Summary: As Christians, God has called us to live different lives, to follow different paths, and part of that means boldly and faithfully speaking out against the wrongs of this world.
There are certain events in life where time seems to stand still. They often leave a particular image ingrained in our minds for all time. These are moments that divide time: what was before is changed and is no more. On the national level, Americans experience September 11, 2001, like that. As we watched images flash across the screen in the hours and days that followed the attack, we knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that things might never be the same again. And we were right on many levels; so much of today’s news connects back, either directly or indirectly, to the events of that one day. We live differently, we travel differently, we view the world differently. And it doesn’t happen only on a national or international level; sometimes there are such events in our personal lives. A change occurs and we know things will never be the same; something happens and our lives are set on a different course.
Isaiah had one of those moments. It defined the rest of his life. It was almost as if he was born anew on that day in the temple when he saw God in such immensity that just the hem, merely the edge, of God’s garment filled the entire temple. To imagine just the hem filling the entire temple, it leaves us wondering how much more there must have been. As we read this story of Isaiah’s encounter with God in the temple, there can be no question of God’s greatness; so vast we cannot even begin to picture it.
But God wasn’t there in the temple that day just so Isaiah and others could marvel at his immensity. That awesome presence defined consecration and dedication, and it was the moment of call; one of those events that changes your life forever. Not only did Isaiah witness the glory of God and feel engulfed in the song of holiness praising God from that mysterious swirl of bird-like creatures called seraphim, but his lips were touched with a burning coal. Indeed, it was a life-changing moment. He could no longer simply talk about the weather or the latest gossip on the streets. This wasn’t just a jaunt into the realm of the holy; there are lasting consequences to this call. The whole action inside the temple for Isaiah is decisive and life-changing.
I think it’s easy for us to sit here today and wonder if Isaiah’s encounter with God was really as significant as the Bible would have us think. I mean, we’ve encountered God, right? God has changed our lives in some way or another, otherwise we wouldn’t be here today. So, we think, we’ve all been there, what’s the big deal? Well, it is a big deal, it was hugely significant for Isaiah, and so it should be for us as well. So let’s start with Isaiah. In order to understand why this was such a life-changing encounter for him, I think we need to understand what was going on around him at the time. It happened “in the year that King Uzziah died.” King Uzziah was a real king of Judah, and he died 742 years before the birth of Christ. He had reigned for 52 years when he died, and under his leadership, the nation of Judah experienced a time of great prosperity; the greatest since the time of King Solomon. History tells us that, in the beginning of his reign, Uzziah was a faithful man. Under the influence of the prophet Zechariah, Uzziah was faithful and “did what was right in the sight of God.” But as his kingdom prospered, so did his pride. And as that old saying goes, “Pride comes before the fall.” Uzziah began to act outside of God’s will, and so God caused a great earthquake, and then he struck Uzziah with leprosy.
Like their king, the Israelites had fallen into prideful ways. “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,” Isaiah said. I think it’s fair to say these people who claimed to follow God were living pretty far off the mark. And they probably didn’t even really realize it. So we’re God’s chosen people, we’ve been God’s chosen people for generations, what’s the big deal? They had forgotten who they were. They had forgotten what that meant. They had lost sight of God’s power for their lives. So now, God steps into this particular moment in history. God happens in space and time, in the corridors of power, in the impact of governments. God inserts his word into real life. And though God is inexpressibly huge, with the mere hem of his garment filling the temple, the beginning of God’s revelation is humble conversation. God does not simply thunder from above, but God asks, invites, listens, urges, waits, pushes a bit harder.