Isaiah chapter five moves into farming mode with a ballad. We are talking vineyards here and we get a glimpse at how God will take care of things. Check out the actions it gives us: It says “He
1. hoed the soil
2. pulled the weeds
3. planted the very best vines.
4. built a lookout
5. built a winepress
6. looked for a yield
but for all his pains he got junk grapes.” It sure looks like everything was done right. Soil prepared, planting done with good stock, careful watch and big expectations. But the yield was not what was expected – it yielded junk. Our text tells us that the vineyard keeper has done all possible to get the right results. But the fruit was bad. It didn’t turn out as expected. So what will be the result – “I’ll tear down its fence and let it go to ruin. I’ll knock down the gate and let it be trampled.”
God expects us to bear fruit – but not just fruit – good fruit. He calls out some things in this chapter that are not acceptable. Check out a couple of things He calls out as no no’s:
- “they’ll have nothing to do with the work of GOD, pay no mind to what he is doing
- think you’re so smart, who hold such a high opinion of yourselves
- line your pockets with bribes”
God is about making us holy – this chapter calls that out. He is going to remove these kind of things from our lives. If we get self centered, prideful, greedy etc, God is going to see that as junk fruit and make some changes. We can expect the fences to go down and the trampling to go up. He is going to make some changes in our lives. God will get rid of bad fruit. It is far better we prune and get the right things growing ourselves!
Isaiah chapter four is a curious little chapter. Only six verses long. And it starts with this statement: “That will be the day when seven women will gang up on one man”. Now at first glance you may think this is a great thing if you are a guy….after all who wouldn’t like those odds. But when you consider the context here Isaiah is writing about the reality that while the number of people born are basically 50% men and 50% women, when God is done with cleaning up things there will be a whole lot less men left in the mix. Six out of seven will be dead is really what this is telling us. Women have to step up and take care of themselves because there just aren’t many men left. But as God has cleaned up the sin and things are starting anew and getting back on track. He is making things holy and “purging the place” in order that they can be in “His glorious presence”. God is not tolerant of sin forever, and He certainly is taking action to clean things up during Isaiah’s time. We should never take His mercy for granted. He cares deeply how we live……
Isaiah writes in chapter 3 about God’s move to bring the city of Judah to its knees. He begins by telling us that God will empty the city of “the basic necessities, plain bread and water to begin with”. That is pretty basic. Not sure those would be the first things that would have come to mind for me – but when we are down to no bread or water – things are pretty bleak. God is going to basically make this city a city without any leadership. Those who are typically in charge of things will be gone. There will be a huge leadership void. That seems to me to be the state of our nation in many ways today. There are many groups, clubs and companies that seem to be unable to really move forward because there is a lack of leaders. Isaiah writes that people will be saying “Don’t put me in charge of anything”. That is a bad situation for all. Someone needs to lead. People have to step up and use the talents God has given to make a difference. As believers, we are called to lead – to use our gifts for the Kingdom in how we relate to others. Ducking and running from leadership is not what God intends for us. Yes there must be balance in life – we can’t do everything all the time – but we also can’t run from every request for us to step up and do something either.
The real issue here is that people are at “cross-purposes with GOD”. I like that description. God has a purpose and a plan. We need to understand that. The Bible gives us quite a view into His plan, and He also will reveal it to us if we ask. But if we are not on the same page, if we get crossways with God – we are going to run into major issues. Life is not about me or my plan. It is about me aligning with God and His plan. I have to know what that plan is to line up with it. The second half of this chapter basically is a picture of what God will do to make sure people get lined up – and it is not a pretty sight. “Bald headed women…..smell like rotting cabbages….sporting rags….scabs and scars….mourning the dead”. This is really not an optional discussion. God is God and His plan will be executed. The question really is – will we line up and live according to that plan (in alignment with His Word) or will He be required to reign us in like He did in Isaiah? We choose. But it will happen His way………
Isaiah blasts truth in chapter 2 as he puts us in our right place. He makes is clear that “God alone at front and center” is the way it will be. There will be no other outcome. God is and will be the focal point. People tend to “take sticks and stones…decked out in gold to look like gods” and manufacture something that they hold as a god in their life. It can be anything – stuff we buy, people we idolize, time we waste on unimportant activities – but we can’t keep letting anything but the living God of the universe be the center of our lives. He alone is worthy of our praise. He alone holds that spot. Isaiah tells us “people make their own gods and worship what they make”. Not going to fly with God my friend. He alone has to be the focus of our worship.
