Trampling the Courts of the LORD

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Friends, please remain standing for the reading of God’s Word as we have begun a new sermon
series in the book of the prophet Isaiah.
This morning we consider Isaiah chapter 1 verses 10 through 20.
I’m going to begin reading in verse 9 to remind us of the previous context, but our focus
will be on verses 10 through 20 of Isaiah chapter 1.
You’ll find that beginning on page 672 in your Pew Bible.
Dear ones, let us hear God’s holy word.
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.
Severe to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah.
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices, says the Lord?
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fad 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.
Your 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.
If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.
But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword, for the mouth of the Lord
has spoken.
Dear ones, the grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever.
Let’s pray for the Lord to bless the proclamation of his word.
O heavenly Father, we thank you that you speak to us.
You are not a mute God.
You are not a silent deity.
You are a God who has spoken to us.
You have spoken to us your law.
You have given to us clear moral guidance and direction in the Scriptures.
But you have also spoken to us the word of forgiveness, the Gospel.
We pray, heavenly Father, that we might hear both your law and your Gospel this morning
in this portion of Holy Scripture.
And we ask that by your Spirit you would illuminate our minds and open our hearts to the truths
of this word, of your word, revealed here.
And help us, Lord, to take these truths to heart.
And may your word have its intended effect and impact upon our souls this day.
We pray these things in Jesus’ name and all of God’s people’s said.
Amen.
You may be seated.
Dear friends, the title of my sermon today is Trampling the Courts of the Lord.
And if you’re following along in your sermon outline, I’ve suggested a number of words
that you can be listening for in my sermon today if you find that to be helpful in following
along the words worship, trampling, hypocrisy, repentance, and reformation.
Well dear friends, our beloved Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us in the answer
to the very first question, it teaches us that man’s chief end is to what?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
The Bible, God’s holy word, teaches this truth throughout its pages.
And so, for example, in the inspired words of St. Paul the Apostle as recorded in 1 Corinthians
10 verse 31, Paul writes, so whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the
glory of God.
Do all to the glory of God.
Not just the religious stuff, not just prayer and Bible reading and the singing of praises
and so forth, those certainly should be done to the glory of God.
But even mundane activities like taking your daily nourishment, eating your bread, and
drinking from the cup, all of these things are to be done to the glory of God.
But dear ones, not only is man’s chief end to glorify and enjoy God forever, the Bible
also indicates that God’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy himself forever.
Now, that might sound narcissistic, why would God need to do that?
Well, God knows that he is the highest and greatest good, and so it would be idolatry
for him to do anything else than to seek as his highest end his own glory.
This is reflected in passages, for example, like Romans chapter 11 verses 33 to 36, after
the Apostle Paul has spent many chapters expounding upon and explaining the glorious gospel, the
good news of Jesus Christ, he ends this discussion in the following words in Romans 11 beginning
at verse 33, Paul writes, Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God,
how unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways.
For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor or who has given
a gift to him that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things, to him be glory forever.
Once again, my friends, God himself is the highest good.
So if God were to seek something other than his own glory as his highest and chief end,
then God himself would be guilty of idolatry.
But in any case, it is because God’s chief end is to glorify and enjoy himself within
the sublime majesty of his infinitely glorious triune being.
It’s because of that that he takes his own worship so seriously.
It’s not that he needs our worship, but he desires for his glory to be reflected and
displayed in our worship of him.
This is also why our sovereign triune creator God takes such great offense when his professed
people offer him superficial, hypocritical, shallow, and vain worship.
Such hypocritical worship involves a trampling, that is to say a profaning of the courts of
the Lord, and such was the so-called worship that Isaiah’s contemporaries were guilty
of offering to their God.
Now on the last Lord’s Day as I introduced the prophet Isaiah and as we consider the
first nine verses of Isaiah chapter one, we learned that given the details recorded for
us in the opening verse of this chapter, verse one, those details indicate that Isaiah was
a prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah.
Remember that at this point in covenant history, there was no longer a united monarchy.
The ten tribes in the northern kingdom, typically called Sumeria, had broken off, and the Davidic
tribe, the tribe of Judah, as well as many of Benjamin, the tribe of Benjamin, were in
the southern kingdom of Judah.
And so Isaiah was called as a prophet to minister to the southern kingdom of Judah.
The list of kings that are mentioned in the opening verse indicates that Isaiah’s ministry
as a prophet lasted at least 40 years from about 740 BC until some point after the Jerusalem
siege in 701 BC in the time of King Hezekiah.
