The Case of the Sin of Judah – Isaiah 1

The book of Isaiah begins with a court room scene – “The Case of the Sin of Judah”. God, the first and only witness, brings his case against Judah, highlighting all the evil and sin they have committed. He uses multiple images to help explain just how sinful they have been. But, as we are convicted of our own sin, there is hope. In verse 18 God promises forgiveness for sin.

 

The Transcript

Isaiah 1: 1-18

28 April 2019 – Duncan Sills

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Heavenly Father, we thank you so much for your word to us in Scripture. And Lord, as we start a new series this morning in the book of Isaiah, I ask that you would speak to us in power, Lord God. I pray that your Spirit would move in an amazing way this morning. Lord, I pray Your Spirit will convict us of any sin in our lives this morning and would reveal areas where we’re not honouring you; not living up to your righteous standards. But Lord, I also pray for the spirit of forgiveness to come; the knowledge of your wonderful mercy and forgiveness. May you just move in this room this morning, to do that in our hearts and minds, for Your glory I pray, by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus name. Amen.

 

So, as I mentioned in my prayer, we’re starting a new series this morning in the book of Isaiah. And if you know anything about Isaiah, Isaiah is a giant of a prophet. He’s the first major prophet in the Old Testament. He writes a book that’s 66 chapters long. Don’t worry, we’re not going to do all 66 chapters in one series – we’re going to break it up a bit – but he is a prophecy giant.

In fact, he prophesied over 54 years. When I read the first verse of Isaiah, you’ll see that he prophesied during the reign of four different kings. So this was a guy who lived a long time; who prophesied for many, many years; and who outlived three kings. He was kind of a court prophet to these kings, in the nation of Judah.

It’s also a book that Christians love to quote – the book of Isaiah. If you’ve been around church any length of time, you will have heard people quoting from the book of Isaiah:

  • At Christmas time we quote from Isaiah 7: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”.
  • At Christmas we also quote from Isaiah 9: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”.
  • When we talk about Jesus upon the cross, we quote from Isaiah 53: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquity”.
  • Or when we talk about the life of Jesus and His ministry, we quote from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor”.
  • When we’re feeling tired, we quote from Isaiah 40: “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength”.

The chances are, that if you’ve been in and around church for any length of time, you will have heard the book of Isaiah quoted many, many times. And those quotes are amazing.

Isaiah was written 700 years before Jesus was even born. Yet in this book, we have prophecies about the life of Jesus Christ. The book of Isaiah is one of the reasons I’m a Christian, because I read it and I know this can only happen by the power of God.

There’s actually a Persian king, King Cyrus, named in the book of Isaiah. And because he’s named, modern academic scholars want to criticise the book and say it can’t possibly have all be written by one guy at this time; King Cyrus comes hundreds of years after the time when Isaiah was supposedly written. They say we must split the book into two separate books written by two or even three different people. But there is a massive flaw with this; there is no manuscript evidence that the book of Isaiah was ever split into two. It’s always been in Jewish manuscripts as one book. The most logical conclusion is that Isaiah genuinely prophesied the name of the Persian emperor who would come after him, which I think is amazing. Over 100 years before this Persian Emperor reigned, Isaiah was using his name in his prophecies about what would happen to the nation of Israel.

This book is fabulous – and the quotes, the way we can quote from it is amazing. But let me tell you the truth. Those quotes are like cherries on a cake. I think of the book of Isaiah this morning, a bit like a chocolate gateau. We love the quotes, we pick up the quotes and we enjoy those little quotes, but there’s whole, chocolatey, delicious, spiritual goodness in the book of Isaiah.

I hope that, as we go through this sermon series, we’re going to enjoy some of the parts of Isaiah that you’re probably not familiar with – and just taste and see the goodness of this book. It’s one of my favourite books of the Bible and I’m really excited for starting off this sermon series.

So let’s, let’s get started. I’m going to read to you from Isaiah chapter one. We’re going to read Isaiah 1:1-18.

 

 

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.

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken:

“Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.

The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib,

but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity,

offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly!

They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel,

they are utterly estranged.

Why will you be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel?

The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.

From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it,

but bruises and sores and raw wounds;

they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.

Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire;

in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.

