August 11, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 Luke 12:32-40
When you were growing up, did you ever do things that you thought your parents would never find out about?
Of those times, how often have you discovered that your parents knew about it all along?
More than once, I have reminded our children, particularly now that they are adults, that they really don’t need to tell us everything, but neither should they insult us by assuming that we are stupid. We may be old now, but we were their age once. Yes, the world may have changed since we were young, but the things that young people are tempted to do when they are away from their parents have been the same sorts of things for thousands of years.
Likewise, when we read passages of scripture, we often discover that the temptations that face the church, and its people, are often frighteningly similar to the temptations that were faced by the church three thousand years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We begin this morning in Isaiah chapter one, where we hear the prophet of God condemning the people of Israel for faking their way through church. Instead of building a genuine relationship with God, they are only going through the motions and putting on a churchy looking show. (Isaiah 1:1, 10-20)
1:1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
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.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
The oddest part of understanding this passage, is found in realizing that all of the things that God, through Isaiah, is criticizing, all of the things that God is condemning, are all things that God’s people were commanded to do in the days of Moses. These things were the worship of the church. But God says that he has had more than enough of them because they have become meaningless.
So, since we live in a time when the church often argues over what music we should play, and what liturgies we should use, and what style of worship might be best, understanding this passage and what it means to us might well be a vital piece of information. As we read further, God declares that the reason that he no longer desires their worship, and no longer listens to their prayers, is that their “hands are full of blood.” Although they are showing up at church, and they are repeating their prayers, and they are bringing the required sacrifices, they are not acting like God’s people. Their worship is brought to God out of a sense of duty or tradition but their relationship with God hasn’t made a single change in their actions or in their hearts.
God wants our worship to be an outward expression of the love that we have for him and not something that we do in blind repetition out of a sense of duty or tradition.
Unless we are changed, unless our hearts are changed, then our worship is meaningless, we become a burden to God, and God stops listening to our prayers. Worship must be, first and foremost, an expression of our love for God and our lives must be lived as an act of worship.
Nearly two thousand years later, we hear Jesus explain this same concept in a different way in the gospel of Luke. (Luke 12:32-40)
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Jesus says that the things that we value most, the things upon which we spend the most time, obsess over, and the things which become the focus of our lives, are our treasure. And our hearts will live where our treasure lives. As an example, Jesus explains that waiting for God is sometimes like waiting for a boss who has gone out for the evening. Those servants who are genuinely concerned about serving their master do so even when he is absent, and even when it seems as if the master has gone missing. Our calling is to act like Jesus, to act in the best interests of Jesus’ kingdom, to do good and to serve him always, even when he seems absent, even when the world has gone crazy and it seems as if Jesus has forgotten us.
And that’s a critical point.
Yes, we know that the Spirit of God is active in the world in which we live. Yes, we know that God loves us and cares for us. Yes, we know that we have occasionally seen God at work in our lives and in the lives of the people around us. But, at the same time, when we watch the news and we see the pain and suffering, chaos and mayhem, that surrounds us and which seems to engulf our world, we struggle to understand how God can be so conspicuously absent. Jesus knew that. That’s why he told the story about the servants who were waiting for their master’s return. And that’s why Paul relates a similar story in which he reminds all of us about the faith, and the patience, of the heroes of scripture. (Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16)
11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left; they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Jesus said that we need to wait for God, and continue doing the work of Jesus Christ, even when he seems absent. Paul reminds us that many of the great heroes of the Bible waited their entire lives and never saw God’s promises fulfilled. Those promises were kept, but often not within their lifetimes. This is what faith is all about.
Faith is about remembering the times that God has done what he has promised. Remembering the times when God has been faithful to us. Remembering the times that God has been generous to us. And then trusting that God will be faithful in the things that we can’t see. Faith reminds us to act like Jesus even when Jesus seems absent. Faith is living in such a way that life itself becomes an act of worship. Faith is having our hearts changed so that everyone around us can plainly see Jesus in us. Faith looks forward to the day when God fulfills all of his promises.
Faith is looking forward.
Faith is living forward.
May we strive, every day, to have that kind of faith.
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.
Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.
Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.