An Anguished Father Deals with Rebellious Children (Isaiah Sermon 1 of 80)
April 20, 2008 | Andy Davis
The Doctrine of Scripture, Judgment
Andy Davis preaches a verse-by-verse expository sermon on Isaiah 1:1-31. The main subject of the sermon is the grace and mercy of God, and His wrath for those who reject His mercy and grace.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
I. A God Who Speaks (verses 1-2)
It is with a great deal of excitement that I begin this series of studies on Isaiah, the prophet. I love history. My favorite time in history is the Age of Discovery, when Columbus discovered that tiny island that he thought was near the Indies, and called it San Salvador. I would love to have stood there on the deck October 12th, 1492, and just peered there, knowing what I know today, and say, "You know what that is? That's not India, that's the New World. It's a world to be discovered." Or to be with Lewis and Clark when they were discovering North America and all that it held. It was just a vast emptiness in the minds of most people who lived in the United States at that point. Just to be with them when they saw the snow-capped Rockies for the first time, as they drank it in and realized what a jewel the North American continent was and is. Just to be able to feed from it.
So for me, I feel that same sense of excitement and discovery, to get to preach and to proclaim the truths that flow from this most visionary of books. Look how it begins in Verse 1: “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw.” It is a visionary book. Images pop in your mind when you hear any text of Isaiah read. There are images that pop in your mind. But look at the very next verse, that verse that's been in front you, I think, much of the morning. Verse 2: "Hear, O heavens, listen O earth, for the Lord has spoken." Therefore, it is a vision that fills your soul when you listen to the Word that God has spoken. And I think it is vital in this case that it is past tense. We are listening to a Word that God has already spoken. Therefore it brings us to the written testimony of the prophets, it brings us to the Scripture. We are hearing a word He has already spoken.
Now I believe, from Hebrews 3, He is going to speak it again, now, by the Spirit. I am praying for it. But it is a Word He has already spoken, and it is written down for us, the Word of God written. And in this way we will have visions of God, visions of His glory, visions of the new heaven and the new earth declared plainly in Isaiah 65. Most of all, visions of Christ, the Redeemer, dead on the cross, raised from the dead on the third day. Visions of Christ, our salvation. That is what is going to fill your mind by faith. But it all starts with you listening. So listen! Calm your hearts now. Put aside all of the concerns. Don't be like Martha, running around, getting ready, making it the best day ever for Jesus, when what she needed to do was to sit at Jesus' feet and listen to Him speak. You have plenty of time through the week to bustle around and do all that busyness. Now what you need to do is just calm your hearts and listen to the Word of God. And so it begins with a God who speaks.
A River of Words but a Seemingly Silent God
We live in a culture that is just a river of words. They estimate that the average person speaks between 10,000 and 16,000 words a day. That is a lot of words. And there are six billion people on this planet speaking those words. We are looking at sixty trillion human words pouring forth every day. With the miracles of modern science, you can listen to a good percentage of them through podcasts and through CNN, and through the internet. You can just fill your mind with a river of human words. That is not the kind of listening I want you to do today. I want you to hear God speak. I want you to hear Him speak. And the reason is because He seems to be silent through all of that. It seems like He is not there at all. In 1972, Francis Schaeffer wrote a book, He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Amen to that. He is here and He is not silent. He wants to speak and so He is speaking. Schaeffer, in that book, argued that the primary philosophical question facing the human race is this: "Why is there something rather than nothing?"
Schaeffer argued the only possible final answer to this question is in a triune God who speaks, who communicates, who reveals Himself to us in Jesus Christ. We live in a vast, terrifyingly huge, and mostly empty universe. It is mostly empty. As a matter of fact, if you had a scale model of the solar system in which the entire solar system fit roughly within the span of your arms, the nearest star would be four miles away. Imagine just laying on your back, halfway between this speck of dust that would be the scale model of the sun and another speck of dust, the scale model of the nearest star. You would be two miles from each one. You wouldn't be able to see them. It is a vast, terrifyingly empty universe. And yet for all that emptiness, that sense of nothingness, there is a God whose glory fills it all. Heaven, even the highest heavens, cannot contain Him. And so the whole universe testifies to His glory.