And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard,

like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.

If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors,

we should have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom!

Give air to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?”, says the LORD,

“I’ve had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of well-fed beasts;

I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.

“When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?

Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.

New Moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations –

I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.

Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates;

they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;

even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;

cease to do evil, learn to do good;

seek justice, correct oppression;

bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

“Come now, let us reason together”, says the Lord,

“though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;

though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

 

I wonder how many of you have seen the film Shawshank Redemption. It is one of my favourite films – definitely in my top 10. This is what Mark Kermode says. Do you know Mark Kermode? He’s on radio 5 live, he does film reviews. I kind of quite like him – he’s quite critical and cutting and I enjoy his reviews. Anyway, this is what Kermode says about that film: “There’s a whole lot of Shawshank before the redemption”. Shawshank is the name of the prison in which the main characters are trapped within the prison and Mark Kermode says “There’s a whole load of Shawshank before there’s redemption”. In other words, most of the film is set within prison – and it’s all about the misery and difficulty and trials of prison life before there’s an amazing ending. Apologies if I have spoilt it for you, but it’s been out for many years, so it’s your own fault.

The text of Isaiah 1 is just like Shawshank Redemption. There’s a whole load of sin and judgement before a moment of hope, and mercy and forgiveness. And so that’s the way I’m going to preach this morning. I’m going to preach 16 verses of sin and judgement. And then finally right at the end I will preach one verse of hope and mercy. So the reason I tell you that is that you hold on to hope this morning. Don’t give up. If you’re going, “Wow, this is a miserable sermon”, just know that there’s hope coming at the end. People who are going to leave early, like Yvonne mentioned to me she’s gonna do, will just hear the misery and sadness – I’m sorry to say that, Yvonne, I apologise. But there is hope; there is hope coming, I promise.

Okay, so let’s get started. I’m not preaching points this morning. I’m just going to walk us through the verses in Isaiah chapter one. And so, what we have in this chapter is something like a court room scene. Isaiah 1 is set in the courtroom and it begins in verse 2 by saying this, “Hear O heavens and give ear O earth”. Imagine this room as a courtroom. Isaiah invites all of heaven and all of earth into the courtroom, to see this case that is going to unfold – the case of the sin of Judah. All of heaven and all of Earth are invited to see this court case. Even us, in Fareham in 2019, we’re part of all the earth invited into this courtroom case, to hear the case of the sin of Judah. And one of the reasons we’re invited into this courtroom is that, if we listen well, if we listen honestly to the case of the sin of the nation of Judah, and if we’re really honest with ourselves as we hear about the sin of Judah, we will realise we are guilty of the same sin – the same things as this nation of Judah.

In one sense, Earth is invited in as a judge in this courtroom scene. The Gentile nations are appointed by God to judge Israel. Israel, the people of God have rebelled against God. And so God appointed gentile, unreligious nations to bring judgement upon the nation of Israel. If you know the history, that’s what happens.

But in another sense, we’re invited to look and see ourselves in the people of Judah. And that’s how I want us to listen, this morning. I want us to listen with humble hearts and to be honest with ourselves and, as we read about and study the sin of Judah, to think “Actually, I’m not very different from the people of Judah. Actually, I’m also sinful – guilty of the same sins”.

So, the first witness stands up. In fact, the only witness stands up in this courtroom scene. And the first and only witness is God himself. It says, doesn’t it, in verse 2, “For the LORD has spoken”. So the Lord stands up to witness against the nation of Judah. And the Lord’s testimony in this courtroom case consists of a series of images and metaphors as God describes the sin of Judah in the images. In some ways God is rude and quite insulting towards the people of Judah. He is very explicit and very bold to describe the sin of his people. So God, the witness in this courtroom scene stands up and he begins in verse two like this: “Children have I reared and brought up but they have rebelled against me”.

God does not speak as a cold-hearted judge in Isaiah 1. But as a loving father:

  • he has brought up the nation of Israel;
  • he chose Abraham to be the father of the Jews;
  • he rescued Israel out of slavery in Egypt;
  • he guided Joshua and Israel into a successful military campaign and into the promised land – a land metaphorically described as blowing with a milk and honey
  • God lovingly as a father raised up judges to judge the land and to rule over them.
  • He raised up prophets to speak truth to the people of Israel.
  • He selected King David, raised up King David, and turned one man, Abraham, into an amazing, rich and prosperous nation. He chose something which was small in this world. And he raised them up or reared them and brought them up into this powerful nation under King David.

