Isaiah’s vision reminds us of God’s triple gift to us—gifts that motivate us to serve even when the world makes us tired.
I’m tired. The tsunami from every media platform to accept and approve feelings over God-designed biology gnaws at the edges of credulity. The crumbling of intact families. Screen goblins that capture 30-plus hours per week of kids’ attention and foster attention deficits. COVID-silt piled up in the delta of the stay-at-home river that robs people of in-person connections. Political wrangling that erupts in campaign lies from both sides. It all makes me tired.
I’m—we’re—not the only ones who feel tired. In 740 B.C., “the year that King Uzziah died” (Isaiah 6:1), we might have heard Isaiah say, “I was a kid during the last half of his 52 years on the throne. My folks reported that he did some godly things, but when he tried to play priest, a total no-no, God struck him with leprosy, and he lived his last years in a colony, his son taking over as co-regent. Now the economy is teetering, and our culture has begun to absorb what our northern cousins have accepted as normal: intimate relations outside of marriage, babies from those relationships incinerated, people satisfied with creature comforts and treating spiritual things with an audible yawn. And rumor has it that there’s a world power rising like the tide, with threats to whoosh our cousins away. I’m not that old, but I’m tired.”
Can you see him? Isaiah, getting up from his desk, wandering out to the Jerusalem foothills. He’s a young guy—no long white beard, stooped shoulders, or shuffle in his gait—yet he’s weighed down by the cultural and spiritual erosion around him.
Gift one: The thrill of his presence
Suddenly, he’s smacked with a vision (Isaiah chapter 6) of the Lord God Almighty on his throne, encircled by angels, each with six wings. “With two wings they covered their faces” (v. 2). Even angels, who are confirmed in holiness, have this sense of wow in the presence of God.
Isaiah’s reaction? “Woe to me! . . . I am ruined!” (v. 5). Isaiah’s feeling of unworthiness is justified because he is a mere mortal. He glimpsed what it’s like to be in the presence of God. No wonder that in the presence of such glory, such grandeur, such greatness, Isaiah cried out, “I’m a speck of dirt under God’s shoe.” I’ll bet you have felt that way. I know I have.
But shock of shocks, God wants to connect with mere mortals, evident in Isaiah’s reaction, “My eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (v. 5). Our mouths drop open in wonder because God takes the time and has the heart to come to us. It’s like Christmas Day when a 9-year-old tears wrapping paper from a new bike or an 18-year-old gets a key to a new BMW SUV. It is Christmas Day every day with the reality of the incarnation, God coming to us. Gift one is the breathtaking reality that the Lord Almighty comes to you and allows you to be in his presence!
Gift two: Full payment for sins
“With two [wings] they covered their feet” (v. 2) will mean nothing to you unless you have taken a good look at your own feet that led you astray, your fingers that clicked “post” with a biting message on social media, your eyes that lusted, your ears that accepted gossip, your head that harbored me-first-ness—all of which makes you dirtier than sandaled feet on a dusty path. Angels don’t have sin on their account, but covering their feet was symbolic of the dirt of sin that needs covering because God won’t stand for sin in his presence. Isaiah had a keen sense of the filth of his own sin. Do you?
But shock of shocks, God didn’t force Isaiah to try to remove the dirt on his own. God did it for him. “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’ ” (vv. 6,7). Look where the burning coal came from—the altar. Coals lit there were for the animal sacrifices given. This was the sin offering prepared and offered by the priests, a picture of what God would do when he entered our world and sacrificed himself to take our guilt away! Our sins are covered like angels covering their feet, like Isaiah’s tongue purified by a live coal. It’s like a naughty 9-year-old tearing wrapping paper from a new bike or a wayward 18-year-old getting a key to a new BMW SUV. Gift two is full payment for your sin.
Gift three: Power to serve
“With two [wings] they were flying” (v. 2), sent by God to announce, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (v. 3). Angels had no hesitation in being God’s messengers because they were created to do God’s bidding.
We humans, however, have plenty of excuses and fears about witnessing for God: like Isaiah, “I’m not good enough to be your messenger, Lord”; like Moses, “I won’t know what to say”; like Jeremiah, “I’m too young”; like Jonah, “I don’t like the people of my intended audience.”
But shock of shocks, God didn’t reject those scaredy-cats. Instead, he pardoned their sin, and that pardon was rocket fuel in them to speak. “Then I heard the voice of the LORD saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ ” (v. 8). God the Holy Spirit empowers us. It’s like a naughty-now-forgiven 9-year-old riding the new bike to help neighbors clean up their lawns for free or a wayward-now-forgiven 18-year-old using the new BMW SUV to drive siblings to school. Gift three is Spirit-given power to serve.
Prophet, priest, and king
It would be a mishandling of Scripture to see prophecy where there is no New Testament verification of prophecy. But what do we see in Isaiah chapter 6?
The triple “holy” and the triple set of wings is an allusion to the Trinity: God the Father, who made heaven and earth, in awe-inspiring wings covering angelic faces; God the Son, who has redeemed us, in wings covering feet; and God the Holy Spirit, who wings out with the means of grace, in angelic flying wings.
The phrases “on a throne” and “train of his robe” fit the Great King (v. 1). The coal from the altar fits the sacrifice offered by the Great Priest. The messengers flying with a message fit words from the Word Incarnate, the Great Prophet. On top of that, you see the connection, don’t you, between Isaiah chapter 6 and 1 Peter chapter 2? “You are . . . a royal priesthood . . . that you may declare” (1 Peter 2:9).
It is the waltz of the Word of God, more beautiful and breathtaking than a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers waltz—Father, Son, Holy Spirit; Great King, Great Priest, Great Prophet.
Will there be days you feel tired? Sure! But pause at the beginning of each new day and drink in the exuberance and excitement that are yours because God gives you the thrill of his presence, the comfort of his payment for your sins, and the surge of his power as his triple gift to you.
Learn more: This article is an adaptation of the sermon preached for opening worship at the Lutheran leadership conference. Watch the full sermon at lutheranleadership.com.
Author: James Huebner
Volume 110, Number 9
Issue: September 2023
- Challenged churches
- Jesus’ church will not be overcome
- Refined by fire
- The importance of followers
- Our Lutheran moment
- Leading from your knees
- Leadership conference equips members to serve
- Training the next generation of leaders
- Moving the needle
- Strengthening ministry teams
- Reflections on Lutheran leadership
- Lutheran leadership: Not just authority
- The Lord’s triple gift