Redeemed by Justice

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Please remain standing for the reading of God’s Word. My sermon text this morning as we continue
our new series in the book of the prophet Isaiah is Isaiah chapter 1 verses 21 through
31. You’ll find that on page 673 in your Pew Bibles. Isaiah chapter 1 verses 21 through
31. Let us hear God’s holy word. How the faithful city has become a whore. She who
was full of justice. Righteousness lodged in her but now murderers. Your silver has
become dross. Your best wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of
thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless
and the widow’s cause does not come to them. Therefore the Lord declares the Lord of hosts
the mighty one of Israel. I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes.
I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lie and remove all
your alloy and I will restore 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. Zion shall
be redeemed by justice and those in her who repent by righteousness but rebels and sinners shall be
broken together and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed for they shall be ashamed of
the oaks that you desired and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen for you shall be
like an oak whose leaf withers and like a garden without water and the strong shall become tender
and his work a spark and both of them shall burn together with none to quench them. The grass withers
and the flower fades but the word of our God endures forever. Let’s pray for the Lord to bless the
preaching of his word. Our Lord and Father in heaven we thank you for the scriptures
for as the scriptures themselves testify of themselves all scripture is breathed out by God
and is profitable. We pray that by the illuminating work of your spirit we would find this portion of
holy scripture to be profitable to us and to our spiritual benefit. We pray Lord that you would
open our minds and our hearts to behold wondrous things from your word and we pray that your spirit
would cause your word to find a lodging place in our souls this day and once again we would ask that
you by your grace would set a guard over my lips that I might speak only that which is faithful
and edifying and glorifying in your sight. In Jesus name we pray and all of God’s people said
Amen. You may be seated.
The title of my sermon this morning is Redeemed by Justice and if you are following along in
your sermon outline there are quite a number of key words that the young people can be listening
for in the sermon to help them follow along. Well dear ones even though our passage for this
Lord’s Day morning was addressed to the visible people of God who lived in Jerusalem and Judah
during the days of the prophet Isaiah, nevertheless this passage of God’s word is
quite instructive and quite relevant to the church in all ages of redemptive history
including the church of Jesus Christ today in the 21st century. Beloved this is a passage
that we as a church would do well to take to heart because in this passage the Holy Spirit
through his servant Isaiah addresses the professed people of God during a time in the old covenant
theocracy when political corruption and social injustices abounded in the land of Judah and also
a time when spiritual degeneracy and idolatrous impurity prevailed among those who identified
themselves as the people of God. The old covenant church is represented in this passage by the once
faithful city of Jerusalem and also represented by Zion which is a synonym for the city of Jerusalem
in general but also a designation that was used to refer to the locality where the majestic temple
of God erected by the great and wise King Solomon had been set up. In earlier times such as perhaps
during the reigns of King David and King Solomon in the period of the united monarchy in that time
righteousness prevailed. Righteousness, right ethical conduct and justice as defined
by God’s holy law had once characterized the holy city of Jerusalem and Isaiah reflects upon that
time. He says in verse 21 how the faithful city has become a whore. It had once been characterized
by faithfulness but now by unfaithfulness. At one time the old covenant church on the whole
had sought to trust in Yahweh her covenant Lord and to live in grateful obedience to his holy law
but things had radically changed in the days of the prophet Isaiah. They had changed to the point
that in this passage the Lord describes his people as being characterized by spiritual adultery
and murderous injustice and he even goes so far as to call his own unfaithful people
my enemies and my foes as we see in verse 24. Therefore the Lord declares the Lord of hosts,
the mighty one of Israel, ah I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself of my foes.
He’s not talking there about the idol worshiping pagan gentiles. He’s not talking about Israel’s
neighbors here. He’s talking about those who would call themselves the circumcised, the people of God.
