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When God shows up

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-8

Karl Barth, the eminent theologian, claimed that “Christian worship is the most momentous, the most urgent, the most glorious action that can take place in human life.”

All of creation worships its Creator: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of their hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, the words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4). All we see worships the One we cannot see.

But we alone have a choice in the matter. We can worship our Creator or his creation. This fall, we will learn how to choose wisely. As we seek to put God first, to make him not just our Savior, but our King, we will focus each week on an attribute of our heavenly Father and ask what that characteristic means to our worship and our lives.

We begin this morning with the most foundational statement in all of Scripture regarding the King we have come to honor today. When we get this right, our Lord will show up in our worship and our lives. This is the promise of God.

Who is the God we worship?

Hebrew is a strange language to Americans. It reads right to left; the original had no vowels; their poetry never rhymed. And they made an adjective superlative by repeating it; we would say, “good, better, best”—they would say “good, good, good.”

Only once does Scripture say something three times about God: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:3). Quoting the “four living creatures” of heaven, Revelation says: “Day and night they never stop saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come'” (Revelation 4:8).

Over and over the Bible proclaims this fact about our King.

God calls himself holy: “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy” (Leveticus 11:44).

Scripture agrees: “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).

“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).

“Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” (1 Samuel 6:20).

“The Lord our God is holy” (Psalm 99:9).

“You alone are holy” (Revelation 15:4).

What does it mean for God to be “holy”?

The Hebrew word is qadosh, to be clean, hallowed, pure, sacred, different from all else.

Such a being is the superlative of every good. Think of the universe, 13.7 billion light years across—this God measures it in the palm of his hand (Isaiah 40:12). Think of the nanotechnologies now being developed, using particles which are no larger than one 75th of a millimeter. This God designed the atoms and molecules they use, and tracks each one. Think of the most loving, gracious, godly person you know—this God is such character to infinity.

The Jewish scribes, men who devoted their lives to copying the word of God, knew something of his holiness. They would not even speak his name, so that today we don’t know how it was originally pronounced. They would not write it, so that today it is common to see Jews write G-d so as not to spell his full name. Typically, when a scribe came to the name of God he would bathe, put on new clothes, grasp a new quill, write the name; then discard the quill and burn his clothes, bathe again, put on his old clothes, take up his old quill, and continue.

By contrast, think of the ways our culture takes his name in vain; of the ways we take his blessings, his grace, his forbearance, his worship for granted. Of the ways we come to worship when it suits us, pray when we need something, read Scripture when it’s convenient.

Why do we worship him?

What does our King expect us to do in response to his holiness?

Here is his command: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy” (Psalm 99:9).

Our first response to our holy God is worship. The word in Hebrew is shachah, “to bow down, to do homage;” in Greek it is proskuneo, “to kiss toward,” to reverence. Why do we pay such homage to this King?

First, because he deserves our worship.

It was “the year that King Uzziah died” (v. 1a). Uzziah had been the greatest king the nation had known since Solomon. He had ruled for 52 years, modernizing their army, conquering the Philistines, extending commerce, bringing peace and prosperity such as the nation had not known since Solomon.

Now their great king lay in his grave. However, their greatest King was not: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple” (v. 1b). In the ancient world, the higher a king’s throne, the greater his power. This King’s throne stands above Uzziah’s, or any other’s. The longer the train of his robe, the greater his royalty; this King’s robe filled the Holy of Holies, some 40,500 square feet, 30 by 30 by 45 feet high.

This is the creator of the universe, the ruler of all that is, the One who gives us life and life eternal. He deserves our worship.

Second, we honor our King because he demands our worship.

Isaiah said, “I saw the Lord.” “Lord” is Adonai, used over 300 times in the Bible. It means owner, ruler, one who reigns over all, the King. And the King expects the worship of his subjects.

King Uzziah died because he failed this very demand. He had entered the Temple himself, with a golden censer to burn incense, a job only the priest could perform. The priests cautioned him, and he flew into a fit of rage against them. Immediately he was smitten with leprosy, banished from the kingdom, and lived alone to the day he died.

