Last Friday, Joshua, our pastor, gave a powerful word at our church’s prayer meeting. With the nation still in mourning over the death of her founding prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, pastor pointed us to Isaiah 6. It was a timely word.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
(Isaiah 6:1–8 NIV)
Uzziah was a capable king. His death would have caused concern in Judah. In his commentary on Isaiah, John N. Oswalt describes the kingly career of Uzziah:
He (Uzziah) had been an efficient administrator and an able military leader. Under his leadership Judah had grown in every way (2 Chr. 26:1–15). He has been a true king. How easy it must have been to focus one’s hope and trust upon a king like that. What will happen, then, when such a king dies, and coupled with that death comes the recognition that a resurgent Assyria is pushing nearer and nearer? (John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–39 [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986], 177.)
Perhaps Isaiah was shaken by the death of King Uzziah and that is what had brought him to the temple. Whatever the reason, in the temple, he receives a vision of God. Isaiah’s vision gives us some critical lessons in times of change and upheaval.
First, Isaiah learns afresh that though Judah had lost a good king, the true King, the true Lord of history, is still on His throne. Neither Isaiah nor Judah need be shaken. The country, and indeed the world, is in good hands. That does not mean there are no circumstances that are disturbing, but God, the awesome, utterly holy, temple-shaking God, is still in control. In times of change and difficulty we must ask — who is our God? How big is He?
Next, we learn that the holiness of the thrice-holy God is the only true measure of every man and country, and in the light of that holiness we are all found wanting. We appreciate the good that good people do but we also realise that only Jesus is the perfect king.
Third, if we realise how far short we fall of God’s standards, when we realise that, no matter how good we are, there are certain things that only God can do, like dealing with our sin, we open the door for us to receive God’s grace. This Holy Week we remember the God who came to us to give us that grace through His humble sacrificial love.
Fourthly, secure in God’s sovereignty, cleansed by God’s grace, we are ready to be part of God’s purposes. This Holy Week we also remember that the true King of the universe has come to us and, by His life, death and resurrection, has inaugurated His Kingdom. As His people, we are to be witnesses and instruments of that Kingdom.
As a Malaysian residing in Singapore, I am a man of two countries. Singapore ponders what a post-Lee Kuan Yew era will look like in a rapidly changing world. Malaysia sees the daily deterioration of human rights and the persistence of racism, religious intolerance, corruption, and mismanagement. What are we to do? We follow Isaiah’s example. We seek the Lord. And then things will be clear.
Image by Stefan Wagner/freeimages.com