The Greatness of God
In our current evangelical context, I'm afraid that confusion about worship abounds. I think that's for two reasons. The most important is we don't know God. And second, we don't see the depth of our sin. We don't know God and we don't know the depth of our sin.
And you see this in the assumption we hear often that worship is only music. So, we call the guy leading the music, the worship leader, right? I know I lead the music. I don't particularly like the term. I'm not leading the worship, I lead you to sing. And you guys are great. We can normally start a song and we just back off. I could just stop singing on the mic. Just kind of get you started. You guys are the most beautiful choir in Berea. But worship is not only music, it encompasses our whole life, or chief end is to worship, to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
So over the next few Sundays, we're going to examine what Scripture teaches us about worship. And as we do, this definition will be our guide. Okay? So here's the framework that we will be working from together: worship is a spirit empowered response to the greatness of God in Christ, as revealed in and according to God's word for His glory. That's a mouthful. So I'll say it again. Worship is a spirit empowered response to the greatness of God in Christ, as revealed in and according to God's word for His glory.
So I'm going to admit on the front end, over four weeks, we're not even going to come close to saying everything we could about worship. Geoff and Don and myself just went to G3 and the topic was worship. And I think we heard 12 sermons over two and a half days on worship, and it still scratched the surface. So, we're not going to say everything there is to say about worship, but we will have a good framework from which to work. Such as we will not get into anything about how worship is an aspect of communion with God. It's very important. But we're going to try to get a big picture. So on your own, you can kind of drill down as you read Scripture.
Worship that pleases God starts with him. It is a response to God's greatness. So worship begins with God's self-revelation, Scripture. We must start with who God is. Without knowing God, we can't properly worship Him. To think this way, If you don't know God, it is possible that you come here on a Sunday, and you don't know God and you sing, and you think you're worshiping but we cannot rightly call that worship If you don't know God. It's an act. You're doing it. But it's not a response to the greatness of God in Christ. It's not worship if it does not flow from who God is. Keith Getty, he is the hymn writer of "In Christ Alone," "The Lord is my salvation," many songs that we sing, he wrote, "authentic worship begins with an authentic view of the God of the Bible."
So here's our simple theme this morning: worship begins with God. Worship begins with God. A low view of God produces weak worship. And few passages give us a higher view of God than Isaiah 6. As we go through the passage this morning, we are going to just ask one simple but big question: What do we learn about God? What does this vision that God gave to Isaiah teach us about God?
First, we learn that God is sovereign. Isaiah 6 opens by telling us that King Uzziah has died, The king is dead. There was a crisis of leadership in the land. And I wonder what Isaiah was thinking? Was he concerned? Was he sitting on pins and needles? Isaiah was unique among the prophets because he came from nobility, so he had access to the king's court. Unlike a prophet like Amos, who was a shepherd, he wouldn't have been around the king. And in the midst of the King's death, the first thing Isaiah sees is the Lord sitting upon a throne.
And I'm sure you noticed as we read the passage, there is a difference in the word Lord, in verse one, and in verse three. If you'll notice in verse one, it's capital L, lowercase o r d. Then we get to verse three, and that's all uppercase that's because the word "Lord" in verse one is "Adonai" which in Hebrew means "the sovereign one." I saw the sovereign one, sitting upon the throne. The King may be dead. God's not dead. God's the true king. God's still on the throne. World leaders come and go. But God is never off his throne. He's always reigning. And a sovereign God is worthy of worship. He's worthy of worship.
Victoria had a phone call this week with a lady who she knows, professionally and they were recounting a very, just awful event that happened this week, a tragic event. And this lady told Victoria "I don't think God causes anything like this. I think God's up in heaven crying, trying to figure out how to make something good come out of this" What a weak God. God's not on the throne. That God doesn't even know what's going on. That God's not worthy of worship that God's an idol. But our God on the throne, He's sovereign and He's worthy of all our worship. And because God is sovereign He has the right to determine what worship is and, this is where we normally fall off the bandwagon, how we do it.
So, therefore, my worship preferences and your worship preferences don't matter. If you demand, if I demand that my worship preferences be met, in order for me to worship God, our preferences are revealing our heart that we think God is boring. "I can't believe he's singing that song this Sunday. I can't sing to that." We don't sing only old hymns. "can't sing that new stuff." Our worship preferences don't matter because God is sovereign. Worship is always a response to the greatness of God. You could go as a missionary to Africa and worship in a hut, the way culturally they do their music and you're responding not because of the music but because God is great. And we rob ourselves when we think, "well, I will worship if it's what I like." And most importantly, our words damn us, because we say "Um God. Take it or leave it."
