1. God’s greatness and Isaiah’s vocation

The good news according to Isaiah –
1. God’s greatness and Isaiah’s vocation
Sermon on June 7th, 2020
Kirche am Bahnhof, Frankenberg
by Dr. Volker Aßmann
This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here

In our new series of sermons we keep occupied with one of the best-known books of the AT, which is quoted more often than all other books of the AT in the NT. That alone shows the importance of this book for us today.

It’s about the actual history of the time over 2700 years ago, so it’s a historical book. And it’s about the future as seen from that time, into the New Testament, up to Jesus and the beginning of His Church and congregation to this day. And it’s about what is still in the future for us today, 2700 years later. How can we understand prophecy, i.e. statements that refer to the future?

It is like seeing the Alpine panorama from a high mountain peak on a sunny day. We see mountains, nothing but mountains, mountain ranges and it looks as if the mountain ranges lie directly one behind the other. But in reality there are sometimes narrow and sometimes very wide valleys, which we cannot see.
In the same way, we can recognize no prophecies for the future, no times and intervals and processes and should be very careful here with definitions.
Let me make this clear with a current example! I have been asked repeatedly: What does Corona have to do with biblical end times? Can we classify this clearly in terms of content and, above all, in terms of time?
In order to speak with the picture of the Alpine panorama, we need restraint with such interpretations. After all, according to Jesus’ statements, the end times began with His coming to our earth 2000 years ago and continues to progress. Only we cannot see exactly where in the story we are now. And we shouldn’t be scared or panicked!

The book of Isaiah in particular can teach us not to lose sight of the goal of history and our lives..

Johannes Hartl speaks of two lines for understanding the book of Isaiah:
1. What is the goal we are aiming for? The people of Isaiah and us today?
2. What is the focus, what are we looking at?

It’s not just about history, the past, present and future, but also about our very personal lives, our own history and the importance of God’s speeches to us today.
The name “Isaiah” gives us a deep insight into what God wants to say with this book.
The Hebrew name “Isaiah” means: JAHWE is salvation / JAHWE creates salvation.
And this name says it all, that’s exactly what Isaiah as a prophet has to say in the name of God:

It is God’s promise: “I write history and I am the Lord of history! And it is a story of salvation and rescue, even when it comes to judgment. ”

As it says in Deuteronomy 11: 26-28: (King James Version)

26 Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse;
27 A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day:
28 And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.

Isaiah speaks of God’s passionate wooing for trust and obedience to HIM. He warns against joining the way of life of the peoples around them and their belief in cruel gods. And again and again the call: live justice among themselves! The consequence of this life would be a blessing from God and God’s protection from the militarily powerful neighbors, protection from displacement and destruction of their homeland and above all from Jerusalem.

Isaiah speaks with the same passion in the name of God precisely this gloomy future of annihilation and displacement as a result of unbelief and disobedience in order to persuade his people to turn back to their God.

And even decades before the military catastrophe and annihilation and expulsion from Jerusalem, which only took place in 586 BC. through the Babylonians, God speaks of rescue, salvation and return: JAHWE is salvation / JAHWE creates salvation.
An important topic in Isaiah is that of the remnant who trusts in God and will come back to Jerusalem. (6.13)

No other AT book speaks as clearly as Isaiah of the coming Savior and LORD, the Messiah sent by God, especially in the second part of the book from chapter 40. So that some read the book Isaiah “The Gospel of AT” or the “Fifth.” Call the gospel.

Some even consider this book to be a summary of the whole Bible, as it can be divided into two major parts, chapters 1-39 and chapters 40-66, as there are 39 books in the OT and 27 books in the NT.