In this language I am reminded of the biblical truth that is stated so well in our beloved
Westminster Confession of Faith in its teachings on the visible church. In chapter 25 section 5
of our confession of faith we read these words, the purest churches under heaven are subject both
to mixture and error and some have so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ but synagogues
of Satan. Nevertheless there shall be always a church on earth to worship God according to his
will. Certainly the old covenant church of Isaiah’s day was in the midst of a downward spiritual
spiral, a spiral of spiritual degeneracy that called forth the holy judgment and wrath of God
and yet even in this judgment passage, even in this passage where God is declaring his judgment
against his faithless people it is clear that Yahweh would preserve for himself a repentant
faithful remnant and that his predicted judgment against his faithless people would not result in
a complete or final destruction of the visible church but instead would result in a purified
and restored people of God. As we prepare to dive in and consider the this passage and the lessons
that we can glean from it, I would remind you of the setting and context in which the prophet
Isaiah ministered. The Lord raised up the prophet Isaiah to minister to the southern kingdom of Judah
for a period of at least 40 years. His prophetic ministry spanned the reigns of four kings lasting
from about 740 BC until sometime after 701 BC. Indeed the opening verse of the book of Isaiah
makes this very clear. If you go back to chapter 1 verse 1, Isaiah explains when he ministers,
ministered. It says the vision of Isaiah the son of Amos which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem,
the southern kingdom and its peoples, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah,
kings of Judah. So that gives us a very clear picture of when and where the prophet Isaiah
ministered. In our passage beloved we have first of all a lamentation over the faithlessness of
the people and their rulers. We also have a declaration of God’s judgment against those who
persist unrepentant in their rebellion and unbelief. But we also have here in this passage
a promise of redemption and restoration. In wrath the Lord remembers mercy. So let’s first of all
consider the opening section of our passage namely verses 21 through 23. And here we have brothers
and sisters a lamentation over faithless Jerusalem. One very common literary form
in the Old Testament especially is the literary form of lament, lamentation. In our church culture
today we don’t tend to gravitate towards lament. We more tend to gravitate towards praise and so
forth. And there’s a place for both though in the life of God’s children and in the life of the
church of Jesus Christ. And here we have a lamentation and that is indicated by in the
Hebrew by the very first word here. How, the word how. How the faithful city has become a whore,
she who was full of justice. It is this is language that typically introduced lament.
And notice how notice the address of this lament. How what? The faithful city has become a whore.
What city is Isaiah referring to? It seems clear from the context of the book of Isaiah that he
is referring here to Jerusalem. The capital city of the southern kingdom. The holy city where the
Lord’s temple dwelt. The Lord’s temple representing symbolizing his sovereign reign and his gracious
covenant presence in the midst of his people. And so this faithful city is Jerusalem the holy city.
And that city had at one time been faithful on the whole. Perhaps Isaiah is thinking of more
stable times in Israel’s past history such as during the reign of King David. He’s not saying
that everyone in the city was a true believer or that everyone was faithful to the Lord’s Torah,
his covenant instruction or direction. But Jerusalem as a whole, the people of Jerusalem
as a whole had been characterized by a trust in the Lord and a desire to live
in covenant faithfulness to the Lord. But things had changed. He says how the faithful city has
become a whore. That’s strong language isn’t it? That’s indeed scandalous language. Isaiah uses
this almost scandalously shocking language that depicts either the people’s covenant breaking
idolatry or their social injustices or as I think more likely both of those aspects of the
people’s rebellion. These things are described as a form of spiritual adultery. The people were
being spiritually adulterous toward Yahweh, the Lord, their faithful covenant making,
covenant keeping God. The Lord who had graciously redeemed them from their slavery in Egypt and had
bound himself to them as a husband does to a wife in the covenant. They had broken the covenant.
They had rebelled against the Lord. They had forsaken him to go after other gods and they
had forsaken his way by conducting themselves in murderous injustice toward their fellow
Israelites. And so the Lord describes them as spiritual whores. Often the prophets of the
Old Testament describe the idolatry and the apostasy of the people as a form of spiritual
adultery since Yahweh is often pictured as the husband of his people Israel and Israel is often
described or referred to as the Lord’s wife. Just to give you a few examples of that turn for example
to Jeremiah chapter 2 and look at verse 20 Jeremiah chapter 2 verse 20.
