Come, let's reason together

Text Isaiah 1:18 Time 11 01 09 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
In one of his little books for children the hymn writer Isaac Watts calls Isaiah “the prophet who spoke more than any other concerning Christ and the gospel.” In his Short view of Scripture history, also for children, he speaks of “Isaiah, who was called the evangelical or gospel prophet, because he foretells the greatest variety of events that relate to him” and goes on to give some examples – Isaiah's prophecy of the virgin birth, of Christ's descent from David, of his rejection, of John the Baptist's role as forerunner, of Christ's sufferings, etc. The truth is that although Isaiah is clearly an Old Testament prophet who wrote some 800 years before Christ his book is full of Christ and full of evangelical or gospel teaching. What I want us to do this morning is to look at just one such text in Isaiah – probably the very first - the one that is found in Isaiah 1:18
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 as crimson, they shall be like wool.
Isaiah prophesied for a long time. You can see that from the title in 1:1. He prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. The burden of his prophecy in Chapter 1 is to confront God's people with their sin. God calls them rebels against him, people who have forsaken him. 2 The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Not mincing his words he calls them a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; ... spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. Isaiah explains that it is their persistence in rebellion that has caused the troubles they've known (7) Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers. What devastation they'd known. It was not that the outward signs of religion had disappeared. They were all still there. But it was just an empty charade. Stop bringing meaningless offerings! God says (13) Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations - I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Where is justice? Where are good deeds? There needs to be repentance. There is more of this later in the chapter. It is in this context though that we read (18)
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 as crimson, they shall be like wool.
The prospect of blessing is held out to the people – but only if they will respond to this verse.
Now this is an excellent verse for us to be considering this morning as although we may not be suffering as God's people were then, we are certainly rebels by nature and left to ourselves we all forsake God and turn from him. Such rebellion deserves his judgement. Nevertheless, in this verse we find a word of hope, a light at the tunnel's end so to speak, a reason not to despair.
There are three things to take note of
1. Consider this invitation to reason things through with the Lord
The first word in the text is Come which is a great Bible word and one that is full of invitation. When you get an invitation to a wedding or a party or something like that, the word come is often the key word. It may be dressed up a bit “Mr and Mrs John Smith request the pleasure of your company at the marriage of their daughter, etc” which is just another way of saying come or it may be a plain old “Come to my party”. What we have here then is an invitation. We can ask three obvious questions.
1. Who is sending out the invitation?
It is the LORD, the sovereign God of Israel, our Creator and our Judge, the only true God.
This means to say that it is an invitation that cannot be ignored. Like me you no doubt get all sorts of invitations through your door – places to eat, news of services available, ways of spending your money, etc. Most of these we ignore. It doesn't matter that we do this because the people who send them to us usually have no authority over us or any real claim on us. If, however, a summons to court should come through my door or something of that order then I cannot ignore it. This verse in Isaiah is an invitation but because it is an invitation from God it is in some ways more like a summons than an invitation. You cannot ignore it. You must respond.
2. Who does he send the invitation out to?
To his people, to all those who Isaiah was addressing. This would have included all sorts of people. In a similar way, there is a general invitation today that goes out from God to all who hear.
The word COME can helps us there. It includes Children but not just children Others too. It includes the Middle aged and the Elderly as well. Everyone, whatever their age, male or female, rich or poor, all are included. It includes you. This invitation from God to reason together about your sins is for you and for me and for all of us.
3. What are these people invited to?
Well, the invitation says Come now, let us reason together. It is an invitation to a conference, a parley, a discussion. One version paraphrases "Come. Sit down. Let's argue this out." Others have “I, the LORD, invite you to come and talk it over”; “Come now, let’s settle this”; “Come, let’s consider your options”.. That's the idea then - “Let's sit down together and talk this through”.
There are some people and they drift through life without ever really thinking at all. They never stop and consider what they do and how it affects others or where their way of life is leading them. They're too busy with other things. Is that you? Are you making that mistake? Don't!
