The Old Testament prophets served two very important purposes in their day. First, they were prosecutors of God’s lawsuit against His people who had broken covenant with the Lord. Secondly, they were heralds of a coming age of glory.
The two roles might at first seem contradictory. The first yielded warnings of divine vengeance. The second brought forth words of uncompromising hope. These two streams of divine proclamation ultimately came together in the cross on which the Jewish Messiah died. Christ, in taking the curse of the covenant upon Himself, opened the way for God’s people to receive eternal blessings as a gift of His extravagant mercy.
During the long period of Isaiah’s ministry, touching the reign of four kings of Judah, this great prophet was well aware of the guilt of Judah and Jerusalem. God called the “heavens” and the “earth” as witnesses against His beloved “children.” Of what were they guilty? They were a “sinful nation” who certainly should have known better than to turn against God’s commandments. But they were a people “laden with iniquity” who had “despised the Holy One of Israel.”
Worst of all, they had attempted to solve their sin problems by ceremonial righteousness. What was the response of the Almighty to their worship services? “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” God’s conclusion concerning their religious entreaties: “Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen.”
What was the appropriate alternative to their liturgical displays of outward love? Very simple: they truly needed to repent of their sins. If they would not do this themselves, the Lord Himself would purify them through His own discipline.
The Lord’s ambassador faithfully announced God’s honest covenant warnings. What about the prophetic message of hope? Isaiah wrote this: “Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.”
How would such a massive change be achieved? “Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.” Only through the perfect holiness of a Redeemer could the city of God be so entirely saved.
We look for the revealing of this new city of glory at just the right time. Until that final day we feed our souls on the Lord’s promises. We also take to heart every warning first written to Old Testament Israel so many centuries ago. Our solution is not to try to please the Lord with more and more ceremonies, but to respond in the fullest way to His loving directives. The ancient words of Isaiah are still essential today for those of us who believe that Jesus died for our transgressions: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” God calls us to hear His Word with a tender heart. “But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.”
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord God, help us to know You and to know the truth. Teach us to turn away from rebellion. Your Law is good and right, but we have sinned against You. We have brought great trouble upon ourselves in our disobedience. Yet You have a plan of grace that goes beyond our disobedience. You have provided a Substitute who did more than offer ceremonial righteousness to You. He heard Your Word and loved You. He listened to Your voice and obeyed Your commandments. There was no evil in Him. He cared for the weak with true sincerity. He has taken away the deep stain of our sin and has granted to us the perfectly glorious robes of His unfailing goodness. We seek You now for a season of true faithfulness among Your worshipers. We long for the age to come, when all of our sinful thoughts, words, and actions will be taken far away from us forever. The way of idolatry leads only to destruction. Teach us to be earnest followers of Your Son.