Boletim dos Obreiros

The Religious Facade

Isaiah 1:1-20

James was emphatic when declaring that faith without works is dead, inactive, inoperative, unfruitful and inert, it is as a corpse. The Christian faith does not only consist in professing, but, yes, also, in practising. Somebody observed that the faith and the works are as the light and the heat that radiate from a lighted candle; it is not possible to separate them. It was Augustus M. Toplady who said: "If God gives faith to you as He gave to Paul, then He will give you the power to practise the works demanded of James ". Thomas Manton commented: "faith is not an idle truth ".

One of the things that arouse the hatred of God is hypocrisy (Mark 12,15; Luke 6,42; 12,1; 13.15). Truly, hypocrisy, that is, the fact of being neither one thing nor another, neither hot nor cold, makes causes God to vomit (Rev. 3.16). God wants us to be genuine believers. Isaiah was sent by God to denounce the corruption, the formalism and the hypocrisy that reigned among the people of God. His message was directed to a people - Judah (1,1) and to a country, whose capital was Jerusalem (1,1). However, the same message serves for us, in Brazil or any another nation. We had better recognise the importance of the message, for it comes from the throne of God - "because it is the Lord who speaks" (1,2). The guilt of the very low moral and spiritual condition of Judah could not be attributed to God. God is neither unfaithful, hypocritical nor unstable. Judah accused God of abandoning the nation, but He proves the falseness of that accusation. In those days, a man was obliged to give a certificate of divorce to the wife he was to repudiate. Judah was incapable of presenting a certificate of divorce (Is. 50.1), and this fact declares the innocence of God, evidencing that it was not He Who left the nation, but it was the nation which abandoned Him. God is true and His faithfulness to the nation of Judah was unquestionable. Right at the beginning of this prophecy God declares and proves His affection and care. Judah was as a son (1,2). The nation of Israel was the smallest of all nations, however God chose it to be the special object of His love and attention, and the repository of His laws.

AN ACCUSING PRONOUNCEMENT -- vv. 1-2 . God made of Judah a great nation, numerically, politically and economically. It was like a son of God (Ex. 4,22-23; Deut. 32.20), but it became an unfaithful and rebellious son (Deut. 32.20). God accused them to be:

  • Insensitive - v. 5. Although punished and disciplined by God, the people of Judah continued to be rebellious, indifferent and insensitive to His voice. The many strikes had not brought any effect. God, as Father, did not have pleasure in afflicting the children, however, the apathy, coldness, inertia and indifference of His people, had increased His sadness.
  • Ungrateful – v. 2. Judah was spitting on the plate from which it ate, for it revolted against the Lord, despised His benefits.

As believers, we need to spend much of our time before the mirror of the Word. How easy it is to censure Judah and to be guilty of the same deficiencies. The Word of God has ceased being the infallible Guide of the majority of believers. We are handicapped of hearing, or, perhaps, it is the case of being hard of hearing. We are ungrateful, and as the nine lepers, we do not come back to thank God. It would be good if we dedicated some moments to speak to ourselves, to maintain monologues with our own soul: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits" (Ps. 103.2). Yes, we must fill a great part of the day in praising God for health, family, home, sustenance, job, friends, brothers in Christ, salvation, our spiritual inheritance.

2. A SIN DENOUNCED-- v. 3

In many things the creation of God is more intelligent, more grateful and trusts more in Him than we, human beings. The ox knows his owner and the donkey (symbol of stupidity and stubbornness) knows its master's crib, returns there to feed itself and to rest, however, the God's own people know nothing of Him, and isn't concerned with Him. Note some important expressions used for God with reference to the relationship of His people with Him:

  • "My people" - What a privilege to belong to the Lord, to be His exclusive property, flock, bride, body, sanctuary! We are His new creation, He is the divine Potter, but, sadly, we do not rest in His all-powerful hands so that He may mould us according to His wishes. Perhaps we do not employ the words, but by our behaviour we deny our relationship with Christ. We deny our association with Lord. Like Peter, we are saying: " I do not know Him" (Mark 14.68). On that occasion the rooster crowed; he did not refuse to confess that he belonged to God, he obeyed the orders of his Creator. If we were attentive we would hear the voice of the rooster as a voice of warning, prompting us to vigilance, but on the contrary, we close our ears and we live divorced from the Lord. He does not reign over us, over the local churches, He is not an integral part of our daily lives, of our daily decisions.
  • "Owner" and "Master" - the two terms are not synonymous. "Owner" has a fan of meanings which include "creator", "purchaser", "redeemer" and even "liable to be provoked to jealousy". Jesus Christ is our Creator, it was He who gave His life to own and redeem us. We were bought for a good price. We belong to the Lord twice: the first time through creation and, the second time, through redemption. This means that we do not belong to ourselves but to our Owner. Few believers recognise the right of the Lord to conduct their lives. "Master" conveys the thought of "lord", "teacher" or "husband". In this we have the idea of leadership, of supreme authority, of the act to govern.