So again, going back to verse one of Isaiah chapter one, the vision, that means the revelation,
the vision of Isaiah the son of Amos, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, that
indicates he’s been called by God to minister the word of God to the southern kingdom, in
the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Again, these are southern kings.
So this helps to situate Isaiah’s prophecy.
And yet even though the southern kingdom was blessed to have the holy city of Jerusalem
in its midst as its capital city, even though the holy temple, the temple that Solomon had
built was there in Jerusalem, yet we find the Lord complaining against the worship offered
by his people.
And that brings me, as we dive into our text for today, that brings me to the first point
as we consider verses 10 through 15.
Consider first, beloved, Yahweh’s complaint against the vain worship of his people.
We see here Yahweh, the Lord’s complaint against his sinful people, the vain worship of his
people.
Hear the word of the Lord, he says in verse 10.
Now notice the word Lord is in all capital letters, and what that signifies when the
English translators translate that word in all capital letters, it indicates to us that
they are translating the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh.
Yahweh is sometimes transliterated incorrectly, in my opinion, as Jehovah.
But this is the covenant name for God, the name for the Lord that indicates his special
covenantal relationship with the people of Israel, as they’re making covenant keeping
God and as their gracious Redeemer.
But here the Lord complains against the vain worship of his people, and he says, hear the
word of the Lord, you rulers of what?
You rulers of Sodom?
Give ear to the teaching of our God, again, he’s basically saying the same thing, using
slightly different words.
Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah.
He addresses his people as Sodom and Gomorrah, and this harkens back, by the way, to verse
nine, where he had said, if the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should
have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.
Other than Lot and his family, there were no survivors with God’s judgment against
Sodom and Gomorrah.
And here, so again, this language connects verse 10 with its previous context.
And the Lord says what?
He says, hear.
He says, give ear.
Now where have we heard this language before?
Well we heard it back in verse two.
In verse two, the Lord addresses not his people directly, he addresses the entire cosmos,
the entire creation.
He opens up his prophecy by saying, hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth, why?
For the Lord, Yahweh, has spoken.
In verse two, Yahweh calls upon the entire cosmos to bear faithful testimony to his covenant
indictment against his unfaithful people.
But here in verse 10, he addresses his people directly.
He addresses both their rulers and the people themselves.
He says, hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom.
Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah.
So leaders and people alike are addressed by the Lord.
And they are addressed shockingly as Sodom and Gomorrah.
Why is God doing this?
This is intentionally shocking language.
The point that the Lord is making here is that the faithlessness of the people is so
shocking and so horrific in the eyes of God that it is compared to the ancient cities
of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities which came to exemplify the utter depths of sin and degeneracy
and human depravity.
And he says, hear the word of the Lord, give ear to the teaching of our God.
This is how he begins this section of Isaiah chapter one.
It’s also similarly how he ends the section.
If you look at verse 20, what does it say?
But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword.
For what?
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
So at the beginning of this section, he says, hear the word of the Lord, give ear to the
teaching of our God.
At the end of this section, he says, the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Again, what does this teach us?
This teaches us that God is speaking.
This is not Isaiah’s ideas that he’s sharing with the people.
He is bringing to them an authoritative word from Yahweh, their God, the true and living
God.
This passage is bookended with reminders that the message here is God’s revelation.
Ultimately, it is not Isaiah’s word, but the word of Yahweh, Israel’s faithful covenant
keeping God and gracious Redeemer.
And that word, hear, he’s like, listen up, hear.
What’s the significance of that word?
What does it mean to hear?
Well, pastor means to do what I’m doing now.
I hear you.
I hear the sound waves going through the air and they enter my eardrums and I hear that
you’re speaking.
But is that the significance of this term here?
Well, friends, Dr. E.J.
Young in his commentary puts it well.
He says, the imperative, the imperative here implies more than mere physical, the mere
physical act of hearing.
It implies a hearing that results in obedience to the thing heard.
One does not truly hear God’s word unless he obeys that word.
There’s a sense in which if you hear the word of God and don’t do what it says, there’s
a sense in which you haven’t really heard it.
To hear God’s word is to not only take it in but to work it out in your day-to-day life.
This reminds me of a comment that is made in a passage in the book of James.
If you turn to James chapter 1, look at James 1 verses 22 to 25.
James chapter 1 verses 22 through 25.
James, the brother of our Lord writes, but be doers of the word and not hearers only,
deceiving yourselves.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently
at his natural face in a mirror, for he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets
what he was like.
