True Worship
by Jack Wald | September 9th, 2018

Isaiah 1:10-20

Last week we began a series of sermons on the book of Isaiah. Isaiah does not open his book on a cheery note. The opening of this book paints a picture of a bloodied and bruised people, bloodied and bruised because of choices they have made, because of their sin. God’s response to the pain of these people he loves is to grieve, as Isaiah, his prophet, grieves. The pain of men and women in this world, pain that results from the bad choices they make, is not how God wants it to be.

Because God is loving and just, there is judgment but there is always hope. Verse 9, that we left off with last week, left us with the grace of God that always provides hope. (Isaiah 1:9)
Unless the Lord Almighty
had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah.

Sodom and Gomorrah were completely destroyed in the judgment of God for their sin. There were no survivors (except for Lot and his daughters who the angels led out of the city before the destruction). But as Isaiah views the coming destruction of Israel, because he sees there will be survivors, he sees hope.

Isaiah begins the text for this morning with a reminder of the judgment of God in the opening verses of chapter one.  (Isaiah 1:10)
Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!

Isaiah speaks to the rulers of Judah and Israel and calls them “rulers of Sodom.” He speaks to the people of Judah and Israel and calls them “people of Gomorrah.” The people who heard Isaiah speak out these words of prophecy could not have been pleased. Isaiah is saying that the rulers and the people of Israel and Judah deserve the judgment of God, just as the people and rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah deserved the judgment of God.

Why is Isaiah so harsh in what he is saying? It reminds me of how Jesus addressed the Pharisees. (Matthew 23:25–33)
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

Is it any wonder the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were offended? Why did Jesus speak so harshly to the Pharisees?

Jesus loved the Pharisees. God created the Pharisees, and all men and women in the world, to be in intimate relationship with himself. The Pharisees, like us, were created to be with Jesus in his eternal kingdom. Jesus spoke so strongly to the Pharisees because he loved the Pharisees. This makes me think of a joke my father used to tell.

A man sold his mule to a farmer and told the farmer the mule was very obedient. All you had to do was whisper in his ear and he would do what you wanted him to do. The farmer brought the mule back to his farm but the mule refused to move. He whispered in one ear, then the other. He yelled in one ear and then the other. Finally he gave up and called the man who had sold him the mule. The man came over, picked up a big stick, and whacked the mule across the head. Then he whispered in the mule’s ear and the mule trotted off. “He’s very obedient,” the man said, “but first you have to get his attention.”

Jesus was trying to get the attention of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. And this is what Paul did in the opening of his Romans letter. This is what Isaiah is doing in the opening of his book. He wants to get the attention of those who heard or read his words.

Isaiah begins these next ten verses in the opening chapter of his book with confrontation. God looks out and sees a broken and bloodied people. Does God have compassion for them? Yes, he grieves for their pain. But he speaks out through Isaiah in harsh terms to shake them out of their complacency and see the need for repentance.

What is the accusation God makes? What does God observe that makes him speak in such harsh terms?
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?

When you read through the Pentateuch, the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, you read chapter after chapter of detailed instructions about how to make sacrifices. There are instructions of what animals are to be sacrificed, how they are to be sacrificed, what parts are to be burnt and what parts are to be offered to the priests, what parts are to be burnt outside the temple. It goes on and on and on and when you read through these books for your devotional reading, you do a lot of skimming. The same instructions are repeated over and over again.

So why does God now say,
“The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

Is the problem that they were not offering the sacrifices in the way he instructed them? Not really. They knew the instructions. They made these sacrifices all the time and could do them in their sleep.

God asks, through Isaiah,
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?

That’s an easy question to answer, “You did. You told us in Exodus, in Leviticus, in Numbers, and in Deuteronomy. You told us to do this. We’re only doing what you told us to do.”

Why does God ask this question that has such an obvious answer? The key is the phrase “trampling of my courts.” There is something wrong in the way they are bringing their sacrifices to the Temple.

