John Piper – In the Throne Room: The God of Holiness and Hope – Isaiah 6

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At the Gospel Coalition for Women Conference 2012 – Plenary Session #3 – the by  via Vimeo

Isaiah’s vision of the Lord

Text: Isaiah 6:1-5

6 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, theLord of hosts!”

Notes from the introduction- John Piper: (this) happened to many people, a complete and new understanding of God, though already saved with an inadequate view of God. It happened to Job. Do you remember how the book begins? „He is blameless and upright. One who feared God, turned away from evil”… I mean, what more could you want? He was the best man in the land. And then, because God is merciful, according to James’ interpretation of Job; suffering broke over his life like a tidal wave and he wrestled with God chapter after chapter, until God speaks to him.

Job 40:8-12

Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?

10 “Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendor.11 Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.
12 Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
and tread down the wicked where they stand.

And Job had a completely new grasp of God and he said-

Job 42:3 – 6

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”

It happened to Job and it happened to Isaiah. It happened to me between the ages of 22 and 25 in Pasadena, Caifornia- a new understanding of God. Saved when I was six, a taste for the majesty of God that has never, ever gone away and did not exist in the same way before and my prayer is that God will do it for you as we look together at this vision.


There are 7 glimpses of God in the first 4 verses of Isaiah 6:

  1. God is alive.
  2. God is authoritative. You don’t give God authority in your life; He has it! You can either pretend He doesn’t and perish, or you can own it with joy. He has, in the universe, absolute authority. Sometimes, our little flaunted fist shakings need some strong words to be put in their place.
  3. God is omnipotent. The throne of His authority is not one among many. It is high: „I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lifted up”, meaning ‘over every other throne’ and thus, superior in power, superior in authority, superior in rule and control, over every other throne. It is not just authority, it is authority with supremacy of rule, supremacy of power and control. „My counsel shall stand and I will accomplish all my purpose”, Isaiah 46:10. „He does according to His will in the host of heaven, among the inhabitants of earth. None can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What are you doing?'” Daniel 4:35. This omnipotent God, this sovereign and omnipotent God is a refuge for holy women (this message was given at a women’s conference) who hope in God.
  4. God is resplendent. So He has a robe and it has a train… He is lavish in His beauty, lavish in his creativity and lavish in his splendor.
  5. God is revered.  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. No one knows who these beings are. They never show up again in the bible, under this name. We grope for meanings of what it would be for God to have in His presence beings, who, when they speak, shake heaven.But, these magnificent creatures cannot look directly upon God. They take their wings and they cover their face. These are sinless beings; they’ve never fallen and their ashamed of their feet before this God. So, they can’t see Him straight on and they’ve got to cover their feet and they kind of keep moving around Him… God is revered, He is always revered. Though we may look at this world and weep at how many millions give Him no reverence at all, God will see to it that He will always be fittingly revered with these seraphim angels; day and night doing what one ought to do always in life.
  6. God is Holy. What these beings are saying in this vision- one called to another „Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts”. Language is pushing its limits with the word ‘holy’. What does holy mean? In one sense, when you are done trying to define holy, you have said, „God is God”. But, we should try. The language was not used for nothing. Now, many of you have studied this and you know that the root meaning of this word ‘holy’ is to cut or to separate. So, a holy thing is cut off from or separated from something else and usually devoted to something else. So, the holiness of it consists of – it’s not part of the common, it’s not part of the profane, the impure. It’s devoted unto God. So you read about holy ground, holy assemblies, holy sabbaths, holy nations, holy garments, holy city, holy promises, holy men, holy women, holy Scriptures, holy hands, holy kiss, holy faith. Almost anything can be separated unto God, devoted to God, consecrated to God, separated from the common, the profane. But, notice what happens when we try to apply this definition to God. Separated… unto…? The Godness of God means He is separated from all that He made. There is a infinite qualitative difference between God and everything else that is. All of that is made and dependent by His second by second  upholding it and being. He is who He is. „What,” Moses asked, „shall I tell them is your name?” „Tell them I am who I am”. „Tell them ‘I am” sent you. That’s my essential being. I am and I’m not dependent on anything outside of me. All of you are totally dependent on Me. I am not dependent on anything, I am separate. ” Which in the end means we’ve said- His holiness, in this respect, is His Godness, and that’s