Isaiah has offered a wonderful invitation of life and satisfaction to those who will choose to do things that please the Lord (56:3) and find joy in worship of the Lord (56:7). God’s invitation is to stop working for the things in this life that do not satisfy and come to the waters for true joy, life, and satisfaction (Isaiah 55). But Isaiah told us that the key to accepting the invitation to life is to forsake our ways and thoughts (55:7). Our ways lead to destruction, but God’s ways lead to life. Our thoughts are false and bring about our death. But God’s thoughts leads us to righteousness. God needs to impress upon us who we are. We cannot just come to the Lord. We cannot simply think that we can keep our ways and keep our thoughts and serve the Lord. Isaiah is going to show us why by showing us who we truly are. By doing so, God will show us what we must do and what God will do for us.
Selfish Leaders (56:9-57:2)
The first problem that is described is that leaders are selfish. I do not think that anyone in this room is surprised by this. We have all experienced this truth in our occupations and careers. People are looking out for themselves, not for those who they are supposed to lead. The sad thing is that this is true with spiritual leadership also, and this ought not be. Isaiah 56:9-57:2 describes the leaders of Israel and their total disregard for the spiritual welfare of the people. Rather than seeing the spiritual threat, they are only concerned about their own welfare and comfort. Verse 11 says that they have turned to their own gain. They lead for money, not for the good of others. Verse 12 reveals that they are consumed by their physical appetites. The first verse of chapter 57 shows that the righteous are being devoured, but no one cares. No one tries to do something about it.
Further, in 56:10 he describes these spiritual leaders as silent dogs that cannot bark. They provide no warning of the coming dangers. They are simply lazy and thus are completely useless. One of the important roles of spiritual leaders is to warn of spiritual dangers. A shepherd is of no value if he is not protecting the sheep. It is his primary duty. Shepherds warn through their teaching, rebuking, correcting, and encouraging. Spiritual leaders cannot be concerned for their own welfare first, but for the welfare of others. These people had failure to be shepherds to Israel. It is a reminder to us that we need leaders to follow. We need shepherds who will lead us in the right direction and watch over our souls.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)
Idolatrous People (57:3-13)
But the problem does not end with the leaders of Israel. The people are just as condemned as the leaders. God wants us to see our spiritual condition before him. We must see the idolatry that resides in our hearts. So God takes the mirror and attempts to penetrate into our very heart. Verse 3 begins by simply noting that we are not righteous. We are completely sinful before our God. Thus, God asks the question: who do you think you are? “Whom are you mocking?” We practice our sins so blatantly as if we are mocking or ridiculing God. Verses 5-8 describes the idols that they are serving: the idol of sex. They were seeking after physical fulfillment and serving their sexual desires rather than seeking the joy and satisfaction that comes from the Lord. These verses graphically describe the people committing these sins all over the land. Thus God asks the question, “Whom are you mocking?” Do you think that you are getting away with something? Do you think that your quest to satisfy your physical desires is not going to come in judgment upon you? “Shall I relent for these things?” (57:6). Does our behavior suggest that we are in right standing before God?
This is important for us to consider today because so many Christians have succumb to this same sinful behavior and thinking. We are mocking God by continuing in pornography, watching nakedness on tv and movies, having sexual relations before marriage, having affairs, committing sexual immorality, seeking to fulfill our fleshly desires, and pursuing our pleasures. The reason God draws this out is because we are showing a devotion to a love other than God. We are showing our devotion and love for our flesh and our desires rather than a devotion and love for God. When we know that these things are sin yet we continue to plunge ourselves into lust, then we are showing where our hearts and where our love truly is. Our hearts are not with God but with ourselves. Thus we are unfaithful to God’s covenant and worthy of judgment.
We are condemned because we will not stop and consider our need for the Lord who will give us true satisfaction. We are wearied by our activities yet we will not consider the hopelessness of pursuing anything that is not God himself (57:10). Though wearied by our sinfulness, we find new strength the next day and continue in our sinful ways. We did not remember the Lord and we did not take to heart that God has relented from bringing judgment upon us. Yet we do not fear him as we ought (57:11).
Please listen to verse 12.
I will declare your righteousness and your deeds, but they will not profit you. (Isaiah 57:12 ESV)
All of your righteous deeds that you think you stand on will not help you. Whatever good you think you have done amounts to nothing when we stand under judgment for our actions. You can pile up all the good deeds you want. You can try to make your list of righteous acts all day long. There is no profit in these things because we love the darkness and we love our sins. God needs us to see ourselves for who we are. This leads to the conclusion of this paragraph with God telling us to call out to our idols and see if they will help us. There is no substance to our idols. If we truly knew the Lord then we would not value our physical lusts and desires higher than the ways of our God. When we are held accountable for our sins, let us see if our idols are there to help us. When we come to the judgment seat of Christ, how will we explain our uncontrolled lust for the things of this world?
God Revives the Humble (57:14-21)
There is the offer of something better from the hand of God. The one who takes refuge in the Lord will inherit the Lord’s holy mountain (57:13). Verse 14 is amazing. God prepares the way for his people to come to him. In Isaiah 40:3 pictured the removal of obstacles from our lives because the Lord is coming. In Isaiah 57 God pictures himself as the one who will remove the obstacles in our hearts so that we can come to him. This is a glorious truth. If rescue depends upon me, then I am lost. I am trying to remove the obstacles of sin and the idols of the heart, but it seems like obstacles continue to rise up within me. God knew this and needed us to see that we have a problem and we are not the solution. God is the solution. “Remove every obstruction from my people’s way!” Friends, Jesus is the obstacle remover. The suffering servant of Isaiah 53 came to take down every barrier that keeps us from coming to him. We cannot appreciate God removing the barriers to him until we see ourselves for who we truly are — sinners with a serious sin problem.
Yet the message only becomes more glorious. Listen to verse 15. God describes himself as high and lofty. He is holy. He is pure. He is exalted. He is glorious. His name is Holy. The apostle Paul would say, “He alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16). See God for who he is. Then see yourself for who you are. Then listen to verse 15. “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” The holy, righteous, exalted Lord who dwells in holiness, high in the heavens, will also dwell with the person who has a contrite, lowly heart. This is unbelievable mercy and grace. God does not say that he will only dwell with the perfect person. He does not say that he will dwell with the pious or religious. He will not dwell with the righteous, for there is no one who is righteous. God will dwell with the humble. It is the humble that God will revive (57:15). Those who will be humbled by their sins and see themselves for who they are, dead in their sins, they will receive life from God.
Listen to verse 18. “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners.” The humble will receive healing. The contrite will be led by the Lord. Those who see the truth of who they are as dead in sins, God will restore that person. God is going to act through Jesus in such an amazing way that it will “create the fruit of the lips.” His acts will change our rebellious sinful hearts so that our lips will praise the Lord and no longer mock the Lord. This is the strength God supplies to overcome our sinful ways and tear out the idols in our hearts. We are steeped in our sinfulness. But God will dwell with those who are broken by their sins. God will heal you, lead you, and restore comfort to you when you are crushed by your wicked ways. Those who are not broken by their sinfulness, but continue in their wicked ways, there is no peace for them (57:21).
Can you believe that the high, exalted, and holy Lord will dwell with us rebels and transgressors? Let us be broken by our sins and amazed at the grace and glory of God to save us. This will lead us to desire to submit our will to the Lord and change our affections from the things in this world to the Lord who saved us.