And then I think this next verse is meant to be delivered with a raised voice and power.
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!

The sacrifices of cattle, sheep, and goats were nothing more than a trampling of the courts of the Temple. The sacrifices were meaningless to God. What else did God consider to be meaningless?

Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.

The proscribed sacrifices, the proscribed festivals, prayer, the entire religious life of Israel was what God considered to be meaningless. All the things God had told them to do and that they were doing, he was now telling them were meaningless. They had become a burden to God. God was weary of them. Even when they prayed he did not listen.

God spent a lot of time telling Moses how Israel was to worship him. In great detail he laid out the way sacrifices should be made, when they should be made. In great detail he told Moses how feasts and festivals were to be observed. And now, despite the fact that people were making the sacrifices and observing the feasts and festivals, God tells them that even when they pray he will not listen. Why?

Your hands are full of blood!

To help us understand how this relates to us I want to show you a five minute video. Some of you who have been at RIC for a longer time may remember me showing this before. It is worth seeing again.

Saved but not whole

Doesn’t that hurt to watch? How painful is it to see the father in this video standing in church, praising God, after the way he has behaved all morning? How painful is it to see how much this reminds us of ourselves at times? The disconnect between the father’s church life and his personal life is enormous.

Church is too often a stage for hypocrisy to be put on display.

In the six months after I stepped down from being pastor of a church and before I began working in the business world with my father, I worked as an aide for Richard Lovelace. Richard was my church history professor at seminary and was starting an organization that worked for the renewal of the mainline denominations, including Catholic and Orthodox. I came to help him get that organization off the ground. I worked with Richard for six months until he became ill, but it was an exhilarating six months. I traveled with Richard and met a lot of Christian leaders, speakers, and writers in the process.

We were at a conference and met a woman in the hallway of the hotel. She had just delivered an inspirational message to four or five thousand people. She was a well-known, popular Christian speaker. But as we talked she was broken and depressed. She was a completely different person. She had shared an image of herself that was not in agreement with what she was experiencing at this point of her life.

A few months ago I read an autobiography of Jack Deere who was the theologian for John Wimber and the Vineyard movement. He went from conference to conference, speaking with power and conviction. He spoke at one conference after leaving his wife in the hotel room. She was suffering great emotional pain, medicating her pain with a combination of drugs and alcohol. It turned out later that she had been sexually abused as a young girl, but had never dealt with that – and she had never told Jack about it. But Jack went from conference to conference, hiding what was happening to his wife as she descended further and further into her brokenness. Not only did he hide his wife’s brokenness, he hid his own brokenness from having been physically and emotionally abused as a child. He projected to audiences a shining, brilliant image that was in stark contradiction to the reality of his life.

To his credit, as he belatedly dealt with the abuse of his own childhood, he stepped down from public ministry and is now caring full-time for his wife.

I have begun reading a book by Michael Yankoski, The Sacred Year. He describes being on the second year of a book tour, speaking at church gathering after church gathering. One Saturday morning he was at the airport, heading to a city to speak for the fourth night in a row, when a tan, very well dressed man who was also waiting to board the plane, began having an intense conversation on his phone with a woman named Nikki. Michael didn’t have to eavesdrop to hear the conversation. The man was shouting into his phone. He carried the image of a man who was confident and successful, but he was out of control emotionally as he argued with this woman. “That’s absurd Nikki! You always do this. This is just like the last time.”

When Michael boarded, this man sat across the aisle from him. He was still having this intense conversation. The stewardess told him he needed to turn off his phone for the takeoff. He ignored her. She told him again. Finally, he threw the phone down on the aisle where it shattered into pieces and he yelled at her, “There. It’s off now. Are you happy?”

Michael arrived at the conference where he was supposed to speak. The emcee welcomed people and then told them they had a treat as he introduced an internationally renowned Christian comedian – the man from the plane stepped on stage and began to deliver his routine.