Even more terrifying is this: people look at history and see a vast empty nothingness. They look at the events of human history and say, "There is nothing here of any worth or value. It is just the rise and fall of one nation after another. There is nothing here worthy of our attention. It is really empty. And yet in the midst of all that, God, in Isaiah 1:2 says, "Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the Lord has spoken."
God’s Apparent Silence Misleading
God's apparent silence is greatly misleading to unbelievers. They assume, because He does not immediately speak when they sin, that He is altogether like them. In Psalm 50:21 God says, "These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you." Well, that is greatly misleading. God's apparent silence when wicked people sin so grievously makes them believe there actually is no God at all, or that He likes the wicked things they do.
In Isaiah 57:11, He says, "Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear Me?" The silence of God, then, is misleading to unbelievers. Others, seeing God's silence in the face of great evils like the Holocaust, change their theology accordingly. They start saying different things about God. Rabbi Harold Kushner, when he looked at the atrocities of Auschwitz, said this, "I no longer hold God responsible for illnesses, accidents, and natural disasters. I can worship a God who hates suffering but cannot eliminate it more easily than I can worship a God who chooses to make children suffer and die for whatever exalted reason." So he adjusts his theology because it is easier for him to worship one kind of god than another. God is not presenting Himself as an easy god to worship. Instead, He is presenting himself as the King of the universe, declaring things that are, saying in Isaiah 45:7, "I form the light and create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the Lord, do all these things.” And, in fact, He is sitting up on His throne and saying, "Here I am. You must deal with Me." “Hear O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the Lord has spoken.”
God's silence is misleading also to believers sometimes. In Psalm 73, when the psalmist is fretting over the prosperity of the wicked, he wonders why God doesn’t deal with them immediately. Why does He let them go on and be so prosperous? When Job was going through personal afflictions, the fact that God didn't speak to him bothered him greatly. "I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me. You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm” (Job 30:20-22). “God, why are you doing all this, and You're not telling what You're doing?" Distressed by it, many psalmists basically say the same thing. "Why Lord, are You silent? Why don't You speak to me?"
By His Word the Universe Exists
King David, in Psalm 13 says, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.” He is troubled by the apparent silence of God. But yet Isaiah says, “Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the Lord has spoken.”
We learn from Scripture that it is by the Word of the Lord that He creates the universe. That is why there is something rather than nothing, because God spoke it into existence. Psalm 33:6: "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth." That is the power I want here today, the power that spoke forth the universe, the one that speaks constellations and pulsars and quasars into existence, the one that speaks great power. That is what I want to hear today. I want it to reach into my soul and yours, the power of God's Word to create where there was nothing before. That is the kind of power that is in the Word of God, the power of God's first act - creation.
In the middle of that creation, God says, "Let there be light.” And there is light. God speaks and there is. And thus, the universe itself speaks of the existence and power of God. Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” If you were floating halfway between the sun and the nearest star, you wouldn't be in total darkness because God's heavens would still be testifying of a universe full of His glory. You would see the stars more vividly than you had ever seen them before. You might worry about how you would get back home, but you would see something because God has filled the universe with His glory. “The heavens declare the glory of God.”
He Has Spoken Through the Prophets
But most clearly, God has spoken through the prophets. God spoke through the prophets when He descended on Mount Sinai in a dreadful cloud and the earth was shaking under the people’s feet, and God spoke and they heard the voice of God Almighty speaking the Ten Commandments. And the people trembled and begged Moses, "Oh, please, go up in the mountain and hear God's words, and you come and tell us the words. How can we listen to this great voice of God any longer? If we keep listening we will die!" And God said, "What these people have said is good. Oh, that their hearts would always be moved to fear Me." Thus, God established the office of the prophet. Moses would speak God's words for the people. And they would listen to Moses and they would hear. And the Lord said through Moses that He would raise up other prophets who would speak like Moses did. And so Isaiah was one of those prophets who spoke for God. God's Word accomplishes everything that God intends. We will learn that later in the book of Isaiah.
God’s Word Accomplishes What God Intends
He doesn't send forth His word in vain. It accomplishes, it achieves the purpose for which He sent it. All I need to do today is preach it. I just need to proclaim the Word of God and it will achieve, in this huge crowd, varying things that I could never orchestrate or manipulate. But God is going to do something different in each of your hearts because that is the power of the Word of God. All you need to do is listen. Just listen and God will work. And ultimately the Word He is speaking is Christ. He is speaking Christ. That is what Isaiah's vision is all about. He is speaking of Christ, the Great Savior, whose blood atones for our sins.
