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THOUGHTS FROM ISAIAH

COME NOW LET US REASON TOGETHER …

It is quite common for people to criticize God as unreasonable or even as unfair or unjust. Such accusations, such reasons for not believing in God, reflect both ignorance of God and ignorance of the human.

The reasonableness of God is expressed in the words ‘Come now, let us reason together’ [Isaiah 1:18] and the verses that follow.

As we have already seen, the Israelites had rejected God – forsaken him, the living God, their Creator and Redeemer, and were worshipping idols, man-made substitutes for the one true God. Out of this rejection of God issued such an erosion of moral standards that the level of human suffering increased. Out of this rejection of God hypocrisy entered the religion of Israel as people who despised God continued the external ritual observances of the worship required by God.

According to their historic covenant relationship with God, such rebellion and corruption merited God’s judgement [see, for example, Deuteronomy 29:1-19]. Indeed, according to Deuteronomy 29:19-20 the person who presumes to think that the covenant relationship gives him the liberty to do whatever he pleases, will never be forgiven.

Yet here in Isaiah, God makes an offer of forgiveness to the very people who had rejected him and rebelled against him:

‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be white like wool’ [1:18].

This is an amazing offer. Where judgement is totally deserved, totally warranted, God announces the possibility of this incredible gift. But it is not a universal gift. Nor is it an arbitrary gift. This forgiveness is offered to all but it is given only to those who cease their rebellion against the Lord and return to him:

‘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’ [1:19,20].

‘Return to him you have so greatly revolted against’ [31:6].

‘Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon’ [55:7].

‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins’ [59:20].

This prerequisite for forgiveness is also stated elsewhere:

‘Return, faithless Israel …
I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful …
I will not be angry forever.
Only acknowledge your guilt ...’ [Jeremiah 3:12,13].

‘Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!’ [Ezekiel 15:6].

‘Repent! Turn away from all your offences …I take no pleasure in the death of anyone … Repent and live!’ [Ezekiel 18:30,32].

Forgiveness is offered … but it is only for those who return to the Lord – those who forsake the false ‘god’ concepts they have embraced, whether physical idols or philosophical ideas about ‘god’ and return to God. Forgiveness is possible only in a restored relationship with the one true God.

In this restored relationship with the living God forgiveness is multi-faceted:

It is the ‘red’ of our sins being ‘white’ like snow [Isaiah 1:18].
It is God putting our sins behind his back – out of sight, out of mind [Isaiah 38:17].
It is God, sweeping our sins away like the mists of the morning [Isaiah 44:22].
It is God granting free pardon [Isaiah 55:7].

How is this possible? How can the just and deserved judgement of God be thus put aside? How can God forgive our sins and yet remain true to his justice? How can he forgive us and not make a mockery of his own law?

Paul teaches us in Romans that God presented Jesus Christ as a ‘sacrifice of atonement … He did this to demonstrate his justice … so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus’ [Romans 3:25,26]. This provision of a substitute sin-bearer is anticipated by Isaiah:

‘… he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ [Isaiah 53:5,6].

Come now, let us reason together … This is the extent to which God has gone to make forgiveness available to us [1John 2:2; 3:9]. There is forgiveness with God … there is escape from the judgement …and because both the forgiveness and the judgement are real, there is the urgent necessity to return to the Lord. To do so is to receive forgiveness. But to remain in rebellion against God is to remain under his judgement.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014