There are others who do think about their lives and about many other things too. Sometimes they will discuss with others what they are thinking. Indeed some like to interact. What they will not do, however, is what this verse urges us all to – they will not reason together with God. They will not come to him and reflect on their ways before his face. It is summed up well in Psalm 110:4 In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God – a sort of motto for the age in which we live. Again is that you? You're a thinking person, yes, but you are an independent thinker – a person who is seeking to shut God out. Don't do that. Get to thinking about yourself with God. Do it together. Ah, it's a fearful thing to be in the presence of Almighty God I know but that is what is needed.
“How though?” you say “how do you reason together with God?” Well, you do it with your Bible open, in a spirit of prayer and humility. It's really what we are doing now – reasoning together with God, discussing things openly before him; listening to what God says and carefully reflecting on it. Let's do it then.
2. Understand how deeply stained with sin you are by nature
There are two things that we really need to take in here. The rest of the verse reads Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. This is poetry and Hebrew poetry often uses repetition or parallelism. Your sins are like scarlet, parallels they are red as crimson and they shall be as white as snow, they shall be like wool. Let's look first at Your sins are like scarlet and its parallel they are red as crimson.
The thing about the colour red or scarlet or crimson here is, firstly, that it is pretty obvious. When soap powder manufacturers want to advertise their product they often do it with white clothing marked by tomato ketchup or red wine – things like that. There is no hiding sin in the end. It is a glaring thing. We talk about being caught red handed which is the same as being found with blood on one's hands. The terms, as here, speak of guilt, obvious undeniable guilt. That was the position of the people then and it is our position now. Our sins are like scarlet ... they are red as crimson. Another idea is that of being deep seated. Our sins cling to us and cannot easily be washed away. Have you ever had dye on your hand, especially a red or purple dye? It cannot be removed. So sin clings to us. It sticks to us like mud.
Some of you this morning are quite sensitive about sin. It's like the way some people with a fair complexion blush easily when they are embarrassed. Others of you sometimes feel quite pure and innocent but we only have to be exposed to God's law to see that we are full of sin. We do not love others as we should and we do not love God. He is not first in our lives. We would so often rather idols. We will not speak of him as we should and we will not give him the time we should. There is a rebellious streak in us that raises its ugly head at times. Sometimes we are malicious, sometimes lustful, sometimes grasping, sometimes dishonest, sometimes greedy.
Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. Such sins are typical. As Paul says plainly (in Galatians 5) I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Yet these are the sorts of things we do.
Like Macbeth in Shakespeare's play we say “Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.” Like Lady Macbeth we say in vain “out damned spot” and “What, will these hands ne'er be clean? ... Here's the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” Oh, yes like them we can easily wash our hands or take a shower but it is not so easy to shake off the pangs of conscience. It keeps knocking. We continue to know its pangs and humanly speaking there is no way to deal with such pangs. There is such a stain that nothing will remove it. It is as if there is a beautiful white carpet and someone has thrown a tin of red paint all over it. It is obvious, lasting and nothing is going to remove it. That is our position before God by nature and we must see it.
3. Hear this promise of pardon and purity for sinners like you
All that is quite depressing, of course, but necessary. The thrust of the verse is very positive, however, Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD. Though your sins are like scarlet, ... though they are red as crimson - they shall be as white as snow; ... they shall be like wool.
Yes, the stain of sin is obvious and deep seated. We are guilty. We are not innocent. It seems as though there is no remedy. Yet here God speaks very plainly a word of hope Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. It's been trying to snow recently. Snow in London soon turns to slush and is not a pleasant sight but when the snow comes down it is white, pure white – no sign of red in it. Wool on the backs of sheep can be various colours but tends to be most often more of an off white these days but there is certainly no hint of red in it unless it's been put there. “Now look” says God “by nature you are stained, you are marked, you are guilty but I can remove the stain, I can purify and cleanse you again.”
He doesn't go into how here but we know from elsewhere that it is through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ that this cleansing work can be done. By coming and dying as he has done Jesus Christ has provided a way so that though our sins are indeed like scarlet ... though they are red as crimson, they can nevertheless be as white as snow ... like wool straight from a sheep's back. All we need to do is to put our trust in Jesus Christ and all will be well, our sins will be washed away.