Michael was repulsed and had to leave. He could not listen to this man. And then, to his dismay, Michael saw in himself the same tendency to project a false image of himself and returned home where he checked himself into a Benedictine monastery for a week of retreat. This began his sacred year.

Leaders of Sodom, people of Gomorrah, listen well to these words of Isaiah. We are very good at projecting an image of ourselves, not allowing people to see who we really are. We are very good at hiding our weaknesses, our shame. We are not so good in being authentic.

I’m reading a book by Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. He talks about this disconnect between who we are and our false self.

“At times our false self has become such a part of who we are that we don’t even realize it. The consequences – fear, self-protection, possessiveness, manipulation, self-destructive tendencies, self-promotion, self-indulgence, and a need to distinguish ourselves from others – are harder to hide.”

Jack Deere had broken relationship after broken relationship: with a church he started, with John Wimber, with another church where he was pastor. What he was repressing continually raised its ugly head and negatively affected his life.

We come to church, we greet people, we sing, we pray, and meanwhile we hide our insecurities from people. We hide from others the painful experiences of our life. We hide from others the thing that makes us cry in the night. We hide from others the things that make us nervous and anxious. We hide from others our inability to stop looking at pornography. We hide from others the ways we have given into temptation. We hide from others the pain that causes us to create defenses to protect ourselves. We hide from ourselves the hurt and pain of our past. We bury all this and walk into church with a big smile.

We hide the self we don’t want to be known but it will come out in unhealthy, destructive ways. We will overreact to situations. We will find ourselves in arguments, losing control of our emotions. We will miss the peace of Christ in our lives.

Is God weary of our religious acts when they cover over the turmoil that is raging beneath the surface? Are our actions throughout the week consistent with our religious life? Or, like the Israelites, are our hands washed in blood?

What does God, through his prophet Isaiah, call us to do?

In verses 16 &17 there are three things not to do and then five things we are to do.

Wash and make yourself clean
Take your evil deeds out of my sight
Stop doing wrong

Learn to do right
Seek justice
Defend the oppressed
Take up the cause of the fatherless
Plead the case of the widow

To wash and make yourself clean is to repent. Although the Hebrew word for repent is not used here, this is what it is describing. We are to shuv. To shuv is to turn 180?, turn away from evil and turn toward good. To shuv is not just philosophical, it is very practical. We turn away from destructive behavior and replace it with positive behavior.

So Isaiah tells us to repent, stop doing evil deeds, stop doing wrong. As followers of Jesus, we have an advantage. We have been given the Holy Spirit who leads us into awareness of our sin. The Bible tells us what behaviors offend God; the Holy Spirit convicts us when we live in a way that displeases God. It is not a problem for us to know what we are doing that we ought not to be doing. The problem is stopping. Stopping is the first step.

We turn away from evil and turn toward good. Isaiah tells us to learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, care for the fatherless and the widows. In Isaiah’s world, these were the people without power, without rights. And the problem with Isaiah’s world was that the rich and powerful were strutting to the Temple to offer sacrifices while at the same time they were exploiting others, bribing judges to get the decision they wanted, living in luxury. And in the process they were ignoring all those who were being oppressed by their own actions.

So what is the solution? To give some centimes or a few dirhams to beggars in the street? To bring some food and clothing to orphanages? To give backpacks and school supplies to children in rural schools?

If that is the solution, then we have exchanged one set of rules to follow for another set of rules to follow. We can yell at our roommates, our spouse, our children and come to church with big smiles. We can donate to charitable projects. We can do all these things while at the same time we are living a life displeasing to God. External rules to follow are not the solution.

Look at the verbs in verses 16&17. Wash, make, take, stop. These are action verbs. These are the verbs for what we have to turn away from. We put an end to what is not pleasing to God. We stop doing what displeases God. But then, as we turn and replace these negative behaviors with positive behaviors, what do you see in the verbs for the good we are to do?