How many times we provoke our Lord to jealousy, because, like Judah, we have transferred our love to others, we kneel before the altar of other gods, such as: commerce, material progress, sex, studies, profession, the frantic search for wealth; we bend ourselves before the altar of our ego, our success, our religious petty politics. We are as the Athenians, we have built many altars to the gods of the 21st century, including one to the unknown god. Yes, we have abandoned our first love, Jesus Christ is not the absolute and singular Lord of our being, but is only one amongst many.

It is lamentable that, at this advanced time, we have such a limited and fragmentary knowledge of Him who is our Lord. The bride of the Song of Solomon was able to describe in detail the beauty of her bridegroom, but, unfortunately, the bride of Christ does not have the same ability, so, as Israel, does not have knowledge, does not understand (Phil. 3.10).

 

3. A SICK PEOPLE -- vv. 4-6.

In these verses, the Holy Spirit discloses three things regarding the nation of Judah, i.e.: Its character, its condition and its behaviour.

a) ITS CHARACTER (v. 1a) - the words of the Lord were hard, His denunciation, severe. He did not go round the subject, He did not try to paint a pretty picture, He did not try to hide the rottenness of the nation, but He went direct into the subject, he attacked the jugular vein of Judah and he left it displayed and naked in the presence of all. The description is not at all pleasant, it is shocking and hair-raising.

"Sinful nation, or sinner" - God chose the nation of Israel for it to be holy (Ex. 19.6), but she became ungodly and impure. The varnish of some churches is weak and superficial and it does not serve to hide the dishonesty, the rot, the sin. We are as the Pharisees, we are no more than whitewashed tombs.

"People laden with iniquity" - "the guilt of the people of Israel is so great that they walk bent with the weight of iniquity" (B.V). The Lord accumulated blessings upon the people: "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits" (Ps. 68.19). It is preferable to be a people loaded with divine blessings than to be a people loaded with iniquity. We do not find it odd when we see people without Christ "overloaded" with iniquity (Mat. 11.28), but seeing the people of God willingly loaded by the weight of sin is something that afflicts the heart of the Lord and brings sadness to the spiritual leadership of the church.

"A seed of evildoers" - the word "seed" has to do with "fruit", "plant", "posterity". Israel was as a vine planted for the Lord, and of whom He expected good grapes, but it produced wild grapes (Is 5.1-2). The people of God became a seed of evildoers. The word "evildoer" transmits the idea "to ruin by breaking into pieces ". The people ruined the nation by breaking the laws of God. Whoever is turned aside from the ways of the Lord becomes an evildoer, "someone useless", "a good for nothing". Our disobedience makes us useless, people who are no good for God's service.

"Children that are corrupters" - Instead of being children of God and of disclosing His nature and His character, they have become children given to corruption and have gone to pervert other people. It is serious for the believer to live in sin, but it is extremely serious when he leads others to practise error. The term has a link with "ruining", "throwing away", "losing", "spoiling" and "becoming totally weak". A life of corruption and which influences others to become corrupted is a lost, spoilt, ruined and totally weakened life. What a scene that inspires pity!

b) ITS CONDITION (vv. 5b–6) - When the bride was invited to describe the loved one, she started to speak of the head and then the eyes, the face, the lips, the hands, the legs and the feet. She only found beauty and perfection (SS 5.10-16). When contemplating Judah, God saw a cancerous nation, where he was unable to see any single part which was not sick and did not emit a horrible smell. From the plant of the foot to the head, the nation showed signs of being sick. Sin and corruption had penetrated all layers of society and all areas of the nation. The Holy Spirit uses words worthy of our attention.

"Wounds" - The root of the word is "crack, or division". The cracks and the divisions that exist in the local churches are not virtues nor medals, but to the eyes of the Lord they are as wounds. The facts prove that 99% of the divisions that already have occurred, have not happened for doctrinal divergence, but because of envy, fights for power, shock of personalities, wounded pride or for things that do not have endorsement in the Word of God or for which we do not have clear lines of direction on the part of the Lord.

