When we confront the awful truth about our sin, we will see with new eyes the Savior who reaches down to lift us up.
In my travels, there have been many times when I was unaware that a notable person was nearby. Were it not for my observant traveling companion, well-known people such as Paul McCartney, Dick Morris, Richard Thomas, Prince, David Gergen, Cokie Roberts, Charlie Gibson and many others would have all passed by unnoticed.
However, I’d usually receive a little nudge and whisper, “Anne, don’t look now, but so-and-so is here. Right over there.” And when I’d look “right over there,” I’d see a very ordinary person. No glitz or glamour, no neon lights or fancy get-up—just another weary traveler struggling with the luggage and trying to get comfortable in a seat that’s too small.
Somehow, seeing a famous celebrity in an ordinary setting is just, well, not that exciting. I wonder…would it be possible to see Jesus and not know it? As wildly implausible as it might seem—it is possible. Like Mary Magdalene at the garden tomb on Easter morning, you and I may see Him yet not recognize Him.
Sometimes we need help. We need someone to nudge us and whisper, “Look, He’s here. Right over there.” And then, when we see Him for who He is, the experience may not be what we expected.
A Change of Focus
One reason I’ve been unaware, at times, that I was seeing Jesus was because the moment wasn’t what I thought it would be. I thought that seeing Him would send me into a kind of spiritual orbit. I thought it would result in a glorious, exhilarating, out-of-body ecstatic experience. Yet, within seconds, the thrill of a fresh encounter with Jesus morphed from the heights of joy to the depths of depression.
The depression, then, seemed to call into question the validity of the encounter. How could meeting Jesus make me feel so miserable and helpless? The prophet Isaiah’s testimony, recorded in Isaiah 6, taught me that having an encounter with Jesus isn’t necessarily an occasion of ecstasy. In the year before Isaiah saw the Lord, he’d passionately preached a message to the people in his changing world, exhorting them to repent, saying: “Woe to you….Woe to you….Woe to you!” (See Is. 5:1-30.)
Isaiah was preaching his heart out and pointing his finger at the sin he saw in his collapsing culture. He was preaching God’s truth! Often when I watch the evening news or read the morning paper, I also have an overwhelming desire to point my finger and thunder, “Woe to you, woe to you, woe to you!” My focus is entirely on their sin!
Before he saw the Lord, Isaiah was totally focused on their sin too. But upon seeing the Lord, his eyes were opened—not only to a fresh vision of the Lord—but also to a fresh vision of himself.
Then Isaiah wailed, “Woe to me!” (See Is. 6:1-5.) He wasn’t ecstatic. He wasn’t transported to heights of glory. He wasn’t uplifted to an exalted spiritual plateau. He was plunged into a state of spiritual helplessness and depression.
When Isaiah saw the Lord, he felt dirty, sinful, wretched, guilty, worthless and ashamed. Flooded by the light of holiness and purity that emanates from the Lord, he had nowhere to hide and no one to blame. It was then that Isaiah knew he wasn’t a victim; he was a sinner.
The Ugly Truth
Think back over your life. When have you felt the acute weight and unshakable burden of your sin? When have you felt so spiritually poor and blind and naked and utterly helpless that you even despaired of life?
Could it be, Dear One, that that was your encounter with the spotless, sinless Son of God? Could it be that—because your sin becomes glaringly apparent in the searing light of His holiness—the nearer to Him you actually are, the closer to hell you actually feel?
To his credit, Isaiah didn’t shut his eyes or deafen his ears or whine about what somebody else did or didn’t do. He didn’t run away from the blinding light. Isaiah, in soul-stripping, brutal honesty, sobbed: “I am ruined!” This was no shallow, superficial, hypocritical show of spirituality. This was the cry of a man whose heart had been broken in two.
This kind of utter spiritual ruination is almost foreign to our modern-day mind. So much of our focus seems to be on building up our self-esteem and thinking positively. We’re repulsed by even the thought of being so totally helpless in our sinful condition.
We don’t want to acknowledge that we’re spiritually hopeless, without a remote possibility of ever pleasing God. Our condition makes us forever unacceptable in His presence and unwelcome in His heavenly home.
How is it that, like Isaiah, we can be so offended and preoccupied with the sin of others while we’re completely oblivious to the sin in our own lives? I wonder if this is one reason the world seems to view the church as a haven for hypocrites. While the unsaved may be somewhat aware of their own sins—those for which we condemn them—they also see our sins, which we ignore.