connecting theology and life in gospel-centred ways to the glory of God and our joy in Him
My yearly dose of blogging, back for another week!
2020 brings a big year of changes. For the first time in nearly 10 years, I’m not leading strand 2’s Biblical Theology but will be taking a large group (19!) through Strand 4 material – thinking through how to break up a book of the Bible for a teaching series. Another big change is that the morning talks will be given in devotional style from various leaders of Ignite. And, as always, I’ll be on the bookstall but this year in partnership with The Wandering Bookseller. Come in and say hi, ask for a recommendation, and let me help you start this decade with some heart-filling and theologically rich books!
So follow my post on updates as this live blog continues to be updated through the days ahead.
2019 was Chris’ year of rebellion – since 2009 he purchased his first smart phone and then started working towards being paperless. Then in 2019 he rebelled – he purchased a paper diary. A blank diary that he could reshape to be as unique as he wanted it to be.
When you type you can correct really easily – but when you write it’s harder to correct which means you have to pause, stop and reflect on what it is you’re intending to do. You need to change the pace and tempo of your work.
James 1:22 says something similar – he asks us to be ‘doers of the word’. In our churches we are doers – we love to do stuff. And we’re also of the word, we love great preaching. But are we doers of the Word?
In context James is challenging his readers to not just hear God’s Word but to live in response to it as well. You cannot look at the Bible and simply walk away – James illustrates this via the man who looks at he mirror and forgets his face afterwards. There is a tempo and rhythm missing in his life. No pausing and stopping.
We tend to elevate people who are busy – even busy at church. Considering them godly. Or we elevate people who are knowledgeable. But how often do we elevate people who pause and reflect?
Even as a pastor it’s easy to be a doer and hide your lack of pausing and reflecting on scripture. It’s easy to be busy in ministry.
At Ignite we learn a lot from the Bible. But often we simply ask people to learn heaps and then reflect on their own – but how many of us actually do that?
So this year we’re shaking it up. We’re rebelling. We’re going to spend intentional time together in the mornings reflecting. We’re not going to be going through new content but build on what we have heard from the evenings. We’re going to be encouraged to pause and reflect – so that we are both hearers and doers of God’s word.
Gary Millar – Isaiah 6
If you want to be a robust, faithful Christian you need to love and be mastered by what God says in the first part of the Bible (ie the Old Testament). We need to immerse ourselves and be impacted by these words of God.
There are two big reasons we should focus on the prophets.
First: the New Testament says they matter. Paul and Peter spoke a lot about the importance about being shaped by and listening to the Old Testament. Eg 2 Timothy 3 – when Paul says to Timothy to keep trusting scripture he’s referring to the OT. Peter is even more specific. In 2 Peter 2 he is preoccupied with the importance of reading the OT and in particular reading the prophets. We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which we will do well to pay attention (ie to the prophets) as a light shining to the dark place.
Jesus has the effect of making the OT and the prophets not less important but more important. How are we to spend our times before the second coming of Jesus? According to Peter we should be reading the prophets knowing that they are God’s word to us.
Second: because the prophets reach parts of us that other parts of scripture don’t reach. There’s something about the prophets which reach us like no other. They are more intense, more confrontational, more expansive and relentless than anything else we might read. So their impact on us is more full on and far reaching than other parts of scripture.
There is the exposure of sin, the panorama of God’s judgement, the beauty of God’s mercy and grace – all in the prophets!
Despite the variety of their genre and content to read these books is to turn the volume up to 11 as God speaks to us and cannot help but leave us profoundly impacted.
So what we’re going to try and do over these talks is listen to the voice of the prophets – get an introductory overview. Tomorrow we’ll look at the minds of the prophets (in Jeremiah) then we’ll hear about the message of the prophets, which will take us into the heart of the message that runs through all the books, and then finally finish on the hope that is littered everywhere in these books.
But before we get into Isaiah let’s take a step back and look at the birth of the prophetic movement.
In the OT lots of people are called a prophet – Abraham, Aaron, Moses, and even Balaam are called prophets. In Judges Deborah is called a prophetess. After her they occasionally show up in bits of the narrative (like Nathan vs David) – but otherwise there is no explanation on how you become a prophet.
Until you get to 1 Kings 17 and meet Elijah. Up until here there has been a fairly long silence from God – and up until then the prophets have been really strange (eg 1 Kings 13).
Up until Elijah announces the lack of rain we have no seen anything like this prior. Elijah’s introduction is strange – he just announces the warning. He doesn’t even say God says so – his word and God’s word are the same.
Then in 1 Kings 17 onwards we see the constant use of the phrase ‘according to the word of the Lord’ – in all that happens this line gets repeated. Finally after the widow’s sign is resurrected she says ‘Now I know you are from God and your word is truth’ – he is a capital ‘P’ Prophet.
When he passes the mantle onto Elisha it is a real and first commissioning – and then Elisha is spoken of as speaking for God. Here is the thing: what they say is what God says.
So let’s be clear on that – Prophets are word guys. With Elijah and Elisha and through to John the Baptist and Jesus, God sends a group of people through whom he speaks with unrivalled and unequivocal authority.
Prophets were also unpopular – they were often critiquing power, confronting the powers of the day. And though unpopular they didn’t car – because their ministry was to speak for God. They kept speaking the words of God about the plans of God.
From Elijah and Elisha a movement begins of a word ministry speaking into a world of hedonism and unbelief.
That’s the background as we head into thinking and hearing from Isaiah.
In Isaiah 1-5 you get snippets of his preaching. It’s a fast moving blast of God moving in judgement and salvation. It’s full on (supposed to be).
