Summary: This sermon reflects on God’s power to harden the hearts of the Israelites, and how God wants us to respond in light of such judgment.
November 27, 2005 Isaiah 63:16-17 , 64:1-8
You, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name. Why, O LORD, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes that are your inheritance.
1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! 2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! 3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. 4 Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. 5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? 6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. 7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins. 8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. (NIV)
It was New Year’s Eve - 1989. Some friends and I went to a local hill in Watertown called “Octogon Hill.” It was a very steep hill - a local favorite for sledding. It just so happened that it had sleeted earlier that evening - so there was an inch of pure ice over about a foot of snow. Along with about five other friends, we decided that we would all jump on a sled together and go down the hill. As we ascended the hill full of laughter, we descended, or at least I did, full of terror. For as we began our descent down the hill, we quickly learned that we had no brakes. I’ll never forget the feeling of sheer terror that I had - being completely out of control going down this hill.
That is one feeling that none of us like to have - the feeling of being out of control. That’s why it bothers some people to know that God is in control. Whether you like it or not, it’s true. Isaiah today compares His power to that of a potter with clay. Just like a potter can form the clay into anything he likes - an ashtray, a lamp, or whatever - God can do anything that he likes. Today we are going to behold some specific power that the potter has.
Behold the Power of the Potter
I. He can make you waste away
First of all, let’s look at a little history behind this text. This was written by Isaiah in the middle 700’s B.C. Assyria had just come from the west under King Sennacherib and wiped out the Northern Kingdom of Israel, taking it’s people captive. Nobody could stop him, until he reached the portals of Jerusalem - the capital of the Southern Kingdom. Standing on the threshold of Jerusalem, the king delivered a letter that basically said to King Hezekiah - “give it up! Has any god delivered them from me yet? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” Solemnly, Hezekiah went to the Lord’s temple, laid it before Him, and prayed. That night, the angel of the Lord went out and put 185,000 of the Assyrian soldiers to death.
The Israelites had been on the brink of disaster, and yet the Lord delivered them. After seeing what had happened to the Northern Kingdom, God wanted the Southern Kingdom to take note and change their ways. The Israelites of the north had been worshiping foreign gods, committing adultery with their prostitutes, and living completely godless lives. In the same way, the Southern Kingdom had often followed in their northern brothers’ footsteps. You would think, at this point - the Israelites would repent of their lifestyles - especially after coming so close to disaster. But instead, what happened? Isaiah said, All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. 7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; Instead of repenting, the people of Israel became more sinful. They reasoned to themselves, “if God saved us when we were living immoral lives, then He will continue to do so.” They had a false sense of security that God would take care of them no matter what kind of lifestyles they led - no matter what the prophets of God said.