Saturday, November 21, 2015

True vs Counterfeit Love

From A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards:
As from true divine love flow all Christian affections, so from a counterfeit love in like manner naturally flow other false affections. In both cases, love is the fountain, and the other affections are the streams.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Holiness of God

Isaiah's Call

Text: Isaiah 6:1-6


Thank you for the invitation to preach this morning, and to moderate your congregational meeting following the service. It is a deep privilege to preach the holy, inerrant Word of God to God’s people.

I want to speak with you this morning about an attribute of God that I do not think we reflect upon often enough in our churches in these last days - the holiness of God. I think many of us, given our natural inclinations to be focused on our immediate concerns and needs, forget about the radical, complete holiness of God. Now, I want to be clear: I think if you were to ask most believers about God, many of them would quickly and even eagerly agree that God is holy. But the issue is not that there is a God and that one of his attributes is that he is holy. The issue is that we have lost the immensity of God’s holiness. Part of our forgetfulness of God's holiness is a function of how we live in today’s 24/7, Twitter and Facebook culture. Another reason why we downplay the holiness of God is through a deliberate forgetfulness. We dare not think too deeply about God’s holiness. Why? That will become clear in our discussion of Isaiah's vision. My hope for this sermon this morning is that you will have an increased appreciation for the holiness of God. And I even hope that this picture of God’s holiness might restore in you a reverential fear of the Lord. That may sound strange, that I want you to fear the Lord. But that is a good thing, because of what the bible teaches about this fear.

  • Psalm 110:10 reads: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.”
  • Proverbs 22:4: “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.”
  • Psalm 25:14: “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.”

Let’s begin.


First, a bit of context. Our text this morning begins on an ominous note: “In the year king Uzziah died.” Uzziah was one of the better kings of Judah. If any of you are familiar with 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles, you would know that many of the kingships of Judah and Israel were utter disasters. There weren’t many standouts after David and Solomon (both of whom had their own problems). But Uzziah was one of the better kings. His reign was long - 52 years. The country had prospered under his reign. But there were problems near the end. Idolatry had reasserted itself in the nation, and pride, a pride build on the prosperity of Uzziah’s reign, drew the eyes of the people away from God, and caused them to disregard his holiness. Even the King himself fell prey to the sin of pride. This is how the writer of 2 Chronicles 26:16 puts it, “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.” That is, Uzziah took upon himself a job that was, according to the law of God, specifically set apart for the priest alone. As punishment for this disobedience and sin, the Lord afflicted Uzziah with leprosy while he was still inside the temple. Leprosy made one utterly unclean to be before the presence of God in the community, let alone inside the temple! The priest were so freaked out by this that they rushed the king away. Uzziah was never healed of his leprosy, and spend the rest of his days separated from the people, living in his own house, with his son Jotham ruling in his name.

The king, however, was still beloved. And people loved the prosperity they enjoyed. The death of the King was likely viewed as a catastrophe. The end of an era of relative peace and the beginning of deep uncertainty and decline. And it is in the midst of this upheaval that Isaiah receives his vision of God.
[1] 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. (Isaiah 6:1 ESV)
I was reminded during my preparations in a sermon by RC Sproul on this very text that there is a significant irony in this verse. King Uzziah has died, and and Isaiah sees the Lord. That word, capitalized as it is in your bible, comes from the Hebrew word Adonai which means the sovereign Lord, the one who really is king. The earthly king is dead, but now the One who is sovereign over that earthly king and over every other earthly king appears! And he is elevated above everything. He is “high and lifted up,” overseeing his universal realm. King Uzziah certainly had large, ornate robes with long trains of magnificence that marked his office as king. God’s robe is of such significant size that it filled the whole temple. Isaiah is communicated to his readers, to you and me, that this Lord in this first verse is of massive authority and importance.
[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. (Isaiah 6:2 ESV)
The seraphim are angels which have a fiery appearance. They stand before the throne of the Almighty. They have six wings. And each set has a purpose. Two of the wings are used to cover the eyes, because even these perfect angelic beings must protect their eyes from the stunning, white hot glory of the Lord. With two wings they cover their feet, the feet likely being a euphemism for their less noble parts. And with the remaining two wings, they flew. Angels are messengers of God. And these angels have a particular message which they now communicate to Isaiah in the vision, and to us through this Word from God. As they flew,

...One called to another and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3 ESV)

Holy. Holy. Holy. You need to know something about Hebrew to understand the weight of the angelic message. When we write something, and we want to emphasize a word or a phrase or a sentence, we employ all kinds of techniques. Word processing programs make it easy to change to bold or italic typefaces for emphasis. We underline things. We add exclamation points. But written Hebrew had no punctuation. There were no typewriters or word processors. So when a Hebrew writer wanted to emphasize something, he used repetition. By far, most forms of repetition in the bible are doubles. A word or phrase is repeated. Only in very rare circumstances is a word or phrased repeated three times for superlative emphasis. Holy, holy, holy is to be heard by us as: This God is the most holy God. Holy above all else. Most holy. Beyond any holiness we can imagine. What is holiness? Holiness is otherness. To be holy means to be distinct and set apart from all impurity, sin, and uncleanness, perfectly beautiful in the splendor of this holiness. God’s holiness so pure, so bright, that even the angels must cover their eyes. And his holiness and glory are such that God’s glory fills the entirety of his creation, the earth.

