Friday, April 08, 2011

The Way of the Cross (27)

The first chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah is fairly shocking the first time you read it. The LORD God of Israel addresses his people, and tells them what he thinks of them and their religious observance. And it's not at all complimentary.

Israel is worse than an ox or a donkey, because those 'dumb' animals know their owner, but Israel doesn't know nor understand their God. Like a doctor, God diagnoses the problem: 'the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint', there's no soundness in the whole body, top to bottom. Israel are even called by the names Sodom and Gomorrah - an insult in anyone's book, those places being renowned for their sinful behaviour.

On the Ship of Fools website they have a section called Mystery Worshipper. Unannounced, a stranger will visit a church service, and then give fairly detailed feedback on what they thought of it - the welcome, music, sermon, tea, and a lot else besides. Isaiah 1 gives a not-so mystery worshipper's opinion on the Jerusalem temple. It couldn't be worse, as he describes 'this trampling of my courts... my soul hates... I will not listen...'

Their sin is obvious, getting in the way of their worship. Their sin must be dealt with. But how?

Some 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 like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
(Isaiah 1:18)

Later in the book, Isaiah will declare that Israel's self-righteousness is like filthy rags in God's sight. They simply can't do it themselves - and neither can we. Instead, the Lord himself takes our crimson stains and gives us his purity. He cleanses, so that we are clean.

How precious is the flow
that makes me white as snow
No other fount I know,
nothing by the blood of Jesus.

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