A Heavenly Court Trial
Now, as we begin here, it is not just a general statement that God speaks. No, not at all. There is a context here. It is a dreadful context. He is summoning his people to court. He is calling them to trial. When He gives the old covenant through Moses, when it is re-summarized and restated in the Book of Deuteronomy, three times He says that Heaven and earth will be witnesses concerning their keeping of the covenant. Three times He says it. Deuteronomy 30:19, "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." He is calling heaven and earth as witnesses against His own people, the Jews. In Deuteronomy 31:28 He says, "Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to testify against them.”
And so there is the magnificent song of Moses, in which He tells the people ahead of time what they are going to do and then what He is going to do. He tells them ahead of time that they are going to violate the Covenant. He tells them ahead of time that He is going to bring a pagan nation in to conquer and to destroy them as a result. He tells them ahead of time all their history. And he teaches it to them in a song. You know how songs are memorable, how you can remember the lyrics and the music. The song of Moses is a sad song, a scary song. It begins like this in Deuteronomy 32:1, "Listen, O heavens, and I will speak; hear, O earth, the words of my mouth." Do you think Isaiah has that in mind in Isaiah 1:2? Does God have that song in mind? He is saying in essence, "I told you so. I told you you would do this, and now you are doing it. Hear, O heavens, I am calling my witnesses to come and view the sin of my people, for they have violated my Covenant."
II. A God Who Judges His People (verses 2-9)
The Heartbreak of Rebellion
So He is a God who judges His people. Israel has completely broken the Covenant. The Northern Kingdom, the ten tribes, they are gone. Assyria is going to take them away during the lifetime of Isaiah the prophet. As for the Southern Kingdom, they are not much better. Only by a miracle is God going to protect just the City of Jerusalem and godly King Hezekiah. The Assyrians get everything else until God sends the angel of the Lord and turns them away. The fact is, things are bad with the people of God, and so therefore He is summoning them to court. He is summoning them to judgment. We see in verses 2 through 9 that He is a God who judges His people. You see the heartbreak of rebellion, "I reared children," verse 2, "and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me." Like an anguished father, concerned over his wayward children, so He speaks.
There are many imperfect fathers in the Bible. I contend every father is imperfect. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). We see it again and again and again. There is Noah, he has Ham for a son. There is Abraham. He has Ishmael, the mocker, for a son. Godly Isaac had godless Esau for a son. Samuel's sons rebelled and did not follow the Lord. David's son, Absalom, rebelled and wanted to kill his father and take his place on the throne. All of these godly men, however, were sinners. And knowing what I know more and more about being a father, it is not hard to see your own sinfulness in your kids. It's not hard, it's heartbreaking.
Every parent dreads the possibility that their children will be rebels. There are Christian parenting curricula that promise "full success, no teen rebellion." All this kind of thing, as though it were something you dialed in. You drop in all of these things and you will get freedom from all rebellion. Well, how can that be, when the only perfect father that has ever been had rebels for children? And that is Almighty God. What did God do wrong? He is going to say in Isaiah 5, concerning Jerusalem, "What more could I have done for my people than I did for them? Why then have they rebelled against me?" It is an anguished cry from a father, a perfect father who had rebels for children. And so He calls out the sinful people. There is nothing concealed that will not be exposed. The prophetic task therefore is to expose the sin, to speak about it in detailed language. So Isaiah does it.
A Sinful People Called Out
We have rebellion against God in verse 2. We have ignorance of God in Verse 3. Look at this. "The ox knows its master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand." The manger is a place where the food is. I know we as Christians tend to think it is where Jesus was laid. Well, that's where the beast came and fed. And what He is saying is, "The animal knows who feeds him, you don't seem to know who feeds you. The universe is intensely God-centered, and you don't know Me. You don't know how much you depend on Me. You don't know. Even the ox and the donkey know better than you." They don't know God. And there are active patterns of sin. Look at Verse 4. "Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption!" In Verse 16, he says, "Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong." There is violence. Look at Verse 15. "Your hands are full of blood." In verse 21, he mentions murderers. These are God's people, the Jews. And they are characterized by this? There is sexual immorality. In verse 21 He says, "See how the faithful city has become a harlot!" And it is not just a spiritual issue. It is also a physical, sexual issue as well. They are sexually sinning.
