Isaiah 1:13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
This first chapter of Isaiah has a glorious offer of forgiveness and redemption in verse 18 that has been memorably and beautifully set to music multiple times, but as a whole it is a ringing denunciation of “religion as usual.” The various activities mentioned are all specified and even commanded in such places as Leviticus, but the people’s failures in their personal lives made their religious activities not just meaningless but detestable. It is perhaps appropriate that church membership in the US has dropped below 50% of the population in recent years, because people are certainly not living as disciples of Jesus Christ! It is in a way strange that throughout history people have thought that going through certain motions, holding certain ceremonies, would placate God and make Him like them. God has always wanted our hearts – and not the way the Aztecs used to offer them to their gods! As verses 19-20 make clear, heart attitude is everything. Throughout the Bible it is very clear that repentance and humility are everything, Religious formulas just don’t cut it.
I’ll probably never forget the poor grade I got on my final assignment in preaching class in seminary (graded by a doctoral teaching assistant, and not by the professor). My text was from this chapter, and my title was, “There’s Blood on Your Hands.” I was graded down with the comment that it was “too extreme.” My response was that if I was too extreme, then Isaiah was too extreme! As the largest Protestant seminary in the world, they were very invested in “religion as usual,” which was quite sad. There were certainly exceptions, and I formed good relationships with some outstanding professors, but the overall impression to me was of maintaining the corporate enterprise of church, rather than training people to hear and be obedient to the Lord of Creation. That said, I too am steeped in tradition, and I can’t say that my obedience is always fresh and heart-felt. I am grateful for my years as a Christian, but I can’t maintain a fresh relationship, a sense of wonder, on my own. I need to ask and allow the Holy Spirit to keep working in me, exposing and discarding the junk and keeping me hungry for more of Jesus. On my own I will stagnate into “religion as usual.”
Father, thank You for this strong reminder. Help me remember that despite all my advantages I am just as capable as anyone else, if not more, of totally despicable hypocrisy. Help me walk in transparency before You and before the world. You see through me anyway, but keep me from even thinking I’m hiding! Help me be the child You desire and deserve, worshiping in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24) for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!