I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew. Last Sunday I began preaching through the book of Isaiah, starting with 1:1-20. So far I’ve really enjoyed the close study of this magnificent prophecy, and I’m excited to dig deep into some of the best-known and best-loved passages of Isaiah. And to discover hidden gems along the way. But the task is daunting. My prayer is that God will give me a fresh message to deliver from each passage, along with some compelling insight into God’s character and the person of Christ to share with the congregation.
I do plan to take some breaks along the way, plus I won’t be preaching on each and every passage. But working through Isaiah may take a couple of years. At the second service on Sunday, for some reason I said we’d be looking at this prophecy over the “next several months.” I knew as soon as I said it, that wasn’t close to accurate. A member told me after the service my estimate was way too short! She also said she was very excited about starting our study of Isaiah; this was a great encouragement to me.
Part of my message on Sunday dealt with the false worship of Israel. Starting in v. 11, Isaiah – really, the Lord through his prophet – delivers a withering denunciation of the Israelites’ evil worship. The Lord was fed up with their burnt offerings of rams (v. 11), he did not delight in the blood of their sacrifices (v. 11), their incense was an abomination to him (v. 13), he couldn’t endure their solemn assemblies (v. 13), and his soul hated their new moons and appointed feasts (v. 14).
What made their worship so abhorrent to God? It wasn’t that the Israelites were falling down before pagan idols; they directed their worship to the true God. It also wasn’t that they were flaunting God’s commands for worship; they were scrupulously doing everything “by the book,” observing all the laws for worship that they received from the Lord through Moses.
Their worship was repugnant to God because of the sin in their hearts and lives. They were unrepentant in their wickedness, especially in the way they oppressed and trampled over the needy and helpless (v. 17). They were hypocrites, pretending to worship a God of righteousness and justice while their hands were stained with the blood of the weak (v.15).
I made the point that though we may not be guilty of such rank hypocrisy, nevertheless by our own duplicity we can corrupt our Christian worship just as the Israelites did to their worship. When we come to church on Sunday with unrepented sin in our hearts or lives, we also worship falsely, grieving the Lord as we do.
The hope of the Israelites is our hope – God’s gracious summons to come to him for cleansing and forgiveness. The blood of Christ makes us white as snow and pure as wool (v. 18).
I thought again about this passage this morning as I prepared for this Lord’s Day’s Sunday School lesson. The subject is worship and I’ll discuss the regulative principle, the biblical precept that we must only worship God as he has commanded us in his Word (Exodus 20:4-6; Leviticus 10:1, 2; Deuteronomy 4:15-18, 12:32). The regulative principle is concerned with the forms of worship, or what we do in worship (prayer, preaching, singing, the sacraments, etc.).
But can we not apply the regulative principle to the condition of our hearts in our worship? We should only worship God with the disposition of heart that he commands. We are to worship with joy and gladness (Psalm 100:1, 2), with thanksgiving (Ps. 100: 4), and with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).
Biblical forms of worship (though important!) are insufficient in themselves for the glory and honor of God. We need to come to him also with the disposition he commands, a heart filled both with joy and awe in his presence. Only then is our worship truly pleasing to our Savior.
This post is already longer than it should be, but I did want to include this picture from last Saturday. A fire broke out on the sagebrush-covered foothills behind our house. Sadly some properties were destroyed, but for those of us out of harm’s way it provided quite a show: plumes of smoke filling the sky, the quiet explosions of pink fire retardant bursting from under the fuselages of the air tankers, and the emergency vehicles’ blue and red lights flashing across the landscape.
Here’s what the scene looked like after the sun set. I hate to call anything so dangerous as a wildfire beautiful, but it was a compelling sight to behold.
Soli Deo Gloria!