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“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!'” -Isaiah 6:8

These words from the Prophet Isaiah are spoken and shared often in the missions community. We read and hear them and are inspired to act. But what was the driver behind Isaiah’s enthusiasm to give His life to the Lord’s call? What did he experience with God that led to his complete surrender?

To answer these questions, we need to backtrack to Isaiah’s personal encounter with God Himself.

Isaiah’s Encounter

Isaiah saw the Lord, which is significant considering God told Moses that if he saw His face, he’d surely die (Exodus 33:20).

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

"'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.'

 "At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” -Isaiah 6:1-4 

We’re left with a mystery on whether Isaiah saw God’s face. Regardless, we know he saw Him high and lifted upon His throne. His robe filled the temple. His glory was obvious to everyone in the room, and it led the seraphim to worship.

It’s easy to imagine this as a breathtaking scene. The room literally shook from the experience. And with God Himself in his sight, Isaiah was confronted with his own sinfulness.

“'Woe to me!' I cried. '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.'

"Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, 'See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.'” -Isaiah 6:5-7

At this point in the history of God’s people, debauchery was rampant. When God searched for righteousness, He found His chosen children seeking protection and comfort in idol worshipers rather than His care. The once united kingdom of the Hebrew people had split due to a family dispute. Kings and priests were corrupt. Impending ruin was destined for Israel, the northern kingdom. Judah, the southern kingdom, still had the opportunity for deliverance, though God knew they, too, wouldn’t choose Him.

Isaiah appears to be one of the few following the Lord, yet he responds to the holy and pure presence of God with “woe to me … I am a man of unclean lips ... (Isaiah 6:5)". It’s here that we’re reminded that we are not deemed cleaned in comparison to the world around us, but by the perfect standard of God Himself.

Isaiah was unclean before God, and He was faithful to take away his sins. Isaiah was washed and justified in this radical encounter, and it drove him forward in obedience to the King.

Isaiah’s Response

His glimpse of God and the forgiveness he received motivated Isaiah to say, “Yes,” to God before he knew what God would ask Him to do. As soon as the Lord cleansed him, Isaiah responded with one of his most famous lines.

"'Here am I. Send me!'" -Isaiah 6:8

When God looked for someone to send, Isaiah raised his hand. Isaiah’s gracious, merciful encounter with God fueled his willingness to obey God’s call regardless of the cost. He saw the Lord and received kindness. Isaiah couldn’t help but respond with eagerness to follow his King.

Isaiah’s Call

God didn’t wait long to give Isaiah a divine task. As soon as Isaiah expressed his willingness to go, God sent him out with this warning.

"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.'

 "Then I said, 'For how long, Lord?'

"And he answered:

'Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.'" -Isaiah 6:9-13

As you can see, there was soberness to Isaiah’s commissioning. God asked him to declare judgment on His people who had chosen the world instead of Him. The prophecy Isaiah brought was a warning of coming conquest. Assyria would rule over them and so would Babylon. Jerusalem would be destroyed and Israel would be exiled into Babylonian captivity for 70 years, all of which came true.

But this judgment was not God’s final word.

Isaiah also gave the people a glimmer of hope in a remaining remnant of faithful people and a foreshadowed Suffering Servant (Isaiah 10:20-34; Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Eventually, the Israelites did return to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Holy City. And after a period of silence, God spoke again as the Suffering Servant that Isaiah prophesied would come into the world as God in human flesh, Jesus Christ.

Our Encounter, Our Response, Our Call

So what does the unfolding of Isaiah’s call mean for us today?

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that God, in His Kindness, has exposed your need for forgiveness and granted it to you through your faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has paid the price to make you guiltless before Him and has cast your sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).

His grace and mercy drew us to Himself. Now His grace and mercy send us out.

Like Isaiah, our specific commissioning may result in immediate hardness that eventually leads to repentance. Or it may result in immediate spiritual fruit as we encounter God-prepared people among our family, friends, and communities.

Regardless, we can model Isaiah’s example by raising our hands in obedience to God’s ask on our lives, regardless of the cost. We can take comfort and find courage in knowing He is faithful to provide His constant presence wherever He leads.

After all, that’s the promise He gave us as He sent us out to make disciples of all nations.

"Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'" -Matthew 28:18-20, emphasis added