Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 78

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 78

We are in a chapter called "Woe To David's City", and although Isaiah refers to the city as "Ariel" (a word which means "altar hearth"), we know he is speaking of Jerusalem. The Lord has been telling the people they have forsaken Him and are simply going about the rituals of religion. They have lost the relationship. They are bringing sacrifices and saying and doing all the right things, but their hearts are far from God.

I grew up in the church and I knew how to talk the talk. I knew how to make it look like I was walking the walk as well, but it was a charade. Until I was twenty-two the Bible was a book that I believed in my mind but I didn't feel with my heart. It's likely I fooled a lot of people because I knew exactly what to say and do, but my heart was far from God. My neighbors and co-workers might not have known it, but God knew it. Jerusalem's neighbors probably viewed her citizens as very religious, as people who loved and served their God, but appearances were deceiving. The temple was busy, offerings were being made, sacrifices were being brought, but the hearts of the people had strayed far from the Lord. And He knew it.

"Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, 'Who sees us? Who will know?'" (Isaiah 29:15) They were living the double life I spoke of living in the paragraph above. Outwardly they looked good. They were obeying the religious laws and doing all the right things on the outside, as if God could only see them when they came to the temple. They forgot that God sees all the way to the heart and that He can read everything in our minds. The Lord Jesus criticized this kind of hypocrisy and He especially criticized it in the nation's religious leaders. "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. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and the outside will also be clean. 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. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matthew 23:25-28) 

Cleanliness begins on the inside. We can make ourselves look good on the outside and say and do all the right things, but if our hearts aren't right with the Lord, He says we are hypocrites. In the days before I had a relationship with Christ, I could sit in a church and look just like everybody else. I could quote Scripture and I could probably even have led a halfway decent prayer if called upon. But I was like a cup that's clean on the outside and filthy on the inside. I was like a whitewashed tomb, beautifully adorned on the outside but decaying on the inside. In Jesus' day the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were outwardly following all the rules. In fact, since the giving of the ten commandments, the religious leaders had developed over six hundred rules for men and women to follow. I don't see how it was even possible to remember them all, but many of the leaders spent their entire lives studying these laws and condemning those who failed to keep them all. They were missing the most important part which is that God offers us a relationship, not a rule book. 

If we first establish the relationship (cleaning the inside of the cup) then the right kind of living will automatically follow (cleaning the outside of the cup). We won't achieve perfection as long as we live in these frail bodies, but if the inside is clean we will naturally want to live in a way that honors our Lord. We will stumble from time to time, but because we are walking in step with our Savior, we know to reach up for His hand. We won't want anything to cause a distance between us and Him. The Pharisees, who were obsessed with ritual baths and hand washings and making the outside look good, once criticized Jesus and His disciples for eating with unwashed hands. Jesus replied, "What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them." (Matthew 15:11) Traveling along the dusty roads of Judea, Jesus and His disciples didn't always have the opportunity to follow the written rules of outward cleanliness, but what mattered was that they were clean on the inside.

The Lord points out the foolishness of believing that He who created the eye cannot see and that He who created the ear cannot hear. Nothing is hidden from Him. "You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'You did not make me'? Can the pot say to the potter, 'You know nothing?'" (Isaiah 29:16) 

There is a quote that is attributed to Abraham Lincoln about being able to fool our fellow man. "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." I would like to add to that, "You can fool God none of the time." The people of Isaiah's day had fooled their neighbors. They had even fooled themselves. But they had not fooled God. He knew the inside of the cup was dirty and He wanted to make it clean. This is why He sent prophets again and again to reason with the people. He offered them opportunity after opportunity to repent and when this did not work, He brought discipline in the form of a foreign invader. Sitting captive in a strange land, the people would have time to think about where they went wrong. 

I see myself in the nation of Israel. I knew all the rules and I had the word of God and I had the religious training. On the outside I was able to behave like a devout Christian. I fooled others around me and probably even fooled myself. But I didn't fool God. Time and again He put me in situations where I was daily in contact with those who really did walk the walk, but I remained stubborn at heart. I pretended to feel the same way my co-workers felt about the Lord, but it was a charade. He gave me opportunity after opportunity to repent but I hardened my heart. So finally He brought discipline by letting me paint myself into a corner I couldn't get out of without divine help. That's when I had time to think about where I went wrong. That's when I accepted His offer to make me clean on the inside. 

Below is a song about the only thing that makes us clean.

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