God truly acted as a loving father towards the nation of Israel. But they have been rebellious children, He says in verse 2. They’ve ignored him. They’ve disobeyed him. Some of them have denied him completely. Some of them have forgotten all the mighty deeds that God had done for them. Some of them had chosen to worship idols – they’d gone to foreign nations and accepted their false wooden idols and worshiped them.

This is the sin of Judah. They have rebelled against a loving, caring father. That’s the same sin that we have also committed, brothers and sisters.

  • God has reared us and brought us up.
  • He is our Father in heaven.
  • He knit us together in our mother’s womb.
  • He knows how many hairs are on your head.
  • He’s given us life.
  • He’s given us breath.
  • He’s given us food.
  • He gives us our beds at night.
  • He has guided us through life from conception all the way to this moment now, when we’re sat in this room.
  • His love has been steadfast towards us at all times.

God is a loving father. He is the loving Father of all humanity, and he is the loving Father of you. God is your loving, caring, father. He is done no wrong to you ever. You know that, on earth, we have imperfect fathers, who make mistakes and do things wrong and some are better than others. Some of us have good dads; some of us have not so great dads. But all of us have a perfect Father in heaven.

God has never done anything wrong to you. I’m not saying he hasn’t let you go through trials and difficulties. A good father doesn’t wrap their child up in cotton wool and never let them go outside. A good father knows his children will go through trials and difficulties; and he prepares them and teaches them and speaks to them and comforts them through those trials and difficulties. That’s exactly how God our Father in heaven treats us. He treats us good and right in every single way.

And yet, all of us in this room have been rebellious children.

  • All of us, for at least a portion of our life, have failed to even recognise that our Father in heaven existed.
  • We have disobeyed his instructions.
  • Some of us are like children who know best; we read God’s instruction in Scripture and say, “No, I’m not sure I agree with that one God – I’m not going to live that one out”. Or “not today, I’m going to ignore that one today”. We’re like the child who goes, “No, Father. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I know better than you”. Some of you parents may know that conversation!
  • Some of us are like neglectful children. We take our Father in heaven for granted. We never speak with him or spend time with him or celebrate with him.

But all of us in our own ways are rebellious children towards God our Father. He’s treated us well and lovingly and full of kindness. We have not treated him in the same way. And so, just like Judah, all of us are children who’ve rebelled against our Father in heaven.

God keeps going, in his testimony, in his witness against the nation of Judah. In verse three he says this, “The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know”. In other words, the people of Israel, the people of Judah, know less than donkeys and oxen. Imagine an ox, if you will, that a farmer uses to plough a field. And the farmer comes to plough the field and he connects up the goad that guides the ox and he says we’re going to plough a field and the owner guides the ox left, but the ox kind of ignores him and goes right. “Oh!, I’m trying to plough my field!” And then he guides the ox right – and the ox goes left. This an ox that does not know its owner, does not obey its owner’s commands. The farmer would be furious. He’d be like: “Stupid ox. I paid a lot of money for you. I bought him off the other farmer – and you’re an idiot. You do not know your own master. You are a stupid, stupid cow!” That’s how we are like with our Father, sometimes. God says “Go right”. God says “Go left”. God says “Do this. Do that. Don’t do that”. And we ignore him. We’re like an ox who does not know it’s master.

Or imagine a farmer buys a donkey and he puts the donkey in a field and every day the farmer goes out with bags full of carrots and, I don’t know what donkeys eat, parsnips. He takes out all these amazing food and he puts out the carrots, parsnips and all the other food in the donkey’s crib (when it says crib, “master’s crib”, it’s talking about a feeding trough). So every day the farmer goes out and fills up this trough with the food – but the donkey is too stupid to come to the crib to eat. So there’s wonderful food at one end of this field and donkeys at the other trying to dig up carrots in the dust or whatever. Can you imagine how stupid that donkey would have to be to not even walk to the other end of the field and eat from the feeding trough. That would be a very, very stupid donkey!