Our God cannot share his glory. For us to worship anyone or anything but him is idolatry. Worshiping God is the purpose for which we exist. Our Creator knows that such a lifestyle is the most fulfilling way for us to live. And so he demands our worship, for his glory and for our good.

Third, we reverence our King because he empowers our worship. When we connect with our God in heart-felt, genuine commitment, walking on our knees, we enable him to empower us for his purposes.

John Wesley was saved from a burning building when he was a child. The experience of being saved by a loving God who deserved his worship never left him. In serving that God he traveled 250,000 miles on horseback, averaging 20 miles a day for 40 years; he preached 4,000 sermons, produced 400 books, and learned to use 10 languages. At the age of 83 he was annoyed that he could not write more than 15 hours a day without hurting his eyes, and at 86 was ashamed that he could not preach more than twice a day. He complained in his diary that there was an increasing tendency to lie in bed until 5:30 in the morning.

Such is the way our King “adds everything else to us” (Matthew 6:33), when we give him the worship which is his due. When we walk on our knees, living a life of worship, he shows up.

How do we worship him?

So we close with the practical question: how do we worship this King? What do we do so that he can show up in our church and our lives? Each Sunday this fall, we will follow Isaiah’s example. His experience began with adoration.

The prophet was granted a vision of the God we worship today in his Holy of Holies. Surrounding him were the “seraphs.” This is the only time they are found in all God’s word. Their name means “burning ones,” as they were burning with the glory and worship of their Lord.

“With two wings they covered their faces,” indicative of humility in the presence of One greater. “With two they covered their feet,” recognizing the holiness of the One they worshiped, as when Moses removed his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. “With two they were flying” around the throne of their God.

Worship begins with adoration. We admit that he is the great I Am, and we are the I Am Not. He is worthy of all praise and honor and glory. We enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise (Psalm 100:4). All this fall we will seek ways to begin worship with the adoration of our King.

Next comes revelation.

“They were calling to one another”—the Hebrew indicates that one called out to another, who then called out to another, who then called out to another. One cried “Holy”; the second then cried “Holy”; the third then cried “Holy.” And on and on and on.

Such proclamation indicated not only God’s character, but his essence. Heaven proclaimed that he was, is, and ever shall be the “Holy One of Israel.”

When we step into the presence of God through adoration, we then hear his word revealed to us. Not by a preacher, but by the Lord Himself by his Spirit. All this fall we will seek to hear the word and will of God.

Third, biblical worship creates transformation.

Isaiah saw the Lord, and then he saw himself: “Woe to me! 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” (v. 5). “I am doomed!” is a more literal translation. The Hebrews knew that they words revealed their hearts, so that “unclean lips” means an unclean soul.

Then one of the seraphs took a live coal from the burning altar, to show that what was about to transpire was at the cost of sacrifice. With it he purged Isaiah’s lips and his soul. He was forgiven, cleansed, transformed.

We have not worshiped God until the same has happened to us. Each week this fall, we will seek times of confession, cleansing, transformation as we worship God.

Last, biblical worship leads to service.

Now came a call Isaiah could not have heard or heeded when this chapter began: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Now Isaiah could answer, “Here am I. Send me!” (v. 8).

His lips had been unclean; now he is willing to use them to answer the call of God. Worship leads to commission. Each week we will seek the way God would have us serve the King we worship.

Conclusion

Let’s begin today. We have adored our God in worship, and we have heard the proclamation of his truth. Will you be transformed by what you have experienced?

First, will you confess your sin and claim God’s cleansing forgiveness?

Then, will you ask the Lord to use you this week, to show you how to serve his Kingdom and make him your King?

This past summer, Ryan and I were privileged to join Dale Jones, one of our lay leaders, and some 25,000 college students on a farm outside of Sherman, Texas for an event called OneDay03. It was one of the most powerful worship experiences of my life. The weekend before the event began, however, a horrific thunderstorm swept through the area. Lightning hit some of the students, though none were seriously injured. Wind swept away dozens of tents, so that students slept on gym floors. Many lost clothes, food, everything.

When Louie Giglio, the organizer of the event, stood to welcome the students the next day, he recounted all they had endured—the storms, the rain, the sleepless nights. I thought he was going to thank them for their sacrifice and patience. Instead he said, “And our God is worth all that.”

He was right.