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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Moved by the Glory of the Lord
Text:Isaiah 1:1,16-20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Glory of the Father
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-01-30
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 93:1,4                                                                                

Ps 51:1,3                                                                                                        

Reading – Isaiah 1:1-31

Ps 112:1,3,4

Sermon – Isaiah 1:1, 16-20

Ps 99:1,2,3,6

Hy 14:1,10

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved, there’s a great quotation I once came across. It goes like this: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (A.W. Tozer). I love that, because it orients us in the right direction. Our whole life is about being in relationship with God. That’s the most important thing: knowing God, loving God, and serving him.

And what we think about the Lord—how we regard him—really shapes everything we do. For instance, if you see God as your loving Father, you will begin to trust him. If you see God as the wise Lord, you will submit to him. If, on the other hand, God to you is a vague and far away being, or if you think of him mainly as a stern judge, then this will change how you relate to him.

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The following line from that quote works this out: “Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.” Do you have high thoughts of God? Big thoughts? Thankful and holy thoughts? This will transform your prayers, your worship, and loyalty.

This is without question a Biblical idea. That is, whenever God shows himself to his people by his mighty deeds, or when God gives his promises, He expects a response. You cannot come into God’s presence or hear his Word and be unmoved. Do you fear him? Will you listen?

This is something that often comes out in Isaiah, a book that reveals the Lord in remarkable ways. Every part of Scripture does that, of course, but in Isaiah we’re given an incredible portrait of the one true God. Isaiah has very ‘high thoughts’ of God; he presents a grand view of God as the Creator, Judge, and Redeemer.

Isaiah himself had a life-changing encounter with God. It happened in chapter 6 when he saw God in his temple, surrounded by angels crying out, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!” (Isa 6:2). This vision clearly put a stamp on Isaiah’s ministry, for in his prophecies he often refers to ‘the Holy One of Israel.’ This was God’s glory, and it moved him to adoration, repentance, trust and comfort. So how should we be moved by the glory of the LORD? I preach God’s Word to you from Isaiah 1,

Isaiah receives a vision from the Holy One of Israel:

  1. the messenger in his time
  2. his message of judgment
  3. his message of hope

 

1) the messenger in his time: Every book has a title, and Isaiah is no different. We find it in 1:1, “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.” We’ll get to one of Isaiah’s key prophecies in a few minutes, but we pause here at the title. It’s packed with vital clues for understanding the book and its context.

First, this book is the record of a “vision.” That means it’s a message from God, a truth disclosed by the LORD to his prophet. Isaiah didn’t follow his imagination or share his wishful thinking for 66 chapters, but God gave this message through the Holy Spirit. The word for ‘vision’ doesn’t always mean a visual experience, like when some prophets saw incredible sights from God in their mind’s eye. Isaiah’s messages seem to have come more often as words, the LORD speaking directly to his prophet.

It’s interesting that God’s call for Isaiah to be a prophet isn’t placed first in the book. It’s not in chapter 1, but comes in chapter 6, that earthshaking scene at the temple. That’s when Isaiah is purified for service, and he speaks up when God asks who’ll be his messenger. And Isaiah says, “Here I am! Send me” (6:8). This was the beginning of his work.

His call is placed later, probably to emphasize the message of chapters 1-5. Many of the key themes of Isaiah are here—rebellion, judgement, hope, restoration—themes often repeated. Isaiah wants his audience to know from the outset: this is what’s happening. This is how God’s people have lost their way, and what God is going to do about it.

So who was Isaiah? Like most of the prophets, we really don’t know much about the man. He is simply identified as the son of Amoz (different from the prophet Amos). The name Isaiah means, “The LORD is salvation.” In today’s text we’re going to see how that is such an appropriate name for this servant of the LORD: God saves!

Isaiah may have been a resident of Jerusalem, because he’s often ministering in the capital city. In fact, verse 1 says that this is the focus of his ministry, “Judah and Jerusalem.” Some also suggest that Isaiah was of noble birth, because in this book he seems to have easy access to the kings, coming and speaking with them whenever he wanted. But we don’t really know.

The other important thing to notice in verse 1 is the time in which Isaiah ministers. He mentions four kings of Judah: “Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.” At first glance, those names don’t mean much to us. But this was how an Israelite thought of time: not in specific years (like 1978 or 2022), but in terms of who was on the throne.

Looking at these kings more closely, Isaiah had a long period of ministry. His work started in the year that King Uzziah died (6:1), which was 740 BC. From then to the time of Hezekiah, say 700 or 690 BC, is forty or fifty years. That’s good to keep in mind. Isaiah didn’t speak these 66 chapters all at once, but they represent his ministry over several decades. 

What was life like in Judah and Jerusalem during this time? There were definitely some prosperous and peaceful years. But in general, Judah lived in fear. In the back of their minds was the constant threat of Assyria. This was the superpower of the Middle East, the empire located to the northeast and ever intent on expanding. The other big power was Egypt (to the south), with wealthy lands that Assyria wanted to claim. So Judah really was feeling the pressure, and especially from the aggressive Assyrians.