So we first see that God is sovereign. And second, we see God is all-powerful. Not only is God the sovereign one on the throne, he is all-powerful. Isaiah saw that his throne was high and lifted up. There's no throne above it. God's throne is the highest throne. It's the majestic throne. So God in His sovereignty, has the authority, the right to do with his creation as he sees fit. But he also possesses the power, the ability to exercise that authority. He's all-powerful. He's all-powerful.
We're going through the Catechism for boys and girls with Carson, for schooling and I believe the question is, "Can God do all things?" And it says, "God can do all his holy will." Fits in line with his sovereignty and His Holiness. God can do it, why? He's all-powerful. There's no one above him.
There's no doubt in my mind that this first verse, this first part of the vision would have been a great comfort to Isaiah. The king was gone and overall Usaih had been a good king. But Isaiah was familiar enough with the northern kingdom of Israel to know that better days were not always ahead. Uzziah was not Ahab, but there was always a chance the next king would be like Ahab. So God comforts Isaiah, by reminding him that he is sovereign and he is all-powerful. He has the power to work his plan to perfection. And in many ways, if Isaiah his vision stopped there, that'd be plenty. It would be plenty.
God's sovereign. God's all-powerful, but the vision continues in verse two. "above him stood the Seraphim." We see the Seraphim in verse two. The Seraphim teaches that God is to be honored. God is to be honored. The Seraphim, Isaiah says "stood above the Throne." And this is the only time in Scripture that these heavenly beings, these angels are mentioned. They're not mentioned anywhere else. Isaiah's description says they have six wings.
Two of the wings were used to cover their face because no one can look at God and live. I thought of Moses in Exodus 33 and 34 where Moses asked God He says, "show me your glory." And God says," All right, I'm gonna put you behind this rock, and you'll see my back because you can't see me live, you will die." But two have the wings they covered their feet. Again, this reminds us of Moses when he approached the burning bush. God commanded him to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground well what made the dirt holy? The presence of God. And the Seraphim are always in God's presence therefore they always cover their feet.
The other two wings were used to fly. I imagine that what may have started off as a comforting vision for Isaiah became rather intense. Throughout Scripture, angels elicit fear and dread from those they visit. We think of angels as Cupid, riding around on his cloud. It's got his little love arrows, he's going to shoot people. But when the angel visited Mary and Luke, she was greatly troubled. Zachariah in Luke 1 was troubled. These are majestic, all inspiring creatures. John Piper said, "there are no puny or silly creatures in heaven only magnificent ones". So they communicate to us the majesty of God. Piper goes on to say, "Great and good as they are untainted by humans and they revere their Maker in great humility." They honor their Creator. They give him the worship he deserves, and think about this: If they respond in such a way, in the way that they do, how much more should we who are more than tainted by sin, respond to this great and gracious God. And honor is tied to awe being in awe of something. We--I'm including myself here. This is the Famous preacher "we"--we are rarely in awe of God. Rarely. I'd hate to tell you how often I am rarely in awe of God.
Last weekend, we traveled to North Carolina with Sarah and Justin and Victoria and Harper, for their grandmother's funeral. And a big part of their family life growing up was the beach. Their grandparents lived at the beach for a long time. Her funeral was at the beach. She was buried at the beach and her family graciously got us hotel rooms that overlook the ocean. So we went out on the balcony and you could see the great Atlantic Ocean. Harper tickled me because she went out on the porch, and right below the porch was a pool. and she lost her mind. A pool. "Ahh," all that Harper does "Yesh." We're Harper, looking at the pool when the oceans right there. There's something majestic in big and something to be worthy and awe of and we're like "I'll take the puny pool." We're rarely in awe of God. We are truly, as CS Lewis said "half-hearted creatures." It's hard to honor God when we are not in awe of him.
