SERVICE VIDEO (link)
TEXT: Isaiah 59:1-21; Acts 2:38-39
Sin gets in the way; we lose our way; God shows us the way in Christ. In a few words that’s what we are going to talk about today. We are going to read about the dire situation every human being faces, but also that God doesn’t give up on us, but comes for us.
Today we begin the church “season” of Advent and it tells and retells that same story. Humanity is lost, but not without hope. We live in darkness, but not without light. God comes to us and does so most completely in Jesus Christ. So as we look ahead to Christmas and the coming of that Light into the world, we will consider over the next few weeks God’s words of HOPE, LOVE, JOY, and PEACE in the midst of all that we face and struggle with in this life.
Sin Gets in the Way (vv.1-2)
1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear. 2 But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.
Isaiah 59 begins by describing our foundational problem. We sin! Scripture tells us that we all have sinned, we all have ‘iniquity’. We have inherited the weight of it from our first parents, Adam and Even, and we follow after them in our own sinfulness. We sin individually and we sin collectively.
Now the Lord can save, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to struggle with sin, even as God’s own people did in the days of Isaiah. And our sin leave us blinded and deafened to God. And God is our hope, our peace, our joy. If we cannot see God and do not listen to God, that leaves us pretty helpless and hopeless indeed!
Does anyone doubt that they sin? Some think there are “good people.” Some rank people better and worse and are satisfied at being not as bad as the person down the row or down the street. But of all the things the Bible teaches, one of the ones I have the least trouble believing is that we all have sinned completely through and through. Consider this:
We commit sins like lying, lusting, hating, stealing, wanting what others have. Those are some of the Ten Commandments, and I didn’t even mention the first of putting other things before God. Nor did I mention Jesus sermon on the Mount where he said we weren’t just to keep the letter of those commandments, but also the spirit. If we have anger, lust, wanting, and so forth in our heart, then we have sinned.
There is also the good that we should do that we don’t do, vividly described by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan when the religious folks crossed to the other side of the road and didn’t help the man beaten and robbed. Or in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, when Jesus asks where we were when there were those hungry, naked, or in prison. Failing to care for them is failing Jesus. It is sin.
There are also societal and cultural sins which we participate in, like sins of racism, greed, idolatry, and unfaithful stewardship of things entrusted to us.
Is there really any doubt that each of us have sinned? The Apostle Paul would say “may it never be!”
What is the consequence of that sin? In church we are often taught that it is death – eternal separation from God unless God intervenes. But what about day to day? I’m not sure we spend enough time considering that! According to Isaiah – which is the Word of God – sin also gets in the way of living life here and now. It comes between us and God, not that God can’t save or see or hear us, but it keeps us from seeing, hearing, and trusting God. And beyond that, sin gets in the way of human relationships as well. Jesus would later teach that if there is something between you and your brother that the first order of business – even if you are heading to worship – is to drop what you are doing and seek to be reconciled to that brother. Sin isn’t just a matter for eternity; it gets in the way of life as God would have it here and now. Listen to Isaiah describing what it looks like when we lose our way because of sin.
Losing our Way (vv.9-14)
9 Therefore justice is far from us, And righteousness does not overtake us; We hope for light, but behold, darkness, For brightness, but we walk in gloom. 10 We grope along the wall like blind men, We grope like those who have no eyes; We stumble at midday as in the twilight, Among those who are vigorous we are like dead men. 11 All of us growl like bears, And moan sadly like doves; We hope for justice, but there is none, For salvation, but it is far from us. 12 For our transgressions are multiplied before You, And our sins testify against us; For our transgressions are with us, And we know our iniquities: 13 Transgressing and denying the Lord, And turning away from our God, Speaking oppression and revolt, Conceiving in and uttering from the heart lying words. 14 Justice is turned back, And righteousness stands far away; For truth has stumbled in the street, And uprightness cannot enter.
These are just some of the consequences.
“Justice is far from us” (v.9) – It sure feels like that many days, doesn’t it? There is a direct correlation between our sins – individually and societally – and rampant injustice.
“Righteousness does not overtake us” (v.9) – Rather than living in the right ways we experience life in the darkness, in the gloom. We grope along and stumble.
“We growl… and moan” (v.11) – The injustice and wrongness around us makes us alternately angry and hurt. Isaiah’s imagery is vivid: we growl like bears, we moan sadly like doves.
“We hope, but…” (v.9,11) – Several times Isaiah writes that “we hope” – for light, for brightness, for justice, for salvation. In another context these are good and true things to hope in, but here they seem more like giving lip service to God, because the people Isaiah is writing to will not turn from their sin. They will not repent: “Our transgressions are multiplied before you and our sins testify against us… denying the Lord and turning away from our God… uttering lying words.” (vv.12ff)
“Justice is turned back…” (v.14) – Persistent sinfulness holds justice at bay; “righteousness stands far away.” (v.14)
And an image that particularly grieves me:
“Truth has stumbled in the street and uprightness cannot enter” (v.14) – That sure sounds like the last five years. Who can you trust? Does anyone speak truth? Truly, I feel like this description from 600 B.C. could have been written in the U.S. in 2022.
And fueling it, according to Isaiah, is persistent sin that has cause us to lose our way.
Jesus is the Way (vv.20-21)
And yet, we do not live as those without hope. Even when (even when!) we are only giving lip service to hope, there is REAL HOPE in the Lord. Listen to what comes next in Isaiah:
20 “A Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” declares the Lord. 21 “As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from now and forever.”
God promised help the form of a Redeemer. God made a covenant – a promise where God’s name and reputation are on the line – to send a Redeemer, to send God’s Spirit, and to preserve God’s words through the generations.
Listen how Peter picks up on all three of these promises on the day of Pentecost, as told in Acts 2:
38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
God still comes to us in Christ. God still offers the Holy Spirit and the Word of Promise for us, our children, and even those who are yet “far away.” Jesus is that Redeemer and promise. Though sin gets in the way and we have lost our way, Jesus is the Way God has provided both for eternity and in this day to day life.
How Shall We Live?
What do we do? How do we live?
This is what we’ve been talking about all Fall as we’ve gone through the first few chapters of Mark. Jesus came to declare the coming of the Kingdom of God in the here and now. It is a Kingdom of justice and righteousness, of compassion and healing, of help and hope. And we are to live out the Kingdom in our own day to day lives.
Sin gets in the way, but Jesus leads us in the right way. That’s more than lip-service, it is a life of continuing turning from sin (repentance), turning to Christ (faith), and following after Christ (obedience) according to the Spirit and the Word. In the words of Micah, it is doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with the Lord.
Our HOPE is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ. In following him, we find our way in the world, with God, and with one another.
What do you need to confess? What do you need to make right? Where and how would Jesus lead you from here?
Lord, give us ears to hear, hearts to trust, and the will to follow you. Amen.
Some Music Used
- Here I Am to Worship
- Christ, Be Our Light
- Even So, Come
- Rick Bean, jazz piano
- CHOIR: Come to Us, O Promised One
- Prepare the Way
- King of Kings
- OFFERTORY: Come, Ye Unfaithful
- Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus