The Holy Remnant
Good morning. We are continuing our series in Isaiah, looking at the triumph of grace that God works in the midst of Israel, and how that impacts our lives today.
As we’ve seen over the last few weeks, Isaiah is living in a rebellious nation. The nation, Israel, that God appointed to be the light to the nations was failing, and failing badly. They were desperately twisted, sinful, people of unclean lips, and just altogether looking more like the pagan nations than God’s people.
And that causes us to ask, how is God going to use these wicked people to bring His grace and glory about, and fulfill His promises? And God calls the prophet Isaiah to commission Him to help bring His plan about.
So as a reminder, Isaiah 1-5 was a summary of Judah’s sinfulness as told through Isaiah, and chapter 6 is like a prequal. Similar to how they made Star Wars episodes 4,5, and 6, and then after that, 1, 2, and 3. Isaiah 6 is a backtrack to God cleansing and calling Isaiah.
So, last week, Chris preached the Temple vision, and how Isaiah saw the Lord, understood his own sin in light of the holiness of the Lord, and was graciously purified by the Lord. Now, this week, we pick up in verse 8. This is picking up immediately after verse 7 where Isaiah had the coal touched to his mouth, and his sins taken away.
I’m breaking the text up into 3 sections today; 1) The Call. 2) The Message and Response. 3) The Hope.
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.”
This is the first time in the whole vision that God speaks. Before we had the Seraphim proclaiming God, and Isaiah responding in repentance, and now God is breaking into the conversation.
And if like we saw last week, the whole temple shakes when the angels who worship YHWH speak, we have to wonder what it was like when their creator speaks. You could almost imagine every created thing in the temple stopping their songs in reverence to God, to hear His words, because that’s the kind of God we serve. When He speaks, galaxies are born, worlds are created, and even more miraculously, as we’ll see, people are sent, and hearts are changed.
So, what does God say? “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” God has a message for the people of Israel, and He’s looking for a candidate to be His prophet. Remember, a prophet would primarily show Israel where they were breaking the covenant, and call them back to YHWH. Notice God says “us” here. Not who will go for “me” but for “us”. Could this be pointing towards the Trinity maybe? Maybe God is referring to the angels around Him who share His purposes as His servants? Really, it could be either, but the emphasis on “we” gives a sense of majesty and gravity. Royalty is speaking.
And what’s interesting here is Isaiah’s response. So, God is asking who will go, and Isaiah cries out, “Here am I! Send me!” You’d almost thing that Isaiah would still be cowering in fear of this awesome God, wishing he could fall into the ground and escape His holy presence.
Think of Adam and Eve when they had realized they had sinned, and decided to hide from God in fear for their lives. You’d think that Isaiah would be like that. Silent. Timid. Totally afraid to say anything in response to this God, maybe trying to go unnoticed in the temple. But he doesn’t.
He pipes in and, seemingly pretty excitedly, shouts out to be the candidate. So, what’s the difference between Adam and Isaiah? Grace. Mercy. Thankfulness. Let me unpack that, and explain what I mean.
Nobody had to coerce or persuade Isaiah into going to be God’s messenger. God didn’t ask Isaiah specifically to do it, He just asked generally who would. Isaiah didn’t even know what his task was going to be yet, but he was so enthusiastic, he didn’t really care – “I’m your man God! I’ll do it!” Here’s why I think that is. Isaiah was just purified by the angel with the coal, and all of his sins were washed away. So likely out of joy and thankfulness for God’s grace, he immediately volunteers, because he wants to serve the God who takes sins away.
Adam and Eve were still in a state of condemnation when they hid from God, but Isaiah is in a state of grace with no sins, and so he knows he can approach the throne and serve this holy God now, not because Isaiah is awesome, but because of what God has done to him.
The passage wants to show us this willing thankfulness in response to Gods salvation. But at the same time, we know that our God is sovereign, and in grace, ordained that Isaiah would respond this way.
Symbolically, this is fitting that Isaiah is going to be the mouthpiece for God now, because his lips that were unclean before were burnt and purified. Now they are actually able to speak for God. So, this shows us two things.
1) God doesn’t only take our sins away in a legal sense. He doesn’t just consider us pure, deal with our sin debt, and leave us the same. He actually purges us from how we once were and makes us different. Again, Isaiah’s lips were filthy, and now they’re pure. God changed Him.
2) The second thing this shows us is that God saves His people unto something. He doesn’t just save them to save them. He saved Isaiah so that Isaiah could be His ambassador. In other words, when God saves someone, He doesn’t move on to the next thing and let them be as they were. He gives them work to do. And now, Isaiah has this commission.
The Message And Response
So, what does God call Isaiah to say for Him? Look at verse 9.
9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make 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.”
So, we see here that Isaiah’s preaching judgment on Israel. This is a message of warning to Israel who is constantly hardening their hearts towards God and His law. And we see that this message is going to have an effect that makes most of the people continue in their hardness. Look at the language Isaiah uses in verse 10; “Make their hearts dull”.
