"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
Very rarely do I ever go to the grocery store. I thank God for giving me a godly woman who can handles such daunting tasks. I frequently say that it is not good for man to be alone. And this is one reason why I say that. God knew what he was doing when he created Eve. He knew that there was a great deficiency in man that would not be able to perform such insurmountable undertaking. I wouldn’t even doubt it that God might have sent Adam to the grocery store and, when he got back God said, “This isn’t going to work.”
However, sometimes I have to venture out to the grocery store to pick up a few things. And I have to say that I don’t like doing it. It requires skills that I just don’t possess. It takes a gift or a trained eye that I do not possess.
For instance, when I come to the produce section, I see before me all the heads of lettuce or a barrel of apples. And they all look the same to me. So what I have to do is pick some up and look at them individually to see if I can find a good one. But still, unless there are super obvious defects, they all look the same to me.
I don’t think that I will ever buy a cantaloupe or a pineapple on my own. Because no matter how closely I look at one of these things they all look the same. My mother told me that when you buy a cantaloupe, you have to smell it to see if it smells right. So I picked it up and gave it a whiff. I couldn’t smell anything!
The same is true for a pineapple. My wife will come home with a pineapple. And when my mother comes over she will say, “Wow. That’s a great pineapple! Where did you get it?” Now, how does she know that it is a great pineapple? I’m not sure what in the world distinguishes it from a bad one. But my wife and my mother both know. They have an eye for these things. They know the indicators. They can detect subtle differences that distinguish a good pineapple from a not so good pineapple.
You know, when you look out at the masses of humanity, it can be much the same. When you look out at a crowd of people, they will all look very much the same. And this is why Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes. In the Beattitudes Jesus talks about the person who is blessed of the Lord. In other words, he is talking about a Christian!
So what Jesus does for us in these beatitudes is define for us what a Christian is. He gives us the defining traits (or some distinguishing features) that characterize a Christian. So when we come upon someone in the street we can determine with a good deal of accuracy who is of Christ and who is not. Even though we cannot see their heart, if they possess these traits then we can assume that this person has a personal relationship with Christ.
But what is more important is that we can come to see whether we are a Christian or not. You know, one of the biggest problems today is self-deception. We have a lot of people who think that they are Christians, when in fact that they are not. They have this notion of what a Christian is, but unfortunately it is a false notion. It is not a Biblical notion. So, even though they would say that they are a Christian and they may go to church and do all sorts of wonderful things, they have no clue what it really means to be a Christian.
That’s why it is important that we listen to what Jesus says in these Beattitudes. If for no other reason, we should do this study so that you can understand what it means to be a Christian. It is ultimately so that you can rest assured that you are in Christ, or you can come to realize that you are not a Christian and correct that.
This morning we are going to focus our attention on the second of these beatitudes. Last time we were together we said that a blessed person is one who is poor in spirit. That is to say, a Christian will recognize that he is spiritually bankrupt. He has no righteousness of his own to offer God and deserves not one of the least of his benefits.
This morning’s beatitude tells us that a blessed person (or a person who is a Christian) is one who mourns.
I. Who are blessed?
Now if you are listening to me, your faces should wrinkle up a little. This shouldn’t sound right. A blessed person is a mournful person? This is even more perplexing when you think about the real meaning of the word blessed. It means “happy.” Happy are those who are sad. But there’s more. The word for mourn is a unique word in the original language. In the Greek language there are a lot of different words to denote the emotion of sadness. There is a word that means gloomy—sort of a down spirit. Then there is another word that means really sad. It sort of ups the intensity to the feeling of strong grief. But the word translated mourn here ups the intensity even more. The idea is passionate lamenting. Or you might say, to bewail. What we are talking about is an uncontrollable expression of intense anguish.
Let me give you an example that you will be somewhat familiar with. Let’s say you are out there on the deck pounding in some nails. You are pounding along nice and well and all is hunky dory until you miss. You land that hammer right on top of your thumb. You all know what happens next. You can’t stop it. It just comes flying out of you. Your mouth opens and out comes the bellowing wail of pain. After the initial shout due to the pain, you continue to pour out these shrieks that make your neighbor’s alarmed. Those shouts are due more to some of the emotions you are not experiencing. It is a mixture of anger (at the hammer, of course) and sadness (Why did I do that?).
