A contemporary commentator ends each daily program with these words, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Something easier said than done, especially in these turbulent times.
Isaiah, the greatest of Old Testament prophets, had the exact opposite message for his audience, “Let your hearts be troubled, God rejects you and your worship.”
Isaiah, the son of Amoz, was Yahweh’s principle voice to His people for well over 50 years, from approximately 740 BCE to 686 BCE. He was a contemporary of the prophets Amos, Hosea, and Micah. Little is known of his life aside from what is gleaned from his own writings. He was married and had at least two sons. He was a citizen of Judah, the southern kingdom, and, probably, a city dweller of Jerusalem. He was also from the ruling class and a distant relative of the royal family.
“The preaching of Isaiah represents the theological high-water mark of the whole Old Testament.” (Von Rad, Vol. II, p.147). All of his great prose and poetry rest on his regard for the divine law. “It is society’s attitude to this law which determines whether its relationship to God is in good order.” (ibid. p. 149). Obviously, from this first chapter, we see and know that God’s chosen people are missing the mark, are found wanting, have lost the Lord’s favor, and are deserving of judgment for their sin. The whole of Isaiah’s writing, reflected in this first chapter, speaks to sin, judgment, redemption, and restoration. All these elements reveal God’s divine plan and self-revelation of who he is, culminating in the work of His suffering servant,
Jesus Christ. This richest of prophetic books is wrapped in the fabric of the historic intrigue and chaos of 8th-7th century BCE middle east geopolitics.
1:10-15. The prophet casts a wide net as he equates the rulers of the people with history’s eponymous sinners, Sodom and Gomorrah. And the indictment hits home, doubly hard, because it is aimed at what the Jews held most dear, their style and acts of worship, the very things that separated them from the surrounding “pagans.” How sanctimonious they were as they approached the Temple. And God rejects the offerings and the offerers. Of the former, they are too many, too often, too bloody, and too wasteful. Of the latter, they are too crude and meaningless, they are hypocritical, evil, and done with bloody hands (unconfessed sins). Isaiah says God detests their insincere worship. He does not mince words.
1:16-17 Nine commands to action are ordered: a. Wash, b. Clean, c. Remove, d. Stop, e. Learn, Seek, g. Encourage, h. Defend, i. Plead. The New Testament writer, James, said, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (2:17). The Law and Grace demand action.
1:18-20. Isaiah now moves from his recitation of sin and judgment to the Lord’s call to
redemption and restoration. Yahweh is willing to coach and train, talk with and engage his
obedient people. If they listen and learn to love what the Lord loves and values: justice, right living, humble and sincere worship. Living such a life will lead to eating the best the land has to offer, resisting this life will only lead to eating the sword. (The Hebrew verb “to eat” is the same, stressing Isaiah’s seriousness.)
Chapter one was just the beginning of Isaiah’s warning and prediction of the punishment and destruction to come if the people and nation of Judah did not repent of their empty religion and return to the Lord, seeking justice and right living. Yet, he maintained hope that Yahweh would save his people through a faithful remnant that remained in the land, and, eventually, through a messianic savior who would come from the root of Jesse, the father of King David. The gradual plan and revelation of God’s salvation is first hinted at in 6:13, the stump that will bear seeds. The messianic Son is prophesied in 9:2-7, who will reign on David’s royal throne. The Spirit of God will be upon him, 11:2-9.
In the second half of his book, (The discussion of two authors should be left to scholars as opposed to preachers.) Isaiah speaks forcefully to the future reality of God’s redemption coming by the life, ministry, death and resurrection of his suffering servant, the Messiah, the man known to us as Jesus of Nazareth. Four times this redeeming servant is mentioned:
42:1-9; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12. Salvation for Judah and a light to the nations is promised.
Almost seven hundred years later, Jesus Christ, becomes the fulfillment of the vision Isaiah first described in chapter 6:1-13.
Yes, 27 centuries after the life of Isaiah, the Church still needs to hear and heed his divine message. I believe the modern real-life prophet, Dallas Willard, in his magnificent book,
The Divine Conspiracy, clearly states the importance for the Church universal to read, to hear preached, to be taught and trained in the words of Isaiah. As was true in the ancient Holy Land,
so it is true today, we live in an up-side down world. Truths, values, realities are no longer considered to be knowable or desirable. Each individual, group, institution, nation act as their own arbiters of what is right for them and their way of life. Since the Church exists amidst such a disoriented world and its confused societies, the danger is always present for it to follow the way of the world, just as ancient Judah did. The battle is constant, seek first the Kingdom of the Heavens, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength. Please engage Dr. Willards admonishments to the Church.
Ideas and themes to be explored
- Explain the difference between the Laws of the Lord to seek justice and mercy,
compared to the rules of religion which make us look good to others.
- How might we “reason together “ with the Lord?
- In what ways might the Church be flying up-side down with the world?
Contemporary angle to preaching
Might the evangelical church be going through the motions of worship, ala Judah? Make a detailed analysis of how contemporary worship can fall into the trap the audience of Isaiah fell into. Speak honestly to bands and choirs, organs and drums, smells and bells, lighting and art,
loud and soft, casual and formal, ritual and simple. What would cause the Lord to say, “They have become a burden to me”?
Bud Thoreen was raised in Southern California and has a BA from Wheaton College and an Mdiv. from Fuller Seminary. He spent nearly 10 years as an Area Director for Young Life. Retired after 37 years as a remodeling contractor, he now works for FaithQuest Missions, engaging believers in what God is doing around the world. He spent 40+ years as an elder, teacher, part-time preacher at Irvine Presbyterian Church. You can contact Bud at [email protected]
“A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian. I may repeat “do as you would be done by” till I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbor as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbor as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him. And so, as I warned you, we are driven on to something more inward—driven on from social matters to religious matters. For the longest way round is the shortest way home.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
“God’s desire for us is that we should live in him. He sends among us the Way to himself. That shows what, in his heart of hearts, god is really like—indeed, what reality is really like. In its deepest nature and meaning our universe is a community of boundless and totally competent love.”
Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, p.11
“…the renewal of worship keeps the glow and power of our true homeland an active agent in all parts of our being. To “hear and do” in the atmosphere of worship is the clearest, most obvious and natural thing imaginable.”
Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy. P.363
Aslan explains the Gospel
Watch the Lion roar.
Watch the lion die on the Stone Table.
Watch the Stone Table crack with new creation power.
Listen to the Lion roar.
Trust the Lion.
Love the Lion.
There’s our gospel: it’s the saving story of Jesus who lived, died, was buried, was raised, and was exalted at God’s right hand, and who is now roaring out the message someday the kingdom will come in all its glorious fury.