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Sermon Series: Isaiah: Judgment & Hope Scripture Reading: Isaiah 1:10-17 Sermon Title: Pure Religion Sermon Text: Isaiah 1:10-17 Memory Verse: James 1:27 MAIN IDEA: Worship God with pure religion by ceasing to do evil and learning to do good. 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.
Hear the word of the Lord Isaiah pronounces harsh judgment on God’s people. The people of Judah didn’t think they were evil. They likely believe themselves to be pretty good, especially when they compare themselves to the people of the Northern Kingdom and the other nations. The people of the Northern Kingdom worship cows and the other nations are completely evil and do not worship the One True God.
Like the people of Judah, we will always find people to compare ourselves to that will make us look good. We will say things like, “I haven’t committed murder.” Or, “I am not like Hitler.” We might look compare ourselves to people at work or, perhaps, even people in the church to find someone who is not quite as holy. Our sinful heart will always trick us into thinking we are less sinful than we think. The problem is that mankind is not the standard of measurement. God is the standard of what is holy and what is evil.
The temptation is to read Isaiah and think we are not as bad as the people of Judah. What if we are wrong? What if God sees us like He sees the people of Judah? The people of Judah think they are good, and they are not. If the shoe fits, we need to wear it.
Let’s not sit back and think everything is good in Plainfield. We are far from being who God wants us to be. We need to listen carefully and hear the word of the Lord.
Last week we looked at verses, 1-9. In that section, Isaiah tells the people the only reason they exist is because of God’s mercy. God’s curse is upon them because they rebel against Him. The people are stricken in their bodies, and their land is desolate. Isaiah says, it is because the Lord of hosts is merciful that God does not pour out His wrath on them as He did in Sodom and Gomorrah (Is. 1:9).
God is indeed merciful. God spares them even though they are as sinful as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaiah addresses the people of Judah as rulers of Sodom and people of Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10).
The words of Isaiah are a wake-up call to the people of Judah. There may not be a more severe indictment for those who call themselves the people of God. In God’s eyes, they live just like a people He destroyed because of their vast sin.
Everyone is familiar with God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. The bible says:
Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the LORD (Gen. 13:13).
Because of their great sins, the “LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire” out of heaven (Gen. 19:24)
Multiple books of the Bible tell us of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. They are guilty of committing adultery and walking in falsehood. People who do evil are not restrained. The wicked don’t feel out of place, but welcome and emboldened. Sin has free reign, and no one turns back from their wickedness (Jer. 23:14). The leading sins of Sodom are pride, the lust of the flesh, and a lack of showing mercy to the less fortunate in their midst; such as widows and orphans (Ez. 6:49). The people indulge in gross immorality and go after strange flesh.
God reduces the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes as message to all people living ungodly lives (Jude 1:6-7; 2 Peter 2:6). The people of Judah, by God’s grace, are being warned.
We are to look upon the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah and know that God will not leave the guilty unpunished. Just as the people of Judah are to hear the word of the Lord, we also are to hear the word of the Lord. This passage is a somber wake-up call to all who dare to take sin lightly. God is holy and demands holiness from His people.
God Hates Hypocritical Religion The accusation from God may come as a shock to the people of Judah. They are likely to point to their life and say, “But, we are not like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are people who observe the law of God. We do all which the Lord requires.” They are not like the Northern Kingdom who worships idols and makes alliances with unholy nations. Judah lives according to the Law of Moses.
Isaiah anticipates their response and points out that their fulfilling the law in an obligatory way does not make them right before the Lord. Isaiah tells them God hates their fake, outward religion. 11 “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. 12 When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? 13 Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. 14 I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. (Isaiah 1:11-14)
The people of Judah fulfill the obligations of the law very well. They bring sacrifices and offerings. They bring to the priests’ bulls, lambs, and goats. They bring good offerings which are well-fed and not second-rate. They burn incense. They observe all the right festivals, feasts, and sabbaths.
But, God is not pleased. The people fail to fulfill the spirit of the law. God takes no pleasure in the blood on the altar. He hates the smell of their incense. When they present themselves to God in the temple as required by the Law, they are unwelcome guests, trampling His holy place. God hates their religion, and He is tired of bearing it. He rather they stop.
The people of Judah think their religion is what makes them acceptable to God. Their religion has the opposite effect. God wants to destroy them because they are pretenders. The people of Judah are guilty of the same religion of the Pharisees in the time of Jesus.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. "You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. "So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Mat. 23:25-28)
The religion of the people of Judah is worthless because they are spiritually dead on the inside. They think their offerings are good, but they lack in mercy and love. They look good on the outside, but on the inside, they are dead. Outward acts of religion are completely worthless if it is not an expression of a Spirit-filled heart.
The people of Judah are familiar with the Psalms. They know what Isaiah is saying is no different than the words of David, who writes:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Ps. 51:17)
The people of Judah do not fool God. God looks at the heart. They may play a good game of religion in the temple, but outside the temple their religion is worthless.
What about us today? Do we play a good church game? What are we like outside of church? God sees our life inside and outside of the church. If our life outside the church is not pleasing to God, our pretend worship inside is an abomination to Him.
We are familiar with the passage in chapter 13; the love chapter. The passage is about acts of religion done without love. Paul writes using hyperbole (exaggeration):
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (1Co 13:1-3)
It does us no good to sing worship songs perfectly on Sunday and be unforgiving on Monday. It is no good for us to read our Bible Tuesday morning, and spend the afternoon gossiping and judging others. No amount of dollars in the offering box or donations to the swap room make a heart of pride right before God.
The Kingdom of God does not advance with money, with beautiful worship music, having the right ABF, offering an active teen ministry, or by having the most beautiful building. Christianity is not about going to church, singing songs about Jesus, giving money to religious causes, or having an outward appearance of religion. God is weary of outward religion.
