Summary: It is the humble servants of the Lord, not the outwardly religious, who will enjoy Him forever.
One of the awesome things I’ve noticed as we’ve gone through Isaiah over the last few months has been amazing contrasts we see in the character to God, the paradoxes in his divine nature and his sovereign action.
We saw it in dazzling brilliance last week when Cameron spoke to us from Isaiah 55. We saw that the gap between us and God is as far as the heavens are from earth – infinitesimal. And yet we also saw how he warmly, personally invites those who are thirsty to drink at the free fountain of his grace.
In chapter 40 we read that God sits enthroned above the earth and its people are like grasshoppers, the rulers of the earth like chaff swept away by the wind. Yet in the same chapter we read that the LORD gives strength to the weary and the weak and will take them with him in glory.
And of course in Isaiah 53 we read of God’s servant who will be beaten and killed for those who have gone astray and yet will also be glorified forever.
Finally, we come to Isaiah 66 and again we see these great contrasts in God’s character. We began our series in Isaiah 1 and there we were hit full on with the disdain the LORD felt for Israel’s unfaithfulness and yet there was also hope – a promise that those who were stained by sin could be washed clean. And chapter 66 concludes as the prophecy begins – with a warning of judgment but also a promise of God’s continued goodness, a great hope for the future.
Judgment and Humility
We all have some sort of hope. Most Australians are convinced they are going to heaven. I listened to some of the eulogies at Pro Hart’s funeral last week and they all expressed this assurance that the artist was in heaven. Now I know very little about Pro Hart and I don’t know where he stood with Christ – I’m not trying to make a comment either way on the actual destination of Pro Hart’s soul. But what is significant is this assumption. “We’re good people according to 21st century Australian standards, therefore we’re going to heaven. We go to church, therefore we’re going to heaven. I think I believe in God, therefore I’m going to heaven.”
But when we read Isaiah 66, we see that God is not impressed by so-called religiosity like simply going to church and saying the Lord’s Prayer over and over. There is a coming judgement, we’re warned, and those who make the sacrifices, those who present the offerings, those who walk around performing like one of God’s people will be treated harshly.
Those who slaughter an ox, or present a grain offering, or make a memorial offering – it is as if they have been giving pig’s blood or worshipping before an idol. God is not impressed.
The question is, though, what does please God? And what is wrong with these sacrifices and offerings – didn’t God command that they be given, after all?
The key is to understand the contrast and the irony in vss 1-4. The LORD begins by giving himself a bit of an introduction in vs 1: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool,” he begins. The whole universe is mine, God proclaims, and I rule over it. But then there’s the accusatory question: “what is the house you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?” The problem is, people are trying to limit God to their own religious rituals and there own constructions. They don’t realise their own insignificance before God’s throne. It is God who provides rest for his people, not the other way around! In Isaiah 6, the prophet received a vision, and vs 1 records how he “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple”. Do you see the irony? The people seek to build a house for God, a place for God to rest, but, as vs 2 says, his made all things. Moreover, the vision in Isaiah 6 makes the concept appear laughable. This supposed house of God – the temple – is completely filled by merely the train of God’s robe – the little end bit that drags along the ground. That is the size and majesty of God, and yet we who are but dust don’t listen to him. Instead, we try to fit him into our own rituals and our own buildings without ever realizing the amusing futility of it all.
If religious practices don’t impress God, what does? Well, it’s realizing who we are before the LORD and responding appropriately. Vs 2b: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” It’s the exact opposite of the self-righteous self-confidence exhibited by those who are offering the sacrifices. Don’t just do religious stuff, listen to the word of God. That’s their problem in vs 4: when God called, no one answered, and when he spoke, they did not listen.