"Bruises" - They are marks left in the skin from whippings that wound and leave the body covered in purple spots. The judges had ordered the beating of Paul and Silas, but the converted jailer washed the bruises left by the whips. Some leaders and ministers of the Word are like the judges of Philipo. How many brethren carry bruises from their whips! Many times the believers themselves act like the demon-possessed and whip themselves. Their stubbornness brings consequences that are inflicted by they themselves.

"Putrefying sores" - The word is "carnage" or "pestilence". The word, besides communicating the idea of "to drip", "humid" and "dripping pus", also indicates that the wounds were recent. The history of the Church presents many examples of the consequences of that which happens when we disrespect the Lord and His Word, nevertheless, the churches of today continue to practise the same errors. Recent history provides evidence that many churches present putrefying sores, signs of fights they got involved in and of implacable cruelty.

The Lord God lamented that no attempt was being made to correct the situation. The wounds had not been:

"Closed" - This word really means "to close", "to press", "to join". How many wounds among brethren have been left open, no effort has been made to treat and to close the wounds, to join or to approach the opposing sides. In many cases, some try to inflame and to make the situation worse.

"Bound up" - "To involve", "to wrap up", "to cover all round". The world outside knows of the bad things that afflict the local churches, of the shameful things that happen in the midst of the people. Is it not time to go to the divine Healer so that He may close the wounds, heal the illnesses and cover them with His grace?

"Mollified with ointment" - How much hardness, resistance, intransigence exists in the heart of the believers. They do not have the inclination or humility necessary to decide the questions. Oil is a symbol of the Holy Spirit and it is the operation of the Spirit that makes the heart become soft and tender, compassionate and treatable. It is He who gives to each one the humility to admit the guilt or to pardon.

c) ITS CONDUCT (v. 4b) - Jehovah accused the nation of three ugly and disgusting attitudes.

"Forsaking the Lord" - The Lord promised His constant presence with them: "for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee". (Deut. 31.6). But Judah abandoned the Lord. As believers it is possible for us to incur in the same stupidity. Such an attitude is pure madness, because the Lord is the Source of all blessings.

"Provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger" - This could be read "to blaspheme", which includes the idea of "to disdain, to jeer at, to laugh at and to make little of" How could Judah have the temerity to adopt this position? How is it that we, believers, have the temerity to sin like Judah did? We know the Word of God, its requirements, but we do not take them seriously and we laugh in the face of the Lord.

"Went away backward" - Israel left Egypt, but Egypt did not cease to occupy a place in the heart of many Israelites. How could they wish to return to the tyranny of Pharaoh, the cruelty of the handlers, the slavery? It is not possible that a truly converted person, after tasting the delicacies of the divine table, the love of the Father, the closeness of the family of God, the wealth and the fullness of the inheritance of the children of God, can desire to go back toward the system where the devil reigns, where there is darkness, and the slavery of sin and of the addictions exist. However, this happens frequently!

 

4. A DEPLORABLE PRACTICE - vv. 7-15

The prophet describes:

a) THE CARE OF THE LORD (v. 7) - The nation of Israel was prosperous, rich and blessed, and this, no doubt, proved Jehovah's zeal.

b) THE LOVE OF THE LORD (v. 8) - " The daughter of Zion". This term shows the intense love of God towards Jerusalem, the place where He puts His Name. The local church may degenerate, but the Lord loves it with a perpetual love and will do everything to bring it back.

c) THE PUNISHMENT OF THE LORD (v. 9) - The nation which had been a symbol of greatness, whose power had been known in the entire world, became as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge (or as a scarecrow) in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. The glory was gone.

d) THE COMPASSION OF THE LORD (v. 9) - The hand of the Lord tried to hinder the total failure of the nation, however, it could not prevent the degeneration of Judah, for, in verse 10, God resembled Judah to Sodom and Gomorra. Which were the sins of Sodom? See Ezekiel 16.49-50. The People of God went down the abyss of sin, and became so loathsome as Sodom.

Despite all this, the people continued to frequent the Temple, to observe the Fixed Feasts and to make offerings to God. What hypocrisy! What humbug! In these verses we see:

  • "An empty religion" - They left the LORD, yet didn't abandon the Temple. Their hearts were sick, they had many "cardiac" problems, but they didn't leave the House of God. They made themselves present at the Feasts of the LORD, but they raised hands full of blood. There are certain conditions which God demands of the people who want to come close to His presence (see Ps. 24,1-5; Isa. 52.11). It is possible to be present at all the meetings of local church and, at the same time, to leave a trail of problems in the neighbourhood, the commerce and the family. It is possible to worship and, at the same time, to bear hatred for a brother or a sister, or to preach and to be at odds with the wife, or to have quarrels with the children. The Lord called the temple "My House" (Mt 21.13), but later on called it "your house" (Lc 13.35). The Temple ceased being the House of God and became the house of the Jews. The Church is the House of God, but it can degenerate to the point of becoming our house.