The Kingdom of God advances by people who commit to the gospel, are humble in character, and are holy in their obedience. Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23).
Taking up our cross and denying ourselves is a religion that pleases God. Denying our sinful flesh is an act of denying ourselves and taking up our cross. Sharing the gospel requires us to love others more than our pride and fear of rejection (hugs for sharing the gospel). We take up our cross and deny ourselves when we are patient and kind. We take up our cross and deny ourselves when we help the widow and the orphan. We take up our cross and deny ourselves when we look the sinner in the eye and say God is not pleased.
Consequence Isaiah tells them of the consequence God brings about because of their religion of hypocrisy. 15 So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. (Isaiah 1:15)
The sin of Judah is obvious. The evidence is plain to the eyes of God. They may say they are not guilty, but there is blood on their hands. God does not listen to their prayers because of their sin.
The consequence of God turning His ear from prayer is not a new doctrine to the people of Judah. They are familiar with the writings in Psalms and Proverbs.
If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear (Ps. 66:18)
He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination. (Pr. 28:9)
Jesus speaks of the same principle.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation. (Mat. 23:14)
The hypocrites in Jesus’ day repossess a widow’s house in the morning and then give extra-long prayers at the synagogue in the afternoon. They are pious fakes making a show of religion.
We also may recall the parable Jesus gives about the prayer of the Pharisee and the tax collector.
"The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Lk. 18:9-14)
None of us want to be ignored when we speak. We don’t want to have our request fall upon deaf ears. If we are religious hypocrites, increasing the length or frequency of our prayers has no affect. If we want God to hear our prayers, we need to humble ourselves. God must be big and we must be small.
Pure Religion Once we realize that we may be religious hypocrites, we need to take steps to correct the problem. God prescribes a two-step cure for religious hypocrisy in verses 16-17. These verses give us the main idea for the message. MAIN IDEA: Worship God with pure religion by ceasing to do evil and learning to do good.
Step 1 – Cease to do evil Verse 16 tells us of the first step we must accomplish. We need to clean up our act. We need to cease doing evil. 16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil (Isaiah 1:16)
What is evil? The earthly view of evil is different from God’s. Things must be very bad before the world calls something evil. The list of evil deeds in the world is short. Shooting at children at school or people at a concert is evil. Most people will agree that murder is on the evil list. But, after murder, the list in which people agree on as being evil is small.
The Bible’s list of what qualifies as evil is very extensive. Jesus names off adultery, fornication, theft, lying, and slander as evil (Mat. 15:19). James says that the tongue is a restless evil (Ja. 3:16) which means our words alone may be evil. Being jealous or having a selfish ambition is evil (Ja. 3:16). Every one of us is guilty of boasting. James says boasting is evil (Ja. 4:16). An unbelieving heart is evil (He. 3:12). All sin qualifies as being evil (Ro. 7:21). We are to put off sin of every sort. We are called to lay aside our old self with its evil practices (Col. 3:9).
We need to be very serious in ceasing to do evil. We must be willing to undergo radical amputation. Listen to the words of Jesus.
"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. "If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30)
Jesus is not speaking of literal amputation, but figurative. Nobody is obligated to mutilate any part of their body to prevent sin. We need to be willing to amputate aspects of our lifestyle. Some people need to stop drinking alcohol because it causes them to be angry at their family. Some people need to change their friends because bad company corrupts good morals. Some of us need to get control of our electronic devices. Give your spouse your password to your computer accounts.
We need to be serious about taking steps to eradicate, amputate, sin in our life.
Step 2 – Learn to do good It is not enough to remove evil deeds. We must learn to do good. If we remove sin we need to fill the void. We need to replace the sin with good. The New Testament speaks of this like clothing. We are to put off the old garment of sin and put on the new garment of righteousness.
Listen to what God calls the people of Judah to do. 17 Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)
This looks like a call for social activism and it is. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We may not help the disadvantaged without giving the gospel. But, we cannot give the gospel and ignore those who are disadvantaged. Don’t undersell what the Bible says about helping the poor and social justice. And, don’t oversell what the Bible says about helping the poor and social justice.
We may no longer ignore the evil in our society. We are to seek justice. It is time for us to speak-up and reprove (criticize) the ruthless and merciless. We also need to help those who have nobody to help them; such as the orphan and the widow. The church needs to speak out and act out in society.
Jesus has this criticism for the Pharisees.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. "You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Mat. 23:23-24)
The Pharisees spent time dividing up grains of spices to make sure they gave a tithe of all they had. But, as they are spending their time tithing their mint leaves, they are ignoring justice and mercy. They did what we call, majoring on the minors.
It is easy to find this principle in the Scripture.
How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah. Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. (Psalms 82:2-4)
Open your mouth for the mute, For the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9).
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (Ja. 1:27)
God has an interest in every detail of practical life. God expects our religion to impact our life outside the church. Worship God with pure religion by ceasing to do evil and learning to do good.
God hates the religion of hypocrites. Let’s take time of serious self-reflection and prayer and ask God for help in showing us how we need to change. Ask God to reveal areas of our life where we are religious hypocrites.
Is my worship genuine or am I putting on a show (fooling myself)?
Am I making myself clean? Am I aggressively removing sin in my life?
Am I learning to do good? Do I seek justice (not by complaining, but by doing)? Do I show compassion to the needy?
Ask God to show us ways we may deny ourselves and help others. Ask God how we may be obedient, so He doesn’t turn His face from our prayers.
Hear the word of the Lord. MAIN IDEA: Worship God with pure religion by ceasing to do evil and learning to do good.
- Put off pride and put on humility.
- Put off stealing and put on giving.
- Put off lying and put on truth.