TEXT: Isaiah 1:10-20
Is the Lord pleased with our worship?
In verse 10 of Isaiah ch. 1 it is quite shocking to see God referring to his people and their leaders as of Sodom and Gomorrah – cities notorious for their wickedness, so much so that God had to destroy them with fire from heaven! What did his people do to warrant such a deplorable epithet? Is it because they despised the Word of God?
I. GOD’S DISPLEASURE WITH VAIN WORSHIP
(A) “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?” (verse 11)
So much effort, so much labor, so much costly sacrifices – all in vain! – because God did not delight in their sacrifices. It does not follow that just because we have worked so hard to have an excellent worship service the Lord is automatically pleased with us.
(B) When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?” (verse 12) Is it possible that when we participate or even lead in worship it is without God’s warrant and call, but rather it is the product merely of self-will, motivated by the flesh rather than by the Spirit? And no matter how excellent our preaching or performance the result is actually the trampling (to crush underfoot) instead of the consecration of holy ground? When we worship in the flesh we make a mockery of worship, and instead of being pleased God is weary of our worship. Why? Because we have combined what are supposed to be incompatible: iniquity and solemn assembly (verse 13d).
Consequently, God does not hear our prayer and refuses to bless our worship.
II. THE CAUSE OF GOD’S DISPLEASURE
“Your hands are full of blood.” (verse 15c) Blood here stands for violence. Despite their many sacrifices, in their hearts and by their deeds they showed that they cared not for others. In fact, they were cruel, oppressive, unloving, and even violent. Verse 21 mentions the once faithful city as being now having murderers lodging within her where once was righteousness. This was the reason their worship was in vain.
But you might say this has nothing to do with you. You are not guilty of acting violently towards others. But 1 John 3:15 says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” And relating this now to worship we are reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:23-24, “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.”
Here we realize that when we lead in worship, whether it be preaching or singing, what is of paramount importance is the attitude of our hearts towards God and others. We see this in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Mark 6:34 we read, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.”
But to extend the application even further, not only direct violence, but carelessness and negligence with respect to how our conduct affects others can also make our worship vain, for as the context shows it is our unloving treatment of others, whether by omission or commission, that makes our worship displeasing to God.
Thus, in Matthew 18:6 we read, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [or to stumble], it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” And in relation to this we can derive a general principle from the specific application made by the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:15, “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.”
Whether we like it or not, as leaders we exert a lot of influence upon those we lead and it therefore behooves us to exercise more than ordinary care to make sure that by our influence we do not cause anyone to stumble. The words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4: 12 are apt, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” And in verse 16, “Keep a close watch on yourself.”
If I may be allowed to digress a bit, a long time ago I learned from a pastor almost old enough to be my father that as a leader I can be lenient towards others but I must nevertheless be strict with myself. For the sake of those I lead in worship I must deny myself what may be permitted to others. As the Bible says, somewhere, “What do we more than others?” “All things are lawful but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). And in Proverbs 31:3,4 – “Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink,” not because these things are wrong in themselves, but because with great power comes great responsibility!
III. THE CALL TO REPENTANCE AND REFORMATION
(A) “Wash yourselves!” (verses 16-17) The sincerity of our repentance is demonstrated by our sincere efforts at reformation. “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3:8). If we truly want to change, then we must act!
(B) “Come now, let us reason together!” (verse 18) Come to God for he can cleanse the foulest sin and pardon the vilest offender, and make you worthy again to worship him.
“Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.” (Psalm 51:14 KJV) There is restoration after repentance and reformation. We can worship aright again!
CONCLUSION: (Verses 19-20)
(A) Encouragement: Willing obedience brings abundant blessing.
(B) Warning: Willful rebellion brings severe discipline. (Galatians 6:7; James 3:1; 1 Peter 4:17)
I beseech you, please treat worship with the utmost seriousness, with the seriousness that it certainly deserves!
(Talk given to Ikthus East Magni Team during the Magni Retreat at Manapla, Negros Occ., Philippines, November 30, 2018 Friday)