As for Judah’s northern neighbours, the ten tribes of Israel, they were soon to be taken away. In less than twenty years, the Assyrians would invade, conquer, and take the Israelites into exile. So imagine Judah’s anxiety when they see what happens to their cousins and uncles in the north: When would it be their turn? It was a time of uncertainty, a looming sense of hopelessness. What can they ever hope to do against Assyria?

God is so gracious then, to send his prophet during these critical decades. Isaiah is allowed to see what’s really going on, what God is doing among the nations. He has hard words for the Lord’s people, but also hope: powerful, lasting hope. It is good news founded not on any earthly redeemer, but on the One whom God is going to send as Saviour.

In general, it’s not hard to see how relevant this message is for us. No, we’re not living in fear of invasion. But the church does live in uncertain times. There are certainly pressures on believers in this land: internal pressures, external pressures. We might be nervous about what the future is going to bring.

And the greatest threat is the same as it has always been: Satan, the prince of darkness, who seeks to kill and destroy. He will use godless governments against Christ’s people. He will use the lure of mindless entertainment and materialism. He will use whatever tool to distract and divide and weaken the church. ‘Get their eyes off God. Give them low thoughts of God. Make them forget what they have and how rich they are in Christ.’

So God speaks. The holy One confronts us with his glory so that we are moved: moved to repent from sin, moved to trust in him, moved to worship, moved to hold onto our true comfort in Christ. So let’s move forward in chapter 1, to the prophet’s message of judgment and hope.

 

2) his message of judgment: Not all is well in Judah. International relations are tense, but even worse is their spiritual state. In chapter 1, God brings a serious charge against his covenant people. He even calls on heaven and earth as witness (v 2), that all may see how God is true and his people are false.

God reminds Judah of who they are: “I have nourished and brought up children” (v 2). They were—just as we are today—indescribably privileged: to know God as Father, to receive his good gifts, to enjoy his care. But to our shame, domesticated animals are often more grateful than God’s people: “The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not consider” (v 3). Instead of being thankful to God, loyal to the One who fed them, they are rebellious children who “provoke to anger the Holy One of Israel” (v 4).

There is Isaiah’s favourite name for God: ‘the Holy One of Israel.’ He is the ‘holy one,’ because God stands alone and distinct. Set apart, not only from sin, but as one who is exceptional in glory and majesty. The nations all had their gods, but they didn’t even come close to the Lord in his greatness. There is only one God in all the universe, and He is our God, the Holy One! How wrong it is then, to turn away from him—how wrong to ignore him.

So God calls his rebellious people to repent, otherwise He will judge severely. In verses 16 and 17, there are two sets of commands, for nine commands in total. The first four (v 16) have to do with putting away sin, and the next five (v 17) are about pursuing what is right.

God says to his sinful people, “Wash yourselves” (v 16). Sin always has a contaminating effect in our lives. God wanted the Israelites to be busy every day with ceremonial cleansing, not just to avoid viruses and infections, but to teach them about removing the stain of sin. So for us: we’re constantly being tainted by this world’s evil, so we must repent every day.

“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean.” The holy God seeks a holy people, when we are pure before the LORD in our thoughts and words and actions: undivided in our affection. And God in grace gives the means for cleansing through the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ.

A third command, “Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes.” A really good measure of repentance is what we do with the thing that caused us to sin in the first place. Do we keep the temptation nearby like an old friend? Hold onto it so we can go back? Or do we remove the uncleanness lest it poison us again? ‘Put it away,’ God says, ‘I don’t even want to see it.’

So then, “Cease to do evil.” If Judah will enjoy God’s protection and blessing, they need to stop sinning so wilfully. It’s a good question for us: When we have sinned, and we feel bad about it, do we truly repent, or do we simply repeat—do it again a while later? God calls us to abandon the old ways.

Turning to the second set of commands, these five speak to better things. Notice that most of these relate to how we treat our neighbour. Now, Judah was very good at sacrifice and ceremony—this chapter makes that clear: ‘well-fed cattle and the blood of bulls.’ Their church services were flawless, just like ours. But God doesn’t simply require right offerings to him; He also requires the right treatment of other people. And Judah was treating people unjustly.

We said that Isaiah began prophesying at the end of King Uzziah’s reign. And Uzziah’s reign had actually been a long and prosperous one. He was a good man who led the people faithfully, so they enjoyed God’s blessing on their crops and labours. Yet what happened in this time of wealth? The people lost their heart for the poor, even began to oppress them. In their prosperity, the rich got richer and the poor were left behind.

Isaiah describes it in verse 23: “Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; everyone loves bribes, and follows after rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, nor does the cause of the widow come before them.” Everyone was too busy making their money to think about those who were needy. Too self-absorbed to care for the helpless and troubled.

So God issues a command: “Learn to do good” (v 17). He wants his people to develop a new mind for holiness, to become skilled in doing good. This is always another mark of true repentance: With what good thing will you replace the evil that used to occupy you?