not wrong. That’s a right thought. God is absolutely unique in this regard. The other side of holiness is holy things are devoted to something, not just cut off from, separated from; they’re devoted to… What are you going to devote God to? There is nothing above God to which He should be devoted. It’s blasphemy to think that God’s holiness consists in His conformity to something other than Himself. Which means that if there’s anything like holiness in the world, it is God. It just starts there. That’s what it is. God isn’t good ‘cause He conforms to a law above Him- He wrote the law. He is not holy because He keeps the rules- He made the rules. He’s not holy because He keeps the law- The law is holy because it reveals God. God is absolute. Everything else is derivative and dependent. So what then did they mean: „Holy, Holy, Holy” thrice Holy? I think they meant (doing my best with language) His holiness is His utterly unique, one of a kind, in a class by Himself, pure essence, which therefore has infinite value. The more rare a diamond is, the more value it has. And if there’s only one of this kind, it’s valuable. God is infinitely valuable. Determining the  value and the goodness and the truth of everything else. I can’t think of anything that would have a greater impact in your life than for you to believe that. The most important value in the universe is not you and not your family, and not 7 billion human beings and not billions upon billions of galaxies. They are, we are as nothing, a drop in the bucket compared to the value of God. And, the main problem in the world is the failure to feel that. God is infinitely valuable. He has infinite worth. All other value has value in proportion to its reflection of His value. That changes everything, absolutely everything. John Piper at 23 waking up to a whole new experience of God and a taste for His majesty and experiencing a copernican revolution where the value, the supremacy, the majesty of God goes square to the center of everything. There is no questioning anymore whether He has any rights. We have NONE! And we had none before we fell. Humans and angels don’t have rights before their maker. God is right and has all rights. He defines right, He is right and holy. You will know that you have experienced something extraordinary when that is sweet to you. When we speak of holiness it feels very far away, very distant, very unexperience-able and I am just saying, „You haven’t gotten there yet”. It is sweet.
  7. God is glorious. We said He is holy and the last glimpse is God is glorious. The silence that’s coming, the shaking of the house, the all concealing smoke that is going to descend upon the house… before that happens, these blue angels seraphim say, „Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory”. Why ? Why didn’t they say, „Holy, Holy, Holy , the whole earth is full of your holiness?” Because, this is my best effort to understand, the glory of God in God’s mind and Isaiah’s mind and most places in Scripture, I believe, is the manifestation of the holiness of God. God’s holiness is His incomparable perfection, his intrinsic infinite worth. When that goes public, when that goes on display, it’s called in the Bible- the glory of God. God is glorious means God’s holiness has gone public. His glory is the open revelation of the secret of his holiness. Here’s Leviticus 10:3  „I will show you myself. I will show myself holy among those who are near me and before all the people I will be glorified”. Interesting. „I will show them my holiness,” and their response, „Glorious!” because in the move from the intrinsic, infinite, eternal worth and perfection and purity and transcendent wonder of God; in the movement out what we see is the radiance of God and that’s called glory in the Bible. The glory of God is the radiance of His holiness. When God shows Himself holy, we see glory. The holiness of God is concealed glory and the glory of God is revealed holiness.
My last question: What does all of that have to do with Jesus Christ, incarnate, Son of Man? Coeternal with the Father, in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was this God. This God has a name: Jesus. What does this vision have to do with the Jesus we meet in the Gospels, who goes to the cross and dies for sinners and rises again that we may make this vision the unfathomable delight of our souls. And there is a place in the New Testament that blows my mind away with the way it applies what we have seen and it’s John chapter 12, where John, writing the most exalted story of Jesus, quotes Isaiah 6 once, and he quotes Isaiah 53 in the same context. I’m going to close by trying to explain to you what John is doing so that this vision will not only be majestic, but sweet.
In verse 10 of Isaiah 6, Isaiah realizes he must take this vision and preach it with very bleak effect. „The people will be hardened. Make the heart of this people dull and their ears heavy and blind their eyes”, so Isaiah’s ready now. He’s dedicated himself, acknowledging his sin, receiving the coal of purification, he’s now ready to go preach this vision and God says, „It’s no going to go well. This vision is going to make people very hard. It’s going to have an effect on Israel like that, a hardening will come upon Israel”. But, at the end of the chapter, as the tree is cut down, a stump of faithfulness remain. Do you see that at the end of verse 13?  A stump remaining when the yoke is felled and the holy seed (last phrase) is its stump.
