I want to start by saying that Jackie and I are thankful for all of your prayers for Elijah. He was diagnosed with a possible risk of Downs Syndrome early during the pregnancy. But those tests just indicate a greater probability of Downs but nothing is conclusive. There is a genetic test you can take to determine with absolute certainty whether or not an infant has Downs. The problem is – it’s an invasive procedure – you have to stick a needle in the womb and there is a 1 in 1500 chance of miscarriage. So after talking it over with some people, we thought, there is no need to take that risk. If he does have Downs it would be nice to know in advance and have time to prepare mentally but it also seemed like a great opportunity to trust God.
In the beginning, my prayer was Lord, have mercy, as you are knitting him in the womb, please fix his chromosomes. I am too weak, please Lord. In the months that followed, I was reassured in prayer that I can trust him, that whatever happens, Elijah’s life is in his hands. He is sovereign. He knows what he is doing. And it was a process of letting go of my children to the Lord. I know this surrendering and peace that transcends understanding was the direct result of everyone’s concern and prayer for our family and we thank you deeply.
Last week Pastor Daniel spoke about the dual reality we all face – on the one hand, we have physical reality, what we see and touch, the daily grind of LA. And on other hand, we have the spiritual reality of God and if we are tuned in to this reality, we will realize that this reality is the real deal and the physical reality is just a shadow. To help tune into this spiritual reality, P Daniel encouraged us to practice daily worship and prayer.
So I started my Monday with high hopes. As you know, my mom stayed with us for the past month and I love my mom but you know, a month is a long time. And I bet she was relieved as well that it was time for her to return home. So Monday morning, we left for the airport at 5:30am.
But I was fine with that. I had my morning all planned out. Drop off my mom by 6am, have a brief mini-celebration at Burger King because I have been unable to eat fast food for the past month, go to the gym, swim, go to starbucks, do DT, go to the park and do a prayer walk. I had 3 hours before work to exercise, worship, and pray.
Well, I only got to step 2. I dropped off my mom, step 1. I got to burger king, no problem. I was eating in the car while driving and that’s where the problem began. I was holding the steering wheel in my left pinky and with my other fingers I was holding one of those syrup cartons. And with my other hand I had one of those delicious french toast sticks. Who knows what I am talking about? Yes, you know what I am talking about. I love driving stick shift but I decided a year ago that I needed a car with automatic transmission because it’s important to free up both hands for just this type of situation.
Bryan Suh, don’t try this at home. I am sharing this story so that the youth can learn from my mistakes.
So I am driving and enjoying my frenchtoast stick. I’m on La Cienega approaching Washington. And the light turns yellow, but I have the syrup in one hand, french toast in the other and I am about to enter the intersection. So what do I do? I pressed the accelerator. I don’t know why. And as I am entering the intersection, I see a sign out of the corner of my eye, Photo Enforced.
And in a flash, literally a flash of light, there goes my morning.
I was mad at myself so I skipped the gym, I skipped the cafe. I settled for that horrible tasting burger king coffee instead of the delicious Starbucks americano. I get to the park, but instead of doing the prayer walk like I had planned, I’m not in the mood. So I end up just sleeping in my car, my stomach filled with french toast, hashbrowns and bad coffee.
This is LA life. And my stupidity of course. And sure enough, it ended up being one of those dreaded Monday mornings.
Work was tough. People were moody. I was moody. And to top it all off, I was driving home after work, I get to an intersection and though I might have had enough time to go through it, but I didn’t want to risk it even though this intersection didn’t even have a camera. But that’s besides the point, because I am paranoid. If you have gotten those photo tickets before, you know there is a period of over-compensation. The light is still green but you approach an intersection and you are already preparing to brake.
And so I am in that over-compensation mode and the light is green and I slow down as I am approaching the intersection, the light turns yellow and I slam on the brakes. The guy behind me is peeved so he swerves around me and he does a PG-13 hand gesture outside of his window.
And I see that and I’m like, that’s it. All these thoughts come in. I want to chase him down. I want to say, do you know that i just got a $400 ticket. Then maybe you’d understand. And if there was a photo camera at that intersection, you know, buddy, you would have gotten a ticket, too. Needless to say, I was not feeling very Christian in that moment.
