Many, many times in my churchgoing life, when I or someone else was unable to attend church on Sunday, we’d ask those who did attend questions relating to what we missed. “How was the sermon?” we’d typically ask first, and close behind that question was “How was worship?” Of course, the best answers would be “Oh, the pastor hit it out of the ball park, and worship was awesome! I left church higher than a kite! God is good!”
God IS good, and relishing His goodness and kindness to His creatures is certainly part of what it means to worship Him. But after reading and pondering the following passage in Isaiah, I’m developing a different perspective:
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.”
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
(Isaiah 6:1-8 ESV)
What a scene! I look forward to the day in eternity when, by God’s grace, I might have the immense privilege of being in the presence of the Almighty God. But consider Isaiah’s first response upon seeing the Lord, observing the angels and hearing their proclamations of God’s holiness, feeling the quaking of the foundations and seeing the smoke. He cried “Woe is me for I am lost and my lips are unclean!” Isaiah probably had the cleanest lips of anyone living in the land at the time. He was a prophet and a righteous man. Yet his reaction to the glorious scene was one of self abasement, terror, and intense feelings of unworthiness.
Of course, the story turns positive from there because Isaiah’s repentance results in cleansing and a commission to speak for God.
The first automatic reaction to a full sense of God’s holiness will be intense feelings of unworthiness. It will be unavoidable. God is holy. God is the ultimate righteous standard of what is true, good, and perfect. God doesn’t simply adhere to a standard…He IS the standard! Atheists like Richard Dawson reject God because they see Him, in the pages of the Old Testament, not adhering to their own inadequate standards of fairness. They have created an idol God based on humanistic understandings of the way things should be, and they do not see the God of the Old Testament lining up to their expectations. Dawson and everyone who has ever lived will, some day, stand before the judgment seat…no we will bow our knees before the Almighty God:
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
(Isaiah 45:23 ESV)
It will be a pitiful scene for anyone who tries, at that time, to explain to the Holy God why He was unjust in history.
So, if we truly encounter God in our times of worship, our first inclination will be to repent for our unworthiness in the light of His holiness. We won’t feel good about ourselves at that moment. John MacArthur explains:
The response of a true worshiper to a vision of God should resemble Isaiah’s. We should be overwhelmed with our own sinfulness and consequently consumed with a sense of holy terror. I am certain that if the people today who claim to have seen God really saw Him, they wouldn’t be lining up to get on the latest Christian talk show; they’d be lying prostrate on the ground, grieving over their sin.
But, because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross where He died in our place, we can be forgiven…when we are truly at the end of ourselves and no longer trusting in our own self-righteousness.
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
(Romans 4:7-8 ESV)
May God, in His amazing grace, grant us the full realization of our sinfulness so we can repent from our lawless deeds and receive His forgiveness.