Reasoning With God
July 19, 2020
First Isaiah Chapters 1-39
As Christians, we read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament and the New Testament in light of the Old.
To fully appreciate the coming of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, as God’s gift to humanity to save us from our sins, we need to know the story of God’s journey with us from the beginning. We need to see how that journey culminated with the announcement made by the angel Gabriel with Mary, that she was going to give birth to the Savior of the world.
As we read the words of Isaiah, keep in mind that they are quoted by Jesus more than any other Old Testament writer.
Clearly, Jesus saw Isaiah’s words as having a significant place in his ministry and some of them as being written about his life.
We are faced with the same challenge, to read the words of Isaiah and understand what they meant when they were written and how they were interpreted during the days of Jesus.
We also want to know, “What do these words mean for our current journey?”
One of the beautiful things about scripture is that it is not time-bound. To use terminology from Hebrews 4:12, it is “alive and active.”
That means that what was written thousands of years ago can have fresh meaning and application for us in our time and place.
We have situations, problems, and scenarios that did not exist in the 6th century B.C.
However, God’s ancient word can give direction to our modern-day situations.
Because scripture is living and active, finding proper ways to apply God’s principles to our lives is part of “properly dividing the word of truth.”
While the scriptures don’t change, the circumstances we are faced with continuously do. If we come to the scriptures with intellectual honesty and with an open heart, the scriptures can instruct us, convict us, guide us, and direct us in all kinds of scenarios that face us in the twenty-first century that Isaiah did not meet in his day.
What is more remarkable is how much of what Isaiah faced and prophesied about is still very applicable to our time and space.
The book of Isaiah begins after the reign of King Solomon. The nation broke up into the Northern Kingdom, called Israel, and the Southern Kingdom called Judah. Jerusalem, the city of David, was located in the Southern Kingdom.
Isaiah lived in the Southern Kingdom and spent his life prophesying under Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.
The first verse of the book says that God gave him a vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
Isaiah was a prophet of judgment.
He wastes no time laying out problems with those living in Judah.
He tells them that an ox and a donkey know their master, but they don’t know theirs. Wow! That’s quite an indictment.
He makes a long list of grievances that the Lord has against the people.
Isaiah emphasized worship.
He tells them that God did not want any more of their burnt offerings because those acts of worship were meaningless. Why was that?
Their acts of worship did not lead to a change in behavior.
They brought their burnt offerings, left the temple, and then went and treated people unjustly.
Isaiah said that God had stopped listening to their prayers.
Isaiah makes a strong case that if our acts of worship do not affect how we treat people, then our acts of worship are meaningless.
Nearly every day in the news, you hear something about how people are treating each other. When we worship God, we must ask ourselves, “Does our worship change how we treat each other?”
All of us must acknowledge the ways that we wound each other and come clean before God and make changes in our attitudes and behavior.
Isaiah then writes one of the most well-known verses in the Old Testament:
“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” Isaiah 1:18 (ESV).
These are still powerful words for us today. Amid judgment, God extends his hand of grace.
Isaiah says that sin, which is missing the intended target or mark God set for us in our thoughts, speech, actions, words, attitudes, and all that we are as a person, does not have to have the last word in our lives.
Worship is important. But it means nothing to God if it is a ritual that does not result in changed behavior. You can have perfect church attendance for a decade or more, but it does not matter if your heart does not change.
Transforming into the likeness of Christ is what God desires from us. It is the intended purpose of worship.
If we are not constantly being made into the image of Jesus, we are not making any progress as a disciple.
Worship is not about what we like, or we don’t like. It’s not about the music or the times we gather.
Worship is about whether we are transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. All that we do in worship is supposed to help us see His face and His glory and become like Him.
Isaiah worked to change the hearts of the people.
The prophet hoped to see some measurable change in them.
But you can tell he wasn’t very optimistic.
Isaiah told the people that they had become prideful and arrogant. They were unwilling to acknowledge their sin to God.
One of the first steps in establishing a relationship with God is to admit that we are a sinner. We have to admit that we need God.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:3).
If you want to be blessed with the gift of God’s presence in your life and the promise of His heavenly home, you have to start by acknowledging that you need God in your life.
Isaiah embraced mystery.
Isaiah shared a vision he had that described the Lord seated on a throne, high and lifted up, with the train of His robe filling the temple. He saw angels flying around, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Almighty.” The doorposts and the thresholds shook, and the temple filled with smoke, and Isaiah said, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (6:5)
Then one of the angels flew to him with a live coal in his hand and touched his mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” (v. 7)
Wow! What a vision! Isaiah didn’t try to explain this vision. He just accepted that it was from God.