And it sounds strange, but we don’t always know what are the good things we can do. For example, if we’ve been careless with our money for years, or unscrupulous in our business practices, it can actually be hard to find more God-pleasing ways of conduct. I’ll stop cheating the government, and I won’t waste money like I used to, but what’s the alternative to take its place? Instead of simply accumulating more money, to what good purpose will I put it? I have to learn. Find people who need it more than I do. Build God’s kingdom with my money. ‘Lord, show me the good I can do.’

Another command: “Seek justice.” This must become a new pursuit for God’s people. We hear lots about social justice today, but it’s a Biblical idea. Justice is all about treating people fairly, living according to God’s will in our relationships. Am I fair toward my children? Do I treat my employees with kindness? Do I honour the commitments I made to my wife, my husband, my church? Do I live a just and honourable life?

“Rebuke the oppressor.” When a person is bullying someone else, treating them harshly, it’s too easy to look the other way: ‘Not my business—not going to step in.’ But God calls us to admonish those who mistreat others. Restrain evil, before evil takes hold.

A constant theme of God’s law is that we must care for the poor. And that command is amplified in the New Testament, if you think about Jesus’s many teachings about showing mercy. So these last two commands are to the point, “Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Help those who lack resources; take up the cause of those who need support.

The church will always have members who need care. Maybe we don’t have many who are actually ‘fatherless,’ but we do have widows, and widowers. We also have those who are seriously disabled, or who have some other struggle in their life that leaves them floundering at times. They might be all alone, friendless and searching for help. God calls us to see them, and to help them!

God’s will was clear. But the people of Judah were failing in their basic duty toward each other. And they can’t persist in their evil and expect to escape judgment. Verse 20: “But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword.” They had already experienced some of this judgment, like in verse 7, “Your cities are burned with fire.” Assyria had already flexed their muscles, sending raids into the land and leaving ruins behind. This was a preview of the horrors to come if the people would not repent. Judah couldn’t avoid judgment by more ritual or longer prayers, for God takes no pleasure in the offerings of the wicked. They had to repent, or they would perish.

God’s people always need this lesson, this warning. We live in a time when we’re told that personal freedom is the ultimate good. ‘You can do what you want, and you’re answerable to no one.’ We don’t like to think about consequences. What will come of your greed, or your regular drunkenness? Where will constant pride bring me? Where does a life without prayer end up? Sin brings misery, always—it’s not always obvious right way, but it is certain. For this is the holy God, working out his justice, showing love by trying to warn us, telling us that those who live apart from him will not inherit the kingdom of Christ.

 

3) his message of hope: But there is hope in Isaiah too, lots of hope. God invites us to ponder the possibility in verse 18, “Come now, and let us reason together.” He wants Judah to do its best thinking: If rebellion brings destruction, and sin leads to misery, then what does repentance bring? How will God reward the one who trusts in him? Even an ox or a donkey could figure this out.

God as righteous judge has been reviewing Judah’s case. And now, summing up, He reasons with the accused, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (v 18). It only took God one chapter, and He has demonstrated the guilt of his people so clearly.

Their sin is painted in vivid colours: scarlet and crimson. Scarlet is a woollen fabric, dyed bright red. And red or crimson often refers to fire which destroys, or to the blood of violence. Judah’s sin is unmistakable, obvious, glaring—we would say it’s been displayed in High Definition, crystal clear.

That’s the state of our guilt before God. Even if our own awareness of sin is weak, and we dare to regard ourselves as decent people, our sins are like scarlet. This is one of the areas where older Christians often say they have grown the most: in their knowledge of sin. The more time you spend in the Word, the more you see your failings. The better you get to know the glories of God—his holiness and excellence—the more you realize just how small you are, how little you deserve from God’s hand.

Yet God offers free and total pardon: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Still today, the hills around Jerusalem receive occasional dustings of snow in winter. And snow can quickly become dazzling white, especially in the sun. It’s a picture of perfect purity: “Wash me,” David says in Psalm 51:7, “and I will be whiter than snow.”  

And though your sins “are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Underneath the sheep’s brownish outer layer, its wool is wonderfully white. So will be our sin! Our sins will become the very opposite of what they are, from dark stained to pure white. If we repent, God is willing to forgive us, He is willing to make us holy, not for our sake, but for the sake of the promised Christ—the one Isaiah is going to tell us all about.

This is the LORD’s great mercy. As Isaiah said in verse 9, “Unless the LORD of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been made like Gomorrah.” Two ancient cities utterly crushed for their rebellion—and Jerusalem should have been crushed too, and we should have been. But God saves some for himself.

Pardon is possible, but there’s a condition. How will people respond to the glory of the LORD? What will we do when we know of his holiness, his righteousness, his grace? God has held out judgment, but now He also holds out hope: “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land” (v 19).

Will God’s people be willing? Are you willing to believe the LORD’s promise? To really trust him and commit your life to him entirely? Are we willing to be obedient? Will you submit to the clear words of the Lord when He tells us to put away our evil, learn to do good, to defend the fatherless and plead for the widow, and to act justly?

To those who love him, God promises amazing good through Jesus Christ. To those who trust and obey, God extends his great mercy. But to those who rebel, God assures them of destruction. So what is our response to the glory of the LORD? How does He move you?  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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