Here’s an analogy. I have baby hands right now because I haven’t been working the kind of jobs I usually work; I’ve been in school. But when I’m working, my hands, and my fingertips become callused, and hard, and “dull”. Many of you know what this is like. When your hands are like this, you basically have no feeling in your fingertips. Over time, as your hands become dull, they become less and less sensitive to the point where they can’t even feel anything.
My mom runs a restaurant, and she will sometimes grab dishes, or other things that are super-hot without flinching. If I grabbed them, I’d flinch and scream like a baby, but my mom just handles them like a monster, because slowly overtime in the kitchen, her hands have become less and less sensitive to the heat.
That’s the idea here behind hearts becoming “dull”. They can’t feel anything anymore. They aren’t sensitive to God’s Word anymore so they don’t respond, and they only continue becoming more and more dull over time. It’s the same thing with their blindness and deafness. They should be able to feel, and see, and hear God’s Word and commands more than any nation on the earth. But because of their sin, over time, they feel nothing, see nothing, and hear nothing. They are dead-men, and this message will only make them hate God more, and more, and more.
So then Isaiah asks:
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
This is a great question. Wouldn’t you want to know how long you were supposed to keep preaching this seemingly useless message? That seems like a waste of time, and eventually Isaiah would be tempted to get discouraged and quit. It would be like using a broken tool (preaching being the tool in this analogy) that doesn’t work, over and over and over. Eventually you’d just give up and not use that tool if it doesn’t work for what it's intended.
Think of it this way; A bolt is the covenant God gave to His people. Israel is a nut that is supposed to stay fastened to the bolt (the covenant). Overtime a nut may slowly start to loosen and come off of a bolt. In the same way, overtime Israel was prone to depart from the covenant they had with God.
And to prevent them from totally “falling off”, God sent the prophets. The prophets would show Israel where they were departing from the covenant so that they could correct, so their preaching was like a wrench that would tighten the nut of Israel back onto the bolt of the covenant. But Isaiah was just told that his wrench wouldn’t work. He’s going to use his preaching wrench, but the nut is going to fall off anyway, and Israel is going to become blind and dull. How do we make sense of this? Well… God isn’t using a wrench. He’s using a hacksaw. Pick up in verse 11-12, where God tells Isaiah how long to preach this message for.
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the Lord removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
This is describing the eventual exile that was going to come upon Israel for her sin. They wouldn’t stop sinning, so they were going to be taken by foreigners to a foreign land, leaving the land a desolate, empty forsaken wasteland.
So, I said God was using Isaiah’s preaching more like a hacksaw. Here’s what I mean. Isaiah’s preaching will bring about the exile, because Israel won’t listen. And this exile is going to cleanse Israel by purging it of the inhabitants who are like a disease to the land.
Think of the vineyard analogy of Isaiah 5, where God says he’ll cut hedges, and devour branches that bear bad fruit. He’s cutting off a disease out of the land. And God has total right to do this. He created us, He owns us, and He commands us to obey. We exist to obey, so when we don’t, judgment is totally appropriate.
So, God isn’t sending Isaiah to preach this in hopes that they will repent. Let me read verse 10 again;
Make 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.”
God knows this message wont lead to repentance. It isn’t supposed to. It’s supposed to harden Israel’s heart. The message is serving its purpose by blinding them and making their hearts dull. All of this, so that they would go into exile, and rid the land of the disease of sin.
So, one question we may have is this; Is God just blinding people who would have otherwise repented? No. We shouldn’t think that God is bending anyone’s arm here to sin. It isn’t as if Israel really wants to be pure, but God isn’t letting them. We learned already from the first 5 chapters of Isaiah, that Israel is already steeped in sin. They want to sin. Their hearts are already hard. Their already blind, and dead.
But in Ezekiel 36, a New Covenant promise passage, we see that God promises Israel, that He will someday change their hearts, so that they could love God’s Word and submit to it willingly when they hear it. These people are so different from how Israel currently is in Isaiah.
Here’s the point. The Word of God always does something to the hearer. It always has an effect on people. To those who love God and have been given a new heart by Him it acts like a wrench that tightens them up, corrects them, and sets them back in place. To those who already hate God, His Word acts like a hacksaw, and only drives them further from God, separating them out from the true people of God.
This is why Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The Word of God is powerful, and what it does depends on what kind of person it is received by. The Word of God doesn’t need changing. The heart does.
So now we understand how God’s Word does the work, but let’s get back on track to how it is doing the work in Isaiah 6. Remember, God is using His Word through Isaiah to purge rebellious Israel.
Isaiah goes on to use this language of purging in verse 13;
13 And though a tenth remain in it, (Some Israelites were left in the land in the first wave of exile)
it will be burned again, (We learn in Ezekiel 33:21-33 that Jerusalem is eventually totally destroyed along with the temple)
But here’s where the hope kicks in. Here’s where we see the triumph of grace!