I think one reason for that is: God is holy, and we are not. The fourth truth we learn about God: God is holy. The seraphim have one job to protect and proclaim the holiness of God. You'll see that the text says one called to another "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." And you could use your imagination for a moment. Here's the picture I have one seraphim would call out "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." And as they are finishing that line, another, seraphim would come in and start singing, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts," as the first one is going into "the whole earth is full of his glory." I imagine the old church bells you hear on movies, where all these bells are ringing, ringing ringing or when there's a royal wedding in Great Britain, all these bells just going off because there's joy and celebration because of the wedding. I think another way to think of this is the song we sang this morning "Behold our God." Men start by singing "you will reign forever" and then the ladies before we can even finish singing, "let your glory fill the earth." It must have been breathtaking what Isaiah saw. The proclamation of God's holiness was so powerful. In verse four, we see that it shook the foundations of the thresholds. I imagine their voices being like Joe's battlefield voice, times a million. It shook the thresholds in the temple and if we were to just stand back for a moment, I think we would admit this scene is very fitting for God's holiness. This is the only truth about God that is repeated like this "Holy, holy, holy." It's a Hebrew way to place emphasis on a truth. So we never see God is "love, love, love," or "Grace, Grace, Grace," or "just just just" or "wrath, wrath, wrath." But we do see God is holy, holy, holy.
And often when we think of God's holiness, we think of purity. Well to say that God is holy is to say that God is pure. And purity is an element of God's holiness, but it doesn't define it. Because God is holy, he is pure. So what does the Bible mean when it says, "God is holy"? Simply put, God's holiness means that God is in a class by himself. And he is devoted to himself. MacArthur says this in a sermon on this passage, "the fundamental fact about God is that God is holy. God is awful, full of all. God is majestic. God is fearful. He is mighty. He is awesome. He is transcendent." And MacArthur is using all of these words to describe God's holiness. And Isaiah records God's word, it says there's none beside him. He is in a class by himself, Isaiah 45, verses five and six, "I am the Lord and there is no other," "besides me, there is no God. I am the Lord. And there is no other." Isaiah 45:18, "For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens, he is God, who formed the earth and made it. He established it. He did not create it empty. He formed it to be inhabited. I am the Lord, and there is no other." God has no rivals, He's in a class completely by himself. No one can match him. No one can challenge him. There's not a class above him. He is the class. He's in the class, all by himself.
Second, to say that God is holy is to say he's devoted to himself. If we could change the Catechism answer just a little bit, the chief end of God is to glorify God and to enjoy himself forever. Isaiah 42:8, "I am the Lord, that is my name. My glory, I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols." God would never give what is his to someone else. He's devoted to who he is, and to his work. Therefore, as His children, we should be surprisingly devoted to him and worship Him alone, as he defines it, and how he says it should happen.
In many ways, it stretches human language to try to wrap our words around the holiness of God. We reach a point where our language ends, and we just believe it, and we experience it. John Piper offers this wise counsel "to define the holiness of God ultimately winds up by saying God is holy means God is God. God is holy and that he is God and not man." Sproul writes in his book, "The Holiness of God," "the Word holy calls attention to all that God is." God is God. He is holy. He's in a class by himself and he is utterly devoted to himself.
Because God is who he is, he is holy, we must worship Him. We must. We're commanded to. The second most repeated command in scriptures to sing. It's interesting. Psalm 96 said at least three times that I can remember that's just in the first two verses "Sing to the Lord. Sing to the Lord." So as we gather on Sunday, we'll obey that command, because God is holy. We won't worry about how we sound. We don't worry about if we can keep our pitch if we have the right tone. We will sing because God is great. And if we're able to come to church on Sunday or even throughout the week, and we refuse to sing, we reveal what we think about God. The Holy God commands us to sing, and refusing to do so reveals our heart. We really don't think God is holy as he says he is if we sit there tight-lipped.
But this doesn't apply just to singing. How we love our wives is an act of worship. So we will do it as God says we should do it. I'm not going to go into parenting because we've all had that for the past few weeks. But how we love our children shows what we think of God. How we love our neighbor shows what we think of God. If we refuse to obey God, we show that we think very little of His Holiness. God is holy.
But not only is God holy, the seraphim declare he is glorious. God is glorious. God's glory is always connected to His Holiness. One pastor said, "the glory of God is the manifestation of His Holiness. God's holiness is the incomparable perfection of his divine nature. His glory is the display of that holiness." We go to Moses again in Exodus when he asked God, "show me your glory." It's always been interesting to me that there's not much emphasis on the light causes Moses' face to shine it's on what God said. God passed by him and said, "The Lord, the Lord, a God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the father's on the children and the children's children to the third, and the fourth generation. So how did Moses see God's glory? By the proclamation of his incomparable perfection; His holiness.
