The prophet Isaiah speaks to the nation of Judah around 700 BC. His messages explain the problem of sin and the future hope to come when Christ arrives. The first chapter of Isaiah is the prophet’s cry against sin. This cry is instructive for us to know what God is looking for from his people.
The Lord’s Displeasure (Isaiah 1:10-11)
Isaiah begins with a serious insult to the nation, calling them spiritually Sodom and Gomorrah. The people had a Sodom-like offensiveness to the Lord. God said their sacrifices were not truly for him but for themselves. Listen to the threefold decrying of these sacrifices: “What are the multitude of these sacrifices to me?” — “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams” — “I do not delight in the blood of bulls.” These sacrifices meant nothing to God, added nothing to God, and did nothing for God. This should amaze us because God commanded these sacrifices. Page after page through the book of Leviticus we read the commands for the sacrifices that God required. Consider what God is essentially saying: “You are giving the sacrifices I’ve commanded but I’ve had enough of them. I have no joy in these sacrifices you are bringing.” There is worship that God does not delight in, does not want, and will not accept. Worship that is for us, for our joy, and for our pleasure is not worship at all. Only acts that are for God, his joy, and his pleasure are worthy to be called worship.
The Lord’s Rejection (Isaiah 1:12-15)
Isaiah further decries their worship as nothing more than the noise of shuffling feet and clacking of hooves on the pavement. There is plenty of religious activity, but God is not pleased with their actions. Their worship was merely an incessant noise to the Lord. Their offerings were worthless. Their incense was an abomination. The Lord could not endure their iniquity and solemn assemblies. Why does God hate their worship? Isaiah explains that the people were coming to God in worship while their lives were happily continuing in sinful living. Their unconfessed, unrepentant sins made their worship intolerable to God. In fact, God was offended by hollow worship. God hates worship when we are not approaching with repentant hearts. Listen to verse 14: “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates.” The equivalent statement in our time would be, “I hate with all my heart.” All God saw was their blood stained hands. Therefore, their prayers were blocked because they did not have repentant hearts (1:15). Their prayers were ineffective because they were not matched with godly lives. Even with many prayers, God will not listen because unrepentant sins block our relationship with God.
The Lord’s Requirements (Isaiah 1:16-17)
First, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean.” Hearts need to be cleansed. God is calling for repentance in obvious ways. Clean up your lives. Stop thinking you can continue to practice your sins and still remain in God’s favor. God does not want our worship if it does not come from repentant hearts. Further, “remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes.” Repentance not only removes evil deeds but also cleans up the residual evil and damage our sins caused. True repentance tries to make things right again. This is why Zacchaeus is held up as an example of repentance leading to salvation (Luke 19). He did not just stop the evil acts. He cleaned up the evil of his deeds. He decided to repay fourfold anyone whom he had defrauded. God wants more than sorrow. God wants hearts that correct the evil committed. Our worship becomes beautiful to God when we work to set right the evil we have done. This is what Jesus taught in The Sermon on the Mount:
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23–24).
God wants repentance driven worship. God wants us to desire clean hearts and clean hands.
Second, God wants us to abandon the old life. Stop the old lifestyle because God will not accept us if we continue in the old life.
Third, we must develop a new mind. “Learn to do good” (1:16). God’s people need to adopt a new way of thinking, not conforming their minds to the pattern of this world (cf. Rom. 12:2).
Fourth, we must set new objectives for our lives and have a complete change of priorities. “Seek justice” (1:17). Jesus commands us to seek first the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 12:31). God’s people must change their pursuit from worldly things to godly things.
Fifth, God specified what needed to be made right. They needed to correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow’s cause. Right the wrongs and do what God has called you to do!
The Lord’s Invitation (Isaiah 1:18-20)
As always, God is ready to meet us with grace and mercy when we turn to him. Listen to his beautiful invitation:
“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 like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
This is a compassionate call. Let us resolve our differences. Let us settle the matter. There is hope. But the hope is found in God’s way, not in our ways. Your sins, which are like blood stained scarlet, can be made as white as snow. You can be made pure. You can be made clean. If you will present your sin-stained hands to God in confession and repentance, he will wash you clean and your worship will be acceptable again.
If we will be willing and obedient, we will receive life and blessings (1:19). But if we refuse and rebel, then we will receive death and judgment (1:20). The only thing that keeps us from renewal with God and cleansing of sins is our own stubbornness. God has not hidden the means for cleansing. God’s appeal is not unreasonable. God is asking us to be open and responsive to him. Stop the old life (cease), develop a new mind (learn), and set new objectives and priorities (seek). This is what makes worship acceptable to God. Our worship is unacceptable when it does not come from the overflow of repentance. Our hope is only found in God’s way.