12 For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: 13 rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
14 So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. 15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.
17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. 18 According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due. 19 From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory. For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along. 20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord.Isaiah 59:12-20
I need to clear something up. “The Redeemer will come to those who repent of their sins.” That’s the last line of the Word of God before us this evening. But, the Redeemer will also come to those who do not repent. The problem is this: those who do not repent will have no benefit when he comes to them! Get the point? It’s like a guy who stuffs himself with potato skins, queso and chips, popcorn and nuts and then being invited to a steak dinner! “Nope!” he says. I’m too full! Let’s pray this isn’t the case for those today who stuffed themselves with work, sports, family and Netflix at 6:30 said, “Nope! I’m too full (or tired) to go to Ash Wednesday Worship. The temptations to be unrepentant are many! Work, family, sports, Tictoc, laziness…some say it out loud or whisper to themselves, “I don’t really need to have an attitude of repentance! Besides, God is a crutch for weak people, poor people or needy people.” Or “I don’t need God and will prove it by not worshiping him.” Or “I’ll take God when I’m in a pinch, but for the most part you can keep God for yourself.” When we succumb to these temptations then we are guilty of pushing God away and becoming unrepentant.
And that brings us to the point of why we are here this evening on Ash Wednesday. This day was created in the Christian Church Year to be an entrance into the Lenten season to bring our attention to healthy repentance. Why? Isaiah 59 makes is clear!
The Redeemer Will Come To Those Who Repent
Causing us to Deal with Reality
Isaiah wasn’t so sure he was the one who could bring God’s people who were anything but eager to be repentant. It took a shocking vision by God to awaken his call to service, listen. “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Is 6:1-5). Isaiah never would have done it, but then he received exactly what he needed, “6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Is 6:6-8). God’s declaration of his sins forgiven caused his soul to deal with reality! Only by God’s backing could Isaiah put his toe in the water and his tongue to the message—Woe to God’s people “whose guilt is great….for they have turned their backs on him” (Is 1:4).
God used Isaiah to turn the hearts of God’s people away from their sin through repentance and be turned back to the Lord. He reminded them that God used the Assyrians to destroy the 10 northern tribes, and threatened to destroy Judah as well—but that God would take care of the Assyrians for them. However, they were not to become complacent in their deliverance, as if God was winking at the angels and pointing to his people saying, “Kids will be kids!” No! God threatened to use the Babylonians to push their noses into the vomit of their sin. But, you guessed it. They got smug and filled themselves up with themselves. Oh, they went to worship, brought sacrifices, prayed, sang and looked good to themselves. But, they did not deal with the reality of the rot of sin deep inside. “13 rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived.” They were putting Band-aides on their cancer! And when trouble came, they had the nerve to blame God for their trouble. Isaiah described their reality just right and called for their repentance.
Because of their sinful rebellion against a holy and just God their lives sunk to a new low. “14 So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. 15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice.” The trust became the lie, and the lie became the trust. You can understand when there is no justice before a just and holy God, then God himself would have to act. The Lord God had to help his people deal with their reality of sin! God sent Isaiah to proclaim his just verdict on rebellious sinners. Some heard and sadly, ignored the warning. Others took it to heart and dealt with reality as they confessed, “For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities:” You know what this looks like. You can watch reality cop show that pulls over a van, arrest the smugglers and pile up their drugs on the side of the road. The evidence testifies against them. So, our sins are piled up in the chair next to you. Your sinfulness is not just an occasional boo-boo moment that no one will find out about. The Lord knows your heart, sees your actions, hears your words and exposes your sinful rot in your heart! Who gets an MRI and sees the cancer or problem and says, “Oh well!” Who does that?! Don’t ignore it any longer! The Redeemer Has Come with the MRI of your sin and Caused You to Deal with Reality! This is the 1st part of repentance—with Ashes of sorrow acknowledge your sin before God and repent!
Leading us to Rest in Victory
Can you help me? I recognize my rot of sin in my heart. I see and hear my sins in my life. Can you help me? I know I’m a sinner. I’m sure you join me to repent of sins, so who is going to help us? Who will give us the way out? Who will give our hearts rest? We can’t run from what God knows because he sees it all. Isaiah said, “16 He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;” So, what happens now? Did Isaiah’s pen go dry? Has the Redeemer packed up his bags and taken the last train back to his heavenly home? Listen! “16 He saw that there was no one, …so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.” Can you see him? What does the Redeemer look like? Is he covered with body armor and carrying a loaded M16 machine gun? No, he is covered head to foot in righteousness, a crown of thorns is on his head and he is wrapped in the burning desire to save you as he leaves Satan in a pile of ashes! Listen: “17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.” With his own power he smashed the chains of sin that bound us to the devil. With his blood he floods our souls and covers our rot. He does not give us the hell we deserve, but the heaven of victory! Believe it! That’s the second part of repentance. Believe in Jesus’ forgiveness and Rest in the Victory won for you by Jesus!
Now, some might think this victory and rest by Jesus was only won for a few. Isaiah announces how wide-spread this victory is: “19 From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory. For he will come like a pent-up flood that the breath of the Lord drives along.” Did you just hear your name? You are the people from the west! And there are many more! How many times have you heard about pastors and teachers working in countries to the west that have shared the rest we have in the victory of Jesus! We can be sure this victory belongs to us all because “20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord.” The Lord himself declares it!
There is one more thing I need to clear up. We know the Lord comes to those who repent with his forgiveness. But, what do you think of this: “18 According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due.” We just heard about our Rest in the Victory of Jesus. But, on Ash Wednesday maybe you are thinking of a sin you’ve committed and wonder if you’re really forgiven and the threat haunts you. Then listen carefully. God only repays wrath to his enemies. The enemies are those who do not believe. Do you want to rest in the victory of Jesus? Then look at the cross before you and ask this simple question. What does the cross mean to me? Yes, we repent that it was due to our sins that Jesus died. But, we also believe that Jesus died to wash all our sins away. So, this Ash Wednesday—deal with reality, rest in Jesus’ victory for the Redeemer Comes For You! Amen!