In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 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!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”Isaiah 6:1-7
It has been said that one should never meet their idols, for they never live up to the lofty expectations that we build up in our heads. As with any form of idolatry, the created will always pale in comparison to the creator, no matter how brightly the created shines. In times of great uncertainty, it is natural and human to look to our political leaders for guidance. Yet today, when we see our political divide continually fomented by the very officials we purport to idolize, we are sorely perplexed and often left disappointed.
Isaiah begins in a time of political upheaval as King Uzziah, the ruler of the kingdom of Judah for 52 years has died. 52 years of relative peace have come to a screeching halt. However, Uzziah is perhaps best know for his pride as he entered the temple and burned incense to the Lord, a prerogative reserved only for the priests (2 Chronicles 25:18). We would be struck leprosy as a result of his disobedience and forced to live in isolation until his death, with his son Jotham ruling in his stead. It is in the midst of this political chaos and uncertainty that Isaiah has his vision.
When we humbly come into the presence of God, two things become immediately apparent. First, we see Him for who He really is. He is holy, set apart. He is omnipotent. He is righteous. And He is alone is the ruler of creation, which testifies to His glory. Secondly, we see ourselves for who we really are. The illumination of His holiness exposes our lowliness. We are unclean. We are unworthy to stand in the presence of One so glorious. Not only do we see ourselves for who we really are, we see others around us in the same light and recognize that we are no better.
But the omnipotent ruler of creation is also a merciful judge. When we acknowledge our lowliness in the light of His holiness, we are compelled to confess our sin and He is faithful to forgive our sin. It is interesting that the apostle John evokes this image when he writes “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) It is interesting because rarely do we perceive forgiveness as justice, but John makes it clear that He is faithful (consistent) and just to forgive us when we humbly confess our disobedience to Him. He is just because mercy and grace always carry an element of being undeserved. We cannot earn mercy or grace. We simply receive it. We cannot make others earn grace or mercy, because then it is merit.
Grace and mercy are just because the punishment is still fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. It is only when individuals place their trust in the atoning sacrifice of Christ that we can experience true grace and mercy that is faithful and just. My favorite analogy of the cross is this simply picture: it is the intersection of the stake of God’s judgement – from His holiness to our lowliness – with His outstretched arms of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love. Grace and mercy still require payment to balance the ledger. That payment was meted out in the blood of Jesus on a hillside outside of Jerusalem on Friday afternoon in 33 AD.
If you look into the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 1, you will find an interesting list of characters. Adulterers, murderers, foreigners, prostitutes, and even unfaithful kings, including Uzziah and his son Jotham. The genealogy that Matthew records is to prove the fulfillment of the promise of the eternal King of kings in Jesus as prophesied in Genesis 49:10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, not the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”