Some people have athletes, actors, or musicians they would love to meet. When I was 19, I had a favorite author I wanted to meet (Insert nerd jokes here.). He had come to Greenville to speak, and the hosts of the event set up a time for book signing. My turn to talk to him came. I had no idea what to say. After spending many hours of my life reading thousands of his words, I said, “I, um, really like your, um, books. Can you sign this?”
If you’re a fan of someone, meeting that individual can be an eye-opening experience. What is infinitely more important than meeting an author or celebrity would be to encounter the living God. If you are reading this article, the chances are good that you’ve spent some time in your life reading and thinking about Scripture and praying to the God Scripture reveals. What if the barriers of this world were peeled back, and we encountered the God we’ve read about and prayed to for years? What would that experience be like? Thankfully, we have Isaiah 6 to have some idea of what it might be like to come visibly into the presence of the Lord.
Isaiah’s experience was terrifying. The Lord reveals Himself as immense: the train of His robe fills the temple. Seraphim – “burning ones” – surround Him and chant, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” In Hebrew, the way to emphasize a word is to repeat the word. In Scripture, only one word is repeated three times: holy. The word holy comes from a word that meant “separate” or “apart.” God is beyond all creation, and, as the Bible make clear elsewhere, God’s holiness or separateness means He’s not only beyond creation; He’s utterly separated from sin (Isaiah 5:16).
God’s holiness terrifies Isaiah. He is “undone” or doomed (Isaiah 6:5). Under the Lord’s inspiration, Isaiah had pronounced six woes in Chapter 5 on the people. The seventh comes upon him. His experience of woe leads us, however, to the second aspect of his encounter with God: forgiveness. One of the seraphim brings a hot coal from the sacrificial altar and touches Isaiah’s lips. His lips were both the source of his sin and the instrument of his service.
After Isaiah experiences God’s forgiveness, the third aspect of his encounter was mission (or commission). “Whom shall I send?” the Lord asks. Someone who has seen the holiness of God and experienced His gracious forgiveness can hardly hold himself back when given the opportunity to serve the King. Isaiah’s mission, however, was not enviable. He would spend his life speaking to people who would not listen. They would later mock him for his message (Isaiah 28:9-13). His ministry would be one of hardening (Isaiah 6:9-10) and punishment (6:11-13). Lest we think this passage doesn’t apply to us, the New Testament authors consistently apply these verses to the era of the New Testament (Matthew 13:14-15, Mark 4:12, John 12:40-41, and Acts 28:26-27).
Despite this hard calling, Isaiah’s encounter was also one of hope. As J. Alec Motyer notes, death “pervades this chapter” — a dead king, a death sentence for Isaiah, a dead sacrificial animal, and a dead forest. Death never has the last word. The “holy seed” remains even though the forest was gone, and that seed would be the “Mighty God” who would bear our sins (Isaiah 9, 53).
What would it be like to encounter the living God? According to Isaiah, terror, forgiveness, mission and hope would be what God’s people could expect.