?” And the Lord says, “I have no second strategy.” It's a wonderful insight.
Who are you tonight? Just an ordinary believer. Isaiah was called to a tough ministry. He was called to a ministry because sometimes ministry hardens folks’ hearts as well as softens folks’ hearts. Sometimes it's tough, and in an American culture which is driven by results and success, you've got to submit yourself to the word of God and say ‘It's tough out there.’ The Philadelphia Conference for Reformed Theology will not pull in a great crowd next year, even with Ligon and Derek preaching at it. It's not like that in some of the countries of the world. These folk will not come with great success stories. But God says tell them. Yes, it will harden some hearts, it will soften others.
But look at the last verse: “But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.” The holy seed, of course, speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ. The holy seed also, I think, alluding to the church of God. That's sombering, isn't it?
I love the concept of the remnant in the Old Testament. It is not the defeated two or three meeting in a telephone kiosk, no! There is a small group of people God is going to turn into a great nation, as He said to Abraham. Foreign mission begins...well, it begins in the protoevangelium, but it also is alluded to in the covenant with Abraham: “I will make you a blessing among all the nations of the world.”
There is a scene in The Jungle Book where Mowgli is disillusioned and depressed. And there are, remember, in the tree, the vultures , but you remember, as these vultures look at the boy who is all alone, remember what they say? “What we gonna do then, eh? What we gonna do?”
The world needs Christ. You know about Christ. Every dollar in this church is spent in mission. Every dollar. From turning on the lights in the morning to funding missionaries. Every person in this congregation is either a mission field or a missionary. Are you going to go? God uses dysfunctional, broken, bizarre, weird, loopy people. That's His strategy.
Gracious God, we thank You for all Your goodness and graciousness shown towards us. We pray that even now that You would speak to us. Whether it's taking the gospel to the friend that we're having coffee with tomorrow at Starbucks or whether it's a growing dawning that we have been called to take the gospel where perhaps it's never been taken before, Father, we ask that You would shake us from our complacency and nominalism, and that we would follow You. Give us the grace to say, “Here am I. Send me.” Show us Jesus, show us Christ, show us the holy seed. Bless us now. And the people of God said...amen.
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