That’s sort of like me in the morning before I’ve had my morning coffee.
I look at myself in the mirror and then I was like, what do I, yeah.
Then I look again and I’m like, wow, I really need to do some work there.
Being a hearer only but not a doer is like looking at yourself in the mirror and forgetting
what you were like, verse 25.
But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty and perseveres, being no
hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
So Isaiah, or I should say the Holy Spirit through Isaiah, is calling the people to not
only hear him, to hear his complaint, but to act appropriately based upon what they
hear, to assimilate what they are hearing and to take it to heart and to make the needed
changes in their lives.
In verse 11, he goes on to say, and here’s the Lord speaking, he says, what to me is
the multitude of your sacrifices, says the Lord.
I have 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.
Here the Lord begins to lay out his complaint against the people.
He goes so far, and again, there’s anthropomorphic, God is speaking here as if he’s a man.
He’s speaking in a way that we as human beings will understand.
He’s basically saying, I’m fed up with you guys.
I’ve had enough, enough already.
He says, what to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
He says, I do not delight in the blood of bulls.
One commentator points out in terms of the Lord saying, I do not delight in your sacrifices.
He says, the Lord’s distaste for sacrifices offered by those who do evil is expressed
with increasing sharpness.
In verse 13, he says, I cannot endure.
In verse 14, he ratchets it up a bit and he says, my soul hates.
This is strong language that the Lord is using.
The Lord is obviously deeply offended with his people.
Is he offended because they’re offering so many animal sacrifices?
Is Isaiah here standing against what other parts of the scripture require of God’s people
in terms of the ceremonial laws and the sacrificial laws?
Well, no, friends.
See, in this passage, Isaiah is not denying that the Lord had appointed such sacrificial
worship in the law of Moses.
Indeed, friends, if you’re a Bible reader, you know that there are large sections of
the Old Testament law of Moses where God gave his people under the Old Covenant directions
for offering just these kinds of sacrifices.
In fact, the Book of Leviticus is almost an entire book devoted to these kinds of ceremonial
and sacrificial matters.
I remember the first time I tried to read through the Bible in its entirety, and Genesis
and Exodus, they were fine, but when I hit the Book of Leviticus, that was like hitting
a wall.
It’s like all these details, these gory details about how you were to offer the sin offering,
the burnt offering, the peace offerings, and so forth.
So God obviously required these offerings of his people under the Old Covenant.
So it wasn’t the sacrifices themselves that the Lord had an issue with.
Instead, from the context here, we see that what the Lord found so objectionable was not
the sacrifices themselves, but rather the sinful, rebellious mindset and the unbelieving,
unrepentant attitude of the people by which they offered their sacrifices.
Their acts of worship and sacrifice were apparently a mere going through the motions,
a mere ritualism, a formalistic, hypocritical exercise that dishonored their God and ultimately
did them no good.
They were going through the motions.
They were very meticulous and careful to offer the sacrifices as prescribed, but they were
not giving their hearts to the Lord in an attitude of repentance and faith.
And so their worship is judged to be vain worship.
There also may be hints in this passage that the people of Judah and Jerusalem had perhaps
adopted a pagan mindset in bringing their worship and sacrifices to the Lord.
Perhaps they were thinking that Yahweh actually depended upon them for his sustenance, for
his nourishment, or perhaps they thought that the multitude of their sacrifices and the
wordiness of their prayers would somehow get God on their side and would enable them to
manipulate God and control God.
This was a very common mindset among Israel’s ancient Gentile neighbors.
The pagan Gentiles who lived around Israel, how did they approach their gods?
Well, in their polytheistic theology, their gods actually depended for their food upon
the sacrifices of their worshippers.
And if you believed this, if you had this worldview, you didn’t want the gods or goddesses
to get upset with you because they might get hangry, you know?
You know what it is to be hangry?
You’re hungry.
And because you’re hungry, you get angry.
And the worry and the concern was that, well, if we don’t appease the gods, if we don’t
offer them adequate sacrifices and don’t give them their food, they’re going to get hungry
and they’re going to get mad at us and they’re going to stomp on us, right?
So we’ve got to keep the gods well fed, right?
And perhaps the Israelites had begun to approach God with this mindset and view God this way,
the true God, in their sacrifices.
Of course, the reason that God appointed the animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant
was not because God needed to be fed, but rather because those sacrifices were intended
to point forward to Christ, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world.
