Isaiah Turn Around
IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO TURN THIS THING AROUND
By Mark E. Hardgrove, Ph.D., D.Min.
TEXT: Isaiah 1:2-28, Read vv. 16-19
16 "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.
18 "Come now, and 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 be as wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; 20 But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword"; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Have you ever started on a trip and then began to regret that you started it? I remember one hot July day in West Virginia when I decided to walk to a little country store to buy some soda-pop. After about 4 miles with my bare feet burning on the hot pavement I began to regret my decision to start that 6 mile walk to the little country store. But I was closer to the store and that ice-cold soda-pop than I was to home. I thought to myself, I’ve come too far to turn back now, so I just kept pressing on. Unfortunately, when I got there the store was closed and I had to walk the 6 miles back home without my soda-pop. The truth is that I could have turned back at any point in the walk. The decision was always mine to make.
I’ve met people who feel like they’ve gone too far in sin to turn back now, but it is never too late to turn back. The parable of the Prodigal Son shows us that God is always willing to receive those who will repent and return to Him. In fact, the judgment of God is always salvific in nature. God doesn’t punish because He’s sadistic, but judgment, like chastising, is one means by which God gets our attention and seeks to illicit our repentance.
Looking at America today it sometimes seems like we have come too far to turn back. It seems like the world is on the brink and all of civilization is hanging in the balance. The moral decline of the nation seems unstoppable. With more and more rights and privileges being given to radical groups and religions that stand for things that are antithetical to everything Jesus Christ stood for, and with true Christianity continually being marginalized in the courts, in the schools, in the media, and in society, one wonders if we have reached the point of no return, if America is doomed and destined for destruction for her sins, or if we can still turn this thing around.
Well, I’m here to tell you that it is not too late to turn this thing around. History has shown us that after 400 years of silence following the last Old Testament prophet Malachi, God spoke again through the Word made flesh, in Jesus Christ. After the Middle Ages, often referred to as the Dark Ages because they were filled with mysticism and the occult, there was the Reformation. After the enlightenment and the introduction of Darwinian evolution, there was the Great Awakening. So God’s Word and world history prove that it often gets the darkest just before the dawn and it is not too late to turn this thing around.
I) THE WORD OF INDICTMENT
Look at with me at Isaiah chapter 1. The chapter opens by identifying the prophet in verse 1 and declaring, in verse 2, that the words written in this prophecy are from the Lord. Heaven and earth are called to stand as witnesses to the indictment of God against Judah. The scenario is set up in the metaphor of a courtroom as God states the case against His own people. God says, in verses 2 and 3, "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me; the ox knows its owner and the donkey its master's crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider."
God calls them His children, whom He has brought up. He calls them His people, and yet His children, His people, have rebelled against Him and they do not even consider how their actions impact God or how their actions have resulted in their own judgment. He says, even an ox and a donkey know their owner. Two of the dumbest and most stubborn animals on the farm can recognize and respond to their owner, but Judah had reached a point where they no longer recognize the hand of God at work in their world or acknowledge the authority of God over their lives.
America is right there today. We recite in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are “one nation under God. We have “In God we Trust” written on our currency. The Declaration of Independence opens in the very first sentence with an appeal to God, and continues by stating in the second sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Yet with all this, America is at a place where she no longer acknowledges God’s authority and fails to recognize the hand of God as He is bringing us to accountability.
God goes on to describe Judah in verse 4 as a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters!” He says that “they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward.” These are His people, His children, who are filled with iniquity, evil, and corruption. These are His children who have provoked Him to move in judgment against them. These are His people who have rebelled against their God, have turned away, and are headed in the wrong direction.
At this time in their history, their sister nation Israel and their capital city Samaria had been sacked by the Assyrians. In addition, much of Judea and the region of Galilee had fallen to Assyria. Jerusalem alone remained as fortress against the Assyrians, who withdrew before taking the city. It would be more than 120 years later before Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonian Empire. During Isaiah’s ministry Jerusalem still stands like a booth in a vineyard, a hut in a cucumber garden—a fortress among the ruins. God indicates that He has chastised the nation for their rebellion, and He asks them in verse 5: “Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick and the whole heart faints.” The wounds and bruises they bear are the result of their rebellion and God’s judgment for turning away from Him. They have the open wounds of their judgment and no one is there to bandage them or apply a soothing ointment upon their sores. Yet they refuse to repent and return to the Lord.
As they stand on the walls of the city and look down over the countryside beyond Jerusalem, they could see the condition of their country. God says that their “country is desolate”, their “cities are burned with fire; strangers devour [their] land” and there is nothing they can do but watch helplessly. Yet, even in this, God’s grace is acknowledged by the prophet who says in verse 9, “Unless the Lord of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been made like Gomorrah.”
With all that is going on in America, we can be thankful that there are still those who believe in the Word of God and who have not bowed a knee to Baal. Thank God there is still a remnant of believers who are still crying out to God, who are standing in the gap and making up a hedge before God for the land that He should not destroy it.
II) THE INDECENT WORSHIP
In verse 10 we are again called to hear the word of the Lord. This word is still directed at Judah, and in particular to the rulers and leaders in Judah. Judah is called “Sodom” and “Gomorrah” as God compares Judah—His children, His people—to two of the most infamous cities in biblical history. These were two cities defined by their sinfulness, by homosexuality, and by rebellion, and they were completely destroyed by God in an act of judgment. God begins by referring to Judah with these insulting names, and then God declares that the people of Jerusalem have insulted Him with their worship.
