Saturday, January 19, 2013
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 1:1–18
The first chapter of the prophecy of Isaiah calls our attention to a much needed discussion. That this is a high-level discussion is seen from the fact that it involves God himself. The Bible indicates that some people have been allowed to reason with God.
Every person has been subpoenaed to appear in court — God
’s court, the court of eternity. In it stands every person beset by personal sin and deserving the sentence of death. Isaiah sounds the first “hear ye” of a divine summons, the themes of which are to be found throughout the rest of his prophecy —
themes of a great indictment.
1) The forfeiting of life (Isaiah 1:2–6).
Isaiah pictures God as a loving Father who mourns the disobedience of his children: “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me” (v. 2). The story of the prodigal son is as old as the story of man. Here we see it reenacted on a nationwide scale. Shakespeare’s King Lear, suffering the heartbreak of having his own children depose him, cries out, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” How pathetic it is to see children mistreat a father who has given them everything. How foolish to see children turn from a heavenly Father who offers them life itself.
Coupled with rebellion is the sin of being inconsiderate of the source of one’s blessings. Isaiah sadly states, “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider” (v. 3). It is useless for people who frivolously ignore God to pretend that he is in any of their thoughts.
By being saddled with sin.
When Isaiah says, “Ah, sinful nation,” he is literally saying, “Shame on you.” He further says that they are “a people laden with iniquity” (v. 4). Here are people who are burdened down with the weight of their own sins, who have chosen to live life saddled with sin. This is the way it is for all who forsake God and try to live on their own.
By ignoring the malignancy of the soul.
Periodically some national figure succumbs to the dreadful menace of cancer, and we are again reminded that it strikes both the rich and the poor. The Bible speaks of a more fearful malignancy that destroys the soul. Isaiah says, “Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (v. 5–6). The malignancy described is the result of unforgiven sin. There is no medicine for such wounds.
2) Spiritual confusion (Isa. 1:11–14).
In describing the worship of the people, Isaiah quite frankly states that they remind him of the leaders of those ancient wicked cities Sodom and Gomorrah: “Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah” (1:10). These two cities, known for their gross wickedness, had a form of religion.
Sacrifice without meaning.
Sacrifice, rightly understood, is basic to any genuine worship experience. In the Old Testament it involved the sacrifice of animals. In the light of the New Testament, sacrifice becomes personal, involving one’s own life. Yet we hear Isaiah say, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats” (v. 11). Real sacrifice must involve giving something that you will miss tremendously. For this reason, the Old Testament sacrifice was to be a perfect animal without blemish. The New Testament pictures the sacrifice of placing one’s daily life on the altar in such a way that self is denied and Christ is honored (Rom. 12:1–2).
If what you are giving to God is something you will never miss, then you have no concept of real sacrifice. Also, sacrifice to God implies undivided allegiance. This was not true of the people to whom Isaiah spoke. During his reign as king, Ahaz went to Damascus seeking to pacify the king of Assyria. Out of this experience we are told that Ahaz sacrificed to the gods of Damascus (2 Chron. 28:23). Having succumbed to the might of Assyrian pressure, Ahaz then imposed idolatry and polytheism, Assyrian style, in his own land of Judah. Judah became like the other territories under Assyria and mingled the cult of the Assyrians into the temple worship at Jerusalem. It is this kind of religious compromise and meaningless sacrifice that Isaiah has in mind. It does not take a seer to recognize that our contemporary society has many gods and many altars on which people give life itself. We do well to remember that God accepts only the sacrifice of those who worship him alone.
When people come to God’s house with a worldly attitude and a noncommittal way of sacrificing, they accomplish little more than getting dirt on the carpets. The Lord said through Isaiah, “When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?” (v. 12). Therefore, God says of all their observances: “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them” (v. 14). If worship services seem monotonous to you sometimes, just remember how they must seem to God when multitudes keep trampling down his courts without really meaning anything by it. Of course, the thing that makes worship monotonous to you is that too often you leave your heart outside the door. Bending the knee at God’s altar means nothing unless one’s will is bent as well. Monotonous worship comes when you refuse to make any new adventures in faith, refuse all new opportunities for commitment, and decide to scale no new heights for the Lord.
3) The demands of holiness (Isa. 1:16–17).
The admonition to stop sinning and to start living for God seems simple enough, and yet the simplicity of it leads many people to think it is something that they can do on their own anytime they desire. Few people have stopped to realize that there is difficulty involved in obeying this admonition. Evil has such a grip on people that they cannot free themselves from its clutches without outside help.
Isaiah admonishes the people to “learn to do well.” Animals by instinct do things as well the first time they do them as the last. But people are different. Sin has blinded them, and they have everything to learn and little capacity for the learning of it until somehow they can be granted a new nature. How then does one live up to the demands of God’s holiness? “We are no worse than others” would be a good excuse if the world were to judge us, but God is the Judge. This means that life has to be argued out with God. How then can we measure up?
4) The offer of God (Isa. 1:18).
God reminds us that if we are willing to listen to him, there is a way out of our sin problem. God offers to help us meet his own demands of holiness. The only way this can be accomplished is by conversion. People have to become new creatures through faith in Jesus Christ. Being born spiritually, through faith, is spoken of as being born again. It is said that poets are born and not made. Whether this is so or not, I cannot say, but I do know that it is true where Christians are concerned. Christians have to be born spiritually from above. This is the essence of Jesus’ message to Nicodemus as he said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Isaiah vividly pictures our sins as the stain of blood that sinks into our very souls and cannot be bleached out with any human remedy. God’s offer is that our sins can be made white — fre
e from the stain of guilt. Only God can erase the stain of sin. To accept God’s offer, we must confess our sins and the futility of our own way of life.
5) The crisis (Isa. 1:19–20).
The crisis comes as we contemplate our own decision in this matter. Isaiah sets forth the great “if”: “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Isa. 1:19–20). God is saying that everything depends on whether we are willing to consent to his terms and to hear his commands. Above the clamor of the marketplace where men and women are selling their souls for trinkets, comes this word of God calling us to the crisis of decision. Since God gave us life, it is for him to say how it can be lived and how it can be forfeited. God’s invitation to reason with him is another way of urging us to reconsider our plans, to examine what we are about to do with our souls.
If somehow we would take the time to write out every planned decision and then follow through with only those we could conscientiously justify in the light of God’s Word, we would drastically revise our itinerary. Isaiah reminds us that commitment to God is not made in wild emotion but must ever be the result of clear reasoning. We must always be on guard against confusing our opinions with the reasons given by God. We may say we do not like apple pie, but if we have never tasted it, we are being unreasonable. We may prefer to reason only on the way we treat our families, friends, or neighbors, but God says that our relationship to him is dependent on how we have treated Jesus Christ.
Now in Conclusion
You must face God’s invitation alone. No general has ever made a more crucial stand than that which God asks you to make. The offer is still yours, and while you wait, there is a time of crisis.
God bless each and everyone of you, Pastor Mike