Matthew 16:13-18 says, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is? ”And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Let me set this up a little bit for you. Caesarea Philippi was kind of a beautiful, lush greenbelt. It was a well-traveled area. It was about 25 miles from the Sea of Galilee, and it had one of the biggest natural springs that fed the Jordan River. It was near Mt. Hermon, which was a religious hotbed for idol worship. Where this conversation took place near a huge cave called the Cave of Pan, it was also known to the Greeks as the Gates of Hades, or Hell because they believed they could access Hell through this cave.
Jesus told Peter you are the little rock, and on this big rock, Jesus, He was going to establish his church. This is the first time in the New Testament where the term church is used. Then Jesus says something very interesting. He says, “the Gates of Hell” will not prevail against it. Jesus said the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the church. No matter what is coming up against you today, Jesus said the very Gates of Hell will not prevail against us. I hope you can get ahold of this promise today. There is power in the name of Jesus. You may have big challenges coming against you, but our God is so much bigger.
The Mission of New Hope Church is: “Ordinary people becoming extraordinary through encountering God.” We encounter God when we are saved, but for many Christians that is the last time they have an encounter with God. That should not be. Being a Christian is not just about having all our sins forgiven and getting to go to Heaven when we die. That’s a good thing, but we can have a relationship with God now – not just after we die.
Dr. Bruce Demarest defines spiritual formation in his book Satisfy Your Soul: Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality. He writes:
Spiritual formation is an ancient ministry of the church, concerned with the “forming” or “reshaping” of a believer’s character and action into the likeness of Christ. The goals of this practice are such things as godliness, holiness, compassion, faithfulness, and obedience.
Isaiah 6:1-8, “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 lived about 700 years before the time of Christ. He is sharing a story of something that happened to him. He begins by telling us when this all happened. It was the year that King Uzziah died. King Uzziah was a good and righteous king in the Kingdom of Judah. He took the throne at 16 and reigned over Israel for some 52 years. Being a righteous king, it was a time of relative peace and prosperity in Judah. I can imagine there may have been a sense of dread throughout the Kingdom as they didn’t know what kind of king they would have next. Would he be a king that followed in Uzziah’s footsteps, and ruled as a godly king, or one that would bring God’s wrath upon the land? It’s kind of like when we have a presidential election. At least for us, we only must survive 4 years if we get a really bad president, or sometimes 8. Can you imagine having a horrible president for 50 years?
King Uzziah’s death was significant, and people would have remembered the date of his passing.
So here we see Isaiah as he is in the Jewish Temple. He is there worshipping when all of a sudden the glory of God filled the Temple. This was not something common, and I’m sure it was totally unexpected for Isaiah. He didn’t show up at the Temple expecting God to physically appear to him. His senses were probably overwhelmed. Here he was seeing God, and he knew from scripture that to see the face of God meant certain death.
I remember back when I was just a kid. I wasn’t raised in a Christian home so I’m not sure where I picked it up, but I can remember visiting churches a handful of times. Usually, I was invited by a friend. But I can remember thinking “This is a holy place because this is God’s house.” I knew that I shouldn’t run, or be loud and obnoxious in God’s house. It was a place for reverence. Even as a teenager, when I became a Christian, I can remember having a reverence for God’s house. Today, I know that God can hear our prayers anywhere we are, but there is something special about being in a chapel or a church. These are just buildings, I know, but they are places where we go to feel closer to God. In my mind I imagine Isaiah being the same way, holding the Temple as a special place where you went to meet God.
We think of this story as Isaiah showing up all by himself in the Temple, and God appearing to him. But the Temple was always a busy place. There were priests there all the time. People were constantly moving in and out, making offerings. When God appeared, I’m sure this was a time when everything around Isaiah grew quiet, and the scenes around him all faded away. He was completely focused on God.