This manifestation of a holy God causes even inanimate things to spontaneously quake at the announcement:
[4] And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6:4 ESV)
So here is Isaiah. What happens to him when he encounters this perfectly holy God in this astonishing throne room vision with the fiery angels around?

He realizes that he is toast. He’s convicted of his sin. God then converts Isaiah, cleansing him of his uncleanness. Finally, God consecrates Isaiah into kingdom service.

The Thrice Holy God Convicts
[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!” (Isaiah 6:5 ESV)
 When you encounter the holiness of God, this is actually the normal response. You are utterly undone. Isaiah actually uses a phrase “Woe is me!,” which in essence means in his sinful state he is accursed. He is a man of unclean lips, dwelling among a people of unclean lips. And if you know anything of the bible, you will know that that which is unclean cannot abide in the presence of the holy Lord God of hosts, and that the penalty for seeing the Lord is death. And here he is - filthy mouthed and unclean.

This is precisely the awareness that is awakened in the heart of a dead sinner when they are granted by the Holy Spirit with the gift of faith. You are given sight. For the first time, you see God for who He really is. And in the light of his holiness and glory you see who you really are. And the gap between the two is unbridgeable by you. Isaiah knew, in that moment, how serious his situation really was. He was truly lost, only worthy of destruction and doom for his impurity and his sin.  This is the reality you are awakened to when God moves. What is interesting is that you don’t ever get experience this reality if you’re an unbeliever. It doesn’t dawn on you. It really only comes to those who are awakened to the truth by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Loved ones, has the knowledge of God’s radical, world-shaking holiness ever gripped you? Have you been awaked to this reality, of God’s perfect holiness and your own wretched sinfulness? Have you ever been shaken to the core by the truth that God is real? That He is utterly holy? That He demands perfect holiness from those whom He has created? Do your realize that you are commanded to be perfect, even as He is perfect? Have you been awakened to the reality that being a good person isn’t near good enough, because the demands of the God’s just and holy law are to be kept perfectly, without any regard to your own pride and self-righteousness?

If you have, and I pray that you have, then you will realize that there is nothing you can do but cry out to God in mercy. Isaiah cried out:
“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!”
What happened next?

The Thrice Holy God Converts

Isaiah was shown grace.
[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.” (Isaiah 6:6-7 ESV)
The solution to the holy, holy, holy God and sinful human gap is that God crosses over to us and purifies us. The glowing hot coal from the altar is brought by one of the seraphim. He takes it from the altar with tongs, but carries is over in his hand and touches the lips of Isaiah, burning away and cauterizing all of Isaiah’s impurity. The guilt is removed from him. And Isaiah’s sin is atoned for. And this was not the result of anything Isaiah did. This is the result of what God did for him.

And this is the gospel this morning. We were lost in sin. Utterly lost. Blind to it, even. And God the Holy Spirit descended down. You heard God’s Word for the first time as God’s Word thanks to this movement of the Holy Spirit. And you were awakened. God became real to you. And your sin made you aware of your own peril. And you cried out for mercy. And God gave it, in the person of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ. The Son of God descended from glory to live with a fallen people in a fallen world. He lived the perfect life demanded under the law on your behalf. He died the death you deserved because of your sin. This sinless One bore the full weight of God’s wrath for your sin. He bore the curse of God, and in so doing, purchased your release from bondage to sin. He freed you from the curse. And by faith in Him, your sin has been removed, washed away in your baptism, and you have been raised to new life in Christ and are now considered one of the saints. You do know what the world saint means, don’t you? It means you are now considered by God to be a “Holy One.” You have been clothed with Christ. You have been grated the perfect righteousness of Christ. It is credited to your account purely by faith, so that you have no room to boast. It was all of God. It was pure grace? And why did he do it? Because he chose you in His love for you to receive mercy and become one of the children of the living God.

And when that happens, you are freed for joyful, loving service to your Savior. You develop an itch to proclaim the glory of His grace. You are granted a servant’s heart, after the heart of the Lord, who came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.

The Thrice Holy God Consecrates

I’m not just saying that. It’s in the bible. It comes right from how Isaiah responded to the purifying grace of God.
[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.” (Isaiah 6:8 ESV)
Beloved, it is only the gospel that creates a heart that can serve others freely without any second guessing or need for self-approval by others. This holy God’s grace kills your pride. He slays your ambition and gives you a passion for the glory of the Holy God who saves to the uttermost.

Isaiah saw the glory of God. He recognized that he was lost. He was convicted of his sin. Isaiah then received grace and mercy in his conversion and cleansing. Finally, Isaiah was consecrated for service and eagerly volunteered to be sent by God to deliver what would be a very controversial message - that Judah was to be judged through his preaching. The hearts of many many people would be hardened in judgment, but God promised that He would preserve a remnant who would be saved by a suffering servant, the Son of God, the Messiah, the same Jesus whom has saved you.

Oh what a great, great God we have! That we would so graciously choose us and save us for Himself, making us co-heirs with His Beloved Son, Jesus. He is indeed, holy, holy, holy! Let all the saints declare His holiness and live in the light of his holiness. I leave you with this exhortation from Hebrews 12:
[12] Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, [13] and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. [14] Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:12-14 ESV)

Given by Christopher D. Drew
at First Presbyterian Church
Beaver Creek, Minnesota
Copyright © 2015