There is injustice. Verse 23 reads, "Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts." There is oppression of the poor and needy. Verse 23, "They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them." There is theft. Verse 23, "Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves." And there is idolatry at the very end. Verse 29 says, "You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks in which you have delighted; you will be disgraced because of gardens that you have chosen." There is no doubt in my mind that these represent secret pagan places where they worshipped the Baals and the Ashtoreths through immorality. They would go there and they would love them and worship them in idolatrous orgies. It's wicked. And cloaking all of this, if you can believe it, was religious hypocrisy, the machinery of religion. We will get to that in a moment. But they continue to have the outward trappings of a religious people through all of that.
God’s Active Judgment Against his People
And so God goes into active judgment against His people. Look at Verses 5 through 7. "Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head, there is no soundness - only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil. Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers." He begins with an analogy of their body. The nation is like a physical body that is totally beaten up and bloody from head to toe.
Recently, Charlton Heston died. It reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Ben-Hur. You've probably seen the movie. There is an evil guy who used to be his childhood friend, a Roman guy named Messala. He is the protagonist in the movie, the bad guy. And the climax of the relationship between the two is the chariot race, one of the greatest scenes ever in movie history. So there is this chariot race, they are racing against each other, and at the climax of the chariot race Messala gets thrown from his chariot and run over by his own chariot wheels, and then run over by two more chariots to boot. He is just trampled. They pick him up take him off, and bring him down to the bowels of the stadium. He is covered in blood. He is a totally broken individual about to die, and he does die.
I get that picture of the nations of Israel and Judah, totally destroyed, ravaged by invading armies. The Assyrians come in. They burn everything. They destroy everything. They kill almost everybody. The very thing that God had promised to them, that their enemies would do to them if they violated the covenant of Moses. The crops would fail, the pregnant women would miscarry, the livestock would die from plagues, and even worse, a foreign nation would come and invade and destroy them and deport them and kill them. And that is exactly what is happening. Only Jerusalem is left unconquered. Verse 8, "The Daughter of Zion [Jerusalem] is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a field of melons, like a city under siege." I was thinking about these verses. I was in Romania one time, and I looked out and saw a cucumber field or something like that. And there were low vines everywhere, and there was this hut all alone. You can see the vision. I told you, Isaiah is the most visionary of all, and you can picture it. He says, "Low-lying fields everywhere, all the vines low, and then there is this hut all alone." And that is what Jerusalem is going to look like when the Assyrians get done with the country. There will be nothing left, just the one city.
The judgment from God was a clear fulfillment of the curses He threatened against Israel in Deuteronomy. Listen to this. In Deuteronomy 28:49-52, this is what He said He would do. "The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand… They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the Lord your God is giving you." “And they will take them.” Read Isaiah 36. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came in, besieged them and took them. They're all gone, all of them. And so the whole country is destroyed. That is what He is saying. It's desolate.
Yet in Wrath, God Remembers Mercy
And yet, in wrath God remembered mercy. Look at verse 9. "Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.” No survivors. These survivors are the remnants. They are the ones that God has chosen by grace. And the implications of the text is that they, the remnant, are really no better. It is only because of the grace of God that they are not also swept away. If God hadn't done it, they would have been gone too. In wrath, Habakkuk 3:2, God remembered mercy. The people deserved to be wiped out.
In many ways they were no better than Sodom and Gomorrah. I think in some ways they were worse because they had more of God's word that they were violating. They were worse than the pagan cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And so, actually, Isaiah just goes ahead and calls them that. Look at Verse 10. "Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom. Listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!" These are the Jews. These are God's own people. Can I just pause this for a moment? Can I just urge you, when we are talking about the Jews and Jerusalem and the sins of those people, don't think those people out there, don't think those people back then. If God is at work in your heart, you are going to say, "Oh, God, what a wretched sinner I am that I'm like this!" Don't make it out there. I don't do it as a preacher. Don't you do it. Listen and say, "God, what are you saying to me about my sin?" Listen. Consider Sodom and Gomorrah. That is what He is saying. You are no different, we are no different, except by the grace of God. And the grace of God means we praise Him for it. We don't take any credit. We say of ourselves, “We're no different than them.” But, boy, this must have rankled with the Jews, they must have found it so offensive. "Listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!" That's what he calls them in Verse 10.