In any case, friends, the Lord describes their worship as a trampling of my courts.
When we come before God in worship, we come before a king.
And the picture is of a king’s court.
But we come before him with vain worship.
When we do so, we desecrate, we trample, we profane the courts of the Lord when we offer
vain offerings.
And then if you read on, as we read on in verses 12 and 13, it says,
When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?
He doesn’t say who has required these sacrifices of you.
The Lord himself had required these sacrifices.
But it is the trampling of his courts that he has not required.
He’s expecting them to come not just with appropriately offered sacrifices, but with
a heart that is right with the Lord.
Bring no more.
And he actually goes on to say, the Lord says, bring no more vain offerings.
Incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations.
And then really the rub of the issue here is at the end of verse 13.
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
The big problem seems to have been that while the people were hyper scrupulous when it came
to observing their solemn assemblies, hyper scrupulous about making sure that they fulfilled
all the requirements of the ritual and ceremony of the old covenant law.
At the same time, they were guilty of gross sins, sins of social injustice, sins described
not only as iniquity, but notice verse 15.
What does God say?
He says of the Israelites who are offering, you know, lifting up their hands in prayer
thinking that God hears them.
What does he say?
He says, your hands are full of blood.
Not only are your hands stained with blood, it’s as if they’ve dipped their hands in a
bowl of blood.
Their hands are dripping with blood.
This I believe indicates bloodshed, murder, social injustice.
They were oppressing and doing violent acts of injustice against their fellow Israelites.
So the point is, while they were hyper scrupulous to observe the ceremonies of the law, they
seem to have no scruples and no repentance about their own gross sins.
They were scrupulous to perform the rituals of the law correctly, but they had no scruples
about their sin.
Ritual scruples, absolutely.
Moral scruples, no way.
What do we learn from this?
There’s many things we learn, beloved, but I would suggest to you first of all that in
passages like this one, we see the offensiveness as well as the dangers of a merely outward
religion, a merely external ritualism and formalism in our approach to Almighty God.
Now some might say, well, Pastor, look, we’re Presbyterian, right?
Do all things decently and in good order.
That’s our Presbyterian cry, right?
And we believe that.
The Bible says God is a God of order.
He’s not a God of chaos.
And we want to offer God well-ordered worship.
That is a legitimate concern.
So yes, it is true that in worship we should seek to do everything decently and in good
order.
And observing the so-called regulative principle of worship is also important, for we should
only worship God in the way that he has prescribed and revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
That’s what the regulative principle means.
It means that every act and element of our worship needs to be warranted by the word
of God.
We need to worship God according to his requirements, not according to our imaginations.
And that’s why we don’t do things like wave banners in acts of worship or have liturgical
dancing and so forth, because we’re seeking to do what God tells us to do in our acts
of worship.
But the point here, friends, is that if we do everything correctly on the outside, if
we have a well-ordered worship service and we observe all of the biblical elements of
worship, like the singing of praises, the offering of prayers, the preaching and reading
of the word and so forth, we can do all of those things correctly on the outside.
But if we neglect to give the Lord our heart devotion in worship, if we’re just going through
the motions, then we are in fact offering vain worship to the Lord.
Vain worship, which is no better than idolatry, and we are in fact trampling the courts of
the Lord.
As one commentator puts it, it is ritual divorced from penitence or repentance that God hates.
Scripture tells us that God will not despise a broken and a contrite heart.
Beloved, if you approach God in worship with a heart that is repentant over your sin,
if you say, Lord, I struggle with my sin, Lord.
If you come with that heart and you come looking to Christ and Christ alone for your salvation
from sin, then the good news is that in union with Christ, your worship, imperfect though
it may be, your worship is still acceptable to God because it is brought through Christ,
through his merit and mediation, and it is brought from a heart that is humble and contrite.
But of course, only a heart that has been renewed and born again by the Holy Spirit
is capable of offering such acceptable worship unto the Lord.
Dear listener, has your heart been renewed by the Spirit of God?
Have you come by the grace of God to see your sin, your need for a Savior?
Have you come to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as your very own Lord and Savior, the Christ
who was crucified for the forgiveness of sins and raised from the dead so that all who believe
in him might not perish but have everlasting life?
This kind of heart worship is described by the Lord Jesus in his conversation with that
deeply sinful woman whom he nevertheless showed amazing grace to.
In John chapter 4, the Samaritan woman, the Lord Jesus says this to her, and this is a
passage that would take a long time to explain, but I just want to read this to you.