That’s what we are talking about. That emotion. That strong, geyser-like grief that is expressed.
You know in Jesus’ time everyone would have understood what he meant when he said this. Back in Jesus’ day they had professional wailers. These were people who would be hired for funerals. Say if a person died, they would call in these wailers and they would sit outside, weeping and wailing for the dead person. That’s all they did. They didn’t cater the meal or have anything else to do with the funeral. They just wailed. And the more wailers a person had at their funeral indicated something of the greater prestige of the person. But these were typically women who simply cried and moaned and howled and hollered for hours, if not days, on end.
And that’s the kind of person that Jesus says is blessed. Someone who expresses that kind of emotion is one who is a Christian.
Of course, it is important to keep this in its context. Because then we know what these people are weeping and wailing over. It would be silly to think that it is just sad people that are blessed. No. They are sad for a particular reason. But what is the cause of their wailing? What exactly are they bewailing?
The context reminds us that this has to do with one’s sin. Remember that this follows on the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That is, those who admit that they are spiritually bankrupt.
So Jesus tells us here that the blessed person will not only recognize his sinfulness, but he will be severely cut up over the sins that he commits.
Now, are you starting to see the difference there is between a Christian and a person of the world? Most people in the world could care less about their sins. Sure, sometimes people regret that they did this or that. Or maybe they are a little saddened that they hurt someone or upset them. But rarely are they so grieved that they could be said to mourn (or bewail) their sin. Most of the time people don’t take their sins all that seriously. Most people will down play it or laugh it off. That is of course if they even acknowledge it at all.
But a Christian is one whose heart breaks over these things. He is torn apart by even the least of his sins when he really thinks about them.
You know why? Because he recognizes something of the nature of sin. He understands how evil sin. It is a sin against God. It is a sin against an infinitely holy God. And so his sin is infinitely evil. And this sin causes him to be separated from God.
Why is there such grief at funerals? Why is it that people weep and cry out when a friend or family member passes away? It is because they have lost their loved one. There is separation. They don’t get to be with the person who meant so much to them anymore.
And this is why a Christian feels the way he feels about his sin. He is grieved by it because it what separates him from God.
Now you might say, “Come now. This is preposterous! Christians are not supposed to be so morbid.” We live in a happy slappy culture. And a lot of people say that Christians are never supposed to be down like this. I know that some would consider this outlandish that I am saying this.
But its true. And if you think about Jesus you’ll know that I’m right. It is interesting that we don’t hear anything in the Bible about Jesus laughing or being even in the least way jovial. This isn’t to say that he wasn’t. But it is interesting that the Bible mention it or give any indications of it.
However, it does say that he was a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. We do know that when Jesus went to raise Lazarus from the dead he was filled with sorrow to the point that he wept. We don’t know exactly the cause of his weeping. Some say it was because Lazarus had died. Some say it was because he knew that Lazarus was in heaven and had to come back to life. Some say he was sympathizing with the people all around who were so sad. Other say it was because he himself would one day have to die! Whatever the reason, these were not tears of happiness. They were tears that had to do with the existence and/or consequences of sin.
And there was one time when Jesus looked out on the crowds and it says that he “had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Literally translated it says “His bowls hurt.” It was a way of expressing excessive emotional turmoil. We might say in our day, “It was gut wrenching.” Why was he so sad? Because these people were not being cared for. The spiritual leaders were neglecting their jobs. He was grieving the existence and consequences of sin in the world.
So when we look at the overall tenor of Jesus’ life, we see that he was a mourner. Of course, ti wasn’t his sin. He didn’t have any sin to mourn. But he was a mourner of sin. He was one who agonized over people’s sin.
And here we learn that those who are Christians will be like the Christ. And I can ask you: Is this a characteristic of your life? Do you find yourself broken over your sin? Are there times when you just fall before God lamenting the fact that you have sinned? Maybe it is the silent weeping because you did it again. You fell into that same temptation again.
