Summary: God calls and commissions ordinary people into service
It was a church service of one. Isaiah the prophet was the only person in attendance – a preacher in Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel, who lived about the time that Homer was composing the Odyssey and Iliad in Greece.
Isaiah was in the Temple that day, the Dwelling Place of God, the palace that King Solomon had built about 300 years earlier to offer animal sacrifices, house the priests and hold national prayer meetings.
Isaiah had been your typical, garden-variety preacher, but he was about to receive a deeper calling – a call to prophesy, a charge to utter divine judgments, a mission to speak the very word of the Lord.
The preacher of Judah saw a vision, a picture of God that curled his beard and knocked his sandals off. It was a bone-shaking, heart-melting, soul-searching encounter with the Holy One of Israel. The ceiling of the temple faded away to reveal God installed on his heavenly throne, the hem of his royal robes dropping down to fill the sanctuary with burning glory.
Perhaps you have had this kind of encounter, a time when you saw God with the eyes of your heart.
†Maybe it was on a retreat, a revival or at a summer camp.
†Perhaps you met God under a tree, in the mountains or on the ocean’s shore.
†Or maybe it was right here in this sanctuary. A hymn was sung, a prayer said, a sermon preached, an encouraging word offered – and you met the Living God.
Wherever it was, whatever the circumstances, you’ve never forgotten that sacred moment. God spoke to you. A personal word. It was a church service of one – and God was the preacher.
Isaiah’s encounter did not start out as a warm and fuzzy experience. Suddenly, in the presence of the One who has no sin, he became keenly aware of his own sin, and the sin of his people. His spiritual clothes looked like grimy rags compared to the blinding holiness of God’s train. He was a pauper in the company of a king.
Isaiah cried out in fear and woe, a cry echoed by Peter the fisherman when he realized he stood next to the sinless Son of God: “Depart from me, Lord! I am a sinful man!”
As a Jew, Isaiah knew he couldn’t look at God directly. Anyone who did would be fricasseed. Flesh could not stand before Spirit. That’s why Moses was only allowed to look at “God’s backside” when he asked to see the divine glory.
Isaiah was certain he was dead meat. But in this church service of one, God was meeting him to impart a new life.
A messenger of heaven, a six-winged angel, touched Isaiah’s lips with a live coal. Unclean lips which lie, gossip and curse, a symbol of sin. The coal stood for divine purification. Isaiah was now clean, purged, forgiven. Only the Holy One could do that. Only God had the judicial authority to declare a sinner “Not Guilty.” He not only forgave Isaiah’s sin; he took it away.
Isaiah was now ready to receive his commission, positioned to accept his duty from the Deity. God was making him holy for a purpose—to be his prophet, a spokesman of the Word.
To be holy is not to be holier than thou. It’s not practicing weird austerity, like wearing coyote skins and eating acorns in the woods. And it doesn’t mean to be a super-saint.
It literally means to be set apart, dedicated, consecrated, committed, or devoted. When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards. Every blue moon, I’d get a really cool card like a Mickey Mantle or Sandy Koufax. Did I clip those cards on my bicycle spokes like the others? Heck, no! I put them in a special place—my back pocket. If I had known what they would have been worth today, I would have put them in a safety deposit box.
When we say YES to God, he slips us into his back pocket for a distinctive purpose. We are reserved for holy work, set aside for sacred use, commissioned to spread the aroma of God’s love in a world reeking of sin, death and despair. Think about the things in the Bible that are “holy,” set apart for God:
†A tithe is 10% of your income, set apart for God’s work.
†Prayer is time set apart to converse with Jesus.
†The Sabbath is one day in the week set apart to rest and worship.
†Holy matrimony is a man and woman setting themselves apart for each other in a covenant of marriage.
Now Isaiah didn’t set a something aside for God; he set a someone apart for God—himself. “Here I am!” he said. “I” is an inclusive word, isn’t it? “I” means my body, soul and mind; it includes my thoughts, attitudes and choices; it incorporates my time and my things; it takes in my skills, talents and abilities. “Here I am! Have all of me, Lord. I set apart “me” for “You.”