Isaiah is a prophet, and that means he speaks God’s words to God’s people on God’s behalf, and that means we are all listening to God when we listen to Isaiah. The message of Isaiah has much to say but our focus should be on the unchanging reality of how God deals with his people, in other words, God is always involved and the suffering servant, the messiah, that Isaiah comes to speak about is just how involved the triune God is in this world.
To really understand God’s dealings with his people, we must understand the purpose that the people of God have – Israel were to be a light to the nations, as Christians today are to be the salt and the light. And what that means is this – God’s work in this world will largely be seen or not seen in his own people – therefore whatever God’s people are like, will always be reflective on God himself.
So, if everything we do reflects on God – God deals with his people in the way that he does to protect and promote a true reflection of Him through his people. How does God do this, well he does it in a couple of ways. One of those ways is that he restores those who are faithful and he blesses them, but there is also another way – he removes the unfaithful from the congregation of his people.
The message of Isaiah reminds us that the Messiah is the only hope and solution that we have and that we need. Paul in Romans and Corinthians teaches us that these things in our past are written as examples and for our instruction. In other words, what he is saying is this – Salvation does not negate, do away with our need to learn from the past, of how God interacted with his people then. But how many of us perhaps have come to this conclusion through spiritual slothfulness that now that we are saved everything is taken care of? So with that in mind, we come to Isaiah chapter one.
A message from God
God has a message that he wants his people to hear –in short God says, why have my people forgotten me, when an Ox knows its owner? Why do God’s people who can experience His discipline still not change? – when this is the case God must intervene in greater measures or else the people will never change. Why and when does God reject the worship form his people? And why would anyone turn away from forgiveness? – and they do, do that.
What happens when God’s people forget him – well it seems that they forget His grace. God explains himself as a Father (v2). He has reared and brought the people of God up but the people have turned on their father – the ox and the donkey don’t do this. but people do towards God – we are God’s children which means that our very existence and care are in the hands of God – so don’t forget.
Verse 5 -explains something disturbing yet common. “why will you be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? – The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint”. What is God addressing here? He is saying – why don’t believers learn from sometimes painful experiences, which have come about through not obeying God? In other words – why do you do what you do again and again? Especially when the experience is often painful?
There are a couple of answers – the first is can be summed up in the attitude that often comes with rebellion. That some people would rather live with the consequences than change their ways, in other words, it doesn’t matter how painful the experience is, it has no impact on the person – their heart is hardened to change.
The other reason is that believers can believe falsely that there is no link between what I do and how God will deal with us. Hence why God says, why when you are struck down will you continue to rebel- in other words why do what you do again and again when painful experiences that come from it never changes. Well, the temptation is always to believe that this time it will be different.
God is merciful and that is good for us, especially when we repeat things that cause us painful experiences. Look at verse 9 – “if the lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah”. What is it that can stop painful cycles – the mercy of God, so (verse10) hear the word of the lord, give ear to the teaching of God – why, why?
Worship and the need for mercy
In order for us to understand the need for God’s mercy – we need to see how and why God rejected their worship. What is the issue here? Well, worship is never to come at the expense of doing good, seeking justice, correcting oppression – God instructs them to do this (v17). But that’s the issue – they hide in worship, they are using worship as a way to evade the demands of God, to do good works. But to do good, to seek justice and correct oppression involves lots of sacrifice – personal sacrifice, yes it does and that is why it is not happening.
They give their offerings and make their prayers and yet God is not interested – you see to worship God properly is to serve him in those ways we have stated, – worship is to know the will of God and do it (Romans 12:2). So, the need for God’s mercy here is not just to prevent his people from not learning from their own mistakes – it is also needed to sort out their worship.
So this is what God begins to do and notice how he begins to do it v18-20
Time for reason
The people verse 18 are to reason this out, to consider what they are being presented with – that their sins are like scarlet, red like crimson but God is willing to make them white like snow, white like wool. How do you make something white? You have a room in the house and it’s a real mess, you have mould coming through and the colour is dirty – how do you make it white? You go out and by white paint and you apply a few coats – there you have made it white, only you haven’t, the paint is white the wall is still the same. All that you have done is that you have covered it up.
When God says your sins will become white as snow – God isn’t just referring to colour here as a metaphor for being clean, but to the fact that snow is naturally white. How many of us consider the forgiveness which we have received from God for what it is. God doesn’t cover them up – we do and we even do it with worship, that’s the problem here. – rather God removes them.
So v18 come and reason this out – in other words, don’t turn down God’s forgiveness, v19 if you are willing and obedient then good things will come but v20 if you refuse and rebel – well there is nothing but judgement there. – remember the issue, God is speaking, his people are to be a light to the nations, reflecting God on earth – so God reaches out in forgiveness, receive it. God restores and blesses faithful believers but those who turn away he removes.
We should understand that our life belongs to God – so God is allowed to make these demands. Sometimes God’s people really have to think through how God is dealing with them – when your heart is hard consequences and painful experiences brought about by yourself are preferred but there not better than the alternative – rather return to God.
Worship – take a look at how you’re doing it? are you serving God, by doing good as God describes that, are you seeking justice as God defines that, are you correcting oppression – are we worshipping God? Being saved doesn’t cancel these responsibilities out rather salvation properly understood reinforces these responsibilities.
Forgiveness – don’t think you don’t need it. can sin build up in our lives – of course, we confess our sins before God every Lord’s day, does everybody do it, want to do it – not always. But do they need it, even they know that they need it?
God is involved and so notice how he is involved – is God sticking his nose into things that don’t concern him, no never. Remember there is a link between what we do and what God does. So go away from here tonight remembering God’s mercy, that God is not only the cause for things getting better but also the reason for why things are not as bad as they could be.