  • "Empty rituals" - God determined that His people should observe the Fixed Feasts or the Feasts of Jehovah. The Lord Jesus called such feasts "the Feasts of the Jews" (Jo 5.1). The Lord Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper, on which occasion we remember His Person and we take part in the bread and cup, symbols of His body and blood. But even such a sublime occasion, such a simple celebration, can degenerate to the point of not being the Supper of the Lord (1 Co 11.20). The church in Corinth celebrated the Supper, but it had divisions within it, many were present but did not participate of the emblems with discernment and others took part in a state of drunkenness. It is possible to have the emblems on the table, to sing hymns, to say amen, to worship and not to celebrate the Lord's Supper. If there are divisions, factions, fights, resentment, a spirit that does not want to pardon, if our house or home doesn't know peace, if there is unconfessed sin in our lives, the Lord's Supper will lose its value.

  • "Pretended Reverence" - They raised their hands to heaven as if they desired to have communion with the Lord, as if their hands were pure. It was not more than a front, a façade, a smoke curtain, all for others to see. The hands were full of blood and not the blood of animals, but, yes, human blood, of the prophets, their compatriots. It is no good to defend the Biblical principles, to serve the Lord if our hands are full of blood. In the midst of Christians murders are common -- murders of character, of the good name of dear brethren. Rumours, slanders, are enough to finish with the ministry of some. If there isn't agreement with some people, even on points which do not have a specific order from God, the trimmers and the razors appear to cut. Severe, coarse, offensive and wild words can wound more than knives and axes. The religious façade does not deceive God and doesn't stick with Him. God can see behind the exterior and, as in the case of Judah, He sees the camouflage, the injustice, the bribe, the financial interest, the disdain for the orphans and the widows, the true state of the heart. God sees the falseness, the lies, the dishonesty and the corruption, because He is aware of all and walks in the midst of the churches. God instituted the Feasts of Jehovah and commanded that the people brought offerings. There was nothing wrong in being in the Temple, bringing offerings to the Lord and neither in celebrating the Feasts of Jehovah. What was wrong was the people and its moral and spiritual condition. As believers and members of the local church, it is imperative that we should be at the meetings of the church, but, also, we must have the maximum of zeal in arriving at the presence of the Lord with a pure conscience and clean life.

  • "Disgusting Prayers " - the people were offering prayers learned by heart and weren't praising the Name of the Lord with the mind, with the understanding and with the spirit. Many prayers and a great part of the worship that we hear are trivialities said with a rather solemn air one, banal phrases, empty feelings, hollow words. The Spirit of the Lord needs to blow so that our hymns are real expressions of the heart and so that our worship, prayers and our communion with the Lord is deep, sincere, of the heart, spontaneous and so that they please God, as a soft aroma and not as deteriorated meat that smells badly. Our doctrine can be clear as the crystal and, at the same time, our lives can be as the stinking waters of a swamp.

5. A DISTINCTIVE POWER — vv. 16–18 (Isaiah 1:1-20). There was no need for Judah to continue to live this degenerate and disgraceful life. Three steps were necessary for recovery: a) To repent (v. 16) - Here we have the first step - the acknowledgement of its state and the will to turn its back to sin and turn again towards God. b) To learn (v. 17) - The second step is positive and is to learn to do good, to be honest and to help those who are in need. This is the evidence of authentic religion (Jas. 1.22-27). c) To attend (v. 18) - The blotches of sin were deep and ugly, but God had the power to remove them. There is power in the blood of the Lord Jesus and if we do our part, that is, confess our sins, He is faithful and just to do His part. (1Jo. 1.9). 6. A DIVINE PROMISE — vv. 19–20 God wants to bless His people but, for this purpose, He needs certain steps and conditions: a) Submission (v. 19a) - " If you are willing and obedient" (NKJV). Many think that a life totally surrendered to the Lord and under His dominion is a nuisance, a pure bore, like travelling second class, but it isn't. b) Suffering (v. 20) - Each believer has the right to live the life he wants, to be selfish, materialistic, and turned only towards the present, or he can invest in eternal values. He can continue to live behind a façade of hypocrisy or in the light of God. The believer who lives for himself and for the present will suffer loss now and in eternity. The believer who lives for the Lord will have eternal reward. It was the "mouth of the Lord" that said it. The choice is ours!