Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
Come Let Us Reason Together
by H. Leon Ben-Ezra
Text: Isaiah Chapter 1
Date: Sunday, October 11, 2009
Today, we start a series in the book of Isaiah. I want you to know that if left to my own devices I would not have chosen to preach through Isaiah. It seems to me that we have some things to work on as a church and they’re things that I don’t see Isaiah speaking to. But the Spirit made it pretty clear to me that I need to preach through Isaiah. When He says, ‘Turn right at the next intersection’, it’s not wise to turn left. Beyond that, I know that He wants to see you flourish which is what I want to see. So, as in so much else, I’m going to trust Him in this. I expect Him to use our time in Isaiah to deal with important things in our life together as a church.
Now, let me explain how I will approach this book. It wouldn’t be far off the mark to say that what we have in this book is a collection of sermons preached by Isaiah. He preached these sermons because he was sent by Jesus to speak to His Church. That might sound odd, but you’ll see why I see it this way when we get to chapter 6. I want to tell you this now because seeing it this way removes the strangeness of it all. Isaiah’s prophecy becomes something a bit more familiar: a collection of sermons preached to the Church by someone chosen for that task by Jesus. It’s just like what happens on Sunday mornings.
Let me say something about the method I’ll use as I preach through Isaiah. Each week I will read one chapter of Isaiah as the sermon text, taking each chapter in order. I will explain some of what that chapter is about and then I’ll focus on one specific thought of that chapter. There may be exceptions to this method, but this is basically how I’ll do it. This way we all get to read through Isaiah and get to understand something about the main idea of each chapter. But then we get to examine more closely one thing that Jesus said to His Church. In this we achieve several goals. We understand a little better what this book of the Bible is about. We also get to hear what Jesus had to say to His Church in Isaiah’s day which, of course, will have implications for us today. And finally, we get to see some different aspects of Jesus’ character. We will not make sufficient progress disciples unless we get to know Jesus and His Gospel better and better. Working through Isaiah will help.
Having laid all that out, now I’ll read chapter one. Since this is not some class, and there will be no final exam, don’t try to grasp it all as I read. You won’t be able to. Just listen. Let the words wash over you. Today, listen, in particular, for the tone of Jesus’ words to His ancient Church. There is much we can learn about who Jesus from this chapter in Isaiah.
[Gentle reader, if you have not yet read chapter one, now would be a good time to do that.]
Isaiah 1:1:1-31How did Jesus sound to you here? What was the tone of His words? Two emotions came through to me: anger and hurt. Listen again to this: ‘Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah!’ Jesus is angry. Equating His Church to wicked Sodom and Gomorrah is quite striking. Jesus is angry with His Church. They are being so rebellious. And it’s not as if this is a new development. Life in Israel started to go downhill from the time of Solomon’s reign – and that’s two hundred years before Isaiah’s time! Think 1809. James Madison was the President. That’s a long time ago. And during those two hundred years Jesus has called to His Church time and time and time again, but she has ignored Him. There is anger here. And yet, there is also this: ‘Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel?’ Those are real questions. And there is a plaintive tone to them. Jesus has already disciplined His wayward Church, and yet they still keep at it. Why? He has reached out to them, but they have spurned these expressions of His love. How sad! Jesus is angry. And He is hurt. And that’s why He says, ‘Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.’
- "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.
- Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me.
- The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
- Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.
- Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
- From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.
- Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.
- And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.
- Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.
- Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
- To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
- When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
- Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
- Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.
- And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
- Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
- Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
- Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
- If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land:
- But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
- How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.
- Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water:
- Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them.
- Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:
- And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:
- And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.
- Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.
- And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
- For they shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen.
- For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.
- And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them."
The people did respond to what had happened to them. They thought that being religious would smooth things over. So they made sure that they were very religious people – good church folk. But what is Jesus’ response to their religiosity? ‘Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.’ And it even gets to the point where He says, ‘And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear:’ Playing the religious card was not working.
At the end of the chapter Jesus summarizes the situation by describing His Church and that quite bluntly. ‘How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.’ As a result, the time for divine justice has come. ’Therefore saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts, the mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies:”’
But – and this is quite amazing – there is still hope. ‘Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.’ Redemption will come. But note that it comes to those who repent. And that brings us to a most familiar passage. You’ve all heard it before. ‘Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’ This is where we’ll spend the rest of our time today.