If you haven’t, then you need to realize that you are not a Christian. If you do not really saddened by your way of life, then you should not expect that you will go to heaven. Because heaven is for people who are repentant. And part of what it means to repent is that you are truly sorry for your sin.
But if your sin does grieve you and you find that there are times where your heart is just broken before God, then you may rest assured that you are a Christian. You are blessed of God.
And you are going to look at me and say, “I’m blessed!?” What do you mean, “I’m blessed”? I’m carrying around all these tears and you say that I’m blessed!? How in the world can you say that I’m blessed?
Well, it is because Jesus says you are blessed! You might not feel very blessed. But you are. And Jesus tells us why.
II. Why are they blessed?
And he says you are blessed because “you will be comforted.”
These words remind us that though the grief we experience may be intense, we can be happy because it is temporary. It will not last.
So you see here that there is a tempering of the mourning. I’ve painted a rather dismal picture so far. I’ve said that the Christian is a mourner. He is someone who will weep over his sin and sometimes lament it with great passion. But we must remember this: A Christian is not someone who despairs over his sin. God does not that happen. Once the Lord brings you low, he stretches forth his hand to sooth your sorrowing soul with the gospel of Christ.
As a matter of fact, he brings you low in order to bring you to this solace. The Holy Spirit will never leave someone in the dungeon of sorrow. This is why the Bible says, “Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” It is because the Spirit is operative in a Christian’s life. Think about it, the Spirit is the one who brings you face to face with your sin. He is the one who initiates the conviction and rouses the grief you feel. But he only does this so that he can bring you to Jesus—the one who is the remedy for sin. That’s his job!
On his last night with his disciples Jesus said that He was going to send them the Comforter. Some versions translate it “helper,” but it’s the same word here in Matthew 5. He was talking about the Holy Spirit. The holy Spirit’s job is to bring peace to the troubled souls.
Jesus went on (in John 16) to say that the Spirit has one job. It’s to glorify Christ. That is to say the Spirit will comfort his people by pointing their attention to the saving work of Christ. He reminds you that Christ has made full satisfaction for sin in his cross and resurrection.
One theologian has said that for every one look you take at yourself, you must take 1,000 looks to Christ. That’s summed up well in what Jesus says here. That’s exactly what the Spirit does in the mourner’s life. He brings the consolation of the gospel and reminds that pour soul that Christ has become the Savior.
Of course, this is only part of the comfort Christ promises. If this were it, we would still be sullen. For this would be an endless cycle. You sin, you mourn, you’re comforted. You sin, you mourn, you’re comforted.
If you are a Christian, you know that this mourning thing is not just a one time thing. It is characteristic of your whole life. There is always an ebb and flow to your mourning for sin. That’s why ultimately Christ is pointing us to the greater hope that we have—the ultimate hope: the consummation of our redemption.
Remember that with the first beatitude Jesus said, “Yours is the kingdom.” I think that in this second beatitude he reinforces that idea. The kingdom that is yours will one day be a perfect kingdom. Christ will come again, and he will establish his kingdom in its fullness. No longer will it be just a spiritual kingdom, but it will be fully realized. And we will have no reason to mourn anymore, because there will be no sin to mourn.
Jesus affirms here what we read in the book of Revelation. In Revelation 21 the apostle John talks about the new heavens and the new earth. And as he sees it coming down from heaven he says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."
This is the comfort that we have now. This is why mourners are called blessed. We have the promise that one day all shall be made completely new. We will not suffer because the plight of sin will be removed.
No other people have this kind of happiness. They may enjoy this life now. They may be very “comfortable” because they do not make much of their sin and all seems jolly with them. But there will come a time when they do grieve. They will find themselves lamenting their sin continually. That’s because they will find themselves thrown into hell. And there they will find themselves weeping and gnashing their teeth. Then they will wail and bemoan their foolishness. and there shall be no comfort for them.
But for those of us who mourn, there is blessing. There is comfort. There is the comfort that one day we our comfort shall be complete. As Martyn Llyod-Jones has said, “In that eternal state we will be wholly and entirely blessed, because there will be nothing to mar life. Nothing to detract from it. Nothing to spoil it. Sorrow and signing shall be no more.”
Now I hope that this meditation provides you with the kind of discernment that is needed. I hope that now you can look into your soul and discern whether or not you are in Christ or not.
