Of all the really cool stuff in Isaiah — the servant songs, the allusions to Christ, the prophesies about the Messiah, the comfort passages — the words at the end of chapter six about preaching to people who refuse to listen are the most quoted in the New Testament.
Jesus uses Isaiah’s words in Matthew 13 after telling the parable of the four soils. Same thing in Mark 4 and Luke 8. Jesus says, man, this is how Isaiah must have felt.
In John 12, right after Jesus predicts his death, God’s voice thunders down from heaven for the benefit of the people in the crowds. But they’re not listening. They don’t understand. They refuse to change. And, again, Jesus uses the Isaiah 6 passage to account for the blind eyes and stubborn hearts.
Paul’s near the end of his life in Acts 28, under house arrest in Rome. And he’s failed to make a dent in the sight or the hearing or the hearts of the religious leaders who’ve come to hear him preach. Nothing. And he quotes the Isaiah 6 passage. Same thing in Romans 11. “It’s still happening!” Paul says, “To this very day!” Paul’s a failed preacher in pretty good company.
The point of the last half of Isaiah 6, and the reason the passage is repeated so many times in the early history of God’s Church, is that we are called to be faithful to our Father and to his mission, regardless of where it takes us. No matter how bad it gets, no matter how many people reject the truth, we are called to keep preaching the truth.
The point of Isaiah 6:8-13 is that if we trust God, if we’ll remain faithful to him, he’ll do something with those closed eyes and plugged up ears. Those stumps (Isaiah 6:13). Isaiah and Jesus and the apostles are reminding us that God does his best work in the middle of a desolate field of worthless stumps.
God created the universe out of nothing. He raised a mighty nation out of a 90-year-old barren womb. He pulled a young boy from the bottom of a well and made him a powerful ruler of the most important nation in the world. He uses the death of a preacher and the persecution of his Church to spread the Good News of salvation from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. He delivered forgiveness and righteousness to all mankind through a cruel wooden cross.
There’s more happening in horrible situations than we ever realize. These awful circumstances are holy. God does holy things with faithful people in a field full of stumps.
“The holy seed is its stump.” ~Isaiah 6:13