Message from Calvary Church - August 20, 2017
Isaiah 6:1-8, ESV
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. 2 Above 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. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And 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!”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
8 And 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.”
I grew up in the the boy scouts. Learned a lot.
The Boy Scouts have a rule: "Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it." If you find a mess on the ground, you clean it up regardless of who might have made the mess. You intentionally improve the environment for the next group of campers. Actually the original form of that rule, written by Robert Baden-Powell, the father of scouting, was "Try and leave this world a little better than you found it."
I think the Boy Scouts were tapping into one of our God-created motives. We were all created to leave a legacy! Right, go back to Genesis 1,
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…
We were made to multiply. Not just biologically. We were made to work for the Kingdom of God. For our lives to be multiplied beyond ourselves, that something would be set in motion, as a result of our lives, made to leave this world better than we found it. But, to live beyond ourselves, requires a God that is beyond ourselves.
You see, the overwhelming culture that we live in is dominated by the god of me and few of us really have a vision for God beyond ourselves. If we were honest, many of us have fashioned a God after our image, our paradigms, our world views, instead of understanding ourselves and our world through God’s. Think about it for a moment:
1. We live in an incredibly present-minded society. Think of the social media culture we have become - it’s all about what’s happening now! We have lost touch with where we came from, let alone what happened 10 minutes ago. Because we don’t acknowledge the legacy that we have inherited, good or bad, we don’t really see the value of leaving a legacy ourselves.
2. We are a society that wants to live forever. We idolize youth culture, and try to stay looking young as long as possible. We hide away the old and protect ourselves from the realities of death. Think about what that does for our motivation to live beyond ourselves. The more we deny the inevitability of death and ignore it’s effects, the less motivated we feel to live into our legacy. Who needs to leave something behind if you’ll always be around?
3. We live in a disposable society. Everything is designed to be used a few times and then discarded. Things just aren’t built the way they were before. Every technological advancement is replaced by a better update in what seem like moments later. We feel like why bother? What can we add to the world when it will soon be obsolete anyway?
4. We are an inpatient society. We want things to happen immediately. Building into our legacy is slow, and it’s results don’t appear for a very long time, with the majority of them showing up a generation down the line. That’s instant-gratification buzz kill! Many of us are too impatient to put in the effort to live beyond ourselves, so we just give in to living for the moment.
Todd Engstrom, one of the Pastor’s at Austin Stone Church in Austin Texas, suggests that underlying all of these issues in our society are the three cultural idols:
- Individualism - I define me. Viewing ourselves as autonomous units - making decisions as an isolated authority. We are our the God of our lives, no other parties define us at the core.
- Materialism - Possessions define me. The pursuit of having things - home, financial security, possessions, etc.
- Consumerism - My personal benefit defines the worth of another person or thing. “What can I get out of this?” rather than “How can I contribute to this?”
These three idols dominate our culture and have their grip on our lives. If we are going to live into our God-created legacy to multiply and cultivate a life beyond ourselves, like Isaiah, we need to see a God that is beyond ourselves!
This is exactly what happens to Isaiah here in Isaiah 6.
1. We Were Made to See the Lord and Be With Him
Isaiah 6:1, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord…”
Isaiah has an encounter with the glory of the living God. The Hebrew word there for glory literally means “weight.” It’s talking about something that carries significant weight. Compared to God, nothing else really matters. He carries a weight that outweighs everything else in comparison. The reality of God came in such a way to Isaiah that everything was reimagined and re-envisioned.
Isaiah believed in God. But here his belief takes on reality. You cannot encounter the glory of God and it not reorient and reimagine everything about you. As Tim Keller puts it, Isaiah went from God as a concept, to God as a reality. He goes on to say:
”God as a concept is lighter than you. When you bring God as a concept into your life, you shape it. It fits in around your existing patterns. It doesn’t move you around. It doesn’t “quake” you. If you believe in God and it just hasn’t changed you very much, it’s just a concept.”
Here, Isaiah has an encounter with God that shapes him, quakes him, moves him and changes everything.
In Mark 3 Jesus appoints His apostles to be with him. This is our highest calling - to see Him and to be with him. Jesus prayed in John 17:24:
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory...