But Isaiah also tells us that if we seek God and go to Him “He’ll show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made”. That is a great promise. God designed us after all. He created us in His image and knows us intimately and absolutely has the directions for how we should live. He wrote the users guide when the Bible was penned. He knows everthing about us and can show us how to live. But we have to seek that information and take it in and allow Him to lead us through the Holy Spirit. We have to be willing to read the instruction manual, which many of us are not very willing to do, so that we know how to live. The issue that many have is pointed out as Isaiah ends this chapter when he says that we are “so full of themselves, so full of hot air”. He knows mankind pretty well – sums up a big part of the world we live in. We focus on the wrong thing – ME. Life is not about me, or about you. It is all about God and we need to make sure we never forget that. When we put self in the center we will flounder and fall. God is not going to allow it. Pride will take us down. We have to keep God in His place and focus on living life as He has prepared it – and His Book shows us how!
The second half of Isaiah chapter 1 sounds like something we might read on the front page of the paper today. Things are not good – there is lots of garbage going on that God is not pleased with. Sin is rampant and God says “I’ll not be listening” to your prayers until you clean it up. Did you know God sometimes turns His back on people who won’t repent and get right? He never leaves – but He does stop listening. Isaiah tells us one of the problems is “you’ve been tearing people to pieces”. Does that sound like our dog eat dog climb all over one another to get to the top kind of mentality? We are told to “clean up your act” and in fact, there is a list of if/then statements I think worth stopping to note:
- “If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white.
- If they’re red like crimson, they’ll be like wool.
- If you’ll willingly obey, you’ll feast like kings
- If you’re willful and stubborn, you’ll die like dogs”
God wants us to get life right. We are told to “purge the junk from your life”. There are so many things that distract us and keep us from walking with God. Isaiah tells us it is a “dead end for those who walk out on God”. The reality is – there is no life outside of that relationship – not really. Yet we make choices that draw us away – choices that allow other stuff to come between us and God or us and others. We fall into the traps of the enemy that people don’t matter and focus on ME. God is not pleased and He will clean us up. We can choose to take those steps toward repentance and forgiveness or we can have it done the hard way by a Father who will get it done. The reality is that God is God. Sin is separation from Him and leads to spiritual death and eternal separation. We need to deal with the sin in our lives. We need to get right with God and others. There is no middle ground here.
Today we move on to Isaiah. In the first half of chapter one – God’s message comes out quit clearly. He makes His case this way: “they turned on me…my people have walked out on me”. How unfortunate right? These chosen people have turned tail and run from God and His ways. They are dropouts and have “walked off and never looked back”. How stupid can we be? Yet I sort of think it describes what is happening in our world today. We have failed to stand strong. We have chosen to focus on things other than God – to let the world crowd in and choke the gospel that we need to be living and sharing with all those around us.
