I’m starting a new sermon series I’ve titled, “Quotable Isaiah.” Rather than go through the book verse by verse (I’d die of old age before finishing, maybe 🙂 ), I’m highlighting some of Isaiah’s most well-known, frequently quoted (and often-beloved) passages.
We’re looking at these verses in the context of the book as a whole. Yesterday, it was this:
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
In the immediately preceding verses, the Lord addresses the wickedness that He sees among the people He has chosen. And then, in verses eleven through fifteen He talks about their empty religion.
Will sacrifices and offerings please God when the person giving them is living wickedly?
11 To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
In today’s language, He might have said, “I’m fed up with this.”
Do you think God is pleased to see someone coming to worship Him when their hearts and lives blaspheme Him?
12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
In today’s language, He might have said, “Quit trespassing on my property.”
Will religious ceremonies satisfy Him when it is just a ceremony rather than a heart of praise?
13 Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me….
In today’s language, He might have said, “Your religious actions stink.”
Will He delight in people going to religious meetings, or setting aside days for religious purposes, to simply try to hide that they are unrepentant sinners?
13 …the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
In today’s language, He might have said, “I’m sick and tired of this.”
Does God care for praying hands when those same hands are always doing evil things?
15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
In today’s language, He might have said, “What a disgusting sight, I’ve turned my back.”
It’s not just that empty religion doesn’t work with God, it makes things worse. The only thing that can make anything better is to solve the sin problem. Though our sins are double-dyed scarlet (that’s the idea of the Hebrew text here), deeply engrained, a very part of our nature, yet they can be cleansed.
That kind of cleansing is not the work of a religious ceremony. We’re in “miracle-only territory” here. Anyone trusting a religious ceremony is doomed, because we need a work of God to solve that sin problem. Otherwise, religious or good works just offend Him more, just make our case worse. He doesn’t need our offerings or our church attendance, our prayers or Bible reading, He loves us and wants our hearts. If He truly has our hearts, those things will come (and a lot of other things will go away) because we love Him.
Religious ceremonies never solved anyone’s sin problem. They are like putting a sticking plaster on a broken leg. It may look like the problem is being treated, you may even fool some people into thinking it is doing some good, but it does nothing. And if you refuse treatment because you’ve got your sticking plaster and you know best, all you’ll do is make your leg worse and offend the doctor (who does, amazingly enough, know more about treating broken legs than most of the rest of us).
But that’s what many people do with their sin problem. They are sure they know better what is needed. Everyone can tell you why they are good enough, the things they do or don’t do. Many use religious ceremonies or giving to the poor or volunteering their time, or whatever, as a sticking plaster. And the One who, amazingly enough, knows more about spiritual problems than any of the rest of us, tells us He is offended by such behaviour. Can anyone be surprised?