The following is a plenary session given by Pastor David Michael at the 2013 Children Desiring God National Conference. Watch or listen to this seminar.
Isaiah 6:1-13—In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one called to another and said:
Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!
4And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" 6Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." 8And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here I am! Send me." 9And he said, "Go, and say to this people:"'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' 10Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed." 11Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said: "Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, 12and the LORD removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. 13And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled "The holy seed is its stump."
I have three goals for this closing segment of the conference:
- I want to strike one last note of vision, challenge, encouragement and hope as you return to the ministries which you have received by the grace of God.
- I want to commend you to God, and to the word of his grace (Acts 20:32).
- I would like Isaiah 6 to provide the framework these few minutes. I want to send you off with the encouragement to have a strategy for keeping the holiness of God in view.
We have heard more than once this week that children will be gripped by the holiness of God when those who are influencing them are first gripped by the holiness of God. I would commend regular reflection on passages that bring you into the throne room of God. Let worship music come through your iPods (or whatever). Whenever it decides to be grass-cutting season again, I put my headphones on and get a couple sermons in while I'm mowing. Two weeks ago, Bud Burk asked me if I was going to quote Isaiah 6. I thought that I wasn't going to, but I went home that night and had my Bible open. The Lord said "you can do this!" So I was reminded every day, two or three times a day:
- Everyday, the Lord seated on his throne
- Everyday, the Lord high and lifted up
- Everyday, seraphim calling Holy Holy Holy
- Everyday, seeing that burning coal touching Isaiah’s mouth, hearing the seraphim say your guilt is taken away
- Everyday, hearing the voice of the Lord say Whom shall I send, who will go for us.
- Everyday, being reminded of this horrible call
- Everyday, “the holy seed is the stump!”
There are four things, four truths that I want to remind you of:
First, The Surreal will be Real
What Isaiah saw was surreal for him and how much more for us. What Isaiah saw was so far outside his experience and it is even more outside of our experience. It is difficult for us to connect to this scene. The Lord, high and lifted up—a royal robe with a train that fills 121,500 cubic feet. Six-winged seraphim. Powerful voices shaking the thresholds, and filling the house with smoke burning coals, tongs. That's nothing like what I've experienced. Even in the describing of it, it doesn't come close to the reality. It's like looking at a snapshot of the Grand Canyon. The snapshot doesn't give justice to the view. Being there is incredible. What is surreal to us now will one day be real for everyone in this room—for all our children and for all who are yet to be born. We will all see the Lord sitting on the throne:
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Every face you see in your classroom or at your kitchen table will see the Lord, seated on his throne confessing Jesus as Lord. (based on Revelation 20:12-13)
They will be either calling to the mountains and rocks: "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16) or they will be shouting: "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns (Revelaton 19:6). Worthy is the lamb who was slain so that our guilt is taken away, our sins atoned for." Keeping the throne room in view and keeping the last day in view has been for me a way to keep a right perspective in ministry to children, youth and families. This reinforces a sense of urgency an seriousness about our task. Look into the faces of children—or anyone for that matter, and be reminded that face will one day be in the presence of this holy, high, lifted-up God. That head will bow, those knees will bend, that tongue will confess Jesus is Lord.
In Christ, We Have Access to the Throne Room
When Isaiah was confronted with a Holy God, his immediate response—Woe is me—I am a man of unclean lips! Why his lips?—why not his heart?—“you honor me with your lips, but your heart is far from me.”
- Perhaps it had to do with Isaiah’s prophetic role—declaring the Word of the Lord.
- Perhaps it had something to do with the connection between the mouth and the heart which Jesus observed in Matthew 12:34 For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
The point is, that Isaiah could not abide in the presence of his King apart from intervening grace. Apart from that coal coming from the alter where the eternal sacrifice for sin has been paid. That burning coal branded him as a child of God who declares, in Christ Isaiah, your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. With that burning coal, like a branding iron, “God declares this mouth (and the man it is attached to) is mine, now for my service!” It was noteworthy to me that as soon as Isaiah’s mouth was seared—he heard the voice of the Lord. Up until then he hadn't heard him. Then I heard the voice of the Lord... then I said... then he said... then I said... then he said. What happened in that moment of cleansing was communion with God. Through the atoning work of grace, we have access to the throne room. When you pray consider what is happening: in Christ, you have access to this throne room. The veil has been removed. In Christ your prayers you are coming before this God. In Christ, at any moment, at any time. I keep on my car key a skeleton key that doesn't work anywhere; it's a reminder to me that I have a golden key to that throne room. It's a figurative reminder that I have access to his throne! A quote from Richard Burr, who wrote Developing Your Secret Closet of Prayer. He wrote a section on preparing your heart for prayer called “Ponder the Throne Room of God.”
