Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
We wrap up our annual series called The Cloud today. We do this series every year so that we can learn from the lives of other faithful Christian men and women throughout church history. It prevents us from the chronological snobbery of thinking that only are age, and our problems, are unique to Christian history. We have looked this year at St. Patrick, Boniface, Adoniram and Ann Judson, and George Liele. Today we conclude this year's addition with a look at the life of Lottie Moon.
When I was halfway through Basic Training, we were called into formation, and around 300 of us were lined up. Our Drill Sgts told us there were a couple of guys from the Cav Scout paratrooper division in Ft Bragg there to talk to us. These guys with red berets addressed us, telling us about being a paratrooper, and said they were expanding that unit. They were looking to add 8 guys from our class to go to Airborne School and then to Ft Bragg to join them. They asked us, “by show of hands, who is interested in going?” About 100 of us raised our hands. About 100 of us said, “Here am I, send me.” And for us 8 who got selected, we pocketed a whopping $150 extra per month!
Isaiah 6:1-8 Exegesis:
vs 1 — Isaiah gives us the context and time of when he sees this vision. He can grace this significant moment in his life, one that changed everything, back to the year. I just love the realness of that. Because that’s how life works doesn’t it? Significant events are often etched in our mind with all the sights, sounds, smells, and season that accompanied it. This is Isaiah’s.
He saw the Lord. In his vision, he sees an image of the Lord. Now, Isaiah is no dummy. He knows that Gos is a spirit and doesn’t have a body. He also knows from Scripture that nobody can see the Lord in his glory and live. Yet, God gives him a vision and does see. But who is he seeing here. This is what scholars call a theophany. This is a pre-incarnate picture of Christ. We see this in the fiery furnace of Daniel 3, as Jacob wrestles with God, and several other places. Isaiah sees the Lord.
“Sitting upon a throne.” Who sits on thrones? Royalty. Kings and queens. Sovereigns. The Lord is seated on the throne, high and lifted up, meaning exalted above others. Supreme in majesty, rank, and glory. And "the train of his robe filled the Temple." Think of that image. The train of the robe filling the Temple means yards and yards of robe. Why is this important? The longer the train of the robe, the more glory is inferred. The train of Queen Elizabeth II robe at her coronation was 21 feet long. The Lord’s train was so long is filled the Temple, showing that his glory and majesty are infinite.
vs 2 -- Above the Lord on the throne were seraphim (angels) and each had 6 sings, with two they covered their face, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. Why did they cover their feet and face? This displays the holiness and perfections of the One they are in the presence in.
vs 3 -- They called out to one another: "Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" This is the only attribute that we see in Scripture that is proclaimed 3x. We never see "love, love, love" or "good, good, good" but we do see "holy, holy, holy." The three-fold repetition implies an infinite nature to it. The holiness of God is abundance. Some theologians have said that the holiness of God is not just one of his attributes, but the foundation of all His other attributes. The angels in the presence of the LORD sing.
vs 4 -- The foundations of the place shook at the voice of him who called. The place was filled with smoke.
vs 5 -- Isaiah's response, "Woe is me." This means condemnation on me" or "judgment on me." Isaiah condemns himself. Why? Because he is a man of unclean lips amongst a people of unclean lips. Isaiah is a prophet, and he has unclean lips? He recognizes the depths of his sin and unholiness when in the presence of God. When his eyes sees the King, the LORD of hosts, he recognizes his sin.
vs 6-7 -- One of the angels took a burning coal and placed it against Isaiah's lips (where is declared he was unclean). The angel then declares that his guilt is taken away and his sin atoned for.
This is really important? How is this able to happen? How is Isaiah's sin atoned for and guilt taken away? We know an angel can't forgive sins. We know that without the shedding of blood (a sacrificial death) there is no forgiveness of sins. So how does this happen?
