Daily Update #225

Isaiah 1:10, 16-20.    Psalm 50:8, 16-23.    Matthew 23:1-12.

16 ‘Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. 18 “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 as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken’ (Isaiah 1: 16-20).

Isaiah1 is a brutal chapter! His great vision and prophecy begins with the Lord speaking in accusation and sadness against Judah and its capital city, Jerusalem – “I reared children and brought them up but they have rebelled against me (v2) and “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption. They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him”(v4)Ouch! Similarly, when the infamously wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned in Isaiah 1:10 we know that God’s sadness is mixed with holy indignation. There is a big problem with the empty and meaningless nature of the people’s religious observance. It reflects the sinful reality of their lives and true worship from the heart is lacking. God is fed up with their showy  ritual, burnt offerings and festivals; so much so that He tells them “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen”  (Is.1:15). God is not fooled by externals. Truly, we must get (and be) real with Him each day.

King David reveals God’s priorities towards sinful people in his lovely confessional psalm, Psalm 51 – “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (v16-17). Sadly, in Isaiah’s time there seems to have been little such humility or repentance. Social justice and a concern for the needy were lacking. Religious practice largely took the form of showy and shallow ritual. This revealed their moral complacency and neglect of God’s will, and an absence of doing good. That is why the Lord gives 9 instructions in only 2 verses (see Is.1:16-17 above)! If there was one thing that made Jesus angry it was the hypocrisy of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. The gospels record that He used the expression “You hypocrites” 15 times; 12 of these are in Matthew (see Matt. 6 and and 23). It  is vital that we avoid this sin – our lives and our church life must reflect the good news we proclaim. We will always be known more for our deeds than for our words or forms of worship.

Like me, you will doubtless have found today’s reading tough going. However, we do find here a lovely promise which reminds us that God loves to forgive and restore contrite sinners: “Come now, let us reason together…Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (v18). The people of Judah had lost the heart of their worship by straying from God. We may be no better than they were but we too can receive God’s undeserved forgiveness when, like King David, we truly repent of our sins. Let’s make sure that our worship and church activities really focus upon honouring God. If they are to please Him, our lives must also be true to Him. Nothing less will do at all!

Today’s Prayer: Dear Father, please forgive us for all the times when our lives don’t match up to our words or to your requirements. We are sorry that at times our worship is not heart-felt, and that our commitment to you, each other and to those in need is too superficial and weak. Help us Lord Jesus to look to you and to become more like you each day. May we be a blessing to everyone we pray for, speak with or meet up with in the days ahead. Amen.