How Jesus Takes Miserable Worshipers
and Makes Us Acceptable to God
(Isaiah 1:10-15 ESV)
10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! 11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 12 “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? 13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations– I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
The book of Isaiah begins with a terrible indictment of the disobedience of the children of Israel. The prophet Isaiah was called to bring the word of the Lord to his recalcitrant people. If you look at the opening verses of Isaiah 1 you will note the Lord’s frustration with Israel. Israel has been reared as a child of God but unlike the ox or the donkey, Israel does not know its Master.
Isaiah had the unenviable task of bringing God’s judgment to Israel (he would also bring the sweet gospel as well). God tells Isaiah that he will not be heard or understood. We often read the beginning of Isaiah 6 and we get lost in the wonder of Isaiah’s heavenly throne room summons. And we rightly fall down on our own knees in wonder and worship. But also notice that God tells Isaiah that he will have a ministry that will involve frustration (Isaiah 6:9-13).
But back here in Isaiah 1 we see the true colors of Israelite disobedience. Among other things it involved false worship. That is, even though the children of Israel seemed to worship the Lord according to his will as laid out in the law of Moses, it was not found acceptable in God’s sight.
Why so? Some have suggested that what we find here is a contradiction in the Old Testament. While certain strands of the OT stress legal concerns others stress ethics. Isaiah, prophet that he was, stressed the ethical nature of OT religion rather than a concern for laws. This seems to miss the point. It is not the case that one portion of the OT conflicts with another (Pentateuch vs the Prophets). On the contrary, God’s point here, spoken through his mouthpiece Isaiah, is that God demands worshipers who worship with integrity. It seems as though the Israelites thought they could live one way during the week and another way on the Sabbath. Perhaps they thought they could play with honest weights and measures and mistreat widows and orphans and still come before the Lord with integrity. They would go through the motions in the Temple but their hearts were not in it. Isaiah is not criticizing formal worship. He is condemning hypocritical worship.
If it is true that only those with clean hands and pure hearts can ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in his presence (Psalm 24:3-4) who in Israel and who among us can do it? None of us is able. The truth of the matter is that only because of he who is the true worshiper (Psalm 27, et al) can we even contemplate coming into God’s presence at all without fear of destruction. You see, Old Testament laws only brought about communion between a holy God and sinful people because they pointed forward to Jesus Christ and his sinless life and sacrificial death (Hebrews 9). But now that Christ, our high priest and worship leader has appeared, we can enter into God’s presence with confidence (Hebrews 10:19ff). We enter not with the confidence of the hypocrite that Isaiah rightly condemns but with the gracious confidence that we are clothed in the righteous robes of Christ.
Considered in and of ourselves we are no different than the hypocritical Israelites who dared enter into the worship of God without considering divine expectations. The point is not that we can now enter into God’s presence because we are somehow free of the kind of sin that beset ancient Israel. On the contrary we enter into God’s presence the same way godly Israelites did. We enter by the blood of Jesus Christ. Israelites entered anticipating the Coming One by the recurring sacrifices. We enter into God’s presence knowing that the perfect once for all sacrifice has already been offered on our behalf and in that light our lives can be reasonable sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2) rather than detestable abominations.
Left to ourselves we are in the same boat as the Israelites condemned by the Lord by the mouth of Isaiah. In Christ we can worship with sincerity. May Jesus Christ be praised!