The prophet Jeremiah writes or the Lord through Jeremiah states for long ago I broke your yoke
and burst your bonds that’s referring to God’s redeeming grace in rescuing his people from their
enslavement in Egypt for long ago I broke your yoke and burst your bonds but you said I will
not serve yet on every high hill and under every green tree you bowed down like a whore you were
unfaithful to me though I had rescued and redeemed you you were unfaithful to me and you went after
other gods or consider Jeremiah 3 verses 1 through 3 the prophet asks if a man divorces
his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife will he return to her would not that
land be greatly polluted you have played the whore with many lovers in other words you’ve
gone after many other gods and would you return to me declares the Lord lift up your eyes to the
bear heights and see where have you not been ravished by the way sides you have sat waiting
lovers like an Arab in the wilderness you have polluted the land with your vile whoredom
therefore the showers have been withheld and the spring rain has not come yet you have the
forehead of a whore you refused to be ashamed or one more passage to drive this point home
consider Hosea chapter 3 verse 1 where the Lord calls this prophet to to marry
an unfaithful woman Hosea chapter 3 verse 4
where it says this
this for the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince without sacrifice
or pillar without ephod or household gods I’m sorry verse 1 and the Lord said to me go again
love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress even as the Lord loves the children
of Israel though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins he’s not saying that there’s
anything sinful in enjoying raisins he said those cakes of raisins were used in pagan
idolatrous worship practices and so forth and so we see Yahweh the covenant god of Israel he is
like a husband to his people and his people are like his wife he has bound himself to them in
covenant love and mercy but how do they respond they go after other lovers they pursue other gods
they break his law they forsake his trust in him they live in impenitence this imagery of
God relating to his people as a husband does to a wife is carried over obviously into the New
Testament for how are we as the church described in the New Testament well the church is is described
among other things as the bride of Christ Christ is the head and husband of his wife the church
and we as the church are the bride of Christ and so the city had been faithful but they had now
become unfaithful and are described in this language of whoredom and not only that he goes
on to say in verse 21 righteousness lodged in her what is righteousness righteousness is being in the
right with God being in a right relationship with God and that is reflected in your ethical conduct
in seeking to live rightly before God in in seeking to engage in right conduct in obedience
to the Torah the holy law and covenant instruction of the Lord he says righteousness lodged in her
at one time righteousness lodged in the holy city Jerusalem but now murderers the opposite of
notice the sharp contrast righteousness had once lodged in Jerusalem but now murderers the context
indicates that it is probably the corrupt leaders in Jerusalem who are specifically in view here
but remember friends that the leaders can also represent and characterize the people in general
idolatry and unfaithfulness to the Lord tends to breed the social injustices that lead to a
devaluation of life a culture of death and thus the commonality of murder and violence
and so what does this instruct us as the church today how does this instruct us to well to quote
from Dr. E.J. Young and his commentary he says even the purest churches on earth may degenerate
into a synagogue of satan how all important that we who are members of Christ’s church be always
vigilant and cherish and love that church that she may ever be found faithful before him
as Isaiah continues this lament he goes on to say in verse 22 your silver has become
dross your best wine mixed with water what is he talking about what do the silver
and the best wine represent in this passage well these are probably symbols that Isaiah is using
or that the spirit through Isaiah is using for how a once faithful political class had
degenerated into corrupt politicians and that’s made clear it seems by the context if you read
verse 22 in the light of verse 23 in verse 23 the Lord through Isaiah says your princes are rebels
and companions of thieves everyone loves a bribe they’re bought and paid for everyone loves a
bribe and runs after gifts they do not bring justice to the fatherless never their priority
is not in pursuing and seeking to maintain justice and righteousness in society and and
ministering to the needs of the weakest and most vulnerable in society their priority is enriching
themselves through bribes and gifts of course that never happens today in the politics of today right
dr young writes Jerusalem once possessed something desirable something like silver or
wine Jerusalem once possessed something desirable represented by silver and choice wine
a great change however had come over the city the silver and choice wine are gone and in their place
