Have you ever read “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien? If you’ve not read it, then you are missing out on one of the greatest stories written in the last hundred years. Tolkien’s world-building and characters have enchanted generations of readers, young and old alike.
I know that for myself, I have allowed far too much of my own life to be caught up in the affairs of Middle Earth and the Shire in particular. What is it about these worlds that draws us in? Perhaps we simply enjoy visiting other domains that leave us in awe. It is truly a massive story, one that requires careful attention to see its connections. Maybe its simply the joy of seeing the long awaited King come to save his people, and defeat his enemies.
The Old Testament book Isaiah often reminds me of such a world. Isaiah, is not a fantasy, but a historic account of the pure unadulterated Word of God coming to His people through His prophet. Its prophecies span the centuries. Its hero though, is never found in the realm of men, but in the unchanging character of the LORD God.
Isaiah himself, is the first major prophet in the Old Testament. By the word “major” I do not speak of importance, only size. Isaiah is one of the larger prophetic books. These larger prophetic books are the major prophets and they include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
Isaiah’s call to be a prophet is contained in the book itself in Isaiah 6:1-7. The scene of Isaiah’s vision is one of the most memorable experiences in all of Scripture. But it comes with some surprise. Isaiah chapters 1-5 speak of Israel’s sin, but in Isaiah 6 Isaiah’s sin comes forward as well.
In that sequence, the angels call back and forth “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). Isaiah is overwhelmed by the scene of the LORD in His Temple, the angels, the earthquake, the smoke, and his own awareness that he is a sinful man in the presence of a thrice holy God. Light naturally causes the darkness to flee.
Isaiah declared in horror, “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.” (Isaiah 6:5) But God did not execute His justice upon Isaiah; instead, we find mercy. The angels took a burning coal from the altar and touched his lips thereby purging Isaiah’s sin by the offering.
What does this story tell us about God? Even the authors of Scripture stood as sinful men in need of a Savior before the presence of our Holy God. Isaiah was called by God to be His sacred mouthpiece and proclaim prophetic judgment to a hard-hearted, callous people and promises of hope for the future generations. God was merciful when He should have been simply just.
Today we too are a people of unclean lips and we are not alone in this condition. We are likewise unable to fix it. Our deepest need today is not education, or social programs, or anything else for that matter which our own two hands can provide. We are as helpless today in the sight of God as Isaiah was in the Temple. Like Isaiah, we too stand in need of what God’s altar provides. The burnt offering which dealt with the sins of Israel pointed forward to the work of Christ on the cross for us. For He is the “Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29; Revelation 5:6-13) Isaiah foretold (or prophesied) that Christ would come to be a light to the gentiles (Isaiah 49:1-7), to suffer as their substitute for sin (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Isaiah 61:1-2 and Luke 4:18-19) and much more.
The book of Isaiah is often called the fifth gospel because it so clearly foreshadows the coming of Jesus Christ. Why must He come? Only the King can save His people. Only the work of Christ’s sacrifice can purge us truly, once and for all. Only a savior who is both God and Man is capable of reconciling God and Man together again. This is what we find promised in Isaiah, and fulfilled in Christ: eternal reconciliation. It is a beautiful thing to enter the presence of God without the fear of judgment and God extends this promise to you today through His Son. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) The Son who is the “root of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:10), and the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) is your only hope. He has come, born of the Virgin Mary (Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23) and the King of Kings is coming again soon. May we be found ready.