Isaiah goes on to describe how the train of God’s robe filled the Temple. Other translations say the glory of God filled the Temple. So the train of his robe is symbolic of God’s glory. Imagine the glory, brightness, and holiness of God so thick you can feel it. Not only that, but the place also began to fill with smoke and the very foundations of the threshold were shaking by the voices calling out.
Imagine showing up at your church expecting a nice service. The worship pastor begins leading everyone in worship. Suddenly, as you are singing and worshipping God, everyone and everything around you fades away. It’s just you worshipping God. The room becomes bright, you can feel the presence of God like you have never felt it before, and the room begins shaking and filling with smoke. Then you hear a voice calling you by name, and you know it’s God speaking to you. You are overwhelmed! That is what Isaiah is experiencing.
Isaiah describes Seraphim who were worshipping the Lord. He describes them in verses 2 and 3 saying, “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!”
There is another passage in Revelation 4:8 that describes these seraphim. “And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
Revelation 4 describes what happens when the Apostle John is told, “Come up here and I will show you the things to come” and he is caught up into Heaven, where he describes the throne of God and the things he saw in Heaven.
The word Holy appears in the Bible 637 times. However, there are only two places in the Bible where it is repeated 3 times like this, holy, holy, holy. Those two locations are in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4.
The word, holy in Hebrew is Ka-dosh. Ka-dosh literally means cut-off. In other words, it means separated, cut off for special use, or set apart. Anytime in the bible where you see something repeated three times it is for emphasis. So to say ka-dosh, ka-dosh, ka-dosh, is a strong emphasis on how holy God is.
We really have drifted from seeing God as holy today. So many Christians like to look at some of God’s other characteristics, his compassion, his mercy, and his love. Some people refer to Him as Daddy. I’ve never been comfortable with such terminology for God. We should not take the person of God lightly. God is not the “Big guy” or “The man upstairs.” He is holy, holy, holy.
When Isaiah sees the Lord he feels like he is going to die. It’s as if Isaiah is saying, “There is no hope for me, I’m doomed!”
Isaiah was face to face, in the flesh, with God Almighty. He didn’t run up to him and say, “Daddy.” Isaiah thought he was going to be struck dead.
Let’s take a closer look at the Seraphim and what they show us about going deeper, and having an encounter with God. Let’s see how the seraphim relate to spiritual formation.
Isaiah 6:2 describes the Seraphim this way. “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.”
In other places in the Bible, the word Seraphim is translated as fiery serpents. So at the least, these are fiery servants of God. I like how Spurgeon described these Seraphim. He said, “Seraphims are burning ones, consumers, burning and shining lights, who wait upon God, who is light of life.”
So these are powerful, servants of God, and great examples to us.
Let’s ‘quickly look at four things concerning seraphim. The Bible illuminates the following: concerning seraphim.
- Two wings over the face represents reverence.
- Two wings over feet represent humility.
- Two wings to fly represent action.
- To serve an Almighty God you have to have all three, reverence, humility, and then action.
- The Seraphim had one set of wings that covered their faces representing reverence.
Even though these were fiery angelic beings shining light and bringing judgment, in the presence of Almighty God they covered their faces in reverence. Just as in ancient courts, everyone bowed in reverence to the king and didn’t show their faces, even these mighty Seraphim hid their faces from God. It would show disrespect to look in the eyes of a king, and even more so to look into the eyes of the mighty king of kings.
When we come into the presence of God in prayer, we come humbly with reverence. We need to get to where we are no longer focusing on ourselves. Both Isaiah and John the Apostle, in the presence of God, forgot all about their own self-importance. One of our goals as disciples of Jesus Christ is to lead others to that kind of deeper experience with God. Yes, we want to see them get saved, but then we want to help them to build a relationship in the here and now.