are dross and wine mixed with water the language in the Hebrew Hebrew for wine mixed with water it
it could literally be translated a wine circumcised or castrated by water it’s very dramatic
and picturesque language that is used here there has been a degeneracy from in in the political
class of the people of God and then it goes on to say in verse 23 again your princes are rebels
and companions of thieves everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts they do not bring justice to
the fatherless and the widow’s cause does not come to them we often read in the old testament
prophets about God’s concern for the widow and the orphan because friends the widows and the orphans
if you lived in the ancient world they didn’t have a social support system like we do today if
you were a widow and you didn’t have you know you could you couldn’t return to your father’s house
let’s say that your father had passed away you were destitute likewise if you were an orphan
the widows and orphans as well as strangers those who were who were strangers in the land
represented the most vulnerable most prone to and open to being taken advantage of
and those are the folks that God has a special concern for
but those who were leaders among God’s people the professed people of God in their leadership class
were not concerned for them but for their own enrichment as I said
everyone loves a bribe that was the way it was in the day of Isaiah the prophet this is very much
unlike the Lord consider Deuteronomy 10 verse 17 what we learn about the Lord in Deuteronomy 10
verse 17 where the Lord says this about himself for the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of
lords the great the mighty and the awesome God who is not partial and takes no bribe you cannot
bribe the Lord he is holy he is just he will not take a bribe and therefore those who serve him
must not seek after bribes beloved from this lamentation we can learn much but let us
in the church today let us not follow the road of spiritual degeneracy followed by the ancient
people of God in Isaiah’s day instead by the grace of God let us hold fast to the pure word of God
let us hold fast to the pure gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ the good news of full and free
salvation through the obedient life atoning death and glorious bodily resurrection and ascension of
Christ our Lord and let us also worship God in spirit and in truth according to the prescriptions
of his word and let us by the grace of God seek to live as obedient disciples out of gratitude
for his marvelous gift of salvation in Christ we next learn in this passage of a divine declaration
of both vengeance and restoration this is the second point in your sermon outline we see next
in verses 24 through 26 in particular a divine declaration of both vengeance and restoration
it says this in verse 24 therefore the Lord declares the Lord of hosts the mighty one of
Israel ah I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself of my foes now notice the how how
the Holy Spirit inspires Isaiah to pile up titles for the Lord for God he is described first of all
as the Lord the Hebrew for this term indicates the master and sovereign overall it emphasizes
the absolute sovereignty of God and he is also described as Yahweh of hosts the Lord of hosts
now what are these hosts well sometimes that terminology is used in scripture to refer
to the heavenly hosts the stars and the galaxies and so forth and certainly our great God
our omnipotent God is sovereign over the starry hosts but it can also be used to refer to military
hosts the angels and archangels of heaven and so I believe that is how it’s being used here
the Lord is reminding his people that he is sovereign that he is absolute in his sovereignty
he is the master and he is the divine warrior who goes out to fight for his people and to bring
justice to bear and he is also described here as the mighty one of Israel again this this stresses
his omnipotent power these titles are titles that that stress Yahweh’s absolute authority
and utterly omnipotent power and so the implication is rebels beware realize who you’re messing with
by rejecting the Lord turning from him he is the Lord the Lord of hosts the mighty one
of Israel God’s unfaithful people are here described as well as Yahweh’s enemies and foes
as I pointed out a little while ago now I believe brothers and sisters that this is very instructive
in that it shows that the Lord’s enemies may be found even within the ranks of those who hold
membership in the visible church within the visible covenant community may be found both the
righteous and the unrighteous both the saved and the unsaved both the regenerate and the
unregenerate both the elect and the reprobate when unfaithfulness prevails in the visible
organized church as it did in Isaiah’s day then there comes a point in time it seems
when the Lord must act when he must turn his hand against the unbelieving and unrepentant among his
professed people as the Lord says in verse 24 I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself
on my foes I will turn my hand against you focus in on that for a minute now let me ask you children
does God literally have a physical hand no God is a spirit and has not a body like we do right
this is what the theologians and Bible scholars call anthropomorphic language this is a language
