“Here I am. Send me!”
That’s the response of Isaiah the prophet to a holy and gracious God in Isaiah 6. This chapter has been instrumental in my life. I remember first reading it in high school and being struck by the humility of Isaiah. I remember reading R.C. Sproul’s reflections of this chapter in his book The Holiness of God and being crushed by the weightiness of God. I’ve heard countless mission sermons that end with the call to, like Isaiah, respond to God with a willingness to go wherever for the sake of the gospel. I am even attempting, by grace, to answer that call as we seek to plant Redeeming Grace Church in Greater Boston.
But I’ve heard very little on the rest of Isaiah 6.
In verses 9-13 God gives Isaiah a glimpse of what his ministry will look like. While Isaiah is still reeling from the grace of the gospel, God shows him that ministry will be harder than he could ever imagine.
 And he said, “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.”
 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
 and the LORD removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
 And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.
In other words, most people won’t listen to you. They will reject the message. You will appear, by all earthly measurements, to fail. What are we to make of this? As the Church, we live with the temptation of measuring the eternal success of Christ’s mission by the temporal standards of our world. Isaiah 6 has some important encouragements for pastors, planters, missionaries, and churches:
- Ministry Success is Measured by Faithfulness
This has become sort of a cliche phrase, but it’s true and bears repeating. We plant, another waters, but God gives the growth (1 Cor. 3:6,7). He gives growth as he sees fit. There’s no guarantee that our input will always produce the desired output. As Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3:8, The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. To clarify, this doesn’t mean we are careless about results. We desperately want to see people saved, churches built, and the nations reached. But we know that there is only one way this happens: the Holy Spirit sovereignly opening the hearts of those who hear the gospel. So we commit ourselves to the proclamation of the gospel and prayer.
- Gospel Work is Slow Work
The fruit of Isaiah’s ministry was “the holy seed” in verse 13. This is none other than the Messiah, Jesus Christ who came to take away the sins of the world. For the most part, Isaiah labored in obscurity. The harvest of his preaching came 700 years later in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ for the salvation of man. This is why Paul exhorts Timothy to preach the word “with complete patience” in 2 Timothy 4:2. God does not conform to our timeline. Here’s what Mark Dever says on the subject:
Sometimes God does give great, fast, marked, obvious fruitfulness to our labors to spread his gospel or plant and water churches, but generally, it’s not like that. So if you’re tempted to think that if something is slow it must not be urgent or fruitful or even important, I would ask you to consider the biblical pattern. God calls Noah to work for years. He gave Abram a promise that takes decades to come to fruition. How long did Hannah pray for a child? Or Ruth for a husband? What did they learn during those years? God’s promised deliverance for the Israelites exiled in Babylon stretched out for decades. The coming of the Messiah took centuries to come to pass. How long had Simeon been waiting in the temple for the consolation of Israel? But God was not less faithful for all of that. Obedience to him was no less urgent. Even once Christ came into the world it took us 30 years before we heard much from him. The fulfilling of the great commission has been going on for centuries. And will go on until Christ returns because it continues in force to the end of the age
- Only a Vision of Christ Will Sustain You
I imagine Isaiah at various times in his ministry sinking in discouragement; wondering if he should throw in the towel. What sustains and motivates in times like these? A vision of Christ’s holiness (v.3), our sinfulness (v.5), and the grace of the gospel (v.7). When you are discouraged in ministry, fix your eyes again on the King. He’s the one who bled and died for you. He’s the one who promised to build his church (Matt. 16:18). He’s the one who assured us of his continual presence to the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20).
Aspire to an Isaiah 6 ministry. The whole chapter. Faithfully proclaim Christ, entrust the results to God, be patient, look to him afresh, and press on!