So God is sovereign, He's all-powerful, He's to be honored, He's holy, He's gracious. And it's easy to say here. It's harder to say when we leave here but how can we not respond by worshipping this great God? We have one more truth we need to learn about God but we see it in Isaiah's response. If you were to go home this afternoon and read Isaiah chapters one through five, you would see that Isaiah 6:5 is the first time Isaiah actually speaks in the book. Everything before chapter six, verse five, they are visions. You even see that Isaiah says "I saw a vision of the word of the Lord." So it is God speaking to Isaiah through visions, it's not Isaiah proclaiming anything yet to the people. Notice what Isaiah says. The first words we have recorded from Isaiah. "Woe is me! for I am lost." Woe. The Old Testament prophets used this word often. it's a word of cursing. Isaiah literally, pronounces a curse on himself. He says "I'm lost." He was, he was unhinged. By this vision, he had from God. He knew he was heading for destruction. There was no hope. Why does he say this? He says I am a man of unclean lips. Let's put it in terms today. Isaiah said he had a dirty mouth. He didn't control his tongue. Isaiah was a prophet. His voice, his tongue was instrumental in carrying out the mission that God had given to him and he says I am a man of unclean lips. The revelation of God's greatness of who God is showed him how wretched he was. Isaiah says, "For my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts." Don't miss this. Isaiah first and foremost was concerned about his own sin and his response to God. He didn't see the vision and say, "oh, Nahum, that guy. I really don't have a dirty mouth compared to him." No. "I am a man of unclean lips." He knew he was sinful before a holy God, and He knew he was in danger. One commentator wrote, "when he saw God for the first time in his life, he saw Isaiah and knew how wretched he was." Thank god that's not where the vision ended.
Verses six and seven. "Then one of the seraphim flew to me having in his hand a burning coal." I believe the seraphim was commanded by God who is the Lord of hosts, the Lord of angelic armies. So the seraphim is heading to Isaiah by command of God. "having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar, and he touched my mouth and said, Behold, this has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away and your sin, atoned for." Grace. God is gracious in His Holiness. God gives Isaiah grace even though he did not deserve it. So you see Isaiah, responding to the greatness of God. "Woe is me."
Then he responds again. God says in verse eight, "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?" And Isaiah without missing beat "Here I am! Send me." I'm ready. Let's go. Why? He saw God. He saw God. Knowing God for Isaiah came before serving God. Isaiah didn't get whipped up in some service, calling for missionaries. And Isaiah it says "Alright, I'm going. Got it." No, he saw God. And then he said, "Here I am., send me." You notice Isaiah didn't even know what the mission was. He just said, "Here I am, send me." It's a pretty awful mission. "Say to this people keep on hearing but do not understand." Essentially, God is telling Isaiah you're gonna preach, no one's gonna listen. It's where you're going.
God has been gracious to us wow could we not worship Him? We will want to respond with gratitude. We will want to respond by serving Him, not because we think we can pay him back, but because he has lavished His grace upon us. So worship is a Spirit-empowered response to the greatness of God in Christ.
So we meet a dilemma. We've got a problem. If our definition says we respond to the greatness of God in Christ, how do we see Christ in Isaiah six? I believe the answer is found in john 12:36-41. I'll read this for you though he had done so many signs before them" That he being Jesus. "they still did not believe in him. So that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled, Lord who has believed what he heard from us? And to who has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" That is Isaiah 53:1. So John is identifying Jesus with the suffering servant of Isaiah. Therefore, they could not believe for again, Isaiah said, "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes and understand with their heart and turn and I would heal them." So now John is quoting Isaiah 6:10. So now we're in Isaiah six. Then john says in verse 41, "Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. Well, who's the "him of verse 41? Jesus. So whose holiness and glory that Isaiah sees and there's a wonderful, beautiful vision? Christ, Christ. It's a pre-incarnate vision of the glory of Christ. The Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, and in Isaiah six verse one, where are where the Hebrew says, "The train of his robe filled the temple." the Septuagint translates it "and his glory, filled the temple." So you want to know how great God is? Look to Christ. You want to see God's sovereignty and action? Look to Christ who upholds the universe by the word of His power. Do you want to see his glory? Look to Jesus? Hebrew says "he is the radiance of the glory of God the exact imprint of his nature." Do you want to see God's holiness on full display? Look to Christ, look to Jesus.
So worship is a spirit empowered response to the greatness of God in Christ. And our God is sovereign. He's all-powerful. He's worthy of honor. He's holy, he's glorious, and he's gracious. And all of these wonderful truths find their fullest revelation in Christ. This is our great God. This is our God who is worthy of worship. So the question is, will you respond by worshipping him today?