There are moments in life that make us quake. There are moments that make us tremble on the inside … and sometimes we tremble on the outside.
We tremble when we’re nervous, when we’re afraid, when we’re overwhelmed by emotion, and sometimes when we’re very sick, or in a lot of pain.
When I was 18 I went through an experience that made me think that there was something really wrong with my health. You see within the network of friends that I hung out with at that time, was a young man whose name was Adam. I’d known him for a number of years and he was a mutual friend. It was around June 2001, when I began to notice, that every time I was around Adam, my heart would beat a little faster than normal. On the inside I would tremble, in his presence. At first I thought maybe I just had an iron deficiency, but over time I noticed, that it was getting worse. It got to the point that every single time this young man came near me, my heart began to pound so hard, that I thought it was going to burst through my chest.
I remember crying out to the Lord one day, ‘What is wrong with me? I can’t calm down. My heart won’t slow down. I can’t breathe properly. I’m completely unsettled. What is wrong with me?’
A little sentence came into my mind … ‘Maybe you’re in love with Adam.’ I thought, ‘shut up shut up shut up! I don’t want to know that. If it’s an iron deficiency, I can fix that … but if I’ve fallen in love, well, then what am I gonna do?’
I didn’t realise that falling in love could be so unpleasant! But then, once I got used to the idea, I realised that, it was actually entirely pleasant. Falling in love is unsettling, but it also feels amazing. Scientists have shown that, when we fall in love, we actually experience a change in our brain chemistry …. Increases in adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin
- It’s a physical and a metaphysical experience
- We start to feel a tangible warmth come over us
- We tremble
- We begin to see our beloved through a haze of admiration
- We find energy and time for this person that we never thought we had (we need less sleep - that’s the dopamine)
I think falling in love gets a bad wrap actually. We think of it as a kind of non-reality, as ‘rose coloured glasses’ that we eventually need to take off. But I believe it’s quite the opposite. You see, you are an amazing person. God thinks that you are wonderful. He loves you. When we fall in love, rather than slip into some kind of non-reality, I think what happens is that a veil lifts, and for a time we see that person more for who they truly are:
- An amazing, wonderful, exciting person
And this experience changes us. It shakes us to the point that we are willing to dramatically change our lives to love and serve this person. It’s a very godly thing for us to fall in love (and if there is any problem with it, it’s only that we live in a fallen world, which means, we unfortunately, eventually, have to learn to live with the sinfulness in the people we love)
But when we fall in love, we see what was a hidden reality, manifest before us: the reality of a person’s goodness. What we experience, emotionally and physically, could best be described as a person’s ‘glory’.
And glory, is what I’m gonna talk about this morning. Glory is holiness made manifest (It’s the heart beat that says, this person is amazing … that little heart beat is a physical manifestation of holiness).
Well, it’s an amazing experience, when we fall in love, encountering the glory (the goodness) in one of God’s creatures. But it is NOTHING … it is NOTHING … compared to the experience, of encountering the glory of God. Because God is not fallen, and God is not finite, and God is not a creature. In fact he is the only one truly worthy to be glorified, because he is the only one who is truly and completely holy.
And that is exactly what Isaiah chapter 6 is all about. Isaiah has an encounter with the glory of God that shakes him to the core. He trembles (he sees what was once hidden made manifest)
Isaiah Sees the Glory of God
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
The pivots in the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.”
This was an event in time. This wasn’t only a spiritual experience. It wasn’t a dream, and it wasn’t merely a vision … but this was a direct interaction with God himself. It was a visual, physical and emotional manifestation of God’s glory appearing to Isaiah in the temple.
This historically happened to Isaiah in the year 740 BCE, the year that king Uzziah died. Uzziah had been a successful king, who reigned during a time of peace and prosperity. Judah as a nation was in love with itself (little bit like Australia today … God had become confined to religious practice, outside of that people had no knowledge of him). They were so busy glorifying themselves and their king, that they had forgotten the one true king, the living Lord,
- who sits on a heavenly throne high above any earthy throne
- who is so much greater than any earthly king that even the temple contains only the hem of his robe
This manifestation of God’s holiness (this encounter with God’s glory) is entirely factual, entirely literal, and entirely consistent with other encounters in scripture.
There is trembling and quaking (v4)
- there are often earthquakes when God appears (Exodus 19 at Mt Sinai, Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit comes),
There is smoke in the temple (v4)
- this cloud of smoke journeyed with the Israelites in the wilderness
- in the tabernacle, where the glory of the Lord manifests, a cloud of smoke covers the tent of meeting (Exodus 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-11)
- this cloud of smoke is seen as God’s mercy in the OT, because it prevents those in God’s manifest presence from seeing him face to face, which would cause them to die (Lev 16:13)
And of course, Isaiah thinks he is going to die. He is in the presence of the Holy God of Israel. So, to imagine that, take the heavy heartbeat that we experience when we come into the presence of someone we’re falling in love with, magnify that times a hundred, add to it emotional and physical trembling and the fear of death, and we might be able to imagine what Isaiah went through when this happened to him.