John 4, verses 21 to 24, as the Lord Jesus is speaking to the woman at the well, the
Samaritan woman, he says,
In Jerusalem will you worship the Father, you, that is you Samaritans, worship what
you do not know, we, we Jews, worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
But the hour is coming and is now here when the true worshipers will worship the Father
in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
The only way to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth is if you are renewed and indwelt
by the spirit of God and enjoy new life in union with Christ.
Come to Jesus today, believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ, the word says, and you will
be saved.
And that brings me to my next point as we move along in this passage.
Here next, a call to repentance and reformation.
In verse 16, the Lord says, 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.
He says, Wash yourselves, remove the evil of your deeds.
Yahweh, friends, Yahweh had brought his covenant lawsuit against the people.
He had laid before them his complaint against their faithless, vain worship.
But here in this section of our passage, he calls upon them in this language here to repent
of their sins, to reform their lives, and to bear the fruits of repentance by doing
those works which are in keeping with true faith, repentance, and reformation of life.
Isaiah is not preaching here a works righteousness theology.
He’s not preaching salvation by works, but he’s saying, look, your repentance ought
to be such that it bears fruit, the fruits of repentance.
Here we see that God expects genuine repentance to lead to godly action, to what our confessional
standards call a walking after a new obedience.
Dear Christian, let me ask you, you claim to be repentant, praise God if you are.
We are all called to live a life.
The Christian life is a life of ongoing daily repentance and renewed faith, but that repentance
ought to bear fruit.
It bears fruit in the pursuit of godliness, in the pursuit of holiness.
Are you walking after a new obedience?
Are you pursuing godliness, holiness?
I’m reminded of, again, James is a wonderful section of scripture to read alongside of
sections of Isaiah like this, and I’m reminded of what James writes in chapter four, verses
four through ten.
As James is addressing some worldly minded Christians, he says this, you adulterous people,
do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?
Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
Or do you suppose that it is to no purpose that the scripture says he yearns jealously
over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?
But he gives more grace, there’s good news there, he gives more grace.
Therefore it says, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
Submit yourselves therefore to God.
Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded.
Be wretched and mourn and weep, he’s calling them to a godly sorrow for sin.
Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and here’s the good news, and he will exalt you.
Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you.
But of course, we know beloved that all of this, that the Lord is calling his people
to this repentance and the bearing of the fruit of repentance.
This is impossible apart from the grace of God our Father, apart from the blood of Jesus
Christ our Savior, and apart from the renewing and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
And that’s why Dr. E.J. Young reminds us in these words as he comments on this passage.
The verse contained four imperatives uttered with absolute authority, wash, make you clean,
put away, cease.
Why are these commands given if the men of Judah did not have within themselves the power
to obey them?
The answer is that they serve to bring men to a conviction of their need for washing
and cleansing.
Like men of today, the inhabitants of Judah thought that they had no such need.
They brought sacrifices.
Is that not satisfactory?
These commands also serve to convince men of their inability to obey.
See the law of God shows us that we can’t keep it.
We don’t have the power or strength within ourselves to keep it.
What man in his own strength has ever been able to wash and to cleanse himself from the
stain of sin?
They also, these commands also serve the purpose of causing a man to seek after the true and
proper source of cleansing, even the grace of God himself.
The point is that yes, the Lord through Isaiah lays before the people high and lofty demands
that they cleanse themselves, that they cease to do evil and learn to do good and so forth,
commands that they cannot keep in their own strength or power.
But the point is that the law shows us our sin and our desperate need for a savior.
In terms of what they needed to do, in terms of the scope of their sin, there’s mention
here in verse 17 of the fatherless and the widow.
The fatherless and the widow represented the most powerless, weak, and vulnerable in society.
We learn in the scriptures that God has a special place in his heart for those who are
weak and oppressed.
To pretend to bring worship to the Lord while neglecting the needs of the weak and vulnerable
and especially while being actively engaged in oppressing the weak and the vulnerable
is the height of arrogance.
It is a taking of the Lord’s name in vain and deeply offensive to our holy God.
And so what is the conclusion of our passage?
The conclusion is found in verses 18 through 20.
We find in this passage a promise and a warning.
This is the last point in your sermon outline, a promise and a warning.
Eat or be eaten.
Eat or be eaten.
Look at verses 18 and 20.
The Lord says, 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.
If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.
But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword.
And then to add a solemn, to close this section of chapter one with a solemn note, it says
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
In other words, this is God’s sure and certain word.