I know that there are some among us who do mourn their sin. You might not see tears streaming down their faces, but their hearts know what it is to grieve their sin. Those of you who have heard this message and have thought: Yes, you know exactly what I feel like. I want you to know that you are blessed. You will be comforted. You’ve been comforted with the gospel already. But one day, you will be free from your miseries. You will be free from your sin.
But if you are here today and you recognize that you have not mourned your sin—you’ve been rather flippant about your sin, then you must recognize that this eternal comfort is not yours. And the comforts that you now enjoy will one day be taken away from you. I do pray that you are becoming more sober about your way of life. I hope that this message has pricked your conscience and shown you that you are not one of Christ’s people.
And if your conscience is stirred, then go to Christ. Renounce the sin that you have enjoyed. Mourn the sin that you have cared nothing for to this point. If the Spirit is speaking to you now, then listen to him. God to Jesus and rest in him as your Savior. Let the redemption that he has purchased with his blood be your only comfort in life and in death.
I have not been to many funerals, but I have seen enough that I have caught some differences between them. I conducted one funeral where a relative of the deceased cried uncontrollably. It was hard to give the message because the person could not control his sobbing. All through the message he would let out grunts and moans because he was so upset. The death of this loved one had caused him such grief that he could not stifle the pain that gripped his heart.
Beholding his pain I felt sorry for him. I knew that no amount of Kleenex could be of benefit to him. His sorrow was deep, but there was no consolation.
To and extent we must replicate that grief. We must experience a deep rooted agony because of our sin. Its offense must grieve us to no end. But unlike that man, our tears of grief should lead us to tears of happiness. For we do not pick up tissue after tissue with only thoughts of despair, but we have consolation of the gospel. Jesus Christ has died, all who trust him as Savior are forgiven.
In his book, “The Holiness of God” RC Sproul has a chapter entitled, “The Insanity of Luther.” While the whole book is worth the pittance you would pay for it, this chapter in particular is of great intrigue. If he were alive today, Martin Luther would not have been tucked away in a German monastery. He would have been committed to an asylum for the insane. People would have him sedated with all kinds of drugs in order to stabilize an apparent chemical imbalance in his head.
As a young man Luther was a crazed individual. He obsessed over minute details of religion, sometimes spending up to 6 hours in the confessional with his preist. Many would call him demented because of the way he fasted for days on end and physically whipped himself. It is no doubt that he was a troubled individual. But his turmoil was not because of some mental trauma or some psychological Freudian disturbance. It was induced by his knowledge of God.
Luther understood God rightly. This is why he did what he did. This is why he once was reported to have said, “Love God? Sometimes I hate Him.” You may also know of the time when he went to serve his first communion. All night before he spent in great agony. And when the day came, he was ghastly white with terror. Then when he took up the elements to concecrate them, he shook so violently that he actually spilled the contents of the cup—which, to those who believed that the elements actually became the body and blood of Christ, was woeful thing.
But why? Why was he so distraught? What would ever leave a man so paralyze with fear? For sure, it was not a traumatic childhood or an abusive father who would haunt his conscience. Neither was it simply some religious fanaticism. It was one thing, and one thing only. It was his knowledge that God was holy.
Luther’s insanity was a direct result of his having fixed his attention on the holiness of God. To be sure, there is a danger in reading the Scriptures. For when you read them, you come to realize that God is not one with whom you may have any old contact. His nature demands respect. And as we have seen in times past, it may even demand death.
Scripture makes it clear that God is holy. And the passage before us this morning is one such example. In this passage, it is as if we entered upon Ground Zero. We’ve been traveling through these first 6 chapters. And as we have done so, we have been approaching the epicenter of all the fallout that we have witnessed so far.
And in this passage we see the brilliance of the atomic reaction that has caused all the preceding carnage. God here is revealed in his state. Though no eye can behold it, we are made to gaze upon the true character of his being. And so we are taught one awesome lesson: God is holy.
And my friends, it is my hope that you will come to understand why Luther’s insanity. It is my hope that by studying this passage, you will come to regard God in a much more solemn and awe-filled way.