Read and pray through all 11 verses of Revelation 4 and ponder the scene there. In front of you, seated on the throne is God the father. TO his right (your left) as you look upward is the lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ,. Surrounding the outer perimeter of the throne room are 24 elders, fitted with garments of white and golden crowns. High above the throne are the seraphs calling to one another Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole earth is full of His glory. Picture the 4 living creatures positioned around the throne…constantly worshipping the Lord…Now join in with these eternal praises…along with the living creatures , the 24 elders and the heavenly hosts, as they bow before the sovereign one, exclaiming “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power” (pg. 60-61)
It's helpful to remember where this prayer is headed. In Christ we have access to this throne.
The Lord is Sitting on a Throne
I saw the Lord, sitting on a throne - On a throne of glory, high and lifted up.
- Above all other thrones
- Above all other powers
- While nations rage and kingdoms totter, he is seated on his unshakable throne accomplishing all his purposes and fulfilling all his decrees.
- While those who have received the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly with all creation, the Lord is seated on his throne securing our hope preparing what we can’t yet see.
- While the kings of the earth take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, the Lord is on his throne changing times and seasons, removing kings and setting up kings, giving wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.
- While haters of God spew their insolent blasphemies, carrying out every corrupt desire of their God-denying hearts, the Lord is on his throne, bringing every knee into submission and every tongue into confession that he is the LORD.
And His train fills the temple - Isaiah would have understood the train on a king’s robe as a sign of greatness, majesty, and strength. The longer the train, the greater the king was. It is believed that the piece from a defeated king’s robe would be cut off and attached to the train of the conquering king. In Isaiah’s vision the train of the Lord’s robe filled the temple —something like 331-miles, from here (Minneapolis) to Rockford. A five-and-a-half hour drive! The point of this train—His is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty. He surpasses all others. For all that is in the heavens and in the earth is His; His is the kingdom. He is exalted as head above all. All his enemies are defeated—they all ultimately yield to this throne. He is absolutely sovereign. All things are in subjection under his feet. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. You will not have a train any longer than the Lord's train. It's impossible. The LORD is seated on his throne—when everything in your life seems to be shaking.
- When your child is born with disability — The LORD is seated on his throne
- The economy crumbles — The LORD is seated on his throne
- North Korea rattles its sabers — The LORD is seated on his throne
- Terrorists with backpacks and tennis shoes wreak havoc in Boston — The LORD is seated on his throne
- The wrong candidate wins the election — The LORD is seated on his throne
- Chemical and biological weapons threaten mass destruction — The LORD is seated on his throne
- Winter storm warnings the day before the conference — The LORD is seated on his throne
- The path of our lives takes an unexpected turn — The LORD is seated on his throne
- I lost my wallet — The LORD is seated on his throne
- My daughter has married an unbeliever — The LORD is seated on his throne
- The doctor has diagnosed Leukemia — The LORD is seated on his throne
- Your son is born with no eyes — The LORD is seated on his throne
- There’s no money to pay the mortgage — The LORD is seated on his throne
- When all around our soul gives way — The LORD is seated on his throne
All is well, no matter what.
We Have Been Commissioned From This Throne
Then I heard the voice of the Lord say, Whom shall I send? Who will go for us? Do you think God knew the answer to that question? He told Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:5: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. Isaiah with guilt taken away, sin atoned for, readily responds out of the God-given desire of his heart says, “here am I send me” according to the purpose of him who appointed him a prophet to the nations. Can’t we hear the voice of God saying whom shall I send to declare the splendor of my holiness to the next generations. Who will go to the children, youth, parents? Before we were formed in the womb God knew us. Before we were born God consecrated us. He has appointed us to declare his glory to the next generations. Here am I Lord, send me! It really is a great way to end a conference. But there was a significant problem I had with this text. Isaiah does not end with verse 8; it ends at verse 13. Why couldn’t it end with verse 8? What do we do with 9-13?