Now, if God hadn't left them a remnant, Assyria would have conquered them all. Was Assyria strong enough to take Jerusalem? Are you kidding? No problem. How then did Hezekiah and the remnant inside the walls survive? Because God ordained it. And Paul references this in Romans 9 in order to say, "This is the Godly remnant, the remnant chosen by grace, sustained by grace, protected by grace. They will be saved by grace. And to God be the glory for it." It is the only way any of us will be saved, to be part of that remnant saved by grace, because we are no different either. We are all the same.
III. A God Who Despises Religious Hypocrisy (verses 10-15)
In Verses 10 through 15, we see a God who despises religious hypocrisy. This is where it hits home. We are religious people. You are here. This is a religious event, so you are religious. You are here today, in church. So am I. It's good to be religious. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." So there is nothing wrong with religion as long as it is good religion. So we are religious.
Formalism, Religiosity, and Hypocrisy on Display
What does God say about their religion? In verses 10 through 15 we see formalism, we see religiosity, and we see hypocrisy on display. The machinery of the sacrificial system just kept on running, running, running. Religious festivals, new moon feast, Sabbath, it's like a mindless machine, running, running, and running the machinery of religion. Week after week after week, the machinery of it. It was an endless parade of Jews bringing a countless number of bulls and sheep and goats. A river of blood to be offered on God's altar. A river of blood. Josephus said there were a quarter of a million Passover lambs sacrificed in one year during his day. That is a river of blood. God calls it "a trampling of My courts." "Who has asked this of you, this trampling of My courts?" (verse 12).
Day after day, they did all of this evil. And then they tried to cover it up with animal sacrifice and religion, thinking that God would accept it. Even worse, they sniffed at it as did the Jews of Malachi 1:13. They said, "What a burden we have to do this. I wish we could just sin and not have to cover it with animal blood." They didn't even want to do that. And when they did, they tried to cheat God. Choose the worst animals, the ones that are lame and the blind and that nobody wants. The ones that are a bit diseased. Nobody wants to eat them anyway. Like roadkill or something. Just give God something. Just give Him something. He will be happy. Malachi says, "Try offering them to your governor! Would He be pleased with you?" (Malachi 1:8). And “I see everything you do, the traffic and wickedness."
A Traffic in Wickedness
The basic mentality here is, “How much does this sin cost? I'll pay it.” That's the idea. What's it going to cost to sleep with my neighbor's wife? A bull? Sheep? What's it cost? I'll pay the price. It's a machinery. It is mindless mercantilism in sin. They didn't get it. They didn't understand. The blood was to show they deserved to die for the sin. That's the point. That's the lesson, that sin deserves death. That's what they should have learned. But no, it was like, "How much does it cost?"
The same thing happened in the Middle Ages with the Medieval Roman Catholic system and indulgences. If you paid money to the Pope, you could have all your sins forgiven. You could even pay for a sin ahead of time. I wonder if you could pay for ten years of sinning, free of charge. It's just evil. And yet this attitude is in our hearts, too. Throw God some religion. He'll cover it. Even born-again people in America think they can do that. Just throw God some Sunday morning religion and He'll cover it.
God’s Utter Revulsion at Formalism and Hypocrisy
God hates that. Look at the words, "The multitude of your sacrifices - what are they to Me?" says the Lord in verse 11. "They mean nothing to Me.” “I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.” “Your religious feasts and festivals are detestable to me. I hate them." He says, "I can't bear your evil assemblies. I detest it when you get together." He says, "My soul hates your religious gatherings. They are like some kind of crushing burden.” “I am weary of bearing them." Here is the infinitely powerful God saying, "I am getting tired of carrying this mess." Even their prayer life is detestable to God. Look at Verse 15. "When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you. Even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood." Isaiah later will say, "All our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).