And I had a lot to think about on my drive home and I ended up praying in tears, God, I need you. I want to see you, I want to hear you, but I can’t. All I see is the grind of LA traffic and flashing photo cameras and crazy LA drivers with fingers they love to flaunt.
Can you relate? We all have good intentions. We make time in our schedule to come to church, to do daily devotionals, to pray and attend various meetings. And we assume that when we are engaged in these activities, we are hearing the voice of God. But if we are hearing his voice and we are tuned into God’s spiritual reality, our physical reality wouldn’t dominate our thoughts or dictate our decisions and even our moods.
Christians who are tuned into God’s voice, I think, would have an untouchable quality. Life just can’t touch that person, whether good or bad things happen, when a person hears God’s voice, all the other noise fades to the background.
Today, I’d like to discuss how we as individuals and as a people can hear God’s voice and tune into this spiritual reality? Isaiah 6, the calling of Isaiah, reveal 3 ways we can become a people who see and hear God personally and as a church?
The 3 ways include: repentance, surrender and obedience.
Let’s read Isaiah 6. I’ll read odd verses if you can respond with the even verses.
The first 5 chapters of Isaiah paint a rather dark picture about the state of God’s people living in Judah.
Read 1:11-13. 11 “The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and invocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
These verses reveal a people who are engaged in religious activity but they are missing the whole point of why it is that they have been chosen to be God’s people.
They were engaged in self-indulgent worship. Religion was all about them. How do we know this? They failed to act justly and righteously to their neighbors. The whole point of God setting apart a people for himself was so that they would assume the role of being a servant for all the nations. Through their service, through their compassion, through acting in a right and just way toward their pagan neighbors, God’s plan was that other nations would learn of God’s ways and acknowledge him as their Lord and Savior.
That’s the whole point of Isaiah – God wants Judah to be a city on a hill, a light to the nations, but instead of being concerned about the lost nations, they turn inward and only care about themselves.
And because their focus had turned inward, what was the result – they lacked UNDERSTANDING – 1:3 – 3 The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”
How did they get this way?
6:1 – “In the year that King Uzziah died” – King Uzziah became king of Judah at the age of 16 and he reigned for 52 years. And for most of that reign, King Uzziah was a good king. He was an efficient administrator and an able military leader. And under his leadership, Judah grew in prosperity and they felt secure. But toward the end of his reign, Uzziah, looking at all he had accomplished, fell into pride and God struck him down with leprosy.
What must Isaiah and the rest of God’s people be thinking? Here is Uzziah, the man we trusted and put so much hope in, he ended his life in shame and now he is gone. And in the backdrop is the rise of a resurgent Assyria who is building up its military strength.
It’s no coincidence that God came to Isaiah in the year king Uzziah died. When things are going well, when there is money in the bank and you are feeling secure, it is difficult to hear the voice of God. But in times of crisis, at a time when your king is dead and the enemy is approaching, we are in a much better position to hear the voice of God.
And I also think that it is no coincidence that this vision was given to Isaiah IN THE TEMPLE. Read 6:1. 1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. The train of God’s robe filled the TEMPLE and later in verse 4, due to the voices of the seraphs who shouted, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory, there was a violent shaking of the doorposts and thresholds of that very temple.
The year that this vision was given to Isaiah is significant. But why is the location where Isaiah received this vision significant?
Remember, earlier I said that the problem God had with His people in Judah was a self-focused, ritualistic, empty religion that made no difference in how they lived their lives in society.
The people of God are failing in their mission. How can they be the light to the nations when they themselves are blind? They don’t see God, they can’t hear God. They lack spiritual understanding, they are not tuned into God and His spiritual reality. But through this vision, God takes Isaiah through the steps of restoring sight and hearing and understanding.
Isaiah sees the glory of God, the train of his robe, the seraph. And he hears what the seraphs and later what God has to say. So through this vision, God is giving a preview of what’s in store for his people. What God did for Isaiah on an individual level, He is going to do for His people on a national and historic scale.
At the beginning of this vision, Isaiah is just like everyone else. He is going to the temple just like everyone else. He lacks the ability to see and hear God just like everyone else.
But this time, it’s different. God comes to him through a vision. And this vision is fiery. It’s full of fire.
In Deut 4:24, God is described as a consuming fire. Isaiah uses the same imagery in Isa 33:14 — read. 14 The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?”
Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning? God is a consuming fire. And the title seraph denotes “fiery one.” And a fiery coal is used in 6:6 to cleanse Isaiah’s unclean lips.