Are you washed? Are you washed in the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb? Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow? Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? Without that there is no hope. 19, 20 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. The Day of Judgement is fast approaching when God will thoroughly purge away all dross and remove all ... impurities. He is going to set up the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City. He will redeem Zion with justice, those who are sorry for their sins with righteousness But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the LORD will perish. What a fire will be kindled on that day. How will you escape unless you turn to him now? Put your faith in Christ then. Trust in him and know all your sins removed.

Watching, waiting, praying

Text Micah 7:7 Time 04 01 09 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Over the last few years we've made it our pattern to begin each new year by focusing on one particular text that serves not only for the first sermon of the year but as a sort of motto for the ensuing year. So last year our text was
Luke 12:32 Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. This year I want us to focus on a text found in Micah 7:7 But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me.
I think that is an excellent text for a sermon, for a new year sermon, especially for 2009. I also think it is a text that it would be helpful for us to carry in our minds in the days ahead. But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me.
Little is known about the prophet Micah except what we can learn from the book itself and a brief reference in Jeremiah (26). We know he was from the town of Moresheth, probably Moresheth-Gath, about 25 miles South West of Jerusalem near Gath and that he prophesied in the 8th Century BC, for some time probably before the fall of Samaria, during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. He was a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea and also Amos. Like Amos, Micah seems to have been a country prophet, something of an outsider, unlike Isaiah who was close to the kings and often in the royal court. Micah wrote when the Assyrians were the great power of the day. His main audience was Judah, though he also had things to say to the Ten tribes. He wrote to warn them, for example, the judgement for sin soon to come one them. He also wrote to warn Judah of a similar impending judgement because of sin. He seeks to show Judah that they are just as guilty as sinful Israel and so will also be judged. He emphasises both God’s justice and his love and is quite definite about an eventual restoration for God's people. He presents God as "the sovereign Lord of the earth who controls the destinies of nations, including his covenant people Israel".
Today we just want to look at the opening verses of Chapter 7. After the title the book is made up of a number of short prophecies that can be seen as coming in three cycles. The first (Chapters 1/2) focuses on judgement and restoration for Israel and Judah. Micah speaks first of judgement, predicting destruction and lamenting over it. He pronounces woe particularly on oppressive land-grabbers, the wealthy and on false prophets but he promises (2:12, 13) the restoration of a remnant. In the second cycle Judah’s leaders are condemned in Chapter 3 then a future hope for God’s people is spoken of in Chapters 4 and 5. He speaks of the coming kingdom, restoration of a remnant and escape from distress to deliverance, siege to victory, a helpless ruler to an ideal king. This ideal king delivers his people, the remnant among the nations, and obliterates opposing forces and their pagan worship.
In Chapters 6 and 7 we have the third cycle: God’s charges against his people and the ultimate triumph of his kingdom. In 6:1-8 we have a divine covenant lawsuit. Further charges follow and the sentence is pronounced (6:9-16). The opening verses of Chapter 7 then are a lament over the decadence that exists. These are the verses we want to consider and we want to say two things.
1. Recognise that we live in troubled times
In 7:1-6 then Micah is describing a decadent society, a society under judgement. It may have been in Ahaz's reign but even in Hezekiah's reign corruption went on. He has in mind his own day then, no doubt, but it is hardly unique. The same sorts of things as Micah speaks about here are common in our day too. He instances five things that are in short supply and laments them. They were in short supply in his day and they are in our own. We also ought to lament.
1. Recognise the lack of godliness
He begins with a picture. Here is a man hoping to glean some grapes at a vineyard. He expects to find fruit there – grapes and some figs too. But he says (1) What misery is mine! I am like one who gathers summer fruit at the gleaning of the vineyard; there is no cluster of grapes to eat, none of the early figs that I crave. This is a picture of how The godly have been swept from the land; so that not one upright man remains. The Lord Jesus experienced the same thing – just as he could find no fruit on that fig tree he cursed so he could find no godliness in Israel – certainly not where one would expect to have found it. And it is the same in our nation today.