I’ve said before, there are some passages that I simply wish I did not want to preach. Not because they are hard, but because I don’t think that I could do them justice. This is one such passage. For I believe that I will only defile that which is well beyond all purity.
But this message must be preached, because the message is of the utmost importance. All must know, even as Isaiah came to know, that God is holy.
In the first three verses we see this awesome confrontation Isaiah has with this thrice holy God.
I. Confronted with it [1-3]
The curtain is pulled back and Isaiah is allowed to see right into the very inner chamber of God’s dwelling place. And what he finds there is so extraordinary that even angels cannot even begin to behold it. They must cover themselves in humility. Perhaps even sheilding themselves from the immensity of his infinite holiness. Even though they are perfect and spiritual creatures, the nature of God is simply too much for even for them to behold. This is why they cry out three times “holy holy holy.”
Remember that the holiness of God is used to denote both God’s absolute moral perfection and his complete transcendence. That is, his separateness from all other creatures. Nothing can even begin to come close to being identified with him, let alone replicate him in any small way.
In theology, we talk about the communicable and the incommunicable attributes of God. The communicable attributes are said to be those attributes that we share with God. For instance, we say that God is merciful. And we know that we as humans can be merciful. However, while we might possess a degree of mercy, God’s mercy infinitely transcends ours. It is like a drop in the sea by comparison because God is holy or distinctly other. And because he is holy he infinitely surpasses any amount of mercy that we might show.
And it is this radical, substantial difference in the nature of God that reminds us that God is not one who should be dealt with lightly.
You should notice that this confrontation with the holiness of God is not placed here in the 6th chapter for no reason. It is here because it helps us to make sense of all that has gone before and all that will come after.
I’ve mentioned a number of times that these opening chapters are simply an extended introduction to the book of Isaiah. These words are the climax of that introduction. They are the theme verses that will continue to resonate throughout the book.
Remember where we left off last time. All through this series we have heard about a God who is angry. We’ve talked about a God who judges. And last week we ended with a horrific scene. Bodies were left strewn throughout the streets of Judea. Corpses were flung here and there without proper burial. To hear how God tore through their midst makes you think that what he did in Egypt on the night of the Passover was child’s play.
And here we find out why God was so incensed. God is Holy! And he cannot tolerate the least ounce of evil. He must lash out against it because conflicts with his superlative nature. And throughout this book, as God contends with his people, you will hear God referred to as “the holy one of Israel.” It is simply a signal that God demands our respect. He deserves all reverence and honor because he is the Holy One.
We all know that CRF will soon come to a close. But if I might summarize what I have sought to do in these 6 years, it would be this: I have sought to put the holiness of God before you every time we have gathered together. It has been my repeated prayer that the moment we descend into worship each week, you would be confronted with the awesome purity and transcendent majesty of our God. In all my prayers and in all my preaching I have attempted to impart something of Isaiah’s vision. I have wanted you to behold his incredible holiness. I’ve wanted you to stand in awe of his glory, I have done my best to help you experience the one you must revere.
You can testify that I have not begged for your money. Neither have I asked for greater contributions to support this ministry. Because I know that such things are meaningless. Even if I cared for your money, I know that you would never part with a dime if you had not a view of God that makes the walls of the temple shudder or the columns of Rome’s palace’s crumble.
And even now, it is my hope that you are coming to grasp—even if it might be, just the coattails of our God’s resplendent greatness. It is my hope that you would be overcome by his spotless purity. At the very least it is my hope that the gravity of his overwhelming nature would begin to permeate your every understanding of his being. For this must be the God that you worship. This must be the God you encounter. Otherwise you worship him in vain. Ultimately, I believe that if this is not the God you encounter here, then you do not worship him at all.
If there is one thing that Isaiah wishes to communicate to us, it is that God must be regarded as holy. As Isaiah confronts him, we see it ever so clearly.
But as Isaiah confronts the holiness of God what happens is that he is convicted by it.
II. Convicted by it [4-8]
In verses 4 and following Isaiah expresses this conviction. He begins by saying that the foundations shake at the sound of his voice. You get the idea that even the earth and inanimate objects fear him. But in verse 5 you see terror of a much more extreme form. Isaiah cries out. And notice what all is said in this one verse.