  •  The first line that runs through the book of Isaiah, like the whole Bible, is this:
  •  It is God’s promise: “I write history and I am the LORD of history!”
And the first practical consequence for us today is:
God invites us to trust Him, the Lord of history and eternity, and not to panic at the storms of world history and our personal lives! But keep your eyes on the goal!
This question is particularly important in times of crisis:
1. What do you look and trust?
The crises and storms, the uncertainties, the dangers and fears? To the Assyrians and Babylonians at the gates of Jerusalem?
Already in the first words of Isaiah 6 there is such a deep meaning, which is mostly overlooked in view of the next strong verse.
Isaiah dates this day very specifically and with such great irony that his listeners should actually be scared. And at the same time, it makes it clear: This is where Almighty God speaks and no one speaks of the rulers of the time, not King Usiya and not the overpowering Assyrian king who was currently threatening the Jews, or the Babylonians who would later destroy Jerusalem.
In ancient times, dates were always made after a king’s reign, but not after the king’s year of death.
It does not say here: > In the 27th year of the reign of King Usija <, but “In the year of the death of King Usija I saw …” (6.1)
What happened?
King Usija, the 740 BC. died, one day, in his pride and disobedience, went to the temple to sacrifice what only a priest could have done without feeling for sin, the rebellion against God that meant it. As a result, he became a leper and was expelled from the community and without power for the rest of his life.

He is chased out of the temple and spends the rest of his life in solitude and without power and influence. (2.Chr.6,16-21)What did Isaiah actually see in a vision that day when Usia died?“In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.”(Is 6: 1)The question is: who has the power? Who are we looking at?Usija? Certainly not! It was finished and finished. The great powers Egypt, Assyria, the Aramaeans or Babylonians, which surrounded Judah after the greater part of Israel, the northern empire, had split off and was approaching its doom?Who has the power and who do people trust?

Isaiah sees in the year of the death of his king Usija (more clearly powerlessness of people cannot be expressed) JAHWE, the God of Israel and the only GOD.

Who can actually be in the temple? Usija? Yahweh?

That is the question then and now: What is our focus? What are we looking at?  

The focus for Isaiah is the throne of God!

And where does Yahweh God sit (and we notice that human thoughts and ideas are far too small for YAHWEE)?
No, He is not sitting in the temple, the greatest thing there was for a Jew!
The temple is full, but not of the throne of God, but only of the hems of His robes.
The temple is far too small for God and His glory. God is so great and glorious
JAHWE sits on His throne, which is so high that only the hem of His robe already fills the entire temple.

That was the exciting question in the political and military threat to the Jews at the time:
Who has the power?
What are we looking at in our time today? Not only in the face of the corona pandemic, but in all sorts of uncertainties in our lives.
Some think that the greatest problem for Christians in our time is not being able to live fully in community anymore, not singing in worship and
should wear mouth protection. Yes, it is really not nice and really challenging!
And we overlook the fact that violent discussions and disagreements obscure our view of the goal. And suddenly peace and unity in families and communities are at stake. In my eyes, that’s the much bigger problem and the spiritual challenge of this pandemic! Or people let themselves be panicked and lose confidence.
Are we really focused on the right thing?
The Protestant theologian Karl Barth said on the eve of his death in 1968:
“It is governed! … yes the world is dark … just don’t let your ears hang! Never! Because it is governed, not only in Moscow or in Washington or in Beijing, but it is governed, here on earth, but from above, from heaven! God is in the regiment! So I’m not afraid … God won’t let us fall, not one of us! It is governed !!
The focus of Isaiah is on the throne of God.
And God says: “I don’t care which king is ruling! I sit on the throne and nobody else!
That is the great message of this book and the whole Bible. And so through the book of Isaiah this “Again and again speaks the Lord!”
But back to the appearance of God (Theophanie) in Isaiah 6.
What does Isaiah see from God? Except for the hem of His robe, nothing from God.
How God is himself remains a mystery.
But Isaiah speaks of the throne of God and that means: highest dignity and true height.
The throne is much higher, but the whole earth is full of God’s glory (6.3). We still need this focus today!
Isa.66,1: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool.”
Isaiah does not give us a description of God himself, but of the angels that surround Him and speaks of the throne of God.
The Seraphim (angels) don’t even dare to speak to God directly, but they talk to each other about God:
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts (armies)!” (V.3)
And this in the situation in which Judah is surrounded and encircle by powerful and threatening armies.
The angels themselves are awe inspiring, but they have the greatest reverence for God.
Seraphim are burning, powerful fire beings in God’s world.
And they dare not speak to God directly, but cry out to one another: “Holy is the Lord!” (Reverence).
God is holy  He is far beyond us, totally different and bigger, just, holy, almighty.
Heaven itself is shaken every time God’s glory is addressed. And the walls of the temple shake in the face of this God, whose glory fills the whole world.
So great, sublime and mighty is the God who through Jesus is our loving Father!
What is our focus? What are we looking for and hope for?
Isaiah’s answer is:
The throne of God stands and on it sits the high and sublime! No Usija, no Assyrian, no Babylonian!
Let the people or whoever romp no matter, God is the LORD !!
What a privilege it is for us today to be able to speak to God, who is our father! That we can turn directly to HIM, who is our loving Father through Jesus!
But Isaiah’s reaction is shocking:
“Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. ”(6.5)
In the Bible we read that everyone dies or thinks they must die when they see God.
Like Moses, here Isaiah or later Peter, when he discovers who Jesus is:
“Get away from me, LORD, I am a sinner!” (Luke 5: 8)
Who is Jesus, God himself for you?
A buddy, a god who has to do what you want?
Johannes Hartl says: “A God you don’t have to fear is not a God who can save you!”
If you do not quiver inwardly before God, then you do not see God properly! That’s God!
It’s about salvation and salvation throughout the book of Isaiah and throughout the Bible. Isaiah must repeatedly address the guilt and injustice of his people. But here he says: I am affected just like everyone else, I pass because I am a sinful person. I am lost.
But the story of Isaiah doesn’t end there. A seraphim (fire being) takes a burning coal from the altar in the temple and touches the lips of the sinner Isaiah and saves his life. Something happens to Isaiah without him doing anything himself : “Your sin is forgiven and your guilt is redeemed!” (6,7)
This is very different than usual in the OT and until today in all religions, where people have to do something. Here the motif of a person (still mysterious) is introduced who will make a sacrifice (“The servant” whom we will meet later in Isaiah).
This person is Jesus Christ, who pays with his own life for the guilt of people, also for your and my guilt, and saves us. This is the high point in the book of Isaiah, especially in chapter 53.

