In Isaiah chapter 6, there’s this amazing scene, where the prophet Isaiah experiences a vision of Christ in His glory sitting on His throne. When he lays eyes on Jesus, he cries out, “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!” (Isa.6:5)
An angel comes down and cleanses Isaiah of His sin by touching a burning coal to his lips, and then Isaiah hears the Lord say, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (v. 8a) Isaiah responds, “Here am I! Send me” (v. 8b).
Right up until that point, this sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Whenever I read that part, I always imagine this epic hero-type scene, where Isaiah “man’s up” and essentially says, “Don’t worry, I’ll handle this!” You know the kind of thing, I’m talking about, right?
But I can only do that, if I stop reading at verse 8. Because after that, he actually receives his marching orders:
Go, and say to this people:
Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed” (v. 9b-1o).
Essentially, what Isaiah is told is this: You are called to harden the hearts of the people. You are called to be ignored.
Isaiah’s ministry, like so many of the prophets, is marked by stubborn disobedience that comes as a response to his preaching. The people won’t hear, because they cannot. Indeed, his ministry is to “make the heart of this people dull.”
Can you imagine how difficult that would be? To know that your calls to repentance will have the exact opposite effect?
I have to wonder, if there aren’t a lot of pastors today who have this same commission, and how difficult it must be sometimes to deal with this—that for many, your words are nothing more than the nonsensical muttering of Charlie Brown’s schoolteacher.
It sounds almost unbearable, doesn’t it? Where do you find hope?
“…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
There’s great comfort to be taken from this passage. There’s a confidence that comes from it that matches the exuberence that comes from reading Isaiah 6:8, and makes that exuberence meaningful. God’s word does exactly what it is purposed to do. So while some hearts will be hardened by the unapologetic proclamation of His word, others will turn and be saved.
The Puritans had a saying, that “the same sun that melts the ice, hardens the clay.” I think there’s a lot of truth in that, and a great deal of encouragement as well. We cannot be ashamed of the gospel, regardless of where we are and what we do. We must find comfort in the knowledge that even if our words go unheeded—if we, like Isaiah, are called to be ignored—that God’s words will still accomplish what He purposes.