First, thing he says is “Woe is me.” Now the term woe is one we should be quite familiar with by now. It is a word we’ve looked at quite in depth for the last several weeks. It is the word hoy, the expression of inexpressible agony. Even righteous Isaiah cannot even stand in God’s presence without fear!
But then he goes on to say, “for I am lost.” The word for “lost” could also be translated “undone.” The word has to do with quilting and the seams you would sew. When you make a mistake you have to go back and rip out the threads that made that seam. Isaiah is in complete fear that his life is about to end. The very seams of his body are about to ready to shred. This encounter with a holy God is simply too much for him.
Then he tells us why this is so: he is a man of sin. He is a man of unclean lips and he lives among a people whose lips are unclean. Of course, it is not just his words that he is talking about—though that would certainly be enough to condemn him. He is talking about the cesspool of his heart, the overflow of which his mouth speaks.
Of course this conviction was necessary for what would come next. His being touched with the coal from the alter. This symbolizes his cleansing and justification before God. The alter was the place of atonement. It was where sacrifices were made and where sin was covered before the eyes of God. It represents for us the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Where on the cross our sins our purged and our guilt is taken away.
But this was all instigated by the holiness of God. Before Isaiah could be cleansed, he needed to be convicted. Before he could be justified, he must see that he was guilty. And the only way that could happen is if he encountered the holiness of God.
I submit to you that this is why we don’t have many true conversions today: because people are not encountering the holiness of God. They are not cut to the heart and made to mourn their sin because they do not come face to face with a God who is holy. They do not come to a state of repentance because they do not believe they have anything reason to repent.
But if they heard about the true nature of God, this would not be so. They would recognize that even the smallest offense would inflame this God and evoke his wrath and displeasure.
This is why I admire the work of RC Sproul and Ligonier Ministries. Dr. Sproul was deeply burdened by the fact that people did not regard God as holy. He understood that if this attribute of God was lost then Christianity would be in great peril. So he began Ligonier for the purpose of promoting the holiness of God.
And any who would wish to be a Christian must come to the point where they recognize the sinfulness of their sin. They must recognize that they are guilty before this holy God. We hear so much today about coming to Jesus and accepting him into your heart. But we very rarely will hear someone say, “I was a sinner and I deserved to die.”
This is the deep seated conviction that you must have though. And of course, you will only get it if you come to recognize God for who he is.
I don’t know if I have ever told you how I first came to Christ. It was by being confronted with the holiness of God.
My parents will tell you that I was never a rebellious kid. I was mama’s boy. All through my younger days I was the teacher’s pet. For the most part, my life was rather moral. At least in comparison to my brother, who, in my eyes, was quite rebellious, I was a saint.
Then I went to a summer festival with my youth group. And it was there that I heard a minister preaching about the need to come to Christ. He first talked about Romans 3 where it says, “There is no one righteous, no not one.” I thought, “That’s absurd. He doesn’t know me. I’m an OK guy.” Then he went on to quote verse 23 where it says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I said to myself, “Ok, I know I’ve done a few things wrong. It’s never been anything all that terrible though.” But then he quoted Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.”
Deep down I knew that I could not escape that one. I knew that I was going to die, just like everyone else. As I sat there I came to understand all my life I had been comparing myself to my brother. But I had never compared myself to God. When I began to consider that, I saw that God was holy. And it did not matter how good I had been. Even if I had just one sin in my life (and I had many), it would be enough to condemn me.
I was convicted, and, for the first time in my life, I sought Christ as my Savior and asked him to forgive me.
The good news of this passage is that this same forgiveness can be yours. If you are convicted of your sin and guilt, you do not have to tremble before the holiness of God. You do not have to fear being condemned by him. He has provided a way for sinners like us to be cleansed of our sin. It is through the Lord Jesus Christ. In the cross the wrath of the holy God is appeased. And when we put our faith in him we receive the cleansing Isaiah received. Our sins are purged from us and put upon Christ so that we can stand before God justified.