Many of the churches that once existed have been closed. They are now mosques or temples, community halls or offices. Church attendance is not growing and there is a lack of ministers. One study has suggested that the number of Christians attending Sunday services will fall by two thirds in the next 30 years. It expects total membership of all denominations to fall from the present 9.4% of the population to under 5% by 2040. The study anticipates that poor attendance will force some 18,000 more churches to close. No wonder godliness is at a premium. Prayerfulness, love for God, holy living – such things are rare in our day, in 2009.
2. Recognise the lack of love
Micah goes on (2b) All men lie in wait to shed blood; each hunts his brother with a net. He is using hyperbole, of course, but it graphically evokes the lack of love that was common then and is common now. A recent BBC News item began “On an average day in Britain, two or three people will be murdered. The UK currently has a homicide rate equivalent to the mid-Victorian period. The prevalence of murder seems a reasonable proxy for the health or sickness of a society and this deteriorating picture of our islands perhaps tells us something about the profound problems of social cohesion.” There was a case on the news this morning of a boy who has shot his mother, who it seems was abusing him. Here in London we are particularly aware of the problem with knife crime and shootings. Over the blast 10 years reported cases of domestic violence have risen by more than 40% to almost 50,000 incidents this year. Bullying continues to be a problem in many schools. There is such violence and such greed in our society today that it is frightening at times.
3. Recognise the lack of good leadership
In 3 and 4a we read Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire - they all conspire together. Micah again uses a powerful agricultural image The best of them is like a brier, the most upright worse than a thorn hedge. He adds The day of your watchmen has come, (the day the prophets warned about) the day God visits you. Now is the time of their confusion. So today there is scarcely a politician entirely untainted by accusations of greed and corruption. Power is often abused by those at various levels of government or in the media. They take unfair advantage of others. Sometimes such things are even seen among church leaders. The spirit of public service seems to be disappearing among us.
4. Recognise the lack of reliability
In 5 Micah warns Do not trust a neighbour; put no confidence in a friend. Even with her who lies in your embrace be careful of your words. Then, as so often today, no-one could trust anyone else. One of the great problems we have today is that teachers and policemen and nurses and others are having to spend inordinate amounts of time writing down everything they do. Why? Because no-one feels they can trust anyone else any more. There is a common lack of reliability and so of trust. Treachery abounds everywhere. A woman says her child has gone missing but is she telling the truth? People want to steal your identity, telephone companies take advantage, banks overcharge. There are business scams and charity scams and credit card scams, etc. Who can you rely on?
5. Recognise the lack of respect
Verse 6 is well known as Jesus quotes it For a son dishonours his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies are the members of his own household. Jesus uses it to describe the way households are divided when the gospel comes and is received by one but not by another. Some of us know what that is like. Here in particular the lack of harmony seems to arise from a lack of respect. This is yet another feature of our current society. This is the generation that in the last decade coined the phrase 'talk to the hand cos the face ain't listenin'. There is a lack of respect between old and young, between parents and their children, between professionals and those they are supposed to serve, between those in authority and those under it, between people of different faiths and beliefs. What division and what disrespect there is!
Obviously we can paint things darker than they really are but without exaggeration certainly there is no doubt that in our society to day there is a lack of godliness and a lack of love, a lack of good leadership, a lack of reliability and of respect.
2. Be resolved, nevertheless to be different and to do what Micah is resolved to do
And so we come to our text, Micah 7:7, But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me. There is a clear contrast here. On the one hand, there is the lack of godliness, the lack of love, the lack of good leadership, the absence of reliability and of respect. Several temptations face us at such times.
Some are tempted to be conformists. They are tempted to fall into the same ways – the same lack of love and respect, the same ungodliness. We certainly must not do that.
Some are tempted to be defeatists. They just give up. 'What is the point?' they say. 'Why resist?' Again that is not Micah's attitude and it shouldn't be ours.