The angel declares forgiveness to Isaiah, and touches the coal to his lips as a sign of his cleansing and guilt taken away. But on what basis is the angel doing this? The Lord is declaring Isaiah clean in advance of the actual blood sacrifice that would then pay his sins in full -- the cross of Jesus Christ. Catch this: Isaiah is declared clean, but 700 years later, Jesus would go up Calvary's Hill and bear the sin and guilt of Isaiah, washing him white as snow. Isaiah would see a vision of this in Isaiah 53 when he spoke of the Suffering Servant who bears the inequities of God's people. In the same way that Abraham's faith is counted to him as righteousness, it is only made possible because Jesus would pay for the actual sins. The Old Testament believers were counted as righteous and declared because Jesus could come and make it so through his own sin-atoning death and resurrection.
vs 8 -- This leads us to the passage we are very familiar with: the Lord says after this exchange, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" I love this Trinitarian picture here. Who shall "I" send, one God. Who will go for "us," Three Persons. Who shall the Lord send to the nations? Who will be His messenger to the people? Isaiah responds with "Here I am! Send me."
I want you to catch this: Isaiah did not volunteer for the call because of guilt surrounding the need, he answered the call because of gratitude for grace. How could he do anything less than respond when his sin was atoned for?
The same question is put to us. How could we do anything less than participate in making Christ known to the world and being faithful messengers in light of the grace he has displaced through us. In Christ, our sins have been atoned for and our guilt is taken away. We should say back to God, "Here I am! Send me." That is exactly what happened in the life of a woman named Lottie Moon.
I grew up going to church with my grandmother. Her church is small country church that never took mission trips anywhere, but I remember hearing all the time about the "Lottie Moon Christmas Offering" for missionaries. I didn't know growing up that Lottie Moon was the name of a person. I don't know if I thought it was like Blood Moon, or Full Moon Harvest, or some other moon reference, but I never thought it was a person. And I certainly didn't think it belonged to a 4'3 firecracker who gave her life on the mission field to reach the people of China. She answered the call of the Lord by saying “Here am I, send me.”
Charlotte Digges Moon, known as Lottie (from Charlotte), was born on December 12th, 1840 in Virginia. She was the 4th child in a family of 7. The Moon family had significant money from their 1,500 acre tabacco plantation. Lottie's mother read the Bible to the kids, as well as other books and stories of missionaries. One of those stories was that of Adoniram and Ann Judson.
The Moon family placed a high value on education. Lottie excelled in school. She attended Virginia Female Seminary near Roanoke, Virginia, at 14 years old and afterwards Albermale Female Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia, a sister college to University of Virginia. She received an M.A. in classics in 1861, becoming one of the first women in the American South to receive a college degree. While in school she mastered Greek, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, and then Hebrew. Later she would master Mandarin Chinese.
The Moon family were staunch Baptists, even though Lottie would not become a Christian until she was 18 years old. She was very outspoken and disinterested in the Christian faith of her family. The family prepared meals on Saturday to eat on Sunday so they could honor the Sabbath, and Lottie would sneak off from church and go back home to prepare a meal for herself. On other occasions she pretended to be sick on Sunday mornings, only to be found busy when her family returned to church. She was called by many, "a devilish little girl." During her time in school, she skipped chapel 26 times during her last two quarters. Even after her father died in an accident when she was 14 years old, it didn't cause her to consider the things of God. She even insisted to her friends that the "D." in 'Charlotte Digges Moon' stood for "Devil." Her pseudonym name she signed her poetry with during that time was "Deville," a play on the word 'devil.' But everything changed when Lottie agreed to go to a revival meeting taking place on the college campus. John Broadus, one of the founders of Southern Seminary, led the revival meeting, where Moon came to faith during the winter of 1858 and spring of 1859. She wasn't pursuing God, or looking to changer her life. But God's grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, changed her. She was born-again into the kingdom of Christ.
Shortly after Lottie's graduation, the Civil War erupted in the United States. She gained a job as a tutor for a family in Georgia. In 1866 she moved to Kentucky to teach at a female academy in Danville. Four years later she moved to Cartersville, Georgia and taught there for a year. But she learned that her's mother's health was failing and she made her way back to Virginia to take care of her. In her mother's final days, they spent time talking about the importance of using one's short life for the service of God and the gospel. Conversations that went back to those stories as a child about the Judsons traveling to Burma rekindled in her heart, along with a passion to see those who had not ever heard of Christ to be saved.