- Go—to a hard-hearted people who are going to be completely unresponsive to my word.
- In fact I will make sure they don’t respond so that they don’t turn from their sin and be healed.
- And how long, Lord, will I be doing this job?
- Until all the people are wiped out an the city is burned.
Imagine me standing up here and saying to you,
- go home and do all you can to make the
- heart of your children dull,
- their ears heavy
- and blind their eyes.
How can I encourage you with this?
- Option 1 - “You think you have it tough—cheer up—it can’t be any worse for you than it was for Isaiah. True—Perhaps you may find some comfort in that.
- Option 2 - It is an unspeakable privilege to be deployed into service God Almighty—“And the Lord said go”—Our highest calling is to do his bidding—whatever it is. Some here are pretty discouraged:
- Very difficult situations
- Getting very little support—parents, leaders.
- They’re ready to quit.
Many of you have shared with us encouraging things that are happening in your ministry. Thank you! Much evidence of fruit. What a thrill it is to be commissioned by God to do a work that is bearing fruit. Krista Horning—My heart is overflowing with joy. I pray such fruit would be multiplied in this room. But such fruit is not our highest achievement. Our highest calling is not to successfully raise a generation that trusts Christ and is gripped by the holiness of God bearing much fruit. Our highest calling is to glorify God and to be faithful to what he calls us to do. Our highest calling is to glorify God and be faithful to whatever he has called us to do. The Lord is seated on his throne! Infinitely wise, infinitely sovereign, infinitely good. Notice Isaiah gave himself without reservation. He gave himself obediently. In response to the question "Whom shall I send?" Isaiah did not say "Where to?" Not hint of any conditions for his support. He says, "Here am I, send me anywhere." Why did God call Isaiah to give himself to a fruitless ministry? We don’t know. If he says go and give yourself to 30 years of fruitless ministry, go. If he says go and subject yourself to ridicule, scorn and defiance, go. If he says go and be uncomfortable and insecure, go. If he says go and preach to a people who will be ultimately condemned to hell, go. He’s got his reasons—He knows what he is doing—we offend his holiness if we defy him, ignore him, or complain against him. R.C. Sproul in his book The Holiness of God writes:
What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgment is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”
The Holy Seed is the Stump
Winter time—nearly everything looks dead. Trees, plants—no sign of life; yet with leaves gone, it is still alive and in due season it sprouts leaves again. Those who have the holy seed within them are a holy race and that race shall never become extinct. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit (Jeremiah 17:7-8). For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the [Holy seed] (Romans 8:38-39). Those of us who are in Christ have this holy seed. Even if it looks like it has gone dormant, it hasn't. The Church will never die—it possess a holy seed. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Spurgeon wrote this:
The church has had its trials, trials from without and trials within. It has had days of blood-red persecution, and of fiery trial; it has had times of sad apostasy, when an evil heart of unbelief and departing from the living God has broken out, and a root of bitterness springing up has troubled many, and thereby they have been defiled. Yet, blessed be God, through all the winters of the church she still lived, and she gives signs now of a sweeter spring-tide, a fresher greenness and a healthier condition than she has strewn before for many a day. Ministers dreamed on in their pulpits, and hearers snored in their pews: infidelity was triumphant; the house of God was neglected and desecrated. The church was like a tree that had lost its leaves: it was in a wintry state. But did it die? No; there was a holy seed within it. Six young men were expelled from Oxford for praying, reading the Bible, and talking to poor people about Christ; and these six young men, with many others whom the Lord had hidden by fifties in the caves of the earth, secret and unknown — these young men, leaders of a glorious revival, came out, and though ridiculed and laughed at as Methodists they brought forth a great and glorious revival, almost equaling the commencement of the gospel triumphs under Paul and the apostles, and very little inferior to the great reformation of Luther, of Calvin and Zwingli. But will the church die? No; she is like a tall tree and an oak; her substance is in her when she has lost her leaves, there is a holy seed in her still that is the substance thereof.
That holy seed is the substance of the cChurch. That holy seed is rooted in a holy, holy, holy God. May God cause that holy seed to take root into our lives, churches, and ministries, for generations to come. Amen.