Such mysterious things may not happen to us, but most of us have some religious experience that we cannot explain or adequately put into words. But we know that God was present. We know at that moment, the Spirit of God was real. The best part is we didn’t have to explain it. All we had to do was embrace the mystery of God.
Isaiah was willing to serve.
Verse eight says, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (6:8)
Most of the time, we are more like Moses. We say, “Don’t send me. Send someone else. I’m not qualified.”
We come up with 1001 reasons why we cannot go.
Why? I think it had a lot to do with his appreciation for God taking away his guilt for the sin that he had in his life.
I believe that’s one reason the Apostle Paul served the Lord. It was out of gratitude for saving his soul, for the grace he gave to him despite how he treated believers.
So he wrote to the church at Rome: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship” (Romans 12:1).
Isaiah was also a prophet of hope.
It turns out, one of his prophecies was double-layered. His words meant more than perhaps even he was aware.
Early on in his prophetic career, Ahaz was the king.
Ahaz, unlike his father and grandfather, was not a god-fearing king. But even those kings that don’t fear God will listen to a prophet if his life is threatened. Syria and Ephraim were threatening King Ahaz and the city of Jerusalem.
So the King agreed to meet with Isaiah at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool on the road to Washerman’s Field.
Isaiah told the king that he had assurance from God that these kings would not overrun Jerusalem.
Isaiah told the king to have faith.
He said, “If you don’t stand firm in your faith you will not stand at all” (7:9).
Faith can make all the difference in how we respond to the circumstances with which we are faced.
But Ahaz was not a person of faith. That was the problem. Isaiah realized this. So he said to King Ahaz, “Ask the Lord for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” (v. 11)
But King Ahaz would not do it. It was as if he was afraid that God would actually prove His point, and then he would not have any excuse for not placing his faith in God.
There are a lot of people like that. They don’t believe but afraid that God might make believers out of them if they ask God to prove Himself.
So the king told Isaiah, “I will not ask. I will not put the Lord to the test.” (v. 12)
Isaiah then tells King Ahaz that since he would not ask for a sign that the Lord would give him a sign.
Isaiah told him that a boy would be born somewhere in Israel, and his mother would rejoice in the deliverance of his nation.
He said she would call him Immanuel, which means, “God is with us.” He said before that child would turn three years old, the king’s enemies would have met their doom.
Despite the king’s unbelief, this prophecy came true.
In addition to that prophecy being fulfilled, what Isaiah told the king has been seen as the fulfillment one of the New Testament’s most significant prophecies.
Isaiah’s words to the king in 7:14 reads, “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Isaiah wanted King Ahaz to know that God was with him and with Jerusalem.
God was with King Ahaz, just as Isaiah said he would be.
The word “virgin” in Hebrew is the word “almah.”
The word can be translated as “young woman” or “woman of marriable age.”
That’s how it’s understood in Isaiah.
It’s used in other parts of the Old Testament, and sometimes it is used to indicate that a woman that has not been with a man (virgin) and other times it’s used simply to mean that the woman is young.
The Isaiah passage doesn’t mean that a miraculous birth occurred during Isaiah’s days, only that this child was born to a very young woman.
However, the gospel writer Matthew saw something of a more prophetic nature in this verse.
Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples, used this verse in Isaiah to speak of Jesus’ virgin birth.
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-24 NIV)
Just as Isaiah embraced mystery, Matthew asks the reader to embrace mystery, too.
If you are a disciple of Jesus, you should embrace mystery, because you cannot rationally explain everything about God.
Otherwise, it ceases to be faith.
We are all rational people, and God has said that we should worship him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
We need to seek a balance in worshipping God with our heart and our mind. They complement each other.
If we are to learn from Isaiah, we need to hear his message.
He preached judgment, but he balanced that with hope.
He emphasized worship but advocated for transformation.
Instead of running from God’s call, Isaiah ran to the call of God.
For those struggling with belief, Isaiah advocated looking to God for a sign.
He challenges us to be open to mystery, even as we worship Him with our minds.
Has Isaiah spoken to you this morning?
Where does your walk with God need to be strengthened?
Do you need hope? Do you need transformation? Do you need to stop running from God? Perhaps you need to be open to a God of mystery. Let God show you who He is. Let God tell you what He wants to say to you. If God is God, will He not reveal Himself to you if He is Emanuel? w
Even Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples was a doubter. He would not believe until he put his finger in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus.
The Lord understands your lack of belief, but He invites you to be humble and take a step of faith toward Him.
Emanuel will come to you and your doubts will soon change to faith.
Photo Credit: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/tv/shows/cosmos-possible-worlds