That is a perfect picture what our lives are like sometimes. God, our master, our Father comes and fills out the feeding trough with food. You know that God’s feeding trough is full of everything you could possibly want or need in life. It’s full of love; it’s full of joy; it’s full of peace; it’s full of purpose and meaning. Every day God’s mercies are new; every day He comes out and lays out all you could possibly want or could possibly need. And what do we do? We ignore the trough, and we try and we scramble about in the dust, looking for joy and purpose and meaning in other places.

Let me tell you this morning, that purpose, joy, love – all those things can be found in God. And yet, if you think about how you plan your day, and how you plan your weeks – if I think about how I plan my days, and how I plan my weeks, I think like this: “I know what, today I’m going to go for a run because when I go for a run, I feel so great; I’m gonna watch that TV programme or that film or complete that level on a computer game because that’s, that’s my purpose for today; I’m going to eat this for lunch because I bought a fantastic chicken that I’m going to roast; and then I’m going to spend time with that person because time with that person really fulfils me. That’s my day planned out. Sometimes we plan days like that, we plan weeks like that and we fill in all the time with these  unimportant things. We don’t plan time to go to God’s feeding trough, where there’s carrots and parsnips and joy and love and purpose and meaning all laid out for us by our Father in Heaven. None of the things that we fill our days with are necessarily bad, but if we don’t spend time with God, if we don’t go back to God, if we don’t involve God in all of our day, if we don’t plan God into our day and our weeks, then we are like the stupid donkey digging for carrots in the dust. If you’re here this morning, and you feel like your life lacks love, or lacks joy, or lacks purpose, this is what God would say to you from Isaiah 1:3. “You’re at the wrong end of the field. The feeding trough is over here, you stupid donkey.” I think God might use that kind of language in a loving way. “Come, eat, pray, read your Bible, enter into joyous relationship with me.” So let’s be those people who plan God’s feeding trough into our days. In fact, let’s make our whole day one of enjoying God in all that we do.

So let me keep going. God spells out what he’s saying in verse 4. He’s saying that Judah is a sinful nation. He’s saying that Judah are a people laden with iniquity (iniquity is just another word for sin). He’s saying they’ve sinned so much; they disobey God’s commands so much; they’re like a person kind of overwhelmed, carrying all these stupid and wicked deeds that they have committed.

And then He calls Judah “offspring of evildoers”. I wonder whether that phrase would have hurt the people the most. “Hang on, you said you’re our Father – we’re the children of God! Now you’re calling us offspring of evildoers?”. What God is saying is that your deeds are so wicked, that actually even though I’m really your Father, the way you’re acting makes evil your father. Evil is your father! That is what God is saying to these Israelites, these Jews in this passage. Judah has forsaken the Lord; they’ve despised God, the Holy One of Israel. As a consequence, they are utterly estranged. God is a stranger to the people of Judah.

That’s what sin does in our lives. Sin makes God a stranger. Sin forms a barrier between us and God. And estranges us from the one who created all the world. If you’re a Christian here this morning, and God feels distant to you. It’s actually highly likely that that’s because of sin. Your sin has estranged you from God. I would urge you to confess your sin and believe once more upon Jesus Christ; enter into close relationship with your God and Father. When we as Christians sin it, it makes it feel like God is distant. I don’t know if you know that in your life? I know I sometimes go through days or weeks where, actually, I’m not giving over time to prayer; I’m not spending time in God’s presence; I’m not obeying God. And when I go through those weeks, God feels distant. Now God is just a moment away; I can turn to him to any moment; it’s not like God has forsaken me when I’m sinning. But we do go through seasons where God feels distant. And often that is because our own sin is estranging us from our father.

Maybe you’re not a Christian here this morning. It feels like God does not exist at all. And the reason life feels that way to non-Christians, is because sin has estranged you from God. It’s not an easy thing to preach; it is not a comfortable thing to preach, but it’s true, biblically that sin estranges us from God. So the reason why non-Christians think God doesn’t exist is because their sin has formed this barrier between them and God. It says in Romans 1:18 that men, by their unrighteousness, suppress the truth.

