Then I lifted up my eyes and looked, and behold, there were four horns. So I said to the angel who was speaking with me, “What are these?” And he answered me, “These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel and Jerusalem.” Then the Lord showed me four craftsmen. I said, “What are these coming to do?” And he said, “These are the horns which have scattered Judah so that no man lifts up his head; but these craftsmen have come to terrify them, to throw down the horns of the nations who have lifted up their horns against the land of Judah in order to scatter it.” — Zech. 1:18ff

 

God’s Judah is still out there, scattered from Eden, scattered from Babel, languishing in the whole wide world. Day after day they are butted about by the four horns of the evil one, whose army of demonic bullies fills the air the globe over, casting down, casting down, always casting down.

But here Zechariah gives us good news. God has a plan for his Judah, a people predestined for the praise of His glory and the glory of His grace. The implementation of the plan is well under way. Already, He has sent them THE Master Craftsmen, the One who skillfully fashioned a perfectly righteous life and a perfect atoning death for Himself, so that He mighty skillfully fashion a perfect people for His possession, and the possession of His God.

But there is more to the plan. As we see here and elsewhere in Scripture, the LORD has posted a Help Wanted flyer. More master-craftsmen are needed, and lots of them; for again, there are still lots and lots of languishing sons of Judah out there, men and women who are still bruised and buffeted, with heads hanging down.

What will lift them up? Zechariah replies: A great host of master craftsmen, all trained by THE Master Craftsmen, fanning out into the four corners of the earth, arriving on the scene with big, heavy tool belts slung over their hips, and ready and able to use those tools swiftly and powerfully.

But herein lies their true mastery: Just like their Master, they will only work at the word of the Master, for they know that in His word alone is all speed, all power, and all skill for all true lifting of the head.

How good to know that the four horns of hell cringe in terror when a team of master-craftsmen shows up on the job site, ready to go to work!

But how much better to know that when day is done, there will be even more of the sons of Judah, men and women from every nation praising The Master Craftsman with uplifted heads and eagerly equipping themselves for a new and glorious trade.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand that he had taken from the altar with tongs.

And he touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and now your iniquity is removed and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah 6:6-7

 

Isaiah was having a vision of the thrice-holy LORD of hosts, seated upon his throne, high and lifted up. Seeing the great King, realizing that His judgment was about to fall upon the land, and knowing that he himself, like his fellow Israelites, was a man of unclean lips, he cried out, “Woe to me; I am undone!”

Today’s text pictures God’s response to the anguish of a man awakening to his sins and his sinfulness. But, knowing that all OT texts testify of Christ, we know that this one pictures something more—something solemn, yet profoundly encouraging.

Isaiah pictures God’s elect children, spiritually removed from their Creator and King, but seeing Him at last, and also for the first time, and so under deep conviction of sin.

The seraph, created to be a messenger of God, pictures Christ’s Church, and each individual member thereof, sent into all the earth with the message of the Gospel.

The burning coal symbolizes the mighty gospel itself, the power of God for forgiveness, salvation, and restoration to all who believe (Luke 24:46-47, Rom. 1).

And the comforting words of absolution, spoken by the angel sent to Isaiah, sweetly foreshadow the words that Christ Himself puts into the mouth of all his evangelists when they see the signs of genuine repentance and faith in those to whom they are sent; for He told us all, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven” (John 20:23).

But with all this in mind, note something fascinating about our text: It tells us that the seraph took the burning coal from the altar with tongs. Why exactly did he do that? Why did the angel not take up the coal with his hand? The answer, it would appear, is that it was too hot to handle!

I am not sufficient to explain all the meaning hidden here. Perhaps the Spirit is telling us that angels were never meant to carry the gospel to sinners, but that Christ’s people are. Perhaps He is telling us that in OT times no living creature—whether man or angel—was ready to carry the coal of the Gospel to sinful men.

But of these two things I AM sure.

First, it is the glory of the Church that She should carry, with joy and power and confidence, the coal of the Gospel to all nations; that She is not meant to take it up with tongs of timidity, or intellectualism, or moralism, but to lay hands on it boldly and to experience deep within Herself the fire of God’s truth pouring into her body, equipping her for her mission.

But secondly, even in our day—and perhaps especially in the deep darkness of these last days—the Gospel is still indeed a coal too hot to handle. That is, we must not, and we cannot, handle it in the flesh. If it is to perform its work; if it is to produce true conviction of sin; if we are to have the joy of speaking tender words of divine absolution to trembling sinners, then we had best have hand and heart fully clothed with the Holy Spirit before taking up the Word of the Gospel and taking it out to the world.

Here is the great thing about seraphim: They get to live in the presence of the glory of God, hear His voice, and know, with full assurance, the people to whom they are sent and the message they are charged to bring to them. This is our birthright as well, yes and moreso; for unlike the seraphim in our text, we are not a people who cover ourselves in the presence of God, but a people who are called to live with Him face to face (2 Cor. 3:18).

