You're Being So Unreasonable!
A sermon based on Isaiah 1:10-18
Sunday, November 13, 2016 – Pentecost 26A
"Arrrgghhhh! You're being so unreasonable! Would you just listen to what I'm saying?!" I'm sure that that or something similar has been said a lot in the last couple of weeks leading up to Tuesday's elections as party supporters tried to convince their opponents to leave the dark side and come over to the light. "You're being so unreasonable!" may have been said in a fight between husband and wife as they kept talking past each other and not finding middle ground. "You're being so unreasonable!" the teen shouts at her parent when she doesn't like the "stupid rules" arbitrarily imposed upon her.
And this morning, "You're being so unreasonable!" is what God tells his people in an argument he was having with them. "Be reasonable," he says through Isaiah. "Listen to what I have to say! Your hollow, empty worship—just going through the motions and mouthing the words—isn't working." "But let's reason together," he pleads, "Listen to my solution."
Our text for consideration for this morning is taken from Isaiah 1:10-18…
10 Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law 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 evil assemblies. 14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. 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, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
18 "Come now, let us reason together," 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."
I. Be Reasonable: Empty Motions Don't Work
"Fine. I'm sorry. There! Now are you happy?!" Of course he knew the answer to the question before he asked it with such sarcasm. Of course his wife wasn't happy with an apology like that. Who would be? He obviously wasn't sorry. He was glad about what he did and he would gladly do it again. He just knew that she would remain cold until he said the words, "I'm sorry." So he said it, not meaning a word of it, just to get her off his back.
That's sort of what the Israelites were doing. They had been disciplined by God for their rebellion against him as he let enemy after enemy attack and hurt his people. He did it to try to lead them to repent—to see their sin, to feel the remorse over what they'd done, and to turn to him confessing it all so he could make things right. But they didn't really feel sorry at all. They were sorry they were caught. They were sorry they were being punished. But they were planning to commit the same sins tomorrow as they confessed them that afternoon. "Fine. I'm sorry. Now are you happy, God?"
But come on! Be reasonable! That kind of apology doesn't work. Reciting the words, but meaning none of them, doesn't work with your spouse! How foolish to think it would work with an omniscient God who can read your thoughts and your heart.
So God called them, "rulers of Sodom… people of Gomorrah," because that's what they were acting like—people who didn't know God or care to know him, who only wanted to serve their own sinful appetites. Then later, they would go through the motions and sacrifice an animal or two (like the remorseless husband bringing home some flowers). "There. Now are you happy, God?"
But God called such worship a "trampling of [his] court… meaningless offerings… detestable to him." Their worship services he called, "evil assemblies." He said his soul hated them! "They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them." In fact, he said he would stop listening to their prayers, so hollow were the words without any sincerity.
"Be reasonable!" God cried, "Quit acting like this. Or you know what the consequences will be." But would they listen?
Will we? Let's face it, don't we sometimes mouth the words? We go through the motions and recite the words of the liturgy from memory without thinking about them at all. Don't we sometimes nod off during the sermon? Or read a page of our Bibles and get to the end without having actually read any of it. "What did I just read?" Don't we sometimes pause before we eat and ask, "Did we already pray?" Of course, if you have to ask the answer is that you didn't—not if you didn't think about what you were reciting.
And we too trample God's courts. We give meaningless offerings, detestable to God. When we think we worship God by going through the motions, or thinking we're somehow earning his favor by it, well, those are evil assemblies, a burden to God, and they weary him.
But it gets worse. "Hear the word of the Lord," Isaiah cries. And what does the Word of the Lord say? "Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong! "In other words, don't sin any more, ever again, or simply, "Be perfect." And, of course, you know that we can't do that. And even if we could tomorrow it wouldn't undo the sins of yesterday.
We deserve to be called, "rulers of Sodom… people of Gomorrah." We deserve to have God stop listening to our prayers. And we deserve the same destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with burning sulfur falling from the sky on our heads. We deserve the fire of hell. In fact hell is when God can't bear to have you in his presence any more. It's separation from him, when he, "hide[s his] eyes from you… [when he] will not listen."
And to think that there's anything that you or I could ever do—any sacrifice that we could ever make—that would change that fact… well, I'd say, "You're being so unreasonable!"
But… Thank God… that even though there's nothing you or I could ever do, there is something that he did. And, to be honest, it's completely unreasonable! Literally, there is no reason for it, but that he is a gracious God.
