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Purified for Service

“And I said, ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:5).

The prophet Isaiah had one of the coolest experiences with God that’s described in the Bible. He was in the temple one day after the death of King Uzziah, presumably praying and wondering about what would happen to his nation now that their king was dead. Then out of nowhere, the temple is filled with smoke, and an earthquake shakes the foundations of the building. Innumerable voices call out to one another, proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (6:3). These voices belong to unnatural creatures, each with six wings. They are the seraphim, angels who are almost always connected in the Old Testament to the awesomeness of God. Isaiah suddenly finds himself before the very throne of the LORD.

Naturally, he’s terrified. He knows he is a sinful man and has no right to be in the presence of a holy God. In despair, he cries out about the impurity of his lips. He and all the people of Israel are impure of speech, likely tending to disparage God with their words at times. How can he hope to come out alive from the presence of God when he is so utterly sinful?

But then one of the seraphim comes to Isaiah, bearing in his hand a burning coal. He touches this to Isaiah’s mouth. Then he says, “‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for’” (6:7). And then Isaiah hears the voice of the LORD Himself, calling for anyone who will go and speak the message He wants to deliver to His people. Isaiah, this man of impure lips who was terrified to be in the presence of God, responds with a simple phrase: “‘Here I am! Send me’” (6:8).

Isaiah was crippled in his sin. He knew he had no right to come before God and live. But when he confessed his sin—the impurity of his lips—God hastened to cleanse him of that sin. Isaiah’s sinfulness didn’t repulse God. But he couldn’t come before God until he was pure. Once he was purified, however, God immediately called him into service. And Isaiah responded with eagerness. He didn’t even know what God wanted him to do; it didn’t matter. He was ready to serve, because God had not only spared his life but had also cleansed him from his sin. As Christians, we’ve experienced that same cleansing. Now God is calling out to us, asking whom He will send on the mission He has prepared. Isaiah offered himself freely. Will we do the same?

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