Learn, seek, defend, take up, plead. These are verbs of the heart. They are not just a to-do list. They carry with them emotion. There is passion behind these verbs. These are verbs that come from the heart.

Our human nature drifts toward legalism. We like having a list of things to do because once we do them, we have accomplished our task. The Pharisees had a long list of rules to follow but Jesus criticized them because their heart lacked compassion.

Our to-do list can be: read the Bible, pray, go to work, go to church on Sunday, give money to the church, go to the occasional special event. We can do all these things and be considered to be a good church member. But we can tick off all the items on our religious to-do list without involving our heart.

The teaching of Jesus we call The Sermon of the Mount seems too idealistic, too unreal for us to obey. So we read his teaching and try to minimize what Jesus is saying. We try to reduce his teaching to something we can actually do. We try to reduce the Sermon on the Mount to a list of external behaviors to follow.

The only way his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is understandable is when we stop treating it as a long to-do list and begin seeing the need for our heart to be transformed. A transformed heart will live out the radical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Without that, attempting to live out the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount will be nothing more than one more legalistic code of behavior.

We need a transformed heart and this is what God promises through his prophet, Isaiah.
18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.

This is a promise that is being made. God will settle the matter. God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. God will make us new persons.

This is the promise that Jeremiah prophesied. (Jeremiah 31:33)
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

This is the promise Ezekiel prophesied. (Ezekiel 36:26–27)
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

This is the promise that came to fulfillment when Jesus died and rose from the dead. After he ascended, the promised Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost and now, we who are followers of Jesus, have a new heart. The Holy Spirit dwells in us, as a guarantee of our salvation.

But salvation is a process. We have a new heart, but our hearts are still divided. Our hearts are still torn between what we know we should do and what we do. This is what Paul talked about in his Romans letter. (Romans 7:15)
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

The promise of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel is still in process and we have to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as our salvation is worked out with fear and trembling.

We still have to pursue peace and justice. We still have to resist the devil. We still have to discipline our flesh. We still have to resist our human nature that wants to assert our will over obedience to God.

We have been saved, and we are being saved. But our salvation cannot be taken for granted. We have to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as we are being transformed. God will not force us to do what we do not want to do. We can still choose to walk away from God. We have to make good choices. There is and always will be a choice to be made. So Isaiah writes:
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah lays out for us the blessing of obedience and the consequence for disobedience.

Our choices are before us every day, in every situation. When we choose to submit to God and live our lives in intimate relationship with Jesus, we choose the path of life and blessing. When we resist God, for one reason or another, we have chosen our own path which will lead us someday to where we will not want to be.

Joshua spoke to Israel at the end of his life. He had led them into Canaan, the land promised to their ancestor Abraham. Now he told them what Moses had told Israel before he died. He laid out for them the consequences of choosing to follow God and the consequences of refusing to follow God. And then he said, Joshua 24:15
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua chose for himself and his household, the path to life and blessing.

You are free to choose for yourself as well, but as for me, I will serve the Lord.

Our religious acts are not evil. It is good to come to church. It is good to read our Bibles. It is good to pray. It is good to give our time and finances to the church. It is good to be in Bible studies. It is good to worship. But is what we do pleasing to God?

What is the state of your heart?

We are not perfect. We will say and do things in relationships that are not pleasing to God. We will make decisions we will later regret having made. We are not perfect. We are imperfect followers of Jesus. But, how is your heart? Are you hiding who you are from others? From yourself?

I pray for healing of the hurts and pain we carry. I pray for strength to resist the temptations that pull at us. I pray for friendships that will support and encourage us to live a life that is pleasing to God. I pray for renewed hearts.

The image we project for others to see is not who God made us to be. We are far more beautiful than that. Let who God made you to be shine in all its brightness. When we submit and go through the difficult process of finding healing for the hurt and pain in our past, then we begin to be transformed into the person God created us to be. That person will bring light and joy in church, in the home, in the workplace, in school, in every relationship and every conversation. That is who I pray we will become.