Sermon Series: Isaiah: Judgment & Hope
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 1:21-31
Sermon Title: God Restores His People
Memory Verse: Revelation 21:2
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." This manuscript is provided as a courtesy and is not intended for publication. The recorded audio/video message differs from the manuscript. Thanks for understanding.
The Judgment of Jerusalem
From the time of King David until the time of Isaiah, Jerusalem is the center of the God’s established Kingdom on earth. The Ark of the Covenant resides in the Holy Temple of God in the city of Jerusalem. Throughout all of history, Jerusalem is the most holy of all cities. It is Zion. As Christians, we sing that we are marching to Zion, the beautiful city of God. We place our hope in living in the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God in heaven.
To say, Paris is fallen is to say France is fallen. If Cairo falls, Egypt falls. The same is for Washington DC and the capital city of other nations. The prophet Isaiah proclaims the complete fallenness of Jerusalem. Of all the cities in the kingdom of Judah, it is expected Jerusalem will remain committed to God, the Holy One of Israel. Jerusalem’s condition shows the depraved condition of God’s people. The cancer of sin reaches every part of the nation.
Verses 21 and 22 describe the utter debase, spoiled, and immoral nature of the residents of Zion. No longer is God worshipped as a husband of adoration. Instead, the bride Jerusalem is a harlot giving herself over to the worship of idols. A once beautiful city filled with justice, and a place where righteousness finds a home, is now a place of corruption and unrighteous murderers.
The finer things in life are no longer fine. It used to be that living in Jerusalem meant eating out of plates and drinking from chalices of silver. The wine was the best in the world. But now, the finer things of life no longer may be found in Jerusalem. Pure silver is replaced with dross; a waste byproduct. The wine is no longer great but is diluted and lacking in quality and goodness.
It may be expected that every city has an element of corruption in the lower class. God expects rulers that He raises up to root out corruption and make the city righteous and just. But now, during the time of Isaiah, Jerusalem is corrupt at every level. The tentacles of sin reach into every social structure.
God’s design for government is that rulers set the example and lead the way to righteousness. The ruling class is to be a picture of God’s righteous judgment and rule. But, in Jerusalem, rulers are people to dread. Instead of suppressing the rebellion, they are the rebels. Instead of putting an end to thievery, the rulers are the thieves. When people do wrong, and justice is to be rendered, the rulers accept bribes. Justice is set aside and ignored. Rather than seek to do right because they are principled leaders, the rulers rather chase after rewards and line their pockets.
God intends for those in government to look after the destitute and needy. The greedy and selfish rulers ignore the poor and defenseless. The orphan has no one to look after their behalf, and the widow has no one to plead their case and look after their needs.
Isaiah proclaims that the fallen nature and sin of Judah saturates every city and every class of people.
The Glorifying Work of God
God raises up Isaiah to prophesy this ought not to be the situation. Jerusalem is to be the city of God. God’s glory is to be on display for all the nations to see and admire. Jerusalem, and the Temple with the Ark of the Covenant are to represent God’s goodness and mercy. The king and rulers are to represent God’s kingdom. God’s makes a Covenant with His people with the intent to establish a place upon the earth where His name is glorious. God’s name and His glory are defamed and insulted because of the idolatry and corruption of Jerusalem.
God will not stand by idly while Jerusalem becomes the center of wickedness and idolatry. God is going to step in and act. Isaiah declares the Lord God of hosts, ruler of all the universe, the Mighty One of Israel is going to take two courses of action. We see in this passage a further description of how God acts according to their response to reason together with the Lord (Isa. 1:18-20).
One act will be to crush those who oppose Him. God will act just as He said in verse 20. “But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” He says, “I will be relieved of My adversaries and avenge Myself on My foes.”
Simultaneous with the first course of action is the second; the sanctification of God’s people. God will act according to verses 18-19. “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool. If you consent and obey, You will eat the best of the land.” God is the redeemer. He will cleanse His people and bring them back to a life of holiness, and obedience to His sovereign rule. God declares, “I will also turn My hand against you, and will smelt away your dross as with lye and will remove all your alloy.”
By no means leave the guilty unpunished
God is glorious in the punishment of the guilty. The first course of action is to rid His holy city of adversaries, the enemies, of God. Anyone who opposes God is an adversary. God is the Lord, and all people are His servants. Not serving God is rebellion.
Servants working in the castle of the king who refuse to obey the king’s commands find themselves outside the castle. People who refuse to obey God, sinners, will be crushed and brought to an end. They are banished from the kingdom of God.
The Lord declares that they will be ashamed and embarrassed by the oaks and gardens they chose to worship. Isaiah speaks of idolatry. They are calling out to the gods of the Canaanites and other nations. The idol worship of the people of Judah has elements of brutality and immoral sensuality. Idolatry takes place tree groves, gardens, and hill-tops. We often hear the Bible call them the “high-places.” People put their trust in idols and believe they will protect them from harm and bring prosperity.