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.
That word “felled” there means cut down. So, the analogy is like a massive forest fire that consumes a whole forest, cutting down all the trees. Israel is the forest, and the fire is the purging of the exile. They wouldn’t produce good fruit, so God destroys the diseased branches with a fire. Israel is almost totally annihilated, and the only thing left is a stump… But – there is still a stump!
And not just any stump, but the text says that the holy SEED is its stump! This seed language would have made Isaiah and some of his listeners think of the promise of a “seed” given to Eve and Abraham and David. The promise of a Messiah who would come, crush the serpents head, and rule over God’s people, keeping them in perfect covenant relationship with Him. So, there is hope language going on here!
Now, let’s take a minute to back up and look at what we’ve covered so far. Isaiah see’s God in a vision, and is purified by Him, and his sins are taken away. Then, Isaiah willingly volunteered to be God’s spokesmen out of joy for the grace he received. So, God gave Isaiah a message. And because of Israel’s hardened heart the Word from God would only make their hearts harder, until the exile, where Israel would be almost totally destroyed, besides one little seed. This seed was those who survive the exile, returning to Israel, and who feared God.
So how is God going to use this awful sinful rebellious nation to bring forth His promised seed to crush the serpents head and bless the nations with a king? He is going to purge Israel almost entirely, but keep for Himself a small amount of people who do serve and honor Him! And these people would return from the exile as survivors, and settle in the land again one day.
And we know now, that this people eventually brought about Jesus the Messiah, the true seed of the woman. He conquered the sin of God’s people, and gave us new hearts to love God’s law instead of becoming hardened like the Israelites!
So, the forest God burned down and purged, He also left a small seed in. And when everything seemed desolate, destroyed, and hopeless, grace triumphed, and that small seed grew into a plant, giving signs of life. And that small plant grew into a whole new vineyard all rooted in Jesus Christ the true holy seed, who crushes the head of the serpent!
Let me read Isaiah 27:1-5 which describes this beautifully:
In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.
2 In that day,
“A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!
3 I, the Lord, am its keeper;
every moment I water it.
Lest anyone punish it,
I keep it night and day;
4 I have no wrath.
Would that I had thorns and briers to battle!
I would march against them,
I would burn them up together.
5 Or let them lay hold of my protection,
let them make peace with me,
let them make peace with me.”
Jesus slays the dragon. He creates a vineyard that is pleasant and kept by God. He tends to it night and day. And even the rebellious thorns and briers in it are called to make peace with God, and lay hold on His protection.
EBC, if you are in the vineyard of Christ, connected to the vine by faith, you are tended to by God, and there is no wrath for you.
And if you are still a rebel within the vineyard… You’re here, but not really sure about Jesus, and you haven’t repented yet, know this; God’s wrath abides on you, right now. But… He calls you to take hold of His protection in Christ and make peace with Him! He longs for you to do that. He doesn’t want to march on you and burn you up, and He offers you a hiding place in Christ.
But remember; we are not just saved for the sake of being saved. God has work for us. After seeing God, understanding who He was, and receiving grace from Him, Isaiah didn’t need anyone to convince Him to speak for this God. The vision of who God is, and His grace was enough to motivate Isaiah.
Now get this; In the gospel of John 12:41, John quotes this text from Isaiah 6, and says that Isaiah was speaking of Jesus’s glory in the temple. This was the Son of God that Isaiah saw in a partial vision. How much clearer of a picture of God do you and I have now that we have Christ? How much more grace and mercy have we received from the cross? If Isaiah shot up ready for action after seeing the partial picture, how much more should you and I do now that we have the fullness in the gospel?
And God has given us a commission to go into all the world and preach the gospel, baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and we can do this with faith that God’s Word is enough, because He promises us that surely He is with us even until the end of the age (Matthew 28:16-20)! EBC, we exist to produce fruit, and that comes by bringing the gospel to every nation.
So how do we get a clear view of God to motivate us to do this? Look into the face of Jesus who reveals God through the Scriptures. He shows us God even clearer than a vision. But be careful when doing this. We’ve seen today that you can’t be indifferent to God’s Word. It always either gives life and obedience, or it hardens and makes dull.
So, don’t be deceived into thinking that being indifferent to the Word is passable. Its dangerous. So, pray always that God would give you the kind of heart that receives His Word gladly, and sees all the glory that is there to empower you to serve Him.
Be like Isaiah when you see His glory; “Here I am! Send me!” Daily devour the Word, so that you can have the strength to carry out our great commission, which is more glorious than Isaiah’s commission.
We’re not promised blindness and hardness! We’re promised fruit from every tribe tongue and nation, to win them to Jesus so that they can all glorify Him, obeying from the heart, falling at His feet in worship. Let’s pray.