Isaiah continues and really gets after the church. “Quit your worship charades”. That is a pretty strong statement. But is it true for your life? Do you go to church and spend time in worship so it looks good. Is our worship really about God or do we fall into the description used here to describe what is going on: “Running here and there, doing this and that– all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship”. Unfortunately that does describe me some days. So busy doing God’s work I forget about God. So many meetings and conferences and activities – all in the name of God – but certainly not always done WITH God. The real problem is pointed out in that we do worship “while you go right on sinning”. That doesn’t fly with God – sin never does. But when we pretend to be in His presence and in relationship with Him – sin can’t even be close. God requires that we clean up our lives and get rid of the sin. Religion doesn’t do that for us – relationship does. A relationship with Jesus Christ is the only way we can deal with the sin pattern of our lives. Are you really worshipping God when you attend church each week – or just playing charades? He is very able to tell the difference. We need to enter the gates of His presence prayed up, cleaned up and ready to meet the living God.
The final hurrah in Hebrews 13 gives us a few tidbits for how we need to live. The writer tells us “This … is not our home”. Do you think about that? Do you realize that our time here on earth is certainly not the end game? We are here for a very short time and then comes eternity – where we will spend forever. That is a long time. So how we prepare for that with this short stint on earth is really the entire game. Along those lines the scriptures tell us “Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others”. That is some great counsel. Life is about making investments in others. It is about not taking things for granted. It is about getting after it and making a difference. God calls us to that. How can the writer here be sure of how to do it – check this out: “We have no doubts about what we’re doing or why, but it’s hard going and we need your prayers”. That is purpose personified. They knew what they were about and were focused on being about it. They were after it completely. Are you sure what “you’re doing or why”? Do you have clarity in life? If not you need to find it. You need to chase after it until you know how this life on earth will have meaning and gain the direction you need to be motivated to finish strong. That is what God calls us to do. To finish strong. “All Glory to Jesus forever and always”! I echo the writer as he points to the real meaning of life – it is Jesus!
We are in the final chapter of Hebrews 13 today and there is so much to learn in the first half. Check out how the writer begins: “Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love”. He not only tells us what we need to do – he tells us the only possible way we will be able to pull it off. Love is the glue that holds relationships together. Be it marriage, family, friends – it has to have love or we walk away from the things that irritate us about others. And you all know that every person you hang around with eventually gets irritating. Far too many today cut and run at that point. They just decide it isn’t worth trying to show grace and learn to love in the face of aggravation. Well we need to get over it. Relationships are worth fighting for. We need to learn to quit focusing on the stuff we don’t like and focus on the beauty of what God has created in that other person. The writer tells us to “honor marriage” – part of that is the willingness to put it on the pedestal it deserves and be willing to love when our mate may be a bit unloveable. Thank goodness God loves us when we are not all that loveable. In fact scripture gives us two promises about that very love we need to cling to.
First we are told “God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,””. What a powerful truth to cling to. God is not going anywhere. He invented love so He knows how to stay on good terms with us. Just keep on loving even when we sin and treat Him poorly. That is the example my friends for how you have a successful marriage, great family, deep friendships – you love and NEVER walk off. Think how different this world would be if that was the attitude people had about their marriages? But that promise wasn’t enough so the writer gives us the second dose: “For Jesus doesn’t change–yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself”. How many things in life fit into that bucket for you? There is exactly one for me – something that doesn’t change – and it is Jesus. No other thing in my life, be it people, circumstances, the weather – they all change day to day. But not Jesus – we can depend on Him to not only be there but to love us tomorrow like He will today like He did yesterday. What a promise to hang on to. He NEVER changes. I was taught (rightfully so) that the word never probably should be used very sparingly if ever. And certainly not when I am having a discussion with my wife. (You know what I mean – telling her she never does this or that – bad plan). Never just doesn’t fit in any of our earthly relationships. Things are not that definitive anywhere except with God. He alone is the rock that we can depend on. He alone is the One who NEVER moves. We need to cling to that and we need to tell the millions of others, the tens in our patch, about this truth. Everyone needs something that is constant. The only solution to that need is God and His Son Jesus. All other things in life will disappoint us.