When the Lord strikes, those who trust in idols will be ashamed because the idol will not protect them. They will appear foolish because the trust in an idol of their making and not trusting in God. In that day, Isaiah says they will be like an oak whose leaf fades away and like a garden that has no water. He is not speaking of an oak tree in the autumn which still has life, but an oak which is dead. A garden that has no water has no life and no produce. Their doom is certain. No matter how strong or mighty they may be, they will not survive.
Those who oppose God are like straw and kindling. Isaiah refers to them as tinder; they are a dried-out twig. Their useless labor and effort, all they strive for in their opposition of God, will serve as the spark lighting the fire of their condemnation. There will be nothing to quench the fire. The flame of their destruction is eternal damnation. The Apostle John in the book of Revelation further establishes the prophecy of Isaiah in his prophetic vision. Isaiah and John speak of a future New Jerusalem. John is carried away in the Spirit, and he tells us what he sees:
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. (Rev 21:2)
John describes the splendor and beauty of Jerusalem with all her brilliance and of being adorned with the glory of God. He says nothing unclean shall enter within the gates. John says unquenchable hell is the fate of those who are unclean.
"But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Rev 21:8)
God’s first course of action is to rid Himself eternally of His adversaries. God will glorify Himself and rid Jerusalem of people who refuse to serve Him and obey His commands.
Restoration to righteousness
God will also glorify Himself by cleansing and restoring His people. As He rids Himself of His adversaries, He will cleanse and restore those who repent. God says He will turn His hand against them, which means He will work against their ways and discipline them until they return to obedience and worship.
God’s cleansing is spoken of in verses 16-17. He will make them clean and remove their evil deeds. God desires for them to restore righteousness, goodness, and justice. God speaks of refining them and making them pure with soap, lye, and heat. The heat is a refiner’s fire. God will turn up the heat in their life, so the dross, alloys, and impurities will rise to the surface.
The prophet Malachi also tells of God’s work in the same way as Isaiah. Malachi says God, is like a refiner's fire and a fullers' soap. (Mal 3:2)
God will act to establish Jerusalem as a place of righteousness. No longer will the people be harlots chasing after other gods, but they will be faithful to the Holy One of Israel.
What does the cleansing soap and fire from the hand of God look like? We know from history the soap and fire are not literal soap or fire. God cleanses His people by allowing the prominent citizens, such as the future prophet Daniel, to become captive by the Babylonians. The few left in Jerusalem are wracked by famine. The captives find that their nation and land they once loved is taken away. They are stripped of their dignity and humbled. They lose their homes and their possessions. Gone are the good jobs as they become captured slaves. The live in different homes, in a land with a different language, and they are subject to a pagan government. God removes everything in their life, so they learn not to trust their idols but to trust Him.
The historical books of the Bible reveal that God’s cleansing results in a resurgence of worship and adherence to the Mosaic Covenant. Their love for God deepens, and they forsake their idols. We see this in the book of Nehemiah. God’s people return to Jerusalem, rebuild the city, stop the oppression of the poor, and they gather together as a people to hear Ezra read the word of the Lord. As the Word is spoken, Ezra blesses the LORD the great God and all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" while lifting up their hands. Together, they bow low and worship the LORD with their faces to the ground. (Neh. 8:6)
God still hates idolatry
There are two points from this text we need to apply. The first is that we are all susceptible to idol worship and the second is that God is acting to cleanse us and restore us to the rightful place of worship, holiness, and obedience.
1-We are idolaters
The concept of idol worship is foreign to most of us. We don’t have little statues of idolatry we place in gardens or among groves of trees. However, our human heart is still an idol factory.
Idolatry takes a different form for us. Paul told the Colossians that idolatry as immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (Col. 3:5-6). This means anytime we are greedy, impure, immoral, or have evil desires we are idolaters.
John Piper says an idol, “… is the thing loved or the person loved more than God, wanted more than God, desired more than God, treasured more than God, enjoyed more than God.”
Our idols are those things we turn to that we think will please our self. Idols are a false god, promising happiness, security, pleasure and joy, but they are unable to carry through on their promise. Idols are those things in life which stand in the way of us finding satisfaction in God. Idols keep us from worshiping God as the source of good and from obeying Him as our Lord and Master.
To help us understand idolatry, let’s look again at the sins of those who are rulers in Jerusalem (verse 23).