What are you specifically going for? What is the goal?
This is a question that people keep asking in times of crisis: where is God? Who is in control and myself? What is the goal / end of human history and your own story?
God creates a new image in Is.2: 1-5, against the visible and perceptible threat around.
The mountain with the house of the LORD, Jerusalem, will one day become the center of humanity, from where instruction will come and where the Gentiles will flow to find wisdom and salvation. Yes, in the city that, from Isaiah’s perspective, will be destroyed in less than 200 years.
It is ruled by God’s glorious throne. God is and remains the LORD!

There will be peace! – another big topic in Isaiah.

We will discover and find all of this in this book! And at the very beginning, Isaiah’s eyes are opened to this unshakable truth. What is our focus, our gaze on?

Vocation / mission:

What is your focus on? On yourself and the circumstances that can be truly menacing? Are you good enough?  Is your focus only on you?
God turns focus away from Isaiah and asks: “Who should I send, who will be our messenger?” (6.8)
Not because of Isaiah’s own strength, but because of God’s grace and calling and because of His glory, he says:
“Here I am, send me!”

He receives no promise of success from God, but of resistance and despite everything, the promise of salvation and salvation for himself and everyone who trusts this God. Ultimately, this calling is fulfilled in Jesus, who can be sent, even if many reject HIM and HE will die for the people to whom He has been sent!

The end and goal of world history finds fulfillment in that which is “the lion from the tribe of Judah“. (Rev.5,5-10)
As if slaughtered to the Lamb, who has all glory and power, Jesus Christ. Jesus the Messiah leads this creation and world to its goal !! That is the big bow that Isaiah is making and that is hope for the world, for Isaiah, for you and for me!

The question from Isaiah, from God himself today, is this:
What is the goal of your life and the whole story?
What do you see? What is your focus on?
Are you ready to let this wonderful God send you to people who need nothing more than the God who saves?!
What is your answer?

The kings at the time of Isaiah:
Usija
Jotam
Ahas
Hezekiah
740 BC  Massive danger from the Assyrians

722 the northern empire falls to the Assyrians
612 Babylonians destroy the Assyrian Empire
The Persians (Kyros II) (539 BC) later conquered BabylonJews are allowed to return 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem (under Persian rule)Isa. 1-39: time of the Assyrians
It is about the question of royalty
God says: I am the real king
Warning and warning book before the destructionIsa.40: Book of consolation to the abducted in Babylon
Figure of the servant of God (a Kyros)Isa.55: The LORD appears as the hero and ruler