One might wonder how we could possibly insult God by worshipping Him. He says that they bring sacrifices to Him (presumably sin sacrifices) but they do not turn from their sins. God says: “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. 12 When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? 13 Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies — I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. 14 Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble 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 hear. Your hands are full of blood.”
They presume to lift up hands that bear the blood of injustice and iniquity. They go through the motions of worship, but their heart is far from God. God is telling them, and telling us, that it isn’t the ritual of worship that pleases God, but it is a right relationship that makes worship acceptable to God and opens His eyes and ears to our prayers.
The apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:8, “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” There is more to worship than going through the motions and then going home untouched, unmoved, and unchanged. Real worship is transformational. People will take note that we have been with Jesus when our worship is real. That kind of worship honors and pleases God, but trying to fake it and putting on a façade of worship while we continue to live in sin and engage in ungodly practices will not bring God’s pleasure or favor. In fact, that type of worship will bring a swift rebuke and the sting of chastisement.
We live in a country where people continue to flock to churches, but we now have churches that are led by openly gay pastors and parishioners who thumb their nose at the Word of God and the scriptures that prohibit such sinful acts. People come to church and then go home to a relationship with someone that is not their husband or wife. We have live during a time in history that is not unlike that of Judah as they offended God with their religious acts and hypocrisy rather than honoring God with righteousness and godliness.
As we read the indictment of God against Judah, we cannot help but see the parallels to our nation. Throughout the prophetic writings one of the things that God repeatedly addresses is how the nation treated the most vulnerable among them. The rulers and the leaders ignored justice for all and routinely took advantage of the poor, the foreigners among them, the fatherless, and the widows. The blood on the hands of Judah came from their abusive treatment of the weakest and most vulnerable of society. This is also where America is headed as we try to balance budgets on the backs of poor even as we marginalize and demonize those who try to escape abject poverty in the arms of Lady Liberty.
III) THE INSTRUCTION TO TURN AROUND
Again, one wonders, had Judah gone too far to turn back? Was there any hope? What about America? Have we reached the point of no return? To be honest, it sometimes looks as though we have, but as I said earlier, history reveals that with God all things are possible and it is never too late to return to God.
After the indictment that God has spoken over Judah, and after the account of God’s indignation with their worship, God is willing to bring restoration. Look at verses 16 and 17 as God lays out the plan in plain and unambiguous language:
16 "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.
That’s pretty straightforward, and the same thing that would bring Judah back into the realm of God’s favor, is the same thing that will bring America back, and is the same thing that will bring any of us back into the right relationship with God. It’s not too late to turn back now.
God continues in verse 18 calling Judah to reason with Him. A right relationship with God is reasonable; it is the opposite of unreasonable irrational rebellion against God. It is reasonable that a child should be grateful for the food, clothes, and shelter that a parent provides. It is unreasonable that a child would ungrateful. Likewise it is reasonable that the people of God would return to God and in true repentance, seeking restoration. God says that if we will come back to Him, “18 . . . Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” It’s never too late to turn back to God and let the cleansing stream from Calvary wash away every guilty stain.
But this is not something that God will force upon us. God may bring judgment upon America, as He did with Judah and Israel, and it may get to the place where we cry out for the rocks and the hills to fall on us, but even with all that, God still leaves the choice and the decision of repentance with us. Look at verse 19. God said, “19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” That’s reasonable. That’s what we should do. God said in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
God said in Deuteronomy 30:19-20
19 I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; 20 that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them."
It’s never too late to turn around, but God will not take the steering wheel out of our hands. He said, “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” But God continues in verse 20 with the other side of that proposal. He says, “‘But if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword’; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” The reasonable thing for Judah to do was to repent, turn back to God, live in obedience, and begin to walk in God’s blessings rather in God’s judgments. In fact, this is the reasonable thing for America, and for everyone—man, woman, boy or girl. What is unreasonable is to continue to live in sin and think that God will bless us just because we came to church and gave in the offering. What is unreasonable is to think that America will experience God’s blessing while we are walking away from Him, rather than returning to Him.
There may be someone here today who has said, “It’s too late now. There’s no hope now.” Maybe you are not where you ought to be with the Lord and the devil has convinced you that there’s no use in trying to turn things around. God sent me here today to tell someone that it’s not too late to turn around. If you will heed His voice today, if you will respond to His word, then God can turn your life around and you can begin to walk in God’s favor rather than God’s judgment. You can begin to walk in blessing rather than cursing, and walk in life and instead of death.
The devil is a liar. It’s not too late for that marriage. It’s not too late for that child. It’s not too late for that ministry. It’s not too late to repent and return to the Lord so that you can begin to see the hand of God move in your favor and not in chastisement in your life.
And friends, it’s not too late for America. There’s still time to repent and return to God. There’s still time for a revival what will restore righteousness in our country. But for that to happen, God’s people are going to have to lead the turnaround. God’s people are going to have to humble themselves, and pray, and seek His face. God’s people, who are called by His name, are going to have to be the ones who lead and not follow the world. It’s us, the church, who are going to have to get our house in order and begin to shine the light in the darkness. It’s late in the game, to be sure. The night is far spent and the day of the Lord is at hand, but until that trumpet sounds and Jesus returns for His church, it’s not too late to turn around and come back to the Father’s House.