“I don’t just want to be a belief or a concept. I want to be the reality, the very essence of their lives. I don’t want to just fit into their lives, I desire to be their life!” This is what we were created for. The deepest longing of the human heart is for the glory of God and Romans 9:23 says we were created for God to make known his glory to us!Romans 9:23, that he might “make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy.”
In John 12:41, John says that Isaiah “saw his glory and spoke of him.” Isaiah saw Jesus! It changed him. We were made to live beyond ourselves, and to live beyond ourselves we have to encounter a God that is beyond ourselves.
Have you seen Jesus? Does Jesus outweigh everything else in your life? Has he reimagined and re-envisioned everything about you? Or are you still trying to fit God as a concept into your life? Is Christianity a way for you to better meet your goals? Or is it a place where you exchange your goals for the priorities of a new Kingdom?
2. The Earth was Made to Contain God’s Glory
You see, right off the bat Isaiah was challenged to see those new priorities. Right off the bat Isaiah is challenged to see the world differently - as a place filled with the glory of God. Not only were we created for the glory of God, but this world was created to contain the glory of God.
Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
Here, Isaiah gets a vision for how things are supposed to be, that the earth was created to be a container for the glory of God.
Psalm 24 - “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”
Psalm 97 - When the Lord reigns the earth rejoices…
Psalm 47 - God is the king of all the earth, he reigns over the nations…
Isaiah 55 - “The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands!”
Romans 8 - All creation has been groaning - longing for the day when the Lord fills the world again with his fullness.
You see the world is meant to be a container for the glory of God. He’s looking to put the whole creation back to order.
Revelation 21:3, NLT, “ Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.”
This is where we are headed. That God would dwell with his people in a fully renewed heaven and earth. All creation was made for gods glory.
3. There Is A Problem
There is a problem! Something is poisoning the earth and our very own nature. For those paying attention to this solar eclipse that will take place tomorrow, there is something eclipsing, darkening, obscuring, and covering the glory of God in our hearts and in the world. It doesn’t take much to look around and see that something isn’t right. Whether we look at Charlottesville, or Barcelona. There is a problem in our world…
And 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…”
Isaiah is saying, “in comparison to the greatness and glory of God, my ways, my thoughts leave me completely lost. They don’t carry the weight of God’s thoughts.” My ways of viewing life are faulty, they are poisoned, they’re darkened, and I need to be cleaned! The glory of God needs to be restored to the center of my life! The sun of God’s glory needs to shine again!
John Piper puts it this way:
The sun of God’s glory was made to shine at the center of the solar system of our soul. And when it does, all the planets of our life are held in their proper orbit. But when the sun is displaced, everything flies apart. The healing of the soul begins by restoring the glory of God to its flaming, all-attracting place at the center.
We have exchanged the glory of God for the glory of self. This is our condition. No matter our upbringing, our ethnicity, our culture, we are born to live for our own glory.
Ephesians 2:1-3 states, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
We all have this nature, no one escapes it. Not only is this our nature, but this is the condition of the people, and systems of the world around us.
Isaiah responds, “Woe is me, for I am unclean…and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Watch what Isaiah does here…
Isaiah doesn’t point the finger at the culture around him. Though it’s unclean, he starts with himself, “woe is me… I am part of the problem, I’m part of the oppression, the evil!” Isaiah implicates himself first. Church, we must understand that the gospel always deals with me. Its the most uncomfortable part of the gospel. It deals with the spec of evil in my eye before I can point to the log of evil out there. Before I can point to a system of evil out there, I have to deal with the system of evil in me. When I see horrific evil like Charlottesville, I want to disassociate myself from it and say, "how could anyone do something like that!" But the truth is, the gospel starts off by implicating me. It says, "Alex, you too are capable of that." Something in you is flawed and has to die… "woe is me!"
The good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to save ourselves. Isaiah had no ability to save himself. He was at the complete mercy of God to bring the coal of cleansing. The angel does for Isaiah what Isaiah couldn’t do for himself. Like the angel, Jesus comes and does for us what we couldn't do for ourselves. We couldn't get the spec out of our eye, let alone the log. But, Jesus comes, empties himself, takes the form of a servant, and humbles himself to the point of death (Phil 2).