Why fire? Why consuming fire? Fire destroys, but when applied temporarily, it cleanses. When I was growing up, I would sometimes come home from playing outside with a thorn in one of my fingers. And my dad would take a needle and put it over the fire from the stove to sterilize it. To cleanse it from impurities. This is what fire does, if applied for a short duration, it cleanses.
Isaiah encountered the triple holiness of God and it consumes him. He cries out, Woe to me, I am ruined, I am undone. He is unraveling. He is disintegrating, coming apart at the seams. And while prostrate on floor, from that facedown position, all he catches a glimpse of is the hem of God’s robe and even just that filled the temple.
And in that unraveling, a seraph comes to Isaiah and places a burning coal on Isaiah’s lips.
Why the lips? Because the lips reveal what is in our hearts. From the stuff that resides in our hearts, the mouth speaks. Luke 6:45 reads, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
If Isaiah’s lips were clean, he would be praising God like the seraphim.
Isaiah knows that his heart is not right so he confesses, my lips are unclean and I live among a people of unclean lips. The hearts of God’s people have turned to Canaanite idols and gods of fertility and prosperity and pleasure. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is just one of the many options. This is the world Isaiah lives in, that he himself has succumbed to. And in the presence of a holy God, Isaiah sees the immense gap between God and himself. And he confesses his sin.
And this is first step if you want to see and hear God properly. You have to repent.
Repentance is a process of being reoriented to view reality from God’s perspective. Tuning into God’s spiritual reality.
When is the last time you repented? What comes out of your lips? If it is complaining, if it is critical comments, then this is a reflection of our hearts. The stuff we say comes from the overflow of our hearts.
But you may be thinking, I don’t need to repent or I’m repenting enough. I confess my sins whenever I can, I say sorry when I do wrong. I fall into temptations here and there but who doesn’t? I don’t hurt others. I do nice things for my friends and family. I don’t break the law except for occasional photo tickets. We look at each other and we think we’re alright. We think we are better off than the guy next to us.
In 6:7-8, God gives us a litmus test to see whether or not our repentance is genuine and acceptable to God.
6:7 – 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” the seraph says you are forgiven, your guilt is gone, your sin atoned for. But the very next verse reveals the authenticity of Isaiah’s repentance. 6:8 – God asks, Whom shall I send, who will go for us? And proving that his repentance is real, Isaiah without hesitation says, Here am I, send me. Those words reveal that Isaiah understands the magnitude of what has just happened. He understands that he is unclean through and through. And he recognizes that he has been shown immeasurable grace and mercy.
And his attitude is, Lord, how can I repay you? I’ll do anything you ask me. You are my Master and I your servant. Ask whatever you want and I’ll do it. Isaiah gets it. He says, Here I am. This is true repentance.
If you want to see and hear God, first, there’s repentance. But repentance is followed by surrender. There is no repentance apart from surrender. These two always go together. In fact, a desire to surrender, Here am I, send me, validates our repentance. It shows that we really meant it when we confessed our sins. It shows that we understand that although we ought to be destroyed by the fires of God’s judgment, God has unjustly pardoned us and cleansed us.
In addition, surrendering is more than saying, Lord, I am here, I am available for service. It is also surrendering our ideas and notions about God. One way we limit God and make it hard to hear God’s voice is by thinking we already know what faith looks like. God can be saying one thing and we don’t hear it because we think our way of doing things is right and pleasing to God.
Remember, Isaiah was already a religious person. Who knows how many times he visited that temple, how many times he read the Scriptures. But this encounter is the first time, at least in a long while, when he really heard and saw God. And to get there, he had to surrender what he thought about what it meant to live in a God honoring way.
Do you give God room to change your perspective about God and Christian life or do you rely on the fact that you have been Christian a long time and things are familiar to you?
Isaiah has shown us how we can see God and hear his voice. First, we need to repent. Second, we need to surrender. And lastly, we need to obey whatever God tells us.