2. The Seraphim had one set of wings covering their feet representing humility.
When I think of this, my mind pictures a kind of Moses moment, where he approached the burning bush. He found God, and he took his shoes off because he was standing on holy ground. Even today in many Eastern countries’ feet are dirty and considered unclean. Raising your foot to someone, or hurling a shoe at them is a curse. It can be very offensive in some cultures to cross your legs because you are showing the bottom of your foot, especially if you are pointing the sole of your foot toward someone.
These Seraphim served the Lord humbly. As mighty as they are they are humble in God’s presence.
Let me just say, arrogance has no place in the pulpit. There are far too many pastors and ministers who are prideful and arrogant. They forget that it was God who gave them the ability to learn, to lead, and to speak well enough to gather a following. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
In reviewing many of the big named ministers that have fallen, pretty much every one of them suffered from this arrogance in the pulpit.
If this applies to the pastor in the pulpit, it also applies to every one of us. We are to come to God humbly. He gives us the very breath we breathe, and how easy would it be for him to take away our breath? Seek the Lord with a humble heart.
3. The Seraphim had two wings to fly with representing action.
After being in the presence of God in prayer we need to be ready to take action for the Lord.
In preparing for this message, I was looking at some old commentaries from the 18th and 19th centuries. (I love old dusty books. Ha, ha.) They said that the wings of the Seraphim showed they are swift to be about the work of the Lord, but they also emphasized this was the Lord’s work, not their work.
Alan Fadling, in his book “An Unhurried Life,” tells a parable. He tells about a king who had two loyal servants. One of the servants, who feared that they would not be pleasing to their master would rise early in the morning. They would work hard all day, often until late in the evening. They were accomplishing things that they believed the king wanted to be done. They didn’t want to bother the king with questions about what work he wanted to be done. They instead hurried from project to project, there was so much that needed to be done, it seemed like there were never enough hours in the day to get everything done. There were so many people to help, and so many projects to complete for the king.
The other servant was also very eager to please his master the king. They too would rise early. But they would get up and go to the king, spend time with him, and ask him what he wanted done each day. They would then set about working on and accomplishing the tasks that the king wanted them to do.
The busy servant often got a lot accomplished before the inquiring servant even started for the day, but which of the two was really doing what the king wanted to be done and was truly pleasing him?
Fadling goes on to say, “Genuine productivity is not about getting as much done for God as we can manage. It is doing the good work God actually has for us in a given day.” We are not just servants, but beloved sons and daughters of the King. God wants to spend time with us, and He wants to give us direction in our lives and what He wants us to do, and accomplish.
- To serve an Almighty God you must have all three. Reverence, humility, and being swift to serve the Lord.
I find it interesting that we can break this into three distinct pieces. Being reverent and humble before God, and quick to serve Him. We can break our spiritual walk into the same 3 pieces, though we typically give a lot more weight to doing than we do to praying and waiting on God. We are anxious to get going and moving. Prayer is hard work, and we would rather do something than pray.
When we go to God in prayer, we should never be irreverent, or flippant. We go to God humbly, and with reverence. Yes, he is our father, and we should go boldly into the throne room. But just as you should show your earthly father respect and humility, we, even more, should show reverence and humility to our Heavenly Father.
When Isaiah saw God in all his glory, he said that he was a man of unclean lips and that he couldn’t stand in His presence. An angel took a hot coal from the altar and touched his lips with it. When we approach God in prayer, we need to start by confessing any sin to him. We humbly ask God for his forgiveness, then ask our petitions. We can spend time in worshipping him, and then take some moments of silence for the Holy Spirit to speak to us.
We have been talking about adding silence to our prayers. Just as we have been practicing, this is just taking some time to be quiet, to still our minds, and ask God, “What would you have me know today” Or, “God please speak to me.” Or “God what do you have for me today?” This is allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to you. We are not looking for an audible voice, but often when we do this, we may clearly hear something in our Spirit.
May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make his face shine upon you and give you peace. May he protect you from the attacks of the enemy, from any virus or sickness, and show you favor. May he cause even your enemies to be at peace with you, and may you be aggressively chased by blessings this week.