Jesus comes and restores the glory of God to the center of our hearts. 2 Corinthians 4:6:
For God, who said, "Let there be light in the darkness," has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
What then is our response? Romans 6:1, should we go on sinning? Do we go on living in darkness?
Salvation is free, but we grow in God by exercising faith in what has been freely given. We respond to what's been freely given by laying ourselves down, emptying ourselves, and like Jesus taking the posture of humility with our lives.
I believe there are moments in our journey, like Isaiah, where God goes moves from concept to reality. I have had a few of those in my life, but one of the first such moments occurred 18 years ago sitting in a chapel at the beginning of 8th grade…
Listen to Romans 12: ESV & MSG
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God (the mercies are the starting place), to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We exercise faith in what has been freely given by laying down our diseased humanity as a sacrifice, turning from the patterns of our world, and allowing Jesus to put us back together like only He can do. The Message Paraphrase put’s it this way:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God (see God). You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
God isn’t just interested in a decision to follow, but rather He’s interested in bringing every area of our lives under the Kingdom and Lordship of Jesus. God is not just in the business of redeeming souls, but in the business of renewing all creation.
Not only does Isaiah point out his need to be cleansed, he looks around and sees that the people and systems of the world are also polluted by sin. So, not only is the gospel hope for my individual salvation, but it offers redemption and renewal for all of creation.
The goal of redemption is not just souls that get airlifted out of earth, but that we will be restored, along with all of creation, to be with God and he with us. That means that God is in the business of bringing redemption to all of life. ”Your kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.”
I like how NT Wright puts it:
”Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven… The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom.”
You hear what he’s saying. Now that we’ve been cleansed, we aren’t just saved to escape this life, or saved to make our personal lives better in the meantime. We are saved unto the restoration of our original purpose as cultivators and multipliers of God’s kingdom.
The world is in need of the cultivation and tending of the presence of God. It’s in need of those who would see its potential and live into their purpose as colonizers of a new kingdom, carrying God’s light into the darkness.
4. Sent - Carriers of the Glory
So who will go? Who will take up this task?
Isaiah 6:8, “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
God is saying, who will go? You who are called Apostles, sent ones, take up your destiny and go into the world to cultivate the presence of Jesus and carry the glory of God! Just as Jesus was sent, we are now sent into the world to be cultivators of the Kingdom.
Now that we’ve seen things they way they were supposed to be, we aren’t content to leave things as they are! We enter into our purpose as multipliers and cultivators. We search for every opportunity to partner with Jesus in bringing the kingdom on earth.
We see God’s purpose to restore all of creation, and we come alongside his work in creation and ask the question, “if God’s reign would be fully realized here, what would be different?”What would be different if the realities of the Kingdom were priority here. We can ask that question of any person, any institution, any society. What if God’s reign in this classroom was fully realized, in this home, in this office place, in this business dealing, in the midst of this conflict, in the midst of this oppression? What would it look like to see God’s reign fully realized?
Jesus lays out a blueprint, or constitution of sorts, for this Kingdom living. Go to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6, and 7. He lays out a strikingly counter-culture reality of His Kingdom:
He says understand your spiritual depravity and need for God, let meekness and humility characterize your life, hunger for justice, show mercy, embrace purity, work for peace. Fight the temptations of anger, adultery, false commitments, demanding our personal rights. Prioritize your marriage. Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, resist revenge and retaliation. Give yourself to prayer, fasting, giving, serving, and forgiving. Oh, and by the way, take joy in being persecuted for all these things.
This is how we carry the glory of Jesus and cultivate his presence “out there”. We do all of this in the context of the a local community of disciples we call “the church.” But the problem is, the church is frequently not being the church, much less the counter-cultural one that Jesus envisioned. Many find the church irrelevant and extreme and Christians are frequently categorized as part of the problem in society. We are seen as:
…antihomosexual (91%) judgmental (87%) hypocritical (85%) old-fashioned (78%) too involved in politics (75%) out of touch with reality (72%) insensitive to others (70%) boring (68%) not accepting of other faiths (64%) confusing (61%)1
There is a desperate need for a fresh demonstration and proclamation of the gospel. We go out and demonstrate the gospel in ways that are compelling, relatable, and identifiable by our culture. While at the same time proclaiming a Biblically faithful alternative worldview, not condemning, but inviting our culture to engage their predetermined ways of thinking, confronting their nature, while gracefully teaching them another way. James Emery White calls these two approaches the prophetic and evangelistic voice.