So if you’re a non-Christian here this morning, what the Bible says about you is that your unrighteousness, your sin, the things you’ve done wrong, is suppressing the truth of God’s existence – His love and His care for you. It’s our unrighteousness, it’s our sin, it’s our deeds that drive a wedge between us and God. If God feels like a stranger to you, it’s because of the things you’ve done wrong.

At this point, I need to remind you that hope is coming. There’s forgiveness coming. I’m going to preach Jesus Christ. There is a solution to this problem, but not yet. Because in verses 5 and 6, God continues his witness. He continues his account of Judah’s sinfulness, and he compares Judah’s sinfulness with a sick person. “The whole head is sick. The whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot, even to the head, there is no soundness in this body”. I think the focus on the head and the heart at the start of verse 5 is deliberate. What you think, and what you love is often where sin rears its ugly head most powerfully and severely. But, what I want to focus on from this verse is that this man described in verse 5, has pretty much every single disease and illness you can possibly think of. There is no soundness in his body, God says, from the soul of the foot, to the head. In other words, the entire body is riddled with disease and injury and every possible thing this person can have. Judah’s illness is total and complete; the entire body is messed up. The other thing I love, but I’m not going to focus on is that in verse 6, Judah is so silly that it’s ill from head to foot and yet it’s walking about without any bandages on and it hasn’t bothered to treat itself. Again Judah is really, really stupid, I think. But yeah, I want to focus on the idea that the whole of Judah from the sole of the foot to the top of the head, there is no soundness in the body whatsoever.

There is a doctrine made famous by the Calvinists called ‘Total Depravity’. It’s a biblical doctrine and teaches that human beings without God are completely, morally corrupt. Without God, mankind from the sole of the foot to the head is diseased, and injured, and completely, morally corrupt. Totally depraved! Now, many of you, including me in a sense, might think that sounds very harsh. I’ve got some nice non-Christian friends. In fact, I know some non-Christians who live better than the Christians I know in many, many ways. So if you think that’s harsh, here’s how I think God would respond.

What is the greatest commandment? To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind. So someone without God does not obey that command in any sense of the phrase; they don’t even believe in God, most of them. They certainly don’t love him with their mind and heart and body, and soul and strength. And that means, even if they do a really good deed, it’s not a deed that flows from love towards God, which is the greatest commandment and the greatest mark of what goodness truly is. So even the very best deed is actually morally corrupt because it’s not done in love towards God. Hebrews 11 says that without faith, you cannot please God. So, if you don’t have faith in God, it’s impossible to please Him; it’s impossible to do anything good. And so the Bible teaches that without God, human beings are completely morally corrupt. I know that to be true of myself. Without God, I am completely morally corrupt. My life is full of selfishness and pride. And if I was not a believer in God, I dread to think where I’d be today, because I know that without God, I am completely morally corrupt. That’s what God is saying in Isaiah 1, where he says in Judah “from the soul of the foot to the top of the head, there is no soundness” in the body whatsoever.

This doctrine of total depravity means two things for us today:

  • It firstly teaches us that mankind cannot save itself. A person cannot save themselves. Someone who is full of disease cannot heal themself. One who is morally corrupt, cannot transform themselves into a good person. Rather, human beings need an outward miraculous move of God to be saved. If someone is completely morally corrupt, they cannot save themselves; they need God to move miraculously to transform their hearts. If we want our non-Christian friends to be saved, we need to get on our knees and pray that the Holy Spirit would move in an amazing way to regenerate them; to make them alive; to transform them from where they are into the likeness of Jesus Christ. So the first thing Total Depravity teaches us is that we can’t save ourselves, but need God to move miraculously in people’s life.
  • The second thing it teaches us or does to us is to make us humble. Without God, I am completely morally corrupt; I am totally depraved. I cannot be proud that I am a Christian. Because the only reason I’m a Christian is because God did a miraculous work in me. It was God who deserves all the praise and glory that I have been saved. I cannot go around thinking it’s because of my great decision – that my brain is better than other people’s or because I’m just a better person. I cannot possibly say those things, because I was totally depraved. I was utterly corrupt until God miraculously saved me and moved me and changed me. So I cannot be proud I’m a Christian. And I cannot be proud of my good works. Amazingly, when God comes into a person and changes them by the Holy Spirit, a Christian starts living in good works and doing good things. But I cannot be proud of those good works, because if I’ve done anything good in my life, that was a work that originated in God. God is the one who deserves all the glory and the praise. It’s only because he moved in me that I can do anything good. So if there’s anything good in my life, I can’t be proud of that personally; I need to give all the praise and the glory and worship to God.