Your rulers are rebels They rebel against authority because they want their own way. They think their way will lead to fulfilment of self. and companions of thieves; People are thieves of selfishness and covetousness. They don’t trust God’s way of honest labor. everyone loves a bribe and chases after rewards. Rulers take bribes and rewards because they have more interest in lining their pockets than making sure there is justice. They don’t believe God’s way is good and right. They do not defend the orphan, nor does the widow's plea come before them. They do not care about helping the defenseless because it is a huge inconvenience and the poor do not give them a return on their investment. There is no self-fulfillment in helping widows or taking care of orphans.
We don’t have to have little statues to be idolaters. All it takes to be an idolater is sin and unbelief Idolatry says, ignore God, take care of number one. Idolatry is not loving God nor loving others.
We need not look back to the time before we are a Christian to see our idolatry. We all have areas of our life where God is not first.
I have firsthand experience with idolatry.
I had had times when my career became an idol. I put pursuing my career over my family and the things of God.
Sometimes, I become the idol. I fight for my rights because I was standing in line first. My greed for getting customer service made me more important than others. I have been angry at people for interrupting my “me time.” There are times I didn’t want to go out on a cold rainy evening to help a brother or sister in need. I have overlooked injustice and the needs of the poor because getting involved in helping is messy and time-consuming. I have a keen eye for convenience and comfort.
In my earlier years of being a Christian, I withheld giving to the church because I didn’t trust God to provide and I wanted to spend the money on myself.
Sometimes, my children have been my idols. I would show them off like trophies and take credit for their success rather than give glory to God.
Sometimes, sports teams and entertainment are an idol. There are times I wanted a Corvette so that I might look cool. I’ve lost count of the houses I have coveted.
Before you all start throwing stones at me because of my idolatry, be sure you examine yourself. Let those of you who are innocent throw the first stone.
We need to be willing to examine our lives and allow God to root out those things which take us away from Him and cause us to disobey our Lord.
Is getting likes on Facebook an idol? Is your phone with its constant dinging of notifications an idol?
I know people well enough that it is easy to name off specific movies or book series, musical groups, holiday traditions, constitutional rights, social media, or other subjects which will guarantee a strong reaction if they are pointed out as being an idol.
We are like Gollum, holding onto the ring. We need to let go of the ring. If the suggestion to rid ourselves of these things we love so much raises the hair up on the back of our neck, chances are these things are an idol. If we want something bad enough that we are willing to sin to get it, it is an idol.
We fight against idolatry every day. We wrestle against principalities and powers who hate God and want us to turn our eyes from Him. The enemy will continually tempt us with immorality, impurities, and greed. All around us hundreds of idols sing their siren song and try to vie for our attention. We need to stand strong.
We need to allow the Holy Spirit to convict us of the sin of idolatry.
God Will Sanctify Us
God will not stand by idly while people who call themselves Christian, take on the name of His Beloved Son, and drag His name through the mud of wickedness and idolatry. We may not say on the one hand we are a Christian while, on the other hand, we live as sons and daughters of disobedience. We may not say we are the bride of Christ while we get in bed with worldliness, covetousness, greed, evil desires, and immorality.
I am willing to stand here and confess that I am susceptible and guilty of idolatry because I know there is hope for me. And, because I know there is hope for me, I have confidence in knowing there is hope for you. Our Redeemer lives.
Our Father in Heaven loves us. There is great comfort in knowing that despite our failures, He is working to cleanse us and make us holy and willing, fruitful servants. God took the people of Judah and allowed them to become captive in Babylon in order to cleanse them from idolatry.
It is important for us to know how He cleanses us. In the time of my life when my career was an idol, maybe being fired from my job was God’s way of cleansing. Maybe not. In the time of my life when my house was an idol, we had a house fire. Maybe the fire was sanctifying me. Maybe not. In the time of my life when my children became an idol, one of my children turned away from my love. Maybe God was sanctifying me. Maybe not. How am I to interpret open heart surgery to repair a valve?
God’s cleansing work takes many forms. Having a house fire or losing a child doesn’t always mean that God is doing a cleansing work of sanctification. We only need to look at the life of Job to know that God’s work is mysterious. Job is righteous, and God takes away his children, livelihood, and his health. We need to be careful in being dogmatic in interpreting the events of our life.
We do not have the mind of God. God’s ways are above our ways, and His thoughts are above our thoughts. We may not look at someone and say they have cancer because they have too many idols. We wouldn’t say that to Job. Maybe He sends cancer, so we may witness how a godly person handles adversity and says, “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Sometimes, God blesses us to cleanse us of our idols. God sent me a wife to cleanse me of selfishness. God may send children to help parents understand how to care for others.
What we may know for certain is that God will cleanse us and sanctify us. God hates idolatry. We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love others. God cleanses the people of Judah, and God is cleansing His children today. The main teaching of this passage is that we need to repent from idolatry and yield to God’s cleansing work of sanctification and restoration.