“The dilemma is that without the prophetic voice, there is no gospel. Without a sense of the true nature of our sin condition, which demands an understanding of sin itself, there is no good news…Without the prophetic voice, the evangelistic voice is just cheap grace… But the prophetic voice without the winsome and compelling heart of evangelism is just strident condemnation. We need both voices.” 2
We need a demonstration of the gospel that is graceful. But we also need a prophetic declaration that calls the culture out of it’s self-indulgent idolatry into the magnificence of the glory of God.
So we are sent, as Jesus was sent, full of both grace and truth! We cannot stand above our culture and condemn it, and we cannot sit beneath our culture and accept it as it is. We’ve seen the glory of the Lord, we’ve been with Jesus, we know a better way. We know where all things are going. So we go out a stand amongst our culture and demonstrate and proclaim that new way.
Friends, the task at hand this morning is an unfinished one. A new generation is growing up with no memory of the gospel (Generation Z). They constitute 26% of our population. By 2020 they will account for 40 percent of all consumers. They represent a generation who has been or is being raised without any grid for the gospel. They are mostly post-Christian. Meaning, their worldview, their idea of truth and morality, begins and ends with themselves alone. What will captivate the hearts of our young people? America is indeed a great mission field.
There are over 3 million people here in the Philadelphia area alone, that are not actively engaged in a spirit-filled, life-giving local body of Christ. This is why we plant churches. The harvest is indeed great, and the workers are few (Matthew 9:37).
- We plant churches because we want people to see Jesus. We recognize that the need is great and more life-giving, gospel saturated, neighborhood-centric communities of faith are needed to proclaim and demonstrate the ways of Jesus and call people to find their purpose in the glory of God.
- We plant churches because want to see the glory of the Lord fill the earth - not only do we want to see new communities of faith formed, we desire to see the gospel bring renewal to the broken systems of our world. Where families are falling apart, people are oppressed, hungry, broken; where addiction is Lord, and where self rules, we want to see the gospel bring renewal and wholeness.
- We plant churches because we want to send more laborers into the harvest field. Jesus never said to plant churches. But he did say to make disciples. More than building any one church organization, we desire to start a disciple-making movement that would result in the forming of a Jesus shaped disciples all across the Philadelphia area and far surpass what any one organization can take credit for on its own. Growth by multiplication, not just addition!
One such movement took place in China...
In the early 1930’s the outlook for the Christian faith in China was grim. Following a very difficult period in China’s history many Christians were being forced out of China and some were even killed for their faith. Having lost 17 missionaries to martyrdom and many others who fled, a missions organization called China Inland Mission (now OMF International), held a special prayer conference in May of 1931. Hymn writer and CIM director, Frank Houghton, inspired by the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:14, “and the good news about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the world, so that all nations will hear it, and then the end will come,” he penned the words of a song to support the appeal for 200 missionaries to be sent to China within a two year period. They first sang this song at that prayer conference in May of 1931. By December of 1931, just seven months later, the two hundred missionaries had left for China. Many believe that this song, along with the efforts of China Inland Mission, inspired the greatest growth of Christianity in the history of the world, an estimated growth of over 80 million people.
A mere two hundred missionaries multiplied their lives and impacted over 80 million people. Look at what God can do when we live beyond ourselves and respond to the call, “who will go for us.”
Will you go Calvary Church? Are you with Him? Have you seen him, or is he just a concept? What has to die in your life? Will you carry the glory of Jesus into our poisoned world? You don’t have to come plant a church with us to do that, though you’re welcome to. Just be the church, right here, or wherever God has you.
We’re going to sing that song this morning that inspired one of the greatest growths of Christianity in history.
We go to all the world with kingdom hope unfurled. (To make or become spread out from a rolled or folded state, especially in order to be open to the wind.)
I pray that just as you send us out this morning, that you will leave sent to bring Kingdom hope in the power of Jesus Christ.