What is that? There’s a remnant and the remnant is going to flower. The stump has been cut, but something is going to happen. When you get to chapter 53, what do you see? I think you see the seed, the suffering servant, despised and rejected by man, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. So, the description of the seed in chapter 53 of Isaiah, the picture of Christ’s misery and suffering. He doesn’t have any form or beauty that people would behold Him and that chapter begins also bleak, who has believed our report… So you got bleakness in chapter 6: Nobody’s gonna hear this exalted vision. You’ve got bleakness in chapter 53: people aren’t gonna hear this suffering servant who lays down His life and takes the sins of Israel upon Himself like a slaughtered sheep. They’re not  gonna listen.
And in the Gospel of John, Jesus public ministry ends at the end of chapter 12 and the rest is all about talking to His disciples and dying. And, as that chapter 12 draws the public ministry of Jesus to a close, John has to explain ‘haven’t they believed’? Why has there been such a hardness in Israel? Why is Jesus being rejected for who He is by the very leaders He came to bring the kingdom to? And he uses Isaiah to answer that question and he doesn’t just use the verse 10 of chapter 6, which we would expect him to. He uses verse 1 of chapter 53″ no form or majesty, that we should look at Him, no beauty that we should desire in Him, who has believed what he has heard from us … and they reject. People then reject it and people here reject it.
So what’s John trying to show us? He’s trying to show us that Jesus is fulfillment of this majestic vision in chapter 6  and He’s the fulfillment of the suffering servant in chapter 53 and He has brought them together in His incarnate lowliness, making claims that ‘I and the Father are one and if you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father’ and yet presenting Himself as a lowly, suffering servant who gets down on His knees and washes His disciples feet  and both of those are rejected. They don’t want majesty and they don’t want miserable, lowly suffering. They don’t want Isaiah 6 and they don’t want Isaiah 53. Why not? John answers this in chapter 12 verse 43: The people loved the glory that comes from man, more than the glory that comes from God. If I have any prayer for you, is that it would not be said of you. Women love the glory of other women, you can tell by the way they dress. They love the glory of man more than the glory of God. Back in Chapter 5:43 Jesus said, „How can you believe in me who receive glory from man and do not receive the glory that comes from the only God?
Faith in this Jesus is impossible for those who crave the approval of other people more than they crave, knowing and enjoying the glory of God. Can’t do it. If you are so desperately needy that you live second handedly off the glory of other people, women or men, you will look at this vision and it will repulse you. And you will look at the miserable lowly serving Jesus and it will repulse you because both of them take your glory away. Decide whether you will love that glory or yours. That’s the answer John gives as to why in Isaiah’s day and his day, and I would say our day, people don’t love Isaiah 6 or Isaiah 53. They don’t want an authoritative God over them and they don’t want a suffering Savior that might imply they would have to take up their cross and follow Him and get on their knees and wash somebody’s feet. They don’t want either and Jesus was both.
One last observation. What was the reason Jesus was rejected ultimately? The sin of man or was it the plan of God? The Son of man came not to be served, but to give His life a ransom for many. That’s why He came. That’s why the Trinity agreed with one another, „The time is full Son, go do this great work of dying for our people”, which means ‘You will be rejected’. That’s the way it’s going to go. There are no detours between God’s plan and God’s accomplishment. There are no wasted centuries. Every byway has a meaning. No suffering is without meaning and no rebellion is without meaning.
Will Israel be thrown away because they rejected their Messiah? Because this hardening came upon Israel, will they be thrown away? This long covenant people and Paul answers „no”. Romans 11:25 „A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fulness of the gentiles comes in and then in this way all Israel will be saved. The nation will, one day, turn to the Messiah. So Romans 11:31 says „So, Israel too has been disobedient”, rejecting the God of Isaiah 6, rejecting the God of Isaiah 53, rejecting Jesus who embodied both so humbly, so magnificently, so sweetly for us. „So Israel too has been disobedient in order that mercy might be shown to you gentiles. They also now through the mercy shown to you, will be shown mercy”. God isn’t done with Israel or the nations. Things are right on schedule, which led Paul to end like this and so I’m going to end like this. You know how he ended. He came to this chapter 9.10.11 of Romans, looking at the strange and inexplicable ways of God in history and he says, „Oh the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgements and how inscrutable are His ways. Who has ever known the mind of the Lord or who has ever been His counselor? Who has ever given Him a gift that he should be repaid? But, from Him and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be glory. Yes, glory forever and ever.

In the Throne Room: The God of Holiness and Hope (Isaiah 6) – John Piper from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

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