Sermon by Nate Wilson, delivered at Christ the Redeemer, Manhattan, KS, 02 July 2006
Beginning a new series – book of Isaiah. We’ve looked at two distinctives of our church in the last month, those of “Encouraging godly households” and of “Evangelizing the world.” As this new series in Isaiah begins, I will be focusing on the other two distinctives of our church, namely, “Exalting our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ,” and “Equipping the saints.”
SETTING: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Date is around 800 BC, halfway between Moses and Jesus.
Israel had split in half. The North half was just ending its best days and declining spiritually. Isaiah was living in the Southern half in Jerusalem, where they had had some bad kings and bad times, but now Uzziah (also called Azariah) and Jotham were semi-good kings.2 Kings 15 tells us that Uzziah and Jotham did not destroy the “high places” of idol worship in the country.
The world power of the day was the Northern kingdom of Israel, but Syria to the North of them was causing trouble, and Assyria, farther North was becoming the next world power. The Northern kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in 721, towards the end of Isaiah’s life. A hundred years after the North fell to Assyria, the Babylonians overthrew Assyria and also conquered the Southern Kingdom in 606BC.
It is in this in-between time that God gave many prophets: Jonah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, and Micah, but the greatest prophet of all was Isaiah. None of the others match him for grandness of style and fullness of scope in prophecy.
He starts out like Moses did in Deuteronomy 32, “2. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth” but this time it is to state problems with God’s people.
PROBLEM #1 – breaking relationship with God
“2. Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. 3. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”
The people of Israel who had received the highest order of blessing in a relationship with Jehovah-God had fallen to the lowest order of beasts in failure to maintain that relationship.
Isaiah goes on to call Israel in v.4 a “sin-heavy people” that had become “utterly estranged from God” bent over double by heaps of sin pressing on them, but still walking away from God.
The next verse paints a picture of a pitiful man who is getting struck over and over again because he is standing in the wrong place. It’s like a man under the propeller of an airplane. He stands up and gets walloped on the head and knocked down to the ground. Undaunted, he struggles back to his feet only to get smacked flat again. He doesn’t realize what it is that is knocking him down, so he keeps trying to stand back up only to get whacked again. He doesn’t know to get out of harm’s way.
You’ve seen little kids do that, too. They can stuff themselves with candy, and even though it makes them sticky and miserable, they still want yet another piece of candy and will throw a fit if you don’t give it to them. Adults can be the same way, although we’re more sophisticated about it. We want more attention or respect from other people and will add sin upon sin in order to get it, even though our idolatry of human attention and respect is poisonous to us. “Over what will you be struck down again?” Is it worth another piece of candy? Is it worth it? As long as you chase idols and turn your back to God; you are going to get whalloped!
The prophet Amos prophesied a little earlier “Thus says the LORD: ‘For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have rejected the law of Jehovah, and have not kept His statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked. 5. So I will send a fire upon Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.’” (Amos 2:4-5)
PROBLEM #2 – Hypocrisy – “sham-righteousness”
“13. Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon, Sabbath, called convocations – I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.”
Verses 11-15 describe people carrying out normal worship duties in the Old Testament: Appearing before Jehovah formally in the temple for worship, offering burnt offerings, offering grain-offerings with the accompanying incense, assembling on Sabbath for teaching, and praying. These were all good things which God had commanded to worship Him.
What’s wrong? They’re hypocrites. They think they can worship idols and worship God at the same time. They attend church but they tolerate iniquity.
King Uzziah thought God would tolerate bending the rules just a little bit. 2Ch 26:15-19 tells us about Uzziah: 15. In Jerusalem he made engines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. 16. But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. 17. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, 18. and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, "It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God." 19. Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. (ESV)
Do you ever want to bend the rules a little bit? Do you tolerate a little sin in your life as long as it doesn’t look too unchristian? Oh, I would never bear false witness against anyone, but I read this juicy tidbit on the internet the other day about so-and-so. Oh I would never murder anyone, but I sure get uptight whenever I am around this person. Oh, I would never steal, but I do take a drink out of Mama’s cup now and then. Just a little sin, not too much…
God says, “ 15. …I will hide my eyes from you. Even though you make many prayers, I am not listening; your hands are full of blood.” That little sin stains your whole body, and God can’t stand to look at you any more! But that’s not all…
PROBLEM #3 - Injustice
“21. How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. 22. Your silver has become dross, your best wine weakened with water. 23. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and chases after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow's cause does not come to them.”
Hos 5:10 “The princes of Judah have become like those who move the landmark; upon them I will pour out my wrath like water.”
Covenant relationship to God is like marriage. Idolatry is called whoredom (unfaithfulness to marriage) Deut 31:16; Ex 34”:15; Lev. 17:7
Are there any ways you hurt other people of lesser social standing?
Are there any ways you take advantage of younger brothers or sisters?
Have you ever just by and watched something unfair happen instead of intervening?
Have you ever seen an orphan or a widow and thought, “I don’t want to deal with their problems.”?
TRANSITION: We’ve got problems, just like the people of Jerusalem did! That’s the first step - to recognize that we have problems. We have rebellious hearts that turn away from God, we tolerate little sins in our lives and pretend we are o.k., we stand by and let people get hurt. The Good news – the glorious good news is that God has a solution:
“24. Therefore the Lord declares, Jehovah of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: “Ah, I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes. 25. I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as clean and remove all your alloy. 26. And I will return your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city." 27. Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who return, by righteousness.”
Note that God could have said, “I will get relief from my enemies by destroying them all; then I will be avenged on my foes!” But that’s not what He says; He is gracious.
In fact, the Hebrew words here can be read two ways: “get relief…avenge,” or “have compassion on… suffer vengeance from” Part of God’s sigh of relief will be after burning up the wicked and getting rid of them, but part of God’s sigh of relief will be that He will have compassion on some of the people and clean them up.