What’s going on here? First, Jesus is here appealing to His Church. This is clear in the way Isaiah originally wrote it, but you can still feel it in the English translation. ‘Come now, and let us reason together…’ Jesus invites His rebels to sit with Him to discuss the situation. Now, remember the historical context. Two hundred years of growing rebellion! Destruction is just around the corner. And yet, Jesus makes one more appeal. What is this but the surprising patience and kindness of Jesus once again showing itself. In light of what we’ve seen in the rest of the chapter – the rebellion, Jerusalem the whore, playing the religious card – destruction right now makes complete sense. But not to Jesus. ‘Come, let us reason together…’
Second thing. What is it that Jesus offers? ‘…though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’ What is this? Jesus is talking about the deep stains of sin. And what is it that is stained? Your soul. Spill some grape juice on a nice white shirt, and there’s some fancy stain remover that you use to get rid of the stain or even some oldfashioned bleach. But how do you remove the stains of a soul? How many people live with stained souls and feel it. And they try to deal with it. Some try denial. ‘I have no stains. I’m a good person. Oh sure, I have my faults here and there, but they aren’t all that bad.’ Then there are those who try to conceal a stained soul by keeping others away. They figure that people won’t see the stains if they are kept at a distance. So, no close relationships for these folk. Lots of acquaintances but no real friends. And then, of course, there are those who see their stains and are crushed by that reality. These don’t even try any tricks to deal with it. The dominant thought of their lives is, ‘I am a worthless piece of garbage. Just look at the stains!’ Three attempts at dealing with the stains. Three failures. But Jesus says, ‘Come to Me. I will cleanse your soul. And once I’m done you’ll never know that it was ever stained at all. Come and let Me remove the stains.’
Jesus appeals to His Church, and He offers deep cleansing. But there’s something else going on in this verse. Notice that He has requirements. Cleansing requires repentance. I’ve mentioned this already from the end of the chapter, but listen now to this from right before Jesus’ appeal. ‘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…’ Jesus calls for repentance. He tells His people that they must turn away from sin and toward holiness. In the verses I just read He moves from the more general, ‘cease to do evil’ to the more specific ‘plead the widow's cause’. Here’s the point. There will be no cleansing, no forgiveness, without real repentance. And that makes sense. After all, what is repentance but the flip side of faith. If someone one believes the Gospel, believes Jesus, that means that he no longer believes in doing evil and denying justice to those who need it. True faith is impossible without real repentance, and real repentance is the necessary evidence of a true faith. Jesus has conditions for His forgiveness.
But bear in mind that a clean break with some specific sin rarely occurs after just one instance of repentance. If you find yourself sinning the same sin again – that sin that you repented of already – don’t fret. Just repent of it again – as fully as you know how. You may need to repent of the same sin quite a bit, but over time you will see the change you desire. Bit by bit that sin will lose its hold on you, and holiness will bud and blossom and bear some very beautiful fruit. As often as you sin, repent. And as often as you repent you will be forgiven.
We’ve looked at Jesus’ appeal to His Church, what He offers, what He requires. There are two more things to notice and they are two sides of the same coin. First, there is Jesus’ promise. Listen again. ‘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...’ To those who take His offer to heart and call out to Him in repentance, Jesus not only offers cleansing but He promises great blessing. Where there is the obedience of faith, the repentance that He calls for, there will be blessing. Remember what the people of Isaiah’s day were seeing. ‘Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.’ As Isaiah wrote the words of our text Jerusalem was surrounded by the super-power of the day. Jerusalem was a besieged city. And everyone knew that it was just a matter of time until their enemies broke through the walls. But even in that desperate situation Jesus promised blessings of enjoying the land again, of sowing and harvesting, of feasting and celebrating. What a promise! It would have been enough if Jesus had promised that He wouldn’t punish the people. They were so far down on the negative side of the scale that just getting back to zero would have been good enough. But that wasn’t enough for Jesus. ‘If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land...’ His forgiveness is not just a matter of getting rid of the negative. It’s also about being restored to the positive.
However, I need to read the next verse, other side of this coin. ‘… but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword.’ Jesus appeals to His Church; He offers much; He ties a great promise to this offer. But the Church must choose. Will it be repentance and faith or rebellion? Jesus warns His Church, ‘If you refuse Me, if you choose to continue to rebel, that army waiting outside the city walls will overwhelm you. And their swords will bite into your flesh until you are consumed. Which will it be? Blessing or curse?’
All of this is simply Jesus keeping His word. Remember what He said when He made His covenant with His Church back in Moses’ day. Listen. ‘And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. The LORD will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me.’ Blessing or cursing. Real repentance rooted in true faith or continued rebellion. This message has not changed from Moses’ day to Isaiah’s day to our day.
Let me draw this to a close. What do we see in this part of Isaiah’s prophecy? We see Jesus, grieved by the sin of His people, angry at their rebellion. He is ready to bring justice, vengeful justice, to His people – and that has already begun. And yet – before He strikes the last and fatal blow – there is an appeal. He offers cleansing, forgiveness, blessing. The same Jesus rules over the Church today. He has the same sort of expectations, the same sort of promises and the same sort of blessings. And He has the same sort of threats. This is the Jesus whom we need to get to know better.
H. Leon Ben-Ezra is Pastor of the Faith Reformed Church of Erie Pennsylvania.