So to believe this doctrine of total depravity is to know that mankind cannot save itself – it needs God to move, and to make us completely humble. Are you humble this morning? Do you know that all the good things that you’ve done in your life are only by the power of God in you? He deserves the glory. Take no pride in what you do yourself, but rather be humble and give glory to God. So in  verses 5 and 6, God compares sin to being sick. I think it’s a really helpful metaphor; and quite a stinging metaphor as well.

In verse 7, he starts to describe the judgement that will come upon Judah. Since Judah’s sin is total, it would be just for God to completely destroy Judah. And though that judgement described in verses 7 to 9 is severe, notice that God does show a little bit of mercy. In verses 7 to 9, Judah will be burned, devoured, left desolate like a hut in a cucumber field (one of my favourite images from the passage, if you imagine this whole great cucumber farm and all that’s left is a tiny little shack). That’s what God is saying is going to come upon Judah, because of her sin. But though Judah will be burned, there will be a few survivors. And can you see how that’s God’s mercy acting. If Judah is sick from the sole of the foot to the top of the head, it would be right and just for God to completely destroy all of Judah. But God says I’m going to leave a few survivors in this place. So judgement accompanies sin; judgement is coming upon this place Judah.

And then from verse 10 onwards, God stops speaking using imagery and metaphor, and instead focuses on describing the actual sin of these people. It’s not just you’re totally sinful from the sole of your foot to the top of your head; it’s not like you’re like a stupid ox you can’t obey its master’s instructions; it’s not just you’re like a donkey who doesn’t know where it’s master’s crib is. Rather God says this is the real problem with you, Judah. This is the real sin that you have committed. Now, notice that God pays Judah the ultimate insult in verse 10; He calls them Sodom and Gomorrah. He says: “You rulers of Sodom, you people of Gomorrah”. If you know anything about the Old Testament, Sodom and Gomorrah were places that were so wicked in their deeds, that God utterly destroyed them. So God is saying to the people of Israel, you are so despicable, that I can call you Sodom and Gomorrah. You’re like those wicked, evil people who I completely eradicated. So God’s not pulling his punches in this chapter. He’s going all in, in declaring the sin of the people of Judah.

What is it that these people have done, that is so wicked? It’s not that they’ve neglected religious ceremony. Have a look at verses 11 to 15. In verse 11, these people of Judah have often offered sacrifices; in verse 12, they’ve been often to the temple courts; in verse 13, they’ve observed Sabbath; in verse 14, they’ve observed the holy feast that God commanded in Scripture; in verse 15, there are even people who pray a lot. God says “you make many prayers”. These people of Judah are very religious. That’s not what’s wrong with them. It’s not that they’ve not observed the religious ceremony in the Old Testament. But the religious deeds that these people of Judah are doing are empty. Because outside of those religious deeds, their love and care for needy people is completely missing.

Have a look at verse 17. God says “seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause”. All those specific instructions in verse 17 are about looking after people who need help. I want you to look after orphans, the fatherless – bring justice to the fatherless. I want you to look after widows. I want you to plead the widows cause. I want you to stop oppression. Those people who are being oppressed – you need to stop that. Intercede justice for people who need justice. All of those instructions of verse 17 are about helping people who are needy, every single one of them.