These stories, plus the influence of her sister who had also gone to China as a missionary, birthed in her a desire to leave behind her successful teaching labors, and to enroll in the call of going to the nations. Lottie would join her sister in China in 1873. She was 32 years old, and single. She held out hope, even after she went to the mission field, that the Lord may provide for her a husband and companion in her labor, but that was not His will. The man Moon had a connection to prior to leaving, and afterwards (C.H. Toy), was a man also training for ministry, but he ended up going the route of academia. He soon adopted views that were unbiblical and unorthodox, and tried to influence Lottie toward them. She could ignore those things, and pursue a relationship with him, but in the end, she remained faithful to the Word. And with the end of her hope in a future marriage, she committed herself to the work of China. She would do that for the next 40 years.
Lottie's work in China was difficult. The conditions were harsh. The language was difficult. Yet she learned the language and learned the customs so she could evangelize the people. She worked as a teacher to young girls, but after 10 years moved into more of an evangelistic role. One of the things Lottie did was bake cookies for people in the villages. But for a while nobody would eat them because they were afraid of what curses the 'white devil' or 'foreign devil' may contain. Eventually the children ate the cookies, and when they realized nobody died or suffered harm, others ate them too, including the mothers who invited Lottie into their homes. That's when she shared about Jesus. The children switched from calling her a 'foreign devil' to "the cookie lady." (You can look up her cookie recipe online)
The remaining 30 years (after her first 10 as a teacher with very little fruit evangelistically) was spent going house-to-house, village-to-village making Christ known to both women and children. But in addition to her missionary work, she became a spokesman and advocate back to the United States for more to not only join in the mission work, but to financially give to support it. She wrote back to the Foreign Mission Board about what was happening. Stories of her labors were circulated to churches and read by congregants. Women's Missionary societies started forming (later to be called WMU). In 1887, during the Christmas season, she wrote a letter that would make an impact even to this day, and beyond. She wrote:
"I wonder how many of us really believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive. A woman who accepts that statement of our Lord Jesus Christ as a fact and not as “impractical idealism,” will make giving a principle of her life. She will lay aside sacredly not less than one-tenth of her income or her earnings as the Lord’s money , which she would no more dare touch for personal use than she would steal. How many there are among our women, alas, who imagine that because “Jesus paid it all,” they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime object of their salvation was that they should follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ!"
The Southern Baptist Convention responded with a Christmas Offering of $3,315. However, this offering would be collected annually and has become known as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which goes to the the International Mission Board to support missionaries on the ground around the world making Christ known. Last year's Lottie Moon Christmas Offering brought the total of gifts collected since 1888 to over $5 billion.
Moon scolded Southern Baptists for their doctrinal disputes, the inconsistency of their sending missionaries to Africa while oppressing or ignoring black people in the United States, and their meager interest in and support of foreign missions. Forty years of such admonitions and appeals had their effect, and the Southern Baptist Convention became one of the leading missionary sending bodies in the world. The 4'3 firecracker made a massive impact.
Her last days were filled with suffered as she, and the Chinese people, starved from famine. She kept growing weaker. But I love her attitude on suffering. She said, “I do not believe that any trouble comes upon us unless it is needed, and it seems to me that we ought to be just as thankful for sorrow as for joys.” On Christmas Eve 1912, heading back to America to receive medical care, Lottie Moon died on ship while at the harbor in Kobe, Japan. She was 72 years old.
1. Each of us must find a way to participate in the command to "Go."
In light of the grace of God, Isaiah saw he had no other option but to respond to the call. When you are truly grateful for the rescue of God in your life, you don't see yourself as having the option of doing nothing. Lottie had ever comfort and advantage in life, yet she chose to go as a single woman and gave the last 40 years of her life. Again, this may not look like you picking up and living somewhere else, but if it doesn't, then you have to determine to find a way to be engaged from here.
short-term trips to our strategic partnerships
"Why should we not ... do something that will prove that we are really in earnest in claiming to be followers of him who, though he was rich, for our sake became poor?"
