“We are not really very interested in God.” An elder spoke those remarkable words to his pastor after the pastor had begun a series of sermons on the attributes of God. The pastor was a good preacher, but the elder reported that people in the congregation were not happy with these sermons on God. They wanted to hear about personal relationships, not the character of God.
This true story reflects the concern expressed by the noted theologian David Wells in his phrase “the weightlessness of God." Almost everyone in North America says that he or she believes in the existence of God. Despite that belief, God does not seem to matter. He is not a weighty consideration in the lives of most people, including many active churchgoers.
The weightlessness of God was a problem for ancient Israel, too. God’s people claimed to revere Him. They flocked to His temple and offered an abundance of sacrifices. They prayed at length. But their hearts were far from Him. They were self- centered and disobedient. So the prophet Isaiah was commissioned to confront the people with God's character, God's law and God's plan for them. Isaiah tells Israel a great deal about God in his prophecy.
In the course of this year, I want us to think with the prophet about the character of our God. Isaiah reveals God to us in many strong and arresting ways. As we ponder together Isaiah's God, we will grow in understanding, faith, awe, and eagerness to live for our great God.
God identifies Himself at the beginning of Isaiah's prophecy as the Father of His people. He calls them, “Children [that] have I reared" (Isa. 1:1). Though Isaiah 1 is largely a complaint from God about Israel, He begins by saying that the Israelites are His children.
For a long time, liberal theologians have spoken of God as the Father of all His creatures. But the Bible speaks of the Fatherhood of God primarily in terms of His covenant people. When God speaks of Himself as the Father of Israel He is speaking of the special way in which He chose Israel to be His people. He chose them as the sons of Abraham. God is Father to Israel in that He made them a people and a nation and protected them from the nations. He instructed them in the way off faith and holiness. Isaiah records Israel's acknowledgement of that special care - "O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay. You are the potter. We are all the work of your hand" (Isa. 64:8).
God comes then to His people as a Father who has loved them and provided for them. He also comes as a Father distressed and disappointed in the ingratitude and selfishness of His children. He expresses a father's concern in three particular areas at the beginning of this prophecy. The first is that His children are rebellious - they do not obey the law that He has given them. Second. God is concerned that His children are foolish. They have not heeded the instruction they have been given. but have lived like the ignorant. Third, the people of Israel have become formalists, going through the motions in but their hearts are far from God.
God is not a modern Father, content to ignore or excuse the faults of his children. Nor is He inclined to wring His hands and wonder "What to do?" in the face of rebellion, foolishness, and formalism. Rather, He lays before the people the alternatives that must follow: judgment or repentance. Judgment is inevitable unless some way of escape is found. God Himself offers the escape, promising to deliver His people from their sin. One of the great promises of Scripture is found in the words, '''Come 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 as crimson, they shall be like wool''' (Isa. 1:18).
The Father fulfills His promise to wash His people in the sending of His Son, the Lord Jesus. The blood of Jesus is the cleansing of His people: "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God?" (Heb. 9:14). The saints in heaven are described as those who "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14.).
The revelation of the Fatherhood of God is the revelation of a God who cares, who warns, and who redeems. God's saving work. Jesus turns the empty formalism that plagues the hearts of the faithless into sincere worship. In response to redemption, God’s people said, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob" (lsa. 2:3). God turns the foolishness of His people into an eager desire to know His law. They say, "Come, let us go up .... He will teach us His ways." God turns the rebellion of His people into obedience. They say, "Come, let us go up ... so that we may walk in His paths."
Isaiah foresees that in Jesus the Fatherhood of God will not be just for Israel, but will be for all who come: ''In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come" (Isa. 2:2-3). The words of Isaiah are for us who are Gentiles as well as for Jews. In Jesus, God is the Father of all the redeemed.
First published in Tabletalk, January 1999.
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