Text: Isaiah 1:1-31, Isaiah 2:1-22, Psalm 68:16-18, Luke 24:44-49
Lent is shocking.
Lent reminds us that sin is real, and so is our need for cleansing.
The first two chapters of Isaiah are just as startling. They detail for us the often unwelcome truth of how God views sin and those who nurture sin.
The book of Isaiah is the word from God to the people of Israel through His prophet Isaiah around the 8th century B.C. The nation of Israel had developed a comfortable system with God that was becoming overtly transactional instead of relational. As long as we have goats on hand to sacrifice, we’ve got currency to trade with God for sins. It was like kids with spending money, only their goats were no longer good where they were shopping.
“‘What are all your sacrifices to Me?’ asks the Lord. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings and rams and the fat of well-fed cattle; I have no desire for the blood of bulls, lambs, or male goats… Stop bringing useless offerings’” (Isaiah 1:11-13).
It’s shocking to hear the Lord of Hosts, who prescribed this stop-gap propitiation for sins in the first place, tell His people they’re missing the point at the cost of something so much greater than plump, blemish-free livestock. It’s startling because we prefer to think of God as endlessly patient, a giver of wide margins and benefits of the doubt. But this is not the picture painted in Isaiah 1:15: “When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look at you; even if you offer countless prayers, I will not listen.”
I seriously challenge you to find that verse hand-lettered and framed in any home in your neighborhood.
Isaiah can be a tough book to read. So when I read passages like these today, I have a lot of questions, and I imagine you do too.
How does Old Testament prophecy work?
Are these just God’s words to Israel then, or are they also judgment on me now?
How should we read Old Testament prophecy nearly 3000 years after it was written?
And how can I keep this up for the next 46 days and 66 chapters?
I may not have perfect answers to all these questions, but here is what I know: the God of Israel who spoke through Isaiah then is the exact same God today. His character is unchanged. His tolerance for sin has not softened around the edges. And while His only begotten Son has since laid down His life as the ultimate, blemish-free sacrifice for our sins, it does nothing to diminish the directive in this three-word sentence: “Stop doing evil” (1:16).
Stop doing evil.
Don’t take a break from evil. Or fast from evil. Or be sure to clean up after yourself when you’re done.
Stop doing evil.
We read Old Testament prophecy to understand God’s character. We read His warnings to the people He loved who did not love Him back, and we heed those warnings. We come to understand what is important to God and make it important to us. We reject the myth of transactional faith, and enter into relationship with the Lord of Hosts. And when we repent, by the grace of God, we turn our backs on our sin completely. We don’t sin because we can, or because we expect God to relent at the sight of our “I’m sorry” bouquet. We stop doing evil. And we keep reading so that we can keep knowing Him more.
Lent is shocking. But it might be just the shock we need.