that describes God using human terminology in order to make it understandable to us because God
is transcendent and the only way we can understand God is if he sort of talks baby talk to us he comes
down to our level and speaks to us in a way that we can understand but what really struck me as I
was preparing my sermon for today from this passage is the statement where the Lord says I will turn
my hand against you this is a promise or a threat to judge and purify as by fire now perhaps the
Babylonian exile is in view as the historical fulfillment of this prophecy but I know I would
point out beloved that this is the opposite of what God promises in the gospel of Christ to to
the believers in Christ in passages like Romans 831 in that passage it says if God be for us
you know the answer if God be for us what who can be against us praise God if you are in Christ
God is for you he is for you 100 percent of the way but here God is saying to the rebels to the
unbelievers amongst the ranks of the professed people of God he says I will turn my hand against
you if it is true that if God be for us no one can be against us it is also true that if God is
against you well you’re toast basically if God is against you no one and nothing can help you
especially since the Lord unlike the unjust leaders of the Israelite people at this time the
Lord does not take bribes Yahweh stands against the unrepentant and unfaithful among his people
this reminds me of what the scripture says in a different context in first Peter 417 where the
apostle writes that judgment begins with the household of God but there’s good news even in
this pronouncement of solemn judgment there’s good news because it goes on to say I will turn my hand
against you to do what and will smelt away your dross with lie and remove all your alloy and I
will restore 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 right now as Isaiah is writing it writing
this the city of Jerusalem Jerusalem and especially its leaders and the people as well
were characterized by spiritual adultery by spiritual whoredom and by murderous violence
but the Lord will bring judgment in such a way as they will be restored to the point
where they will be called the city of righteousness the faithful city
the Lord’s purifying judgment is ultimately designed to restore divine purification
leads to restoration and the reestablishment of righteousness divine purification leads to
restoration and the reestablishment of righteousness how is this fulfilled well
this was initially fulfilled in the Babylonian exile God did bring his judgment upon his people
he exiled them from the land the wicked amongst them were were slaughtered many of them and the
people were in their exile renewed a remnant was preserved and renewed and brought back to the land
eventually so that I believe is the initial historical fulfillment of this this prophecy
but my friends ultimately this will be fulfilled not merely by the people’s return from their
exile in Babylon but through the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the messianic era
of the new covenant the age in which we now live what we learn here about our God beloved is that
our God will both judge and restore he is a God of justice and a God of mercy righteousness
and grace and he will bring his judgment upon those who persist impenitent in their wickedness
for the praise of his glorious justice but he will also bring his undeserved mercy and grace
into the hearts and lives of his people he will give them the grace of repentance and this will
be to the praise of his glorious grace praise be to God for his sovereign omnipotent grace
and this brings me to my final point as we reflect upon the closing section of this passage verses
27 to 31 redemption for the repentant but wrath for the rebels we learn here of redemption for
the repentant but wrath for the rebels verse 27 says Zion and again remember Zion
is either a synonym for Jerusalem or perhaps for the temple in Jerusalem the temple area
in Jerusalem Zion shall be redeemed by justice and those in her who repent by righteousness but
rebels and sinners shall be broken together and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed
according to Dr. Young the verb here for redeemed denotes a deliverance that is obtained by means
of payment of a price perhaps the immediate historic redemption that is in view here
in this prophecy is God’s act of redeeming his people from their exile in Babylon
and bringing them back into the promised land having poured his justice out upon them in
chastisement for their covenant faithlessness however my friends this that temporal historic
redemption points to and anticipates ultimate eternal redemption that ultimate and eternal
redemption that was accomplished by Christ for Christ satisfied the holy justice of God against
our sins by bearing the punishment of our sins on the cross of Calvary as Dr. Young points out
there would however be little comfort to the inhabitants of Judah in the thought
that they were to be redeemed through their own righteousness for the truly devout among them
would realize that they had no righteousness and of course only Christ’s only Christ is capable of
meeting the righteous requirements that are necessary for the redemption of sinners like me
