Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 182

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 182

This morning we begin to take a look at the final chapter of the book of Isaiah, titled in my Bible as "Judgment And Hope". All through the book of Isaiah we have seen the sharp contrast between the godly and the ungodly, the sincere worshiper and the hypocrite. Isaiah is a representative of those in the land who remain faithful to the Lord, whose offerings come from a broken and contrite spirit, and who are willing to recognize and confess their own sins and the sins of the nation. The prophet knows there will be judgment for waywardness and idolatry but he also knows there is mercy and restoration freely available to all who confess and repent.

The Lord has revealed to Isaiah that the captivity in Babylon will be temporary. God has called on the name of a man not yet born (King Cyrus of Persia) to let His people go. They will return to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls and the temple. But when Solomon's temple stood in their midst in Isaiah's day, they still wandered far from God, so the Lord wants to make certain they understand they are not made right with Him simply because they will again be able to observe the Sabbath and bring the required offerings and sacrifices to the temple. As Isaiah has so plainly told us, in his times many of his people were still outwardly observing the Sabbath and were still bringing offerings and sacrifices, but they were not doing these things from the heart. Just as it's possible in our day for someone to attend church every Sunday even if they do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the people of Isaiah's day were going through the motions without having any desire to know the Lord. 

The people believed that because God's temple was in their midst, He would not allow the nation to fall, as if God somehow depended and relied on the temple and the offerings and sacrifices presented there. God never asked for a temple, much less one plated in gold. The only meeting place He ever asked for was the tent the children of Israel used during the wilderness years. He knew if the temple became too glorious, He would become less glorious in the eyes of His people. He knew man would take his eyes off God and become caught up in ceremony and ritual and legalism. So now the Lord reminds them who He is. They are not to worship the work of their own hands but are to worship the One who created all things. "This is what the Lord says: 'Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where is the house you will build for Me? Where will My resting place be? Has not My hand made all these things, and so they came into being?' declares the Lord." (Isaiah 66:1-2a)

God created the heavens and the earth, the entire universe and everything in it, along with anything that might exist outside the universe that we aren't even aware of. How then can any house contain Him? If He created all things, then we can do nothing but conclude that He is greater than all things. The worst mistake we could make is to reduce Him down to our level, to think we can stuff Him in a box to be brought out only when we need Him, that we can visit His house of worship on the Sabbath with cold hearts and dirty hands and still have our worship rituals be acceptable in His eyes. God, the Maker of man, understands man. He knows our tendency to focus on material things rather than spiritual things and to value the outward appearance more than the inward conditions. As the Apostle John said of the Lord Jesus Christ, "Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs He was performing and believed in His name. But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for He knew what was in each person." (John 2:23-25) Jesus knew some of the people were following Him for the wrong reasons, for what He could do for them and because He had multiplied a few loaves of bread to feed thousands. They were looking upon Him with worldly eyes, not spiritual eyes. This is the trap God doesn't want His people to fall into when they return to the land. 

The temple is not a sign they are right with God; it's simply a sign that God is willing to lower Himself to meet with man. But man must meet Him sincerely and wholeheartedly. God is looking for those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. "These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at My word." (Isaiah 66:2b) Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector to a group of people who "were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else". (Luke 18:1) The parable involved two men who went up to the temple on the same day, at the same time, but with vastly different attitudes. The Pharisee went to brag on himself, to remind the Lord of all his works (which he believed justified him), and to be seen and heard of his fellow citizens. In comparison to the honor given to Pharisees in the land, tax collectors were despised. These were men who had, in the nation's opinion, gone over to the enemy by working for Rome. They did not just collect land and income taxes, but had the blessing of the Roman government to set up tax tables anywhere and at any time they pleased. A particularly aggravating habit of theirs was to set up tables in the middle of roadways, forcing the citizens of Israel to pay tolls in order to pass by. Rome also did not care whether these tax collectors fleeced the citizens for more than they owed. As long as Rome got its required amount, a tax collector could keep any extra he was able to squeeze out. Obviously, this led a great number of men into the sins of greed and covetousness, and at least one tax collector recognized and repented of these sins. As he stood in the temple at the same time as the self-righteous Pharisee, in his awareness of his failures he dared not even lift his eyes to heaven, "but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'" (Luke 18:13) In conclusion the Lord Jesus said to the Pharisees in His audience, "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Luke 18:14) 

The Lord loathed the offerings and sacrifices brought in a hypocritical spirit. "But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person, and whoever offers a lamb is like one who breaks a dog's neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig's blood, and whoever burns memorial incense is like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and they delight in their abominations; so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and will bring on them what they dread. For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in My sight and chose what displeases Me." (Isaiah 66:3-4) The Lord says, "Those of you whose hearts are not right with Me....you are bringing the offerings the law says you should bring, but in your hearts there is hatred and murder, uncleanness and idolatry." Their offerings are defiled because their hearts are defiled for, as Jesus said, it's not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what comes out. (Matthew 15:11) 

Verses 3 and 4 are why the word "Judgment" is included in title of Chapter 66. A holy God must judge unholiness. But the word "Hope" is included in the title too, hope for those who are humble and contrite in spirit and tremble at the word of God. There is hope for men and women who sincerely pray, "God, have mercy on me a sinner," and to these in tomorrow's passage the Lord promises peace like a river.

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