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October 5, 2013

Text:  “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice for the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”  Isaiah 1:16-17

A preacher once told me about a lady who came to his office for counseling.  She confessed that she had been unfaithful to her husband and had many affairs. She was ashamed of her behavior and had seen several psychologists and counselors to find a method of  eliminating her indiscretions. Each of the counselors had given methods of correcting her sinful behavior.  However, she confessed that she had failed all of the prescriptions. She asked the preacher if he had a way she could free herself from this oppressive  habit. The preacher said, “I can tell you exactly what to do!” She said, “Wonderful! Tell me.” The preacher said, “Quit it!”  Only you (with God’s help) can set yourself free from the guilt and power that you have allowed to dominate you.

Isaiah is sent to tell the Judahites  of  their desertion of God and its looming consequences. His book reveals Judah’s many missteps in their relationship with God. Isaiah relates several situations that God had already caused them to suffer as warnings of punishment. Then he reveals