Now I believe that the editors of our Bibles have done a great injustice here. If you have a Bible like mine, they put a big break in between verse 7 and verse 8. I wish they had not done that. I believe that verse 7 should flow right into verse 8. For verse 8 shows how Isaiah was conscripted into the service of God through this vision of God’s infinite holiness.
III. Conscripted through it 
In verse 8 the Lord calls out, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” and Isaiah responds by saying, “Here I am! Send me.” It was after having beheld the holiness of God and coming to receive something of that holiness himself that Isaiah was persuaded to respond to the call to be a prophet. You might even say that it coerced him to respond.
It wasn’t as if asked what the payoff would be. He didn’t first inquire if the job came with any benefits, a pension, or if he would have a nice sized congregation. It didn’t matter to him. After having experienced what he experienced he could not choose otherwise. That’s why I say that he was conscripted by the holiness of God. He knew that he would not be able to do anything else. He was compelled to do it because he had witnessed what he witnessed.
It is the holiness of God that makes a minister of Christ and minister of Christ. It is not a seminary degree that makes him qualified to take the pulpit. It is not his eloquence or his people skills either. It is his having met with God and been exposed to his true nature. Only then is he fit to do the work of Christ.
Before every presbytery meeting, when the ministers and elders come together, we have a worship service. And one of the ministers will have a chance to preach in that time of worship. Someday I hope to have that chance to speak to my brethren. And when that time comes, I already know the text that I am going to speak on. It is 2 Corinthians 5:11, which says, “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.”
Paul makes it clear there that there is only one prerequisite for the ministry. It is the fear of God. In order to persuading men that the only remedy for their lost condition is Christ one must first come to grips with who Christ is himself.
I actually like the old KJV’s rendering of that passage. It says, “Therefore knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” We typically don’t like that language and a lot of newer versions soften it. But that is an accurate way of translating it. We know of course that the fear of God has to do with reverence and awe. But we should not neglect the fact that the fear of God has something to do with a real and true terror of him. The Greek word there in 2 Cor. 5 is phobea, and I probably don’t have to tell you that’s where we get the word phobia, as in claustrophobia (terrified of the dark) or arachnophobia (petrified of spiders).
A right terror of the Lord is good. Isaiah had it. Paul experienced it on the road to Damascus. Moses, at the foot of Mt. Sinai when God came down, is said to have trembled before the Lord. Everyone who was a spokesman of God had first come to grips with God’s radical holiness.
And that should be no different for you too. I often hear churches having classes on evangelism. And that’s a good thing. We need that. But I never have heard of an evangelism class begin where it probably should: with understanding something of God’s essential nature. I’ll tell you this: If you want to become a better evangelist, don’t study different methods of evangelism, study the holiness of God. Begin with a study of the law of God (Westminster Larger Catechism). Once you start in there you will begin to notice that God is different. And as you begin to behold him as such, you will be more incline to speak (and you will have a better understanding of what you should speak!).
It wasn’t long ago that I used this illustration, but I think it is appropriate here again. There is a scene in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that depicts well what goes on here in Isaiah 6. The two girls, Lucy and Susan, are getting ready to meet Aslan the lion (who represents Christ). Two talking animals, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, are preparing the children for the encounter.
Upon hearing that he is a lion, Susan says, “Ooh, I thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie,” said Mrs. Beaver. “And make no mistake, if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” Lucy responds by saying, “Then isn’t he safe?” Mr. Beaver broke into hysterics, “Safe? Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. He’s a lion! But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you!”
Isaiah wants to remind us that God is not a safe God. He is holy. All the carnage that has gone before this passage leads to this vision. Here we make sense of it all. God is holy.
But we do not look merely to the corpses strewn on the hills of Judea. One corpse is particularly to catch our attention. It is Christ that I am talking about. His death reminds us of God’s holiness. His corpse reminds us that we do not have to say, “woe is me.”
And it is by his encountering the holiness of God that we can enter past the veil that was torn in two. We can enter God’s presence, into the holy of holies itself.
The interesting thing about that scene in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is that Lucy and Susan did not run away. They were drawn ever more towards the unsafe lion. And as they experienced it, they became bolder in their allegiance to him. For those of us who believe, the same is true. The holiness of God, while being something that urges us to caution, also will be something that we find irresistible.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.