Do something. Doing nothing is not an option for us as Christians.
2. Give generously to support the work of advancing the gospel.
Lottie not only depended on the Lord to support her in the efforts. But she called people to be involved and engaged in that support. She challenged Christians in America to recognize that their finances were given to them by God, and the God who gave them could take them away if they were not faithful.
We are each challenged individually to be generous financial stewards of what God has put in our hands. It begins with our commitment to be 10% givers. Some people like to debate whether or not that number still stands as guide. I've honestly rarely found someone who debated about it exceed that number in giving. In other words, the people who wanted to debate about were the ones who often gave less, sometimes way less than 10%. I believe at minimum we should set aside a tenth of our income to the work of the gospel. And I believe as the Lord leads us, we should give beyond that % to things we believe in.
My wife and I give over 10% to the work of this local church. And we give monthly to Knowing Jesus Ministries. I don't receive a penny for Knowing Jesus Ministries work. I give. That giving makes it possible to produce resources and materials for our website, our respite weekends, our conferences, the book we published, and more. We believe as Christians we are supposed to use what God has given us to do that work. (Example: pray for me, tomorrow I am recording 4 Christmas sermons that will be aired on national television during the Advent season. This opportunity is fantastic. But we've been given an opportunity to continue this beyond Christmas, to preach throughout the country, but it requires the financial backing. If we raise the money, we can do ever more than we're currently doing. If we don't, that opportunity won't happen.)
This is exactly what Lottie Moon challenged the SBC about. There were incredible opportunities for advancing the gospel, if Christians would steward their resources for the glory of God. As an individual, and family, make sure you do that.
3. We underestimate the long-term impact God can make through our lives.
Lottie didn't have immediate success in China. Her first 10 years were hard and not very fruitful, but she was faithful. Her next 30 years were more fruitful. But the impact of Lottie's work, and her appeals to the SBC to join in giving and missions, has had a greater impact in the last 100+ years after her life than her 72 years of life. We underestimate what God can do in our lives if we will simply commit to day-by-day faithfulness. We never know the impact we can make. So don't measure my man's standards of success. Trust God with the results, as you commit yourself to obedience and faithfulness today.
“But the work is God’s and we do not fear the final results. ‘The heathen shall be given to His son for His inheritance,’ and we must be content to await His Own time.”
"Here am I, send me." Lottie Moon answered the call. So did Patrick, Boniface, Adoniram and Ann Judson, and George Liele. These men and women demonstrate the faithfulness of everyday people who love Jesus and want to live their lives for him. They were all burdened by a passion to see the grace that entered their lives through Christ, but proclaimed and made known to those who had not heard.
"The needs of these people press upon my soul, and I cannot be silent. It is grievous to think of these human souls going down to death without even one opportunity of hearing the name of Jesus. ... Once more I urge upon the consciences of my Christian brethren and sisters the claims of these people among whom I dwell. Here I am working alone in a city of many thousand inhabitants, with numberless villages clustered around or stretching away in the illuminate distance: how many can I reach?"
This kind of urgency to live their lives to make them count, plus the challenge to us as believers to examine our own lives, is why we commit ourselves to learning about the great cloud of witnesses. Their faith inspires and informs our own. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead dwelled in them, and that same Holy Spirit dwells in us who believe. The same Christ who promised His disciples he would be with them to the end of the age, was with these great men and women of faith, and he is the same Christ with us. The gospel that saved us, is the gospel that saved these faithful believers we have studied. Their God is our God. Their mission is our mission. May we as individuals, and as a church, let their lives bear witness to us of the preciousness of Jesus, and his worthiness to go "all in" for, and may we answer the call when he asks "who he shall send?" May we answer the call with joy, "Here am I, send me."