Summary: We are right to emphasize that God loves us, but we too easily forget that because he loves us he wants us to be the best we can be and calls us to a deep repentance.

Return to the Lord

Isaiah 1:12-20

Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rev. Stephen Aram

We live in a time when the church really emphasizes the mercy and grace of God. How many times have you heard it said that God loves us just the way we are and that he will be there any time we call? And God’s mercy and grace are wonderful dimensions of God’s character. They should be celebrated. We should walk in amazement at how merciful God is.

This evening we are starting a series of sermons from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah. He wrote some of the most beautiful statements of God’s grace in the whole Bible. He was an amazing poet, with a wonderful skill with words. We’ll talk about that more on Sundays coming up.

Isaiah also reminds us that mercy and grace are not the whole story with God. God is holy. He really, really cares about the way we treat one another. Precisely because God loves us so much he is determined that we be the best we can be, that we experience the joy he knows that comes from holy living.

Our text for this evening came as a shock for some of Isaiah’s listeners and it may come as a shock for us, too. Because Isaiah tells us there are times when we can call out to God, even physically stretching out our hands to him, and he won’t even listen. He will hide himself from us. He is a holy God. And he demands holy lives from us. And that’s because he loves us so much. And we’ll be really confused if we don’t understand that. Now hear the word of God from the prophet Isaiah 1:12-20.

12 When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; 13 bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation -- I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. 14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.

15 When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. 18 Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

How can this be? How can God turn his back on his children? How can he close his ears to us? How can God refuse to listen?

I know very well. I’m a parent. We raised four kids. They were good kids, but we did have our moments. Parents, did you ever have a day when your daughter was supposed to clean her room and she didn’t do it and she didn’t do it, and the layer of clothes was getting deeper and deeper on the floor. And finally you said, “All right. You’re grounded. You stay in your room until you get it picked up. I want the clothes in the hamper or the closet. I want your bed made. I want that trash picked up.”

And then you walk away. And you might hear yelling, screaming, crying, tantrums, but the best thing you can do as a parent is just go to the other end of the house and ignore it. Right? Do you still love her? Of course. But there are times when you can’t give in to what she asks.

Did you ever have a son whose grades were slipping, who wanted the car keys to go out with his friends on a school night, and he had a paper due and he was running out of time to finish it? And did you smile and give him the keys and cash to spend with his friends? Not if you were a good parent. You stood your ground. You said, no car keys for you until I see that paper done, and I’m gonna read it and make sure you did a good job. I want you to get the education you need. I want you to do well in school. And I’m not going to argue about this. If you need help, I’ll be here. But you need to go right now and write your paper. Then we’ll talk.

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