That’s a dangerous place to be – to tell God, here am I, send me. Isaiah doesn’t even know what he is signing up for. I never noticed this before. God asks, who will go for us? And without knowing the task at hand, Isaiah volunteers. In 6:9-10, God gives him the mission — read. 9 He said, “Go and tell this people: ” ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
I don’t know about you, but if I heard this mission, I might have had some second thoughts. God asks Isaiah to speak a prophesy of judgment. And it is an interesting prophesy to say the least. Earlier in Isaiah ch1-5, the people are not understanding, they cannot see nor hear God. Again, the same language in Isaiah 6, but with the added emphasis that the people are MADE to have calloused hearts and dull ears and closed eyes.
Is God saying that HE is the source of the hardening of their hearts? How is it different from Isaiah 1:3 when God says my people are already in a state of not understanding? Prior to this vision, the people lacked spiritual understanding but they were totally oblivious to it. They were just enjoying their lives and thinking they are worshiping God by going to the temple every week.
But now, through Isaiah, God gives them an In-Your-Face message revealing their wretched state. But unlike Isaiah, they don’t get it. And as a result of them not getting it, God hardens their hearts. What is going on here?
To illustrate, let me share about me and my dad growing up. My dad like all fathers told me a lot of things I didn’t want to hear about myself. I said on the surface, yes, dad, I agree, you’re right. But deep down inside, I was stubborn and I didn’t want to admit that he was right. So what did I do? I hardened my heart toward him and his words. That is the only way I could maintain my pride by hardening my heart and saying, those words can’t touch me. I’m fine just the way I am. In those angry moments following his rebuke, I could feel my heart literally hardening.
I think a similar thing is happening here. God brings a harsh message through Isaiah – this is your state. You are just going through the motions. You think you know me. You think you see me. You think you hear me, but I am not in the picture at all. Isaiah heard this same message and he repented, he surrendered and now he is obeying God by delivering this kind of difficult message. Unlike Isaiah, the people did not heed Isaiah’s words. They must have thought that Isaiah was just some crazed, insane prophet. They didn’t think his words applied to them. God was speaking through Isaiah and they could not perceive it.
How many times does God speak and we deflect his words or dismiss them saying that message doesn’t apply to me. Every time we do that and fail to respond properly, we are hardening our hearts against God. And it gets harder to hear God the next time and even harder the third time until eventually we are spiritually deaf and blind.
What Isaiah said is offensive to religious people. He is saying your religion is empty. It is meaningless. It is a trampling of God’s courts. You are like a vineyard — God has poured out love and expected good fruit but Judah has only produced bad grapes.
And if you are a religious person living in Isaiah’s day and you hear this kind of message, you have 2 choices. Either you repent like Isaiah did or you harden your heart. It’s either God’s way and you agree with His assessment of your spiritual condition or you insist on your own way and say I am fine with my version of religion.
Isaiah is asked to deliver this kind of harsh prophecy against the people he loved. And it was a ministry that he had no chance of achieving success in.
Isaiah must have had some reservations. That is why in 6:11, Isaiah asks God, How long?
You know when you are doing something really hard esp something you don’t really want to do, by knowing there is an end or placing some kind of mental finishing point, it’s somehow easier to endure.
It happens to students who are studying for Physics. I want to be hanging out with friends but let me just do one chapter and then I’ll reward myself and go out with my friends. Or for Caltech students, it is more like let me do one more hour of hanging out so that I can reward myself with a physics problem set.
Or you are running and you are in pain and you say one more lap, then pinkberry! I can do it! Being a missionary in Japan was tough but we got by because we said, well, it’s just one more year.
Isaiah hears the mission and he immediately realizes the task at hand is really kind of tough and he asks, How long? He must have thought, I could handle this kind of ministry for a year, maybe two. That’s it. By then, I bet God will give me a new mission.
Isaiah had no such relief.
God’s answer comes in the latter half of 6:11 and continues to 6:12 — read. 11 Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?” And he answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, 12 until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken.
As history unfolds, the prophecy is true. Nobody repents. The fiery coal of judgment is placed on the nation of Judah and they are overtaken by Assyria. Next, the temple in Jerusalem is utterly destroyed and the people are taken into Babylonian captivity. After Babylon, Persia becomes their new oppressors. Then Malachi comes onto the scene and there is a long period of silence from God. God sends no more prophets after Malachi for 400 years.
How would you feel if God asked you to obey this kind of mission? Where there is absolutely no chance for visible success in your lifetime? You might say, Lord, that’s not fair. Lord, why did you give me such a hard life?
