The Shakespeare of the Bible
This Sunday we begin a sermon series from the book of Isaiah: “Holy, Wholly, Holy.” The prophet Isaiah is the Shakespeare of the Bible. He covers the heights and depths of human experience, takes us from the cesspool of our depravity to the very glory of the presence of God, and calls us from the first words to the last words to be wholly God's. Our tendency is to be immersed in our own lives and to dabble in the things of God. Isaiah beckons us to stop and consider the very King who gave us the breath we are breathing and life we are living. He speaks as one who “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (Isa 6:1) and was immediately confronted by his own humanity and fallenness: “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” (Isa 6:5).
Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of four different kings—the latter part of Uzziah, all of Jotham and Ahaz, and much of Hezekiah. This falls from around 750 BC to the early 600s BC (maybe 680 or so). These were years that saw national triumphs as Egypt was humbled and Assyria was distracted, and also national disasters as Judah's kings wavered in faith and turned to other nations for help. His summary message would come again and again to these men in so-called high places: “Do not fear what they fear, not be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary” (Isa 8:12b-14a). There is simply no situation in which faith in the King of kings and Lord of lords is not the answer. There might be some action also required, but faith surely is. He is the Lord who names stars and called into being all that we see (Isa 40:26). Hope in him: “They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faith” (Isa 40:31).
Humble and Contrite
But this God is not too high to reach. He merely calls us to reach him in our humility. Though he says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (66:1), he immediately adds, “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (66:2).
This God also promises throughout this marvelous prophet that he will indeed deal with our sin. As real and evil and God-offending as is our sin, it will be dealt with by a figure that continues to develop throughout the work. At first he is “Immanuel” (7:14). Then, a mysterious child: “To us a child is born, to us a son is given” (9:6). Then his connection to the Holy Spirit is revealed: “the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding” (11:2). In the later chapters he is revealed in what are called the Servant Songs. This is the one whom God himself says, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights” (42:1). And, “my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted” (52:13). But in astonishing wonder this same Servant “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (53:4) and was “pierced for our transgressions” (53:5). “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:6). The result for us? “By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (53:11). The prophet is seeing Jesus Christ in his own way. In fact, some of the clearest prophecies in the Old Testament about Jesus are found in Isaiah's oracles.
The New Creation
But Isaiah is not finished when he sees Jesus Christ. He even sees our eternal destiny: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (65:17). Isaiah has a unique place in our Bibles in how high he sees (into the very heavens), how deep he sees (into our very depravity), and how far he sees (into the eternal past and the eternal future). His vision is truly expansive.
It is for all these reasons that scholars like Barry Webb say,
In terms of theological significance, the book of Isaiah is the 'Romans' of the Old Testament. It is here that the threads come together and the big picture of God's purposes for his people and for his world is most clearly set forth. Something of its importance can be gauged from the fact that it is quoted no fewer than sixty-six times in the New Testament, being exceeded in this only by the book of Psalms (The Message of Isaiah, The Bible Speaks Today, 37-38).
Where Do I Start?
To jump into the ocean of this prophet, just turn to chapter 1 and begin reading. This Sunday we will look at chapter 1 in the sermon, so keeping up will not be a problem. Reading the whole book sooner rather than later will help you engage with the sermons as they come. Maybe read it twice over the next several months. If you want a clear commentary to help you make sense of the hard parts, try Barry Webb's, The Message of Isaiah.
May the Lord open our eyes to his glory and greatness and gospel as we unpack these writings from this Old Testament prophet. Mark Dever closed his sermon on the entire book of Isaiah with this prayer, and it seems a fitting inaugural prayer for this series:
Lord, help us to see ourselves so we can see how different we are from you. We pray, Lord, that those other things that are eclipsing you in our hearts, those things to which we are too deeply attached, which would obscure you, Father—we pray that in your love you would relocate them. Lord, we pray that you would make yourself the exclusive object of our ultimate devotion. Teach us of your holiness and of our sinfulness and of your love in sending the Servant to bear our iniquities in his body on the tree. Lord, we pray that your Spirit would fill us and would win our hearts to you. We pray, Lord, that we would live showing that we trust in you as individuals and as a church. We pray for Jesus' sake. Amen (The Message of the Old Testament, “Isaiah: Messiah,” 587-588).
See you Sunday!