and like you and if this righteousness is this redemption by justice is for whom for those in
her who repents verse 27 Zion shall be redeemed by justice and those in her who repent by
righteousness and of course repentance itself as the scriptures testify is a sovereignly bestowed
gift of God God grants repentance so it’s all of God it’s all of grace but then there is a warning
a sharp contrast given in verse 28 this is a sharp contrast to the preceding verse but rebels and
sinners shall be broken together and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed while redemption
and restoration are promised to the repentant those who remain on repentant and unbelieving
will be consumed by the fiery holy wrath of the Lord and so it goes on to say in verse 29
for they shall be ashamed of the oaks that you desired and you shall blush for the gardens that
you have chosen now does this mean that if you enjoy planting trees or working on your garden
that that’s somehow sinful activity well it can become sinful if you make an idol out of it but
the point here is that this probably this language probably has in view the idolatrous
pagan religious rites that were practiced by the canaanites in the land and which often took place
under trees and in gardens many pagan temples in the ancient world had temple gardens and so when
we read about the high places and we read about the trees and the gardens and God through the
prophets rebuking his people for worshiping under the oaks and and the sacred gardens and so forth
he is he is rebuking them for their idolatrous practices the Israelites were often guilty of
incorporating these pagan beliefs and rituals into their own religious practices and the prophets
often denounced God’s people for this kind of idolatrous syncretism and notice how the Lord
describes the people here he says they shall be ashamed of the oaks that you desired they desired
these this false worship and these false gods and you shall blush for the gardens that you have
chosen dr young writes of this he says therefore there would however be little i’m sorry i missed
the quote there the quote is God had chosen Israel to be his people but Israel had chosen gardens
the Lord had graciously chosen his people and redeemed them but they had chosen false gods
they had chosen to worship in the gardens and so what is the Lord say is going to happen to them
look at verse 30 for you shall be like an oak they shall be ashamed of the oaks where they performed
pagan rites for you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers and like a garden
without water the emphasis on without water is it’s emphatic in the hebrew
again you have chosen and what would they be like they would resemble the objects of their
worshipful delights but only in decaying forms they would be like the oaks like an oak but an
oak whose leaf withers they would be like a garden but a garden without water those of you
who are in gardening into gardening what happens if your garden is not properly watered it dies
it withers it fades this reminds me of a sermon that i once heard many many moons ago in seminary
preached by dr greg beal and i forget which passage that dr beal used but i do remember
the sermon point because it was very it was one of those points that really sticks in your mind
the point was we resemble what we revere for ruin or restoration we resemble what we revere
for ruin or restoration if you worship idols you will become like the idols you worship that is the
clear teaching of scripture you’ll become lifeless and immobile incapable of lifting a finger
to help yourself indeed it’s only by the grace of god that we are helped and so he goes on to say
in closing this passage and the strong shall become tinder and his work a spark and both of
them shall burn together with none to quench them the wicked and their works in view here are
works that would include idolatry works of self-righteousness self-justification and
works of social injustice in defiance of god’s law the wicked and their works will be burned
up but there is hope this passage presents hope hope for those who by the grace of god repent
and dear listener the good news is that though we like israel of old we have been guilty of spiritual
immorality spiritual adultery but there is hope for those who repent and god promises
to take us through the judgment because christ was judged in our place in our stead and he promises
to cleanse us to restore us and to make us to to establish us in righteousness
jesus christ died for sinners like you and me and rose from the dead so that whoever believes in him
might not perish but have eternal life and might receive the gift of everlasting righteousness look
to christ and you brothers and sister will be not an oak whose leaf withers but you will be
established and rooted in christ forever let us pray heavenly father we thank you and praise you
for your grace and goodness to us in christ and we would ask oh lord that by your grace these
truths would find a lodging place in our souls we ask heavenly father that we would indeed put
into practice that which we’ve learned today for your praise and honor and glory in jesus name we
pray and all of god’s people said amen as we sing our final hymn our hymn of commitment let’s rise
and we’ll sing together number 467 cast down oh god the idols 467