Some are tempted to be fretters. They worry and fret. They become anxious and act like headless chickens. Like Corporal Jones they run around crying 'Don't panic! Don't panic!' though they are panicking more than anyone else.
We must not react in any of these ways but be willing to stand up and be counted – to be different. How important that we stand firm. I saw a Christian T-shirt once with all the fish swimming one way and one lone Christian fish headed in the opposite direction. That's how we must be – swimming against the tide.
Micah follows his But as for me with three things that are in many ways three ways of saying almost the same thing but that can profitably be taken separately. They underline three important attitudes that we must adopt as Christians if we are not to be swallowed up in the deluge of wickedness that, as in Micah's day, is all around us and everywhere we look. And so on the first Lord's Day of 2009 we say
1. Watch faithfully in hope for the LORD
Micah says, firstly, I watch in hope for the LORD. So picture him first like this – with his hand over his brow, looking up and into the distance. Micah is a man who is watching. Here is a man whose eyes are open. He is not pre-occupied with the wickedness of men even though there is plenty of it about. Rather he is looking in another direction. He is watching to see what the Lord will do. Yes, humanly speaking things are pretty hopeless but the godly man still has hope at such times as his hope is not in man but in the Lord. This is how we must approach this year that lies ahead – faithfully watching in hope for the Lord. We do not know exactly what he will do but we do know that he is the one to watch. Look to him whatever happens.
Here is a watchword for 2009 then. We must be those that watch, those who are on the look out for the Lord and for what he might do next.
2. Wait patiently for God and his salvation
Micah goes on to say I wait for God my Saviour. We picture Micah next in a waiting posture – with his arms by his sides. Here is a man whose feet are stood firm. You see, he is not only watching but he is also waiting, patiently waiting. Sometimes this is very hard to do. You hear the preacher say that you must look to the Lord, you must watch out for him but it can be slow work watching to see what God will do. Sometimes it seems to us as though he is doing nothing. Patient waiting for him is very important for us. He is the only Saviour. It is no good trying to save ourselves. He alone can do it.
Here is another watchword for 2009 then. We need not only to faithfully watch in hope but also to patiently wait for God and his salvation. He will rescue us. He will save us. But we must be patient. Keep watching and waiting.
3. Pray confidently to God
The third thing Micah says is slightly different. It is very positive. Instead of saying something like “I pray confidently to God” he says My God will hear me. The third posture then is one of prayer. His hands are lifted up or placed together in a posture of prayer. Here is a man willing to get down on his knees. The implicit thing then is that he prays. This is, in part, an expression of his watching and his waiting but it is something more again – it is both a looking to the Lord and watching of him and a waiting on him, a submission to him. Micah is a man who prays too confidently. You say to Micah 'Do you pray?' he says ;'Yes'. You say, and will God answer you and he says My God will hear me!
So here is a third and final watchword for 2009. We need not only to faithfully look to God in hope and patiently wait for God to rescue us, we must also be people who pray. Day by day, moment by moment we need to seek his face and ask that he will answer our prayers and bless us.
Micah spekas here in the person of Christ. It is Christ who would later say But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me. He is not only our Saviour from sin but our example too. He is the one who says to his disciples (Matt 26:41) Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. He adds The spirit is willing, but the body is weak which is a reminder of the need for patience.
Here are three Christlike and Christ commanded things that we should be aiming at in this coming year then – faithful watchfulness, patient submission and confident prayerfulness. If we do so we can face the future with some confidence. See how Micah goes on here (8ff). Israel says Do not gloat over me, my enemy! he says Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. Yes, they would be under God's judgement for a while but God would bring him out into the light. Israel would see his righteousness and his enemies would be confounded. A day would come for building walls and extending boundaries, a day of glorious success for Israel. See the closing verses of the chapter (19, 20) You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our fathers in days long ago. Such a promise is for us who believe too. We ought to believe it and stir each other up to watching, waiting and prayer. May such attitudes characterise us throughout the coming year. Let's say But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me.