II. Be Reasonable: Trust in My Cleansing
The truth is that on your own you are stained. You are scarlet, crimson, the color of blood shed. While you may not have ever actually killed someone, your souls are stained red with the blood of Jesus because it was for your sin that the Godman had to die. You are responsible for his death!
So am I.
But your souls are NOT stained red with the blood of Jesus, because by his sacrifice, by his blood shed, he has made you white as snow.
Every day the Israelites brought their sacrifices to the temple. Every day they brought more and more animals to be butchered and to die. But what were those sacrifices all about? They were NOT to earn God's favor. They were not to bring gifts to God that would make him like them again. No! They were not about the gifts people gave to God, but were all pointing ahead to the Gift that God would give to all people. They were all to point ahead to the perfect sacrifice that Jesus, the Great High Priest, would make on behalf of all mankind.
And so, after scolding the people with harsh law, the tone suddenly changes in verse 18: "Come now, let us reason together," 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."
Like a dad scolding his child, then immediately inviting him to come sit in his lap so he could comfort that child, God, after scolding his children, invited them to come to him now for comfort.
There is snow in the forecast for Tuesday. And I, for one, hope it does snow. I think it looks absolutely beautiful outside when all of the dead, brown grass, the gravel, the dirt, are all covered with a pure, pristine blanket of snow.
And that's what God has done for us. He's covered our filthy, dirty sins with a blanket of his righteousness. So we look perfect, pure, and holy before God, in spite of all the times we've made a mockery of worship by just going through the motions, in spite of the times we've thought that our gifts somehow earned God's love, in spite of every one of our sins. Perfect. Sinless. Holy. White as snow. And this, not by any effort or sacrifice on our part, but entirely by his sacrifice for us.
And why did he do it? For no reason at all! We could rightly say to God, "You're being so unreasonable!" And add, "Thank you! So, so much!!"
So be reasonable, friends, stop trying to earn God's favor. I promise it won't work. But instead put your trust in him and in his unreasonable love for you—a love that covers you in a blanket of righteousness that covers your every sin like a blanket of snow covers the dirty ground.
And then, stop doing wrong! Learn to do right!
III. Be Reasonable: Learn to Do Right to Show Thanks
If someone were to free you from prison—from death row—then pay for all of your medical bills, every liposuction and cosmetic surgery so you were healthy and fit and great looking, then not only provide you with a mansion, but completely pay for it and give you a $50,000 monthly stipend for the rest of your life… would anyone need to remind you to say "Thank you" to that benefactor? Of course not! To someone who remained ungrateful for such wonderful gifts, you and I would rightly say, "You're being so unreasonable!"
Likewise, friends, we know that Jesus has freed us from hell—from an eternal death—and he made us spiritually fit and promised that our glorified bodies will be perfect—healthy and fit and great looking! Then he not only won a place for us in heaven, but promised that he's preparing a room for us in that glorious mansion, and he promises that we will have all that we need to be happy and fulfilled in the glory that awaits us! Now, do we need to be told to say, "Thank you"? Don't be so unreasonable!
No. We're eager to thank our Savior for making our scarlet sins as white as snow, for taking our crimson sins and making them like wool. We don't need to be told to thank him for his forgiveness and for the many blessings that it brings. No! We're eager to do it.
And how do we thank him? Well, we, "Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."
We encourage our family members and co-workers who are oppressed by their sin and we comfort them with the Gospel of Jesus' forgiveness. We defend the fatherless and look after the kids who have no dad. We plead the case of the widow and show hospitality and love to those who feel alone in the world, sharing especially our Savior's love with them.
In other words, "in view of God's mercy… [we] offer [our] bodies as living sacrifices." (Romans 12:1) We use our different gifts to serve the body of believers. We invest the talents that our Master has given us to serve his ends and to share God's grace with others. We do as we so often pray and give, "all that we have, our bodies and minds, our time and skills, our ministries and offerings, and use them to [his] glory. We give ourselves to [him] that we [might] serve [him] in whatever way is pleasing in [his] sight."
And we do it all, not to earn God's favor. Come on! Be reasonable! That's never going to happen! But we give our very lives to show our gratitude that we already have his favor—by his totally unreasonable grace to us! We offer ourselves to him in thanks that, "The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin." (1 John 1:7), that "Though [our] sins [were] like scarlet, they [are] as white as snow; though they [were] red as crimson, they [are] like wool." In the name of Jesus, our Savior from sin, amen, dear friends. Amen!