In Isaiah chapter 6 we read that Isaiah sees a vision of God in the temple in all his holiness. As angels call to each other, the place starts shaking and filling with smoke. Isaiah feels unclean in the presence of God and in particular aware of his unclean lips. An angel then touches Isaiah’s lips with burning coals and tells him that his sins are forgiven.The drama continues…
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!”
He said, “Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
The words “Here am I. Send me!” have inspired Christians to go out all over the world in mission, taking the gospel to people who have never previously heard it. These words have also been put into songs in a variety of musical styles. Here is just one example:
But as we read the content of Isaiah’s message it is quite shocking. God is telling him that the people will become hardened to the prophet’s message. At first this seems unlikely to motivate a speaker to keep speaking – “Go and tell them, but they won’t understand.”
Isaiah was speaking messages from God for 40 years and at the end of it, humanly speaking, he would have looked like a failure. The more he preached, the more hardened his listeners became. The kings of Judah who were in power while Isaiah was preaching were Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. If we read about these kings in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles we can see plenty of ups and downs, with the people frequently turning away from God to worship other gods.
These words from Isaiah are quoted by Jesus immediately after he tells the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:14-15). Jesus makes it clear that not everyone will respond positively to his message and he even claims that this was a fulfilment of Isaiah’s words.
These same words from Isaiah are also quoted by Paul when some of the Jews in Rome refuse to believe his message. Paul even goes on to say that this is the very reason that God wants him to take the message to the Gentiles (non-Jews). Some of the Jews will not believe, so God’s salvation is sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen! (Acts 28:24-28)
We need to be aware that when we tell people about what God has done for us, some people will not be impressed. They may not be open to believing in the love of God or considering the claims of Jesus. But God is able to take the seeds we have sown and make them grow. Even small seeds and tree stumps can grow into big trees. (Isaiah 6:13)
Thomas Halley (Sawyers Church Leadership Team)
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