Hebrews 12 finishes with a couple key truths. The first is that we need to get moving. “So don’t sit around on your hands” is how the last half starts. God wants us in the game and taking action. But His plan is not for us to be doing life alone. Check out the guidance here: “Help each other out”. We are to live in community with one another and push each other toward God’s goal. Scripture tells us to “make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity”. The Christian life is not a me thing. It is an us thing. It is about us walking together toward the goal of holiness and godliness – to walk toward becoming like Jesus. When two or more are gathered in His name – He promises to be with us. When two or more are gathered – there also will likely be problems and the writer points that out here too. He tells us to “work at getting along with each other and with God”. Human relationships are messy. We get on each others nerves, particularly when we do life together. We are told to watch out for “weeds of bitter discontent” and to makes sure we don’t “satisfy a short-term appetite” and ignore the big picture. But our charge is to invest in each others lives to make a difference. We need to walk the Christian life together.
The story continues as the writer explains just how awesome our gift of eternal life is through Jesus. We need to realize that the Cross is a “proclamation of grace” and is something we need to share with those around us. The old testament is a story of those who “ignored earthly warnings and didn’t get away with it” but the writer here tells us to consider “what will happen to us if we turn our back on heavenly warnings” that are clear in the new testament about God’s salvation plan through Jesus. We need to deal with Jesus. That is the question for us today. What will we do with Jesus? Will He be our Savior? If He is, He also needs to be our Lord. Those things go together. You don’t sign up for one without the other. But the verse that really hits me comes toward the end of the chapter when it says “Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God”. The writer asks how we should respond to the reality of Jesus and the coming end times. And it is pretty clear – we need to be: Thankful – brimming with worship – deeply reverent. We take way too much for granted in our relationship with God. At least I fail far too often to thank Him for all He has done. But that thankfulness should spill into worship which is expressed not only to Him but to all around us. It is our mark of being His. And as we put Him where He belongs in our life, we will become reverent and realize the awesome God we serve. He is filled with love for us. He is amazing!
The first half of Hebrews 12 is full of fantastic images of how we should live the Christian life. It starts with the reality that we have been led in the faith by a long list of “pioneers” who have already been there and done that. Not only the list we just read through in the faith hall of fame of Hebrews 11, or just the Bible being full of examples cover to cover, but think about those in your family or circle – parents, grandparents, church members – there are many who have “blazed the way” in the faith. So while our own journey is unique, the road is not totally unclear. The writer tells us though we need to “get on with it” and realize that our faith walk matters. He gives us a list of things we need to be doing to really do that:
- Strip down
- Start running
- Never quit
- No extra spiritual fat
- No parasitic sins
- Keep your eyes on Jesus
- Study how He did it
Seven key phrases that describe the race of life we are in and how we need to FOCUS on getting after our walk with God. Can you see the trend here – it is described somewhat like training for a physical event – we need to have our spiritual running shoes on and be in spiritual shape. We need to have spiritual disciplines.
Sometimes when we are trying to walk with God, we start to think it is too hard and want to just give up. Realize that this is “an all-out match against sin”. Life is not just about getting up and working all day. It also has a very spiritual side to it that the enemy wants to defeat us in. So we get discouraged and want to give up. Check out what scripture says about that attitude: “When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he (Jesus) plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls”! Life is not a cake walk. I know that from personal experience. But we are not asked to do anything that others have not done before. And we will never be asked to do what Jesus did. So when we start to “feel sorry for ourselves” we need to realize that God is in the business of helping us win this battle against sin. He wants to make us like Jesus. He wants us to be godly and holy. Anything short of that is not acceptable. “God is educating you” – when we experience trials – “it’s training”. We are being put through the training camp of life to get our spiritual training on track. “God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best”. Oh I know well that “discipline isn’t much fun”. But it is the only way anyone really achieves victory in life. That is true of our spiritual life just like it is with anything we want to do in life. God is focused on making us “mature in our relationship with God”. Don’t fight it – embrace it and train hard. Get on with it and become a person who is spiritual fit and spends time daily making sure you are ready for the day.