So what God is saying you’re observing religious ceremony, but you are completely failing to care for needy people. If you observe religious ceremony here this morning; if you go to church every week, every Sunday; if you sing the worship songs we sing; if you pray; if you read the Bible; if you give financially to church. All those things are hollow and empty; even ugly in the eyes of God, unless they are accompanied by love and care for needy people. And the reason that’s true is that when you observe religious ceremony in a genuine way – I love it when people come to church, that’s a really good thing; I love it when people pray; I love it when people read the Bible. I love all those things. When you do them genuinely, you encounter God our Father in Heaven. And when you encounter our Father in Heaven, you recognise Him as God who cares and shows kindness. – And so, if you are genuinely observing religious ceremony, you are encountering the loving, kind God of the Bible, who then transforms you, so that you also become loving and caring. This is what James 1:11 says: “True religion is to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” And so I tell you this. If you are doing all of this stuff that we do on a Sunday morning, and yet out there you do not love and care for these people in need, then what’s going on in here is completely empty and meaningless. And yet if, you are meeting with God here, and our lifegroups and all the other things we do during the week, if you are meeting with God, your heart will be transformed such that, out there, you love and care for people in a Godly way. And actually in this room as well; it’s not just that we care for people outside the room, we care for one another as well. That’s really, really important biblically. I tell you the truth. Over the next five months, by the time we get to September, so we will have been running a year, I want to articulate what it means to be part of Christ Church Fareham. Who we are as a church. What it means for someone to say “Yes, I’m with you”. I know loads of you are already with us and part of this vision and thing we are building, but I want to articulate that better. And part of what I am trying to articulate is how to we love and care for the needy people in here, and the needy people out there. Because I want us to be amazing at it, because our Father in Heaven loves people; really, really loves and cares for people. And there is no point in getting this right, if we get that wrong – because that’s exactly what these people in Judah have done. They’ve got the religious ceremony right; and they’ve got the love and the care at the heart of Christianity completely wrong.

So God, this witness, stands up and declares, gives this witness account of the sin of Judah. He does not pull any punches. He is full of imagery and metaphor to describe how sinful these people are. He tells them they need to correct oppression and bring justice and plead the widow’s cause. And if you are anything like me, you are reading this and thinking if I was the one on trial, I would be in big trouble. What would I say in my defence, if God had brought this against me? Because I think quite a large part of me would be saying, I think you’re right, God. The way you’re describing me, yeah that is spot on. I haven’t cared and loved people enough; the way that I should do. Sometimes I do just go through the rituals of religiousness, rather than genuinely loving and caring for people. I would be sitting… I would be trembling in the dock if God stood up and said this about me. And He could.

And so verse 18 finally arrives and brings relief and comfort and forgiveness. Verse 18 is an astonishing verse, isn’t it? God said all these things as witness and then the same God who has just stood up and testified against Judah, stands up and says: “Come, now let us reason together, says the LORD. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Those words are astonishing. The same witness who has just piled on the misery, now also promises forgiveness. And this is the very heart of the Christian faith, isn’t it? This is what Jesus accomplished for us upon the cross. All of us are sinful, guilty men and women. All of us are covered in a crimson stain, because what God describes in Isaiah chapter 1 are the sins we have committed. The things we are guilty of. And that is like a crimson red stain upon us. And then Jesus comes – God the Son – into the world and says: “Give me your sin. Give me your crimson stain. I will take your red robes upon myself and I will give you a white garment of pure blamelessness in response”. Jesus dies on the cross for our sins. He dies on the cross for our guilty stains that we might be clothed in white – that our lives should be made white as snow. When it snows next – I know it will be a long time – I want you to look on that snow and think of Isaiah 1. You know, the crispness and perfection of white snow, and go: That is what Jesus has given me. That whiteness, that blemishlessness, that blamelessness. That is a wonderful, wonderful thing. We are all flawed human beings in this room, and yet if we believe in Christ, we have been made white like snow in the sight of God. And that is what Isaiah 1 is all about.

Let’s stand and let me pray for us.

Heavenly Father, we confess our sins to You this morning. We confess that in many ways we have acted religiously but not loved and cared for people as we should. We confess that we have spent lots of time shuffling about in the dust, looking for carrots, when You have laid out a plethora of joy and love in Your trough, Lord God. We have not spent time going to You, being in Your presence, loving You, for that’s where purpose and meaning and love are all found. We, kind of, play about in the dust instead, Lord God. We are foolish. We are silly. Without You, Lord God, we are completely, morally corrupt and so, Lord, we are so grateful for your forgiveness. Thank you that you have made our red stains as white. You have made our guilty stains, innocent in the blood of Jesus Christ. We praise You and thank You for the forgiveness of Isaiah 1, verse 18 and we worship and glorify You. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your forgiveness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

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