You can bank on it.
In verse 18, we see that the Lord had confronted his people with their sins and he had called
them to repent and to reform.
But here the Lord in verse 18 speaks tenderly to his faithless people, promising them forgiveness
and cleansing.
Sometimes in the Bible, God speaks very sharply, even almost harshly.
Jesus himself sometimes used harsh language when he confronted the religious hypocrites
and the religious leaders, the self-assured of his day.
The reason that he called them whitewashed tombs and serpents, was he speaking out of
hatred?
No.
These were people who were settled in their self-righteousness and they needed to be unsettled.
They needed to be shaken up.
When the Lord speaks a sharp word, he speaks it out of love.
And so God speaks, he thunders his law to wake us up from our spiritual stupor.
And then once we are awakened and once we are terrified by the threats of the law,
he comes in mercy to us through the gospel and he speaks tenderly to us.
And that’s what the Lord is doing here in verse 18.
He had thundered at them with the demands of his law, but now he speaks tenderly to
them with gospel, with good news.
And he tells them that in spite of their vain worship, in spite of their external ritualism
and formalism, in spite of their trampling of his courts and their violent murderous
social injustices toward one another, there was still hope for them.
He says, come and let us reason together.
This is possibly legal terminology, though it is questionable that we are to understand
this as a legal setting.
God is not bringing further charges against his people to condemn them, but he’s inviting
them to receive his mercy.
As Dr. Young writes, there is a gracious condescension in the language and Isaiah, who has been commanding
repentance, shows himself as a prophet of grace.
But there is responsibility laid upon the Israelites, upon the Judahites.
He says in verse 19, if you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.
If you are willing and obedient, this appears to be Isaiah’s way of issuing the gospel
call of saying, repent and believe the good news.
If they were to return to Yahweh in true faith and repentance, they shall eat the good of
the land.
What land is he speaking of?
He’s speaking of the Holy Land, the promised land.
And what is significant about that, brothers and sisters, the promised land, the land where
the city of Israel was the capital and where the temple of the Lord was, that land was
a type, a picture of the ultimate promised land, the new heavens and the new earth where
in righteousness dwells.
So not only is he promising that, look, if you reform your ways and return to me in faith
and repentance, well, then you’ll get to stay in the land and everything’s going to be okay.
You’ll be able to have the harvest of your land and so forth.
That was part of the covenantal arrangement that God made with his people under the Old
Covenant.
But beyond that earthly type was the heavenly prototype.
And so eating the good of the land is a type, a picture of receiving and benefiting from
the gift of life everlasting.
If they return to the Lord in true penitent faith, then they would eat in the sense of
receive and enjoy the blessings of life in the Holy Land.
That means life eternal.
But what happens if they don’t repent and believe?
Verse 20, if you refuse and rebel, if you dig your heels in, if you continue to harden
your heart, what’s going to happen if you refuse and rebel?
You shall be eaten by the sword.
In other words, you will be destroyed.
The sword represents judgment.
And of course, that sadly came upon the people of Judah as they persisted in their idolatry
and covenant breaking.
Ultimately they were exiled by the Babylonians.
But ultimately this speaks of a final judgment, a final destruction.
And then, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
So there’s a promise, but there’s also a warning.
And this promise and warning is similar to the promise and warning that we read of, and
I close my sermon with this passage in John chapter 3, verses 16 to 21.
You know John 3, 16, for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever
believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
We love that verse, but we need to read on.
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the
world might be saved through Him, whoever believes in Him is not condemned.
There’s the promise.
But whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the
name of the only Son of God.
There’s the warning.
And this is the judgment.
The light has come into the world and the people loved darkness rather than the light
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light lest
his works should be exposed.
But whoever does what is true comes to the light so that it may be clearly seen that
his works have been carried out in God.
By the grace of God, may we all come to the light by believing in Christ, in Christ alone,
for salvation from sin.
Then, by the grace of God, we will eat the good of the land, enjoying life eternal.
Amen.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, Sovereign God, we thank You for Your Word of Law and Your Word of Grace.
We thank You for speaking a word of judgment to humble us, but also speaking a word of
grace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And we pray that You would give us the grace to respond to the Word with true faith and
repentance.
And may we walk after a new obedience out of gratitude for Your amazing gift of salvation
to us in Jesus.
In His name we pray, in all of God’s people said, Amen.
Let’s rise and sing as our hymn of commitment, number 502, All for Jesus.
500 and 2.