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Sermon 7/1/07
Isaiah 64:6 – Righteousness


 Audio Sermon


We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6)

The things of this earth are often not what we think they are, and in Scripture we encounter the direct command that we are not to judge others - ever. Jesus very clearly said, “Judge not, that you not be judged; with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:1).  The reason for this command is that we often do not know what the intentions of others really are.  Because it is difficult for us to think outside of our own experiences, we are wrong about people far more often than we know.  And there are other problems which add to the confusion – we tend to desperately hide from others, even from ourselves, and we have attempted to fool God, as well.  Deception, including self-deception, is unfortunately the way of this world.  We hunger to know and to be known, and yet we continue to hide from those who long to give us love.  Many, perhaps all of us in one way or another, pretend to be something we are not.

You’ll be interested in the story of how the “Nobel Peace Prize” came to be.  Alfred Nobel, who created the Nobel Peace Prize, had previously invented and made a fortune from what is called “dynamite,” which is seventeen times more powerful than the gunpowder that preceded it.  It changed warfare – forever.  With dynamite, a single bomb, instead of killing just a few people, could kill hundreds.  Shells and bombs now blew up buildings, homes, bridges and factories.  Cities were burned to the ground through Nobel’s invention.  It may be that history will decide that more have died from dynamite than from atomic bombs.

Nobel had patents on his invention and there were hundreds of factories all over Europe for the manufacture of dynamite.  No matter how careful the workers and managers were, sometimes their product simply blew up, killing hundreds of people at a time.  Nobel built his factories in impoverished locations, places that provided an endless supply of desperate, expendable workers.  Thousands were killed by the blasts and thousands more were ruined by the chemicals that created dynamite, which got into the ground water and misted into the air.  The workers ate, drank and breathed this terrible substance.

History might have declared Nobel to be the monster who was responsible for the death of millions, except for a mistake.  In 1888, his brother died, and the reporters of European newspapers got the wrong brother – they thought it was Alfred Nobel who had died.  The headlines said, “The Merchant of Death is Dead!”  Nobel was shocked to read his own obituaries and he suddenly understood how history would see him.

He reacted in an interesting way.  Like so many, he wanted to be liked, and he created the Nobel Peace Prize as a way to change people’s minds about how history would remember him.  And it worked.  The name “Nobel” is now synonymous with peace, not war.  Nobel, who invented dynamite, now re-invented – himself!

Through the centuries, others have worked hard to change their image.  I remember studying church history in college, discovering that many leaders in the little city-states of Italy during the Middle Ages, made a decision similar to Nobel’s idea. After a lifetime of literally torturing and murdering their subjects and others under their control, and declaring war on their neighbors, they decided to be liked; and so they beautified their surroundings.  Buildings, roads, bridges and other edifices were built by petty tyrants who hoped they would be loved in the future for what they did.  And they made sure that statues were built to honor them for their accomplishments.

Today’s Scripture is interesting.  It was addressed to Israel, a nation that was clearly and truly created by God.  A people was made out of one good man, Abraham, who, because of his faith in the Lord, was identified by God as a righteous person.  That’s what it says in Genesis 15:6 – “he (Abraham, also known as Abram) believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”  By the time of our verse for today in the Book of Isaiah, Abraham’s descendants also wanted to be considered righteous, and tried to be that way outwardly.  Unfortunately, however, they did not look to the Lord as Abraham did, and as a group they became unrighteous in God’s sight.  As the prophet Isaiah confessed in relation to his people, “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6).  A whole people was pretending to be righteous, but they were not.

Do you believe in the Lord?  Do you really believe that your food and everything else you have comes from Him?  Or do you think your have food because you worked hard and used your paychecks to buy it?  Do you think highly of your own cleverness? To what extent have you misused the lives of others in order to reach your goals?  Do you "judge" others that don’t seem as successful as you are?  Do you feel that your “faith” in God or your religious belief system makes you better than other people?  It's time to look into the mirror of our souls and discover who we really are.

Paul the Apostle picked up the cry of Isaiah in his writings.  Isaiah wrote to Israel, a people who had become intent upon keeping what they thought of as the Law of God.  They did not understand that the real Law is not some outward thing, but is a God-given tool, designed to help us understand, as Abraham did, our need of the Lord.  Paul had been a person of the Law, but he became, like Abraham, a man who “believed in the Lord.”

Paul came to recognize that when we are in Christ we have “died” to the Law, “so that we live in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6).  He then asks, “Is the Law sin?”  Is it a bad thing?  And he answers, “Certainly NOT! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the Law;” and he went on to confess his own sin, the sin of “covetousness” (wanting what is not yours – Romans 7:7 & forward).

God's Law, as revealed in the Bible, is wonderful and beautiful, but we often do not understand its true purpose.  It reveals that we are sinners, in need of Him.  We do not somehow become perfect when we receive Christ.  Instead we are forgiven, and embark on a lifetime journey of being changed into what we were meant to be, from before the foundation of the world.  God has a plan for your life and it’s a good one.  You will LIKE what He has in store for you.  Let’s trust in the Lord, so our "iniquities" will not take us "away."

Thank You, Lord, for the gift of faith.  We trust in You now.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries
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"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)

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