In chapter 6 it’s like Isaiah hits pause and he explains what’s going on. He goes back to the time of King Uzziah’s death to explain this passion and insight, what shapes his personhood and his ministry as a prophet – here’s what happened.
We are reading Isaiah’s experience – and his experience may be unique but it also shows us a guy who was also just like us. This scene is the experience of a human who came into the presence of God.
So what do we see?
6:1-4 – God is incomprehensibly awesome.
King Uzziah (Azariah) was an ok, but didn’t shape up next to David or the laws concerning the kings. But even so he had a long and generally successful reign. But he was also a leper – 2 Kings 15 tells us that God had afflicted him.
Isaiah was a prophet who had a full royal scholarship – he was working in the capital, and then one day he saw the Lord. While John is right that no one has ever seen God in all his fullness and glory John is not saying that nobody ever got a sneak peak.
Gary is a fan of big tall buildings – but one thing is true of all of them: from the bottom of these big buildings you can’t really see how big they are. Isaiah is in this predicament – he sees the bigness of God but like standing at the base of the Burj Khalifa looking up. He sees the hem of God’ garment flooding the temple – this is the corner of God’s robe!
While gazing up he sees the seraphim flying around – flaming wings – but his description is vague, like he can’t even fully describe their impressiveness.
He hears their voices calling out a super-superlative – God is super, super holy and that even the whole earth cannot contain the fulness of his glory. As all this is going on the ground on which Isaiah was standing was quaking, and the temple was filled with smoke.
This was an earth shattering moment for Isaiah – though still a foretaste of what God has instore for us. In the coming of Jesus we will ultimately see more clearly what Isaiah only saw in part in this vision.
The God of the gospel should make us gasp. Piper – the ultimate beauty of the gospel is seeing and savouring God. ‘Behold your God’ is the most gracious gift of the gospel.
Every time we open the Bible and read it together with each other we are aiming to behold God – in better ways than Isaiah experienced.
God is incomprehensibly awesome.
If I am at the centre of life then no bigger concern is my own satisfaction and comfort – which is ultimately an insane way to live. But God will never offer his throne to me.
6:5-7 – God is staggeringly forgiving
The Prophets give us a massive awe-inspiring vision of God – and also that he is massively and staggeringly forgiving.
Isaiah is so overwhelmed and exposed he has absolutely nothing to say.
Most of us don’t find defensiveness hard. When we are accused of something we will excuse and point the blame elsewhere. But there are times when we are confronted where we are so exposed and ashamed that we can say nothing.
Isaiah is taken here instantly by this vision of God – he says “Woe is me!”
There’s a double problem here.
The first is Isaiah himself, the second is everyone else he has ever known.
As a race we all have a problem with our lips. There is only one other place where unclean and lips appear in the same context – Leviticus 13:45 – the leprous person who has a disease shall cover their upper lip and cry out ‘unclean, unclean!’ and remain unclean as long as he has the disease…
Given the fact that this takes place in the year Uzziah died, and he is known for only one thing: he has leprosy.
Isaiah now says that he has seen ‘the King’ (the LORD of hosts). It’s not just that Isaiah is saying he’s said bad things – but that like Uzziah’s disobedience lead to leprosy, we are all disobedient, exposed, and ashamed before God. There is no relief from this fear because it flows from the realisation that we are sinful to the core.
Isaiah’s response – nothing. He’s got nothing. I’m gone.
Ryle – a right knowledge of sin is at the root of all saving Christianity. You don’t have anything to say to anyone unless you confront the fac that you are sinful to the core. Every milligram of training and growth in the Christian faith is a waste of time until you grasp this – we are sinful to the core. Which is what happens next happens next.
6:6-7 – the burning coal, which always symbolised judgement, is brought to Isaiah – his lips (uncleanness) are touched and made clean. There is no other way to represent the holy God unless we stand as forgiven people. And once we get that it will invest all that we say with humility and seriousness.
Our grasp on the gospel depends on two things: How awesome God is and how awful we are. The bigger the gap between these two the more we will grasp the goodness of the gospel.
6:8-13 – God always acts in salvation and judgement
Here God speaks for the first time in this scene. And he asks a question!
Gary can’t prove this but he suspects that Isaiah squeaked out his response – and it is just funny. Who will go and represent this awesome massive grand God? *Me!*
The task though is pretty hard – to preach but have no effect. These words are very hard. All the more harder when we consider that Jesus quotes this in his very first parable in saying that his preaching will harden hearts.
The shape of gospel ministry is always has been and always will be shaped around proclaiming the God of the gospel and watch as he brings some to life and some to harden their hearts further.
This is one of the greatest joys and greatest sadness of ministry. It’s a very frightening thing. When you stand before people and see some brought to new life before your eyes is a marvellous thing. And then the same message has the opposite effect on some.
When you preach the gospel is will leave people either harder or softer. God is working either to bring them to life or they are being hardened. It’s a tough gig.
No wonder Isaiah asks ‘How long for?!’ And God says, ‘Until judgement finally comes.’
And then right at the end Isaiah is told that all this will happen until the holy seed is its stump. Always since Genesis 3 the holy seed is a reference to the rescuer to come.
Always when God speaks in judgement he also speaks in salvation.
In Christ we see all of this. We see his incomprehensible awesomeness, we see his staggering forgiveness, and we see him act in judgement and salvation.
From tonight we need to ask God to help us grasp all of this.
[Oh gosh I’m in tears, that was a staggeringly beautiful portrayal of the goodness and beauty of God.]
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