Peter asked the same question in John 21 – right after Peter repented and Jesus reinstated Peter and told him about the life of suffering and the death he had to die, and it says “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. 21When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” 22Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
Jesus’ answer to Peter is revealing. Don’t worry about the other guy. What is that to you? You, you follow me. You obey me – that is the only thing you need to worry about.
And as we see from the life of Isaiah, this path of obedience will usually be hard? Why? Because our salvation is not for ourselves. Did you ever think about that?
What is your view of Christian life? If it is all about us, our feelings of intimacy with God, all the benefits of having people who love us, our emotional well-being and feeling good about ourselves, if this is what our faith in God amounts to, then we would never agree to obey God in the way that Isaiah did. It’s too hard. There are no results. What’s in it for me? Nothing. And you obey and what do you get in return? Everyone around you thinks you’re crazy.
But when Isaiah repented and he surrendered his life, he realized an important lesson. He finally understood that life was not about him. And God asks to those who have ears to hear to live not for yourself but for others. Isaiah understood that an obedient life is not about success or getting what you want or fitting God into your agenda or receiving all the benefits from God for yourself. He knew that obedience is about being faithful to what God tells you to do, many times at great personal cost.
Is that your view of Christian life? That I am a Christian to obey God whatever he asks and to serve others. To sacrifice and to let go of my agenda for the benefit of others, so that they too can encounter God.
The goal of salvation is much more than finding personal fulfillment. The vision God has for Israel is that they would be a light to the nations. It was not so that they could take pride in their national identity. The redemption plan was never meant to end with them. God always had the redemption of all nations in view from the beginning.
Isaiah lived as a servant, to serve others. And of course, Isaiah also predicts in one of the most famous passages in all Scripture, Isaiah 53, that the real servant is not himself, it’s not even a reformed Judah. The true servant is the coming Messiah who demonstrates what a life of surrender and full obedience looks like. Jesus did not benefit one bit in taking on human flesh and becoming a servant. In fact, he left everything and gave up his own life so that people like us thousands of years later could have a chance of knowing God.
Isaiah obeyed and preached this prophecy against his people. And although did not see any results in his lifetime, we see that his life was not in vain. In fact, God promises that some will repent and turn back to him. Read 6:13. 13 And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
There is mention of a faint hope – a stump. Though the fiery judgment of God has been carried out in full, there always remains a remnant, a handful of people who are able to hear God’s voice beckoning them to repent, surrender and obey. A life lived out in obedience is never in vain from God’s eternal perspective.
In closing, have you heard the voice of God recently? I pray we can do some self-examination this week.
Maybe you haven’t heard God’s voice in a long time because your focus has turned inward. And when you turn inward, all you see is a list of all the needs that God has not met. He hasn’t met this need, he hasn’t fixed this issue, that incident has not been resolved. And it’s an endless black hole when you are wrapped around yourself.
In fact, this self-oriented view of life is a prison. We actually our captive to ourselves. When we don’t repent, sin is our master. We are enslaved. But God sent us His Son, the true servant, to set us free. We are free to leave our prison of self and look up. And when you look up, you will recognize that your greatest need has been met in Christ. And because Christ has met our greatest need, we can let go of all our smaller unmet needs.
For someone who has really heard God’s voice and repented, there is a freedom to say, Lord, here am I, I am ready to serve you. I am here to serve others. That’s freedom. And such a person can confess as Isaiah did in 6:5, I am free because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty. May that be our confession.
Prayer: while the band comes up to play, I’d like to lead you through some guided prayer. Are you tuned into God’s spiritual reality? When is the last time you heard his voice? Isaiah confessed he had unclean lips. From the overflow of our hearts, our mouths speak. What kinds of words have you been speaking these days? Has it been praise? If not, what do your words reveal about the condition of your heart? Maybe God is asking you to repent. Surrender is a litmus test that validates our repentance. Can you say right now, Lord, here am I, send me? If not, perhaps there is some unconfessed sin? Or some idol you are clinging onto that you are not ready to let go. True repentance and surrender go hand in hand. Have you let go of your notions of what you think Christian life ought to look like? Maybe there is a thought pattern that God wants you to surrender so that you can give God fresh ears to hear him. What is the direction, the orientation of your Christian life? Is Christian life all about getting what you want, getting all of your needs met or have you begun to see the needs of others? Are you ready to obey whatever the cost? Repentance, surrender, obedience – this is the pathway to see and hear God.