This kind of experience changes his perspective on reality forever. He now knows two things that most people don’t know (Aust) – they are the two things that the seraphs cry out
(who cover their faces and feet, because they don’t decide where they will go, God decides for them, they are only ready to move and praise him) … first they say:
1. (Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts) – God alone is holy
In the face of God’s absolute purity and total holiness, Isaiah actually curses himself – “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (v5)
So, to try and understand this … we can think of it a bit like the embarrassment that love makes us go through … you know when you’re falling in love, you start to notice things about yourself that you didn’t before, and you start examining yourself in more detail in the mirror … and soon you think, ‘oh no, what will this person think if they ever meet my family!’
Isaiah, in the face of God’s perfect holiness is suddenly overwhelming self-conscious of his own unholiness and the unholiness of his family (the people of Judah). He thinks that God must not like him very much. Perhaps he’s been going to temple his whole life, fully cognitively believing that God forgives the sins of his people by the sacrifices made on the altar … but maybe it is only now that he has seen God’s glory, he can appreciate God’s total and undeserving grace in his life, as the seraph touches his unclean lips with a coal from the temple altar.
Isaiah’s immediate response, after he is cleansed of his sin, is that he wants to live for God. When God asks, “Whom shall I send?” he responds, “Here am I; send me!” (v8)
His focus turns from God’s holiness to the second thing he now knows:
2. The whole earth is full of his glory = God is manifesting himself in the world
Now remember, glory is holiness made manifest … so this means something more than the world around us reflecting something of the nature of God … God’s glory is a physical and metaphysical manifestation … it’s a tangible experience of that pure holiness … in prior Jewish history, it had involved earthquakes and smoke …
So it would be easy to think that where there aren’t earthquakes and smoke, God is not manifesting. Wrong … the seraphs say that whole earth is full of the glory of God …
The whole earth is FULL of the glory of God. Do we realise how profound this is?
This means, that God is manifesting himself all the time. He is pressing in on us, filling every single place, with his glory, all the time.
Is this our experience of God? That he fills every space and moment of our lives in a way that makes us tremble at his presence?
Well, Isaiah saw it … but the people of God didn’t.
The People Don’t See the Glory of God
But God’s desire is that every single person will see his glory and will know him …
Not simply to keep going to temple (keep going to church) and make offerings to him and study his scripture but never know him …
“.. I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory” (Is 66:18)
How will he accomplish this? Well, he tells his new prophet, Isaiah, to speak his plan to the people … and this leads us to a very strange verse (v9-10):
Say to the people:
“Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand”
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.”
The Lord gives us this shape:
It describes a total shut down of consciousness. It’s as though his people will be living under-water. They will be like drug-addicts who have become totally numb and closed to reality. God is going to allow his people to become completely incapable of seeing his glory. They will reject Isaiah’s prophetic words, so they will look for God, but they won’t see him. They will listen for him, but they won’t hear his voice.
How can this possibly be part of the plan to build a new and holy people, who will see the glory of God?
Well sometimes people are so committed to their reality, that they resist anything that contradicts it …
People can be very good at living in denial and after awhile, deception becomes the reality. No amount of truth-speaking will change their minds.
We all know someone like that, don’t we? Well, to some extent we are all like that.
The people of Judah were in about the worst state of sin and corruption they could be in. They had become used to living without God that they believed their own lie that humanity is the highest authority on this earth, and God is distant, abstract, and holiness is only relative. That’s a pretty powerful lie in our world, isn’t it?
The longer people live as though he doesn’t exist, the blinder they become to him.
God’s judgement is to allow that blindness to multiply, until we reap total destruction. (In Judah’s case, exile).
God’s promise was to give to Israel, out of the “stump” remaining in the land, a “holy seed” (v13). That is, a holy offspring, a man who would be born out of the house of Judah who would be holy as God is holy (Jesus) …
And Jesus would create a holy people, and reveal to them God’s glory.
And we’re here this morning because we know he is doing this in our lives … he is the one who came to baptise, not with water, but with fire … he is the sacrifice on the altar and the hot coal on our lips, who came to purify us, and wake us from slumber and semi-consciousness … to see God’s glory in his world …
This is not a God who is a concept we read and hear about … but a God who we have physically and metaphysically encountered (in all his holiness)
This is not a God who can only be seen by the dead, but a God who’s glory fills this earth … even now, he is pressing in all around us.
Our hearts tremble at his presence. We are here because he has put an earthquake in our lives …
That is, why we are here … isn’t it?
The people of Judah had become so intent on building glory for themselves, in the year that king Uzziah died, that they were unable to see God’s glory, and eventually they reaped their own destruction.
None of us want that. We want to see this community at St Thomas thrive. We don’t want to see decline or destruction. We don’t want to be a dead church, like the stump of a dead tree.
If we don’t experience God’s holiness manifesting in this church, it’s likely to be because we are not seeking to glorify him. It’s likely to be because we are seeking our own glory first.
But if we keep our focus firmly on God and on bringing glory to him; we will see him move in power; we will tremble at his presence; and we will love his world with a heavy heart beat.
We will feel his glory physically pounding through our flesh … as our hearts cry:
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord. The whole earth is full of his glory. Amen.