When God cleans a person up, He doesn’t do it halfway. He says He will “remove all your alloy.” If you come to reckon with God, no sin will remain unforgiven; no sin will be too hard for Him to wash clean.
Going back to verses 16-18, we have a string of ten commands to obey which offer the three solutions to the three problems of Rebellion, Hypocrisy, and Injustice:
SOLUTION #1 – Holiness
“16. Wash; cleanse yourselves; turn away the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do the evil,
Wash – this is the initial repentance; the start of your relationship with God
John 13:8 “…Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.’”
Act 22:16 “…Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”
Rev 22:14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.”
Cleanse yourselves – this is the daily process of asking forgiveness
2Co 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
Jam 4:8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
1Jo 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Turn away evil – deal with the offensive things; move them out of God’s sight.
Heb 10:22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Heb 3:12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
1Co 5:13 “…Purge the evil from among you.”
Cease to do the evil – Once you’ve asked forgiveness and made it right, don’t do it again. We need to be ruthless in rooting out sin, living pure lives, and setting safeguards that keep us from falling back into sin.
Act 13:10 Paul to Elymas the magician on the island of Paphos “…stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord”
1Th 5:22 “Abstain from every form of evil.”
We need God’s power to enable us to stop a pattern of sin, and that’s why Jesus taught us to pray: “…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Mat 6:13)
SOLUTION #2 – Social Justice
“17. learn to do the good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
Learn to do the good – not just quit doing bad, but positively do good things.
Instead of just not overeating; volunteer to help the hungry through Shepherd’s Crossing
Don’t just quit being mean to your little sister, go beyond that and come up with nice things you can do for her.
Seek justice – this involves the study of justice in God’s law and understanding how to apply it in our country and in your home
Mat 23:23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Solution #1 holiness combined with solution #2 social justice!
Heb 11:33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions… Being a good judge is placed right up on the level of being a great conqueror or of being a great man of faith like Abraham who obtained promises or Daniel who stopped the mouths of lions. Justice is important.
Correct oppression – make the oppressors straighten up
If you have the power to enforce, use it. If you do not have the power to enforce, you can
Admonish them like James did, “Come now you rich… Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. (5:1,4)
Pray: like David did in Psalm 10 for God to “do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.”
Satan and his demons are also spoken of throughout the Bible as oppressing people. We can pray for God to remove demonic oppression, and be a “witness… to turn people from the power of Satan to God,” just as Paul was commissioned to do. Evangelism is part of fighting oppression!
Bring justice to fatherless and Plead for the widow
This involves seeing that their needs are cared for. Part of the tithe is for this purpose.
Deu 26:12-13 "When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year, which is the year of tithing, giving it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that they may eat within your towns and be filled, 13. then you shall say before the LORD your God, 'I have removed the sacred portion out of my house, and moreover, I have given it to the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, according to all your commandment that you have commanded me. I have not transgressed any of your commandments, nor have I forgotten them.
1Ti 5:9-10 Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10. and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.
It also includes generosity: Deu 24:19 "When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
And making sure they are not taken advantage of – Hebrew word relates to a legal pleading in court
SOLUTION #3 – The Gospel
"18. Come now, let us reason together, says Jehovah: if your sins are like scarlet, they shall become as white as snow; if they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
God has already stated that their “Hands are full of blood” v.15
Red is a color that symbolizes sin here
If…then statements. The “if” is sure (the redness of our sin), the “then” is just as sure (becoming white as snow).
The work of Jesus was to bring that cleansing from sin. He shed His blood on the cross that we might be cleansed from all of our sin.
Rev 7:9-14 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10. and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" 11. And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12. saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen." 13. Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?" 14. I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Pietists, Liberals, and Evangelicals tend to emphasize only one of these solutions, but Biblical Christians need to pull all three together – Holiness, Justice, and Gospel.
THE DOUBLE EDGE OF THE COVENANT
When we enter into a covenant relationship with our God and find cleansing from our sins, God promises two things. He promises blessings for obedience and He promises curses for disobedience:
“19. If you are willing and heed, you shall eat the good of the land; 20. but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of Jehovah has spoken.”
God’s version of the law of the jungle: “Eat or be eaten”
“Heed” same word as Hear from v. 2, 10
ILLUSTRATION: Child has to take out trash every day for whole week. If he does he is paid $5; if he misses a day, then there is no payment, but instead a spanking. Neighbor kid doesn’t get spanking, but he doesn’t get the money either because he is not in your covenant relationship.
“27. Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who return, by righteousness. 28. But destruction of rebels and sinners together, and those who forsake Jehovah shall be consumed.”
The stakes are high – fabulous blessing if we walk with God, fearsome curses if we disobey Him.
“rebel” and “forsaker” are oriented towards relationship with God rather than observation of Do’s & Don’t’s
Fulfillment in exile (v.25), Ezra & Nehemiah (v.26), Jesus (v. 27), and destruction of Jerusalem (70AD)
Ultimate fulfillment in “new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells” 2 Peter 3:13
God is merciful; He doesn’t respond to our sin with the destruction we deserve, He preserves a remnant of His people even if they are as wicked and deserving of destruction as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were. Listen and take heed to His mercy!
“9. If Jehovah of hosts had not left us a small remnant, we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah. 10. Hear the word of Jehovah, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!”
Note that the teaching – the Torah – is not about Do’s and Don’t’s, it is about pursuing a wholehearted walk with God. The next verses (which we’ve already covered) talk about how God is not asking for outward performance of all the rituals of the law. The teaching is about removing all our alloy and loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
“Come, let us reason together, says the LORD.”