Listen to John Bunyan. I heard this quote this past week and said, "Wow." So I actually wrote it right down. John Bunyan said, "The best prayer I ever prayed had enough sin in it to damn the whole world for eternity." "The best prayer I ever prayed." Well, God has utter disdain for their religion. And we need to apply this to ourselves. How tragic is this lie that Satan foists on us in every generation, that God should be honored for anything we do for Him? He should be happy with any bone we throw His way, that the mere outward show of religion will be enough to cover us. Even in Baptist churches, some people think that just by being a member of the church, serving on some committee, coming most weeks, even coming on Wednesday nights, that that is going to do it, the religiosity.
In Greece and in Russia, they think that because you are born in the Orthodox church and baptized in the Orthodox church, you are saved. God hates heartless, machine-like, formal religion that is a hypocritical mask covering up all those sins. Hear Isaiah 29:13. "The Lord says: 'These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is made up only of rules taught by men.'" I believe the hardest category of people on the face of the earth to evangelize are people who have been attending church all their life but are not converted. I don't know what to tell them. They have learned somehow to hear the Word of God and change it in their minds so that they don't repent. They don't take sin seriously. They don't grieve over sin. They're not broken by it. They don't take a text like this seriously. They think it is about somebody else, not them. I don't know what to do for them. I hope I am not talking to any of you today.
It would be better if you openly did not claim to be a Christian and then could come to Christ, than to have you in that state. It is a very serious condition.
IV. A God Who Pleads with Sinners (verses 16-20)
And so we have a God who pleads with sinners. In verses 16 through 20 we see God’s call to come. Look at Verse 18. "Come now," He says. "Come, cross the distance between us. There is a gap between us. Come to Me. Come. Draw near to God. Come close to Me." Their sins have made a distant gap between them. Their idolatry has put an infinite gap between them. But now God beckons them to come near to him. And he calls on them to reason. “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord” (verse 18). The Hebrew word is rich, as though God were welcoming some kind of discussion, some rational exchange over their sin. "Let's talk about this. How is the sin working out for you? Is it going well, your life in sin? Let's talk about it. Let's reason together."
Sin is unreasonable. It's insane, it's irrational. It produces corruption and misery. It results in estrangement from God, enslavement to an ever-increasing cycle of wickedness. It stores up an ever-increasing sense of doom and wrath on Judgment Day. Sin is the ultimate tyrant. It has its boot on the necks of all of its slaves and wants to crush them to death and send them to hell. Sin is the ultimate tyrant. And yet we welcome it. We choose new patterns of sin. Why would we do that? It's insane. So God says, "Come now, let's talk about this. Let's reason together. What has sin ever done for you except destroy your life? Let's converse about this."
It is like the prodigal son. Remember the story? He goes away from his father. He is bored at home. I don't know, - maybe there’s not enough to do. So he says, "Give me some money," and he goes out and has a life of partying and all that kind of thing untill the money runs out. Then there is a famine in the land. He has a hard time getting a job and ends up slopping pigs. As a Jewish young man, that is pretty tough. He longs to fill his stomach with the pods they give the pigs, but that would be stealing. And they wouldn't even give him anything. Nothing. And then in Luke 15:17, Jesus said this, "When he came to his senses, he said, 'What am I doing here? What am I doing here? How many of my father's servants are well fed and well dressed? Look, I can just go back and be a servant. He'll treat me well. I don't deserve to be his son, but I can go back."
When he comes to himself, he comes to his senses. I am telling you that sin is insane, it is irrational. It is the insanity of sin. So the Lord says, "Come now, let us reason together." And then He calls on them to repent. "Wash and make yourselves clean" (verse 16). "Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong. Learn to do right! Seek justice. Encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless. Plead the case of the widow." It's a call to repent.
Now think with me about this. The more I've learned about Scripture, the more I have realized these things are impossible apart from Christ. Look at each one. "Wash and make yourselves clean." How are you going to do that? How? How are you going to wash and make yourself clean? You are sitting in a mud puddle, covered in mud top to bottom, surrounded by muddy water. You go to wash yourself up. "There, how do I look?" Still muddy. "Well, how about this now?" More muddy. Muddier. How are you going to wash and make yourselves clean?
