The willingness of the prophet to deliver the message from the Lord is a fine example.
In the whole of scripture are there any better words than these to set the standard for an appropriate response to the call of the Lord?
Many an exhortation has been given focusing on the willingness of the faithful prophet voluntarily to take on the Lord’s work. Isaiah does not pause to look around him with the idea that someone else might be available to take on the task. He makes no assessment of respective skills and qualifications, either of himself or of others, to determine whether he is up to the work, or whether someone else might be better suited. There is no request to be excused because of tiredness or because he is too busy or for some other reason. There is no time taken to reflect on what might be gained from taking on the work – a far cry from today’s attitude, ‘what’s in it for me?’ All that comes from the prophet is a simple, unequivocal, affirmative reply.
The words of Isaiah 6:8 are well known and often used to encourage one another when voluntary work is to be done. What better example could there be than this of a willing helper?
“I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.”
This impressive example, which can shame those who consider their own response to the Lord’s calling, is worth considering in the full context of the chapter.
It is the Lord Jesus himself who comments on Isaiah’s vision of the throne of glory in the temple. As Jesus’ public ministry comes to a close, John explains that Isaiah’s temple vision was of the millennial throne, on which the Lord Jesus sits in glory as king and priest:
“These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.” (John 12:41)
This beloved Son, who came in order that men might behold the glory of the Father (John 1:14), had a rather sorry assessment of how men had received him. Although he had done all things good and brought enlightenment to a people in darkness, those in authority preferred not to listen,
“for they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God” (12:43, RV).
This kingdom vision is clear and powerful, and at least in the eyes of Isaiah, is sufficient for him to become a changed person. It is true that a clear view of what lies ahead puts everything into perspective. Passing mortal days which are few in number and “full of trouble”, are nothing when compared to future glory. Today’s difficulties are better endured when viewed against the promise of tomorrow.
There is a stark contrast between God’s glory and man’s, and once this is recognized it can bring a state of despair.
It’s the sort of feeling Peter experienced when he realised he was in the company of a remarkable man –
“Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).
Or how Job felt when he realised he had been arguing with one whose knowledge was too wonderful for him:
“Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6)
It is a natural feeling of worthlessness and inadequacy, and Isaiah realised it, declaring:
“Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
Perhaps we get a sense of this when reading the scriptures. Compared with so many faithful, courageous, dedicated and selfless men and women we soon feel second-best. The loveliness of the Son of God himself is without compare and we are filled with low esteem, and sometimes despondency, rather like that of the Apostle Paul who declared:
“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24)
The beauty of this, however, is that the Lord knew the state of Isaiah, and He knows our position – weak, erring, sinful. He also knows that it is not within our power to make a lasting change for ourselves, so He provides the solution. In the case of Isaiah it was to send an angel to take a cleansing coal from the altar and touch his lips so that they were no longer unclean.
“Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” (Isaiah 6:7)
These are some of the most uplifting words written – our merciful Father has seen us for what we are, with all our weaknesses and failings, and through His grace provides the cleansing from sins. Unclean no longer! The nature of Isaiah’s cleansing was rather unusual, but so is ours, for it involves the death and resurrection of a perfect man and a ritual washing to associate ourselves with him.
If God has done so much to make us clean, it would not be unreasonable for Him to expect some form of repayment in return. Having allowed His Son to be offered in sacrifice God could demand that we make reimbursement of some sort. But this is not a commercial transaction, a contract of obligations and duties. This is a covenant of grace and He has provided freely for us.
But that is not to say there is nothing to be done on our part – there is plenty to do for the Lord who has done so much for us.
Isaiah 6 portrays the Lord considering who might be sent to complete a task – a messenger is needed. Whilst the Lord is contemplating,
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
the prophet is ready with his answer:
This willing response epitomises how all faithful disciples should answer the call. There is work to be done, there is a Gospel message to preach, and messengers are needed. Having seen the vision of glory and appreciated what has been done to make him clean, Isaiah can only respond positively – “Me!”, ‘I’ll go’. There is no hesitation or need of persuasion. This is not a ‘burning bush’ moment, a time for doubts or objections or argument.
As far as Isaiah is concerned this is the time to act, and it will be for him to do it. Let others do as they will – the Lord needs something doing and Isaiah is full of desire to help.
In taking on the work Isaiah allows himself just one question of the Lord – “How long?” (verse 11). He is willing to take the message, but wonders how long he needs to keep delivering it. This kind of question arises sometimes in our preaching:
‘We’ve done all this before and no one is listening – perhaps it’s time to stop’.
The answer the prophet receives is emphatic.
‘You will go, and go again, and then go some more, until there is not a soul left to listen’ (see verse 11).
And that is how we should be. The vision of the kingdom will soon be a vision no more but a reality, with Christ sitting on the throne of his father David. We need to witness tirelessly, especially in these days of uncertainty and worry for those around us.
The present time of ‘lockdown’ and restricted movement might be just the right time to prepare ourselves for more energtic witness, should we be given the opportunity. Let the example of Isaiah the prophet be our lead.
Andrew Bramhill – The Christadelphian Issue number 1871 – May 2020