Summary: Human religion is at war with God’s revelation.
Having lived in several years in cold northern climates in my life, but having grown up in California, I am amazed at the difference between winter and spring as it relates to the appearance of a snowy place. In the height of winter in Northern Michigan, for example, snow covers everything. Old buildings whose edifice cries out for demolition appear to be magical when covered by a foot of snow which drapes over the edge of rooftops from which dangle long mystical ice crystals through which the sunlight dances. The potholes of old city streets are filled and disappear to the eye as powdery snow fills them in.
Then comes springtime with its rays of hot sun and the snow vanishes. Muck and mud are left in its place. The beauty departs and what was there all along but covered with placid snow becomes visible again. So it is with the sin and idolatry in our life. Though our rebellion and false worship through manmade structures of religion are vile in the sight of God, “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.” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV84) The blood of Christ covers our sins and they are white as snow.
Our sin is detestable in the site of God because it robs Him of His glory in us. God’s holiness and glory are central in this universe, not our comfort and well being, not our satisfaction and happiness. (Flattery by the Train cars, encourage)
Our religious efforts, when they are devoid of the genuine articles of faith are likewise detestable. Our religious efforts are meaningless unless and to the extent that they grow out of dependence upon Him rather than an attempt to garner His favor.
In other words, incense and offerings, religion, do not contain any inherent value. They are only as valuable as they are shells which contain repentance and faith.
CIT: God does not need our offerings; He calls us to repentance and dependence.
CIS: No amount of religion can save; look to the Cross in humility and obedience.
I. Judah was a rebellious nation in Isaiah’s time.
II. Judah’s religion was outward.
a. Religion devoid of sacrifice.
b. No amount of religion can replace obedience.
c. The sacrifice was infused with pagan views, “feeding the gods.”
III. The Church is rebellious, focused on entertainment and comfort.
IV. The Church must repent of its religion and exalt the Cross.
a. The early Church flourished spiritually because of persecution.
b. The modern church withers spiritually because of comfort.
c. This comfort stifles the prophetic voice of the Church.
d. The sacrifice of Christ makes men free from sin and corrupt religious efforts which only compound the problem of sin.
In Isaiah’s day Israel was a rebellious nation. The prophet is speaking to the people of the Southern Kingdom of Israel, Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The prophet even draws a parallel with Sodom and Gomorrah. In Isaiah 1:4 the prophet laments the state of His people. “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.” (NIV84)
This is exactly opposite of that for which Israel had been created by God. In Deuteronomy 7:6 it is said of Israel: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (NIV84)
The nation of Israel was chosen by God as an instrument to bring about the Messiah. Through Israel God would one day proclaim the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and bring healing and redemption to the nations; to the entire world. Here in chapter one of Isaiah, they are a reproach to God.
Rather than putting future redemption on display through their righteousness they only practice religion in the same inward manner of the pagans who worship their multitude of false gods all around them.
Rather than pointing the way to coming Messiah through righteousness, obedience, inward commitment to God, and obedience to His will, they desecrate the worship of God with their religion.
Right at the heart of their sinfulness was their false religion. Their sin was not that they fulfilled their religious obligations and made sacrifices before the Lord. Their sin was in the manner in which they performed their religious ceremonies. The Lord, through the prophet, declares to them: “Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:15-17 NIV84)