How about the next one? "Take your evil deeds out of my sight." How are you going to do that? Does He not fill heaven and earth? Is there anything hidden that He cannot see? Is there anywhere you can go where He is not already there? Where are you going to go to take your evil deeds out of His sight? And what about this one: "Stop doing wrong"? That's the whole problem! Apart from Christ, we can't stop doing wrong. We are slaves to sin. "Start doing right." Well, that is the flipside of "stop doing wrong." I can't do either one. And what about caring about other needy people, seeking justice, encouraging the oppressed, defending the cause of the fatherless, pleading the case of the widow? I don't care naturally. I don't care about them. You cannot do any of these things if God's grace doesn't change you first. You could not do any of these things if Jesus hadn't died on the cross for sinners like you and me. You can't. None of them. But in Christ you can do all of them. In Christ, there is forgiveness. These are not empty words from God. This is what God will do in anyone who turns to Christ.
V. A God Who Works Salvation and Threatens Judgment (verses 21-31)
“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.’” He has the power to cleanse from all sin. It doesn't matter how heinous. “Though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.” How do we get a willing and obedient heart if God doesn't take out that heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh, willing and obedient? But if He does that, you know what? You are going to eat the best from the land. You will live forever, in the new heaven and the new earth, and you will eat the best of the land. But there is the flipside, the warning of total destruction. “If you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (verse 20). "Zion will be redeemed with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness. But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the Lord will perish" (verses 27 and 28).
How can we do this? How can we be redeemed with justice? How can Zion be a place where God would want to live, a holy place? It is only through the blood of Jesus Christ. In Isaiah 53, He said, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Christ is the perfect sacrifice. His blood cleanses us from sin. It is a cleansing, redeeming fountain. Our filth, and our sinful wickedness can be cleansed. In Christ alone we can wash and make ourselves clean. In Christ alone, through the indwelling spirit, we can stop doing wrong, learn to do right, seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Why? Because He cares about those things. Christ alone. This whole chapter just aches and yearns for an answer, and the answer is Jesus. He is the best of the land. He us what you are going to feast on when you come to God in repentance. You get Jesus and everything in Him.
Come to Christ, come to Him. Come to Him for the first time, repent and turn away from sin. He is pleading with you through me. Stop sinning. Turn away from it. Let's reason together. It is leading you to hell. Look at Verse 31. "The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together with no one to quench the fire." The unquenchable fire is hell. The best of the land is heaven. It's what He is offering you in Christ. Flee the wrath to come, and trust in Him. And if you're already a Christian, then come to Him again and again and again. Don't think, "This isn't me." Think, "This is me, apart from the grace of God. If God removed His grace from me, even now, I would sink immediately back into this. Immediately, I would. I know it. By the grace of God, I can be righteous. By the grace of God, I can be redeemed with justice and be made pure and holy."
And if I were you, I would just, as a Christian, simply delight in the perfect righteousness of Christ. That is the gift of Isaiah. It is the gift of the Gospel. He will see you perfectly righteous, perfectly righteous. So draw near to God and reason with Him. If you are trapped in a cycle of sin, let Him talk to you today. Let Him say, "What is it doing for you? This unlawful pleasure - what is it doing for you? Is it not corrupting you? Be free from it. Let us reason together." Repent of religious formalism, don't just come here week after week and do the Baptist thing. Don't. Don't. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. He says, "Don't just bring Me empty sacrifices.” God is not impressed. Develop a deep concern for the poor and needy. We will hear of this again and again in Isaiah. Reach out to the urban poor, reach out to Northeast Central Durham, reach out. But even more, reach out to those who are lost, dead in transgressions and sins. I don't care how much money they have in their wallet. Reach out with the gospel.
Finally, I want to speak a message of encouragement to parents of rebellious children. I think there could be few things more heartbreaking than to see your own children drifting away from God, to see them rebelling. Maybe they are not growing in their faith, not going to church. Just understand, the God that you bring them to in prayer every day - and you better be praying for them every day - the God that you bring them to, He understands what it is like to have rebellious children. Unlike Him, you cannot say, "I never did anything wrong. I was the perfect father, perfect mother." You can never say that. Actually, it's very distressing to see your own sin patterns replicated in the next generation. We must take responsibility for that. But understand this, God knows what it is like to have rebellious children. And He specializes in turning them away from their rebellion and back toward him. This is what He does. He has this kind of power, trust in Him for it. Close with me in prayer.