Charis Seat

"Charis Seat" by Makoto Fujimura. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Holiness and Mercy

I have a weakness for British detective shows… really. I had to pull myself away from one to write this. And a large part of the appeal of these shows, besides the accents and the rolling countryside, is that everything is always wrapped up neat and tidy – the offending party is always caught, justice is served and everyone is home in time for tea.

The courtroom scene in Isaiah chapter 1 is neither neat, nor tidy – festering wounds, cities burned with fire, a land devoured, and a people who have forsaken their God. From verse two on, the Lord rains down a horrifying list of offenses against the accused. And the accused are his own people, his very children. And the sentence is inevitable – “for the wages of sin is death.” But this is not a daytime courtroom drama, this is a divine court, and the judge is God himself whose judgement is inhibited only by his own mercy.

  • “If the Lord of hosts
  • Had not left us a few survivors,
  • we should have been like Sodom,
  • And become like Gomorrah.”

Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 18:16-21, 19:23-29) are used here in Isaiah as an example for the nation of Judah of God’s judgement uninhibited and the great gift of his mercy being offered to them. Instead of destruction, God gives his people a three-fold command and a promise:

  • Stop
  • Learn
  • Seek

You’ll notice God doesn’t say “Cease to do evil, do good,” but rather learn to do good. Sin twists and distorts every part of our being – our hearts, our minds, our bodies. And remaking that which is so very broken requires a repetition of this process… stop, learn, seek. God knows this and he knows we’re going to fail at it. So, he also gives a promise in the very next verse:

  • “Though your sins are like scarlet,
  • They shall be as white as snow;
  • Though they are red like crimson,
  • They shall become like wool.”

In John 5 Jesus heals a man who had been lame for 38 years. He tells him to “get up, take up your bed, and walk.” God’s command in Isaiah to his people crippled by sin is the same and because he knows that we cannot even get up on our own, let alone walk, he promises to walk with us and sometimes for us.

In Day 5 of this second lesson, Kathleen Nielson asks us what we learn about God in Isaiah chapter 1. Consider that as we go further into the book. Who is this God who can be both terrifyingly holy and unceasingly merciful at the same time? Who is this God who would give his own Son’s life to rescue and redeem a people who have despised and forsaken him time and time again?

“Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” – Isaiah 2:5