So then, as we read this text, let us remember our birthright: First, to dwell in His presence face to face; second, to take up the coal of the Gospel only at His bidding; and third, to take it faithfully in the power of the Spirit to those to whom we are sent.

Then—and then only—the Gospel will not be too hot to handle. Indeed, then it will be too beautiful and powerful to resist or lay down, filling not only our hands but our whole bodies with light and life and warmth for a world that increasingly trembles before the Holy One of Israel and the High King of Heaven and Earth.

For behold, Adonai, Yahweh of Hosts, is about to remove from Jerusalem and Judah both staff and support,

the whole staff of bread and the whole staff of water . . . and the people will be oppressed.

Isaiah 3:1, 5

It belongs to the essence of sinful man that he is blind to the staff of God. As we learn from Isaiah 3, it is God who supports both men and nations with bread, water, wise spiritual leaders, capable statesmen, skillful artisans, brave soldiers, and more. All of these are His gracious gifts: in love He places them beneath our hands like a sturdy staff, so that we might walk securely with Him.

But sinful man is blind to the staffs. And when sinful man walks deeper and deeper in his native willfulness, foolishness, and ingratitude, God wisely removes the staffs one by one, so that he is oppressed, so that he may recover his sight, so that once again he may learn to lean on Him.

It is written that the aged, dying Jacob blessed his sons while worshiping God and leaning on the top of his staff. In his youth, Jacob had walked foolishly; but in his old age he had learned to lean on his God.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is the one staff of God, given to us that we may lean on Him and so have bread, water, guidance, skill, courage, victory, and everything else we need to walk securely through this wicked world. It is no shame to admit our weakness; it is no shame to lean on Him. To the contrary, it is our glory and our joy.

How I wish we did not have to experience so much weakness and so many stumblings! But if they give us eyes, and if they teach us to lean on the one all-sufficient Staff of God, then I praise the Lord for them all. And I hope you will join me in doing the same.

“If you will consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land.”

— Isaiah 1:18-20

This is not a law word. God is not saying, “If you consent to the Law and obey it in all its particulars, then you will eat the best of the land.”

No, when you read the verse in context you see that it is a Gospel word. If you will consent to the simple truths of the Gospel; if you will simply obey its simple way of salvation and sanctification; if you will simply come to Christ and abide in Him and His grace, then your sins will become like wool, and then you will indeed eat the Best of the Land–the bread, oil, wine and honey hidden in the Land Above, lodged deep within the heart of Him who is seated there as King.

This very day, may you consent, obey, and eat until you’re filled!

Many a wise man, saturated in the Scriptures of God, has come to see that all creation is a school, and each and every kind of experience a classroom therein. Certainly this is the message of John Newton in his letter to Mrs. Dawson, formerly Miss Flower, but now married and nursing a newborn child.

Reading it, I took special pleasure in the way Newton’s experience as a parent becomes a window through which he beholds winsome glimpses of the heart of Father God. I am much in need of such glimpses, for truly, the essence of my spiritual warfare–and the key to any victory I may be able to achieve–lies in knowing more and more truly the character “the one with whom we have to do.”

In this excerpt, Newton makes Him manifest. I am grateful for it.

————–

I join with you in praising the Lord for his goodness. I understand the little stranger is to be called Jane, a name to which I am partial for the sake of some who bear it. If she is spared to you, I trust your best endeavors to teach her the good ways of the Lord will not be wanting, and you will find that while a child, and even an infant, she will be a teacher to you.

You will be often reminded of that text, “Like as a father (or a mother) pitieth a child, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” And when you are forced to overrule the inclinations of the child whom you love and wish to gratify; when she cries because she cannot have what you know would be hurtful to her; and when a regard for her health constrains you to give her some salutary pains . . . then you will be led to notice the true cause of many of your own disappointments and trials.

Should you see her sometimes misconstrue your tenderness and think you unkind–even though you have given her a thousand daily proofs of your love and care–because you cannot comply with her wishes at every point, you will see in her too much of my own picture, and something of your own.

On the other hand, the pleasure you will find in her affection and obedience; the readiness with which you will forgive her faults when she is sensible of them; and how much more you are disposed to caress her than to frown upon her . . . these feelings will lead your thoughts to our heavenly Father, who delights in our prosperity, and who does not willingly afflict us or permit us to be in heaviness without a need-be for it.

Thus, while we are in the Lord’s school, and desiring to be taught by him, we may always be learning, even though we should not be favored with the public preaching of the gospel. Yes, an attention to the Bible will enable us to derive profitable instruction from children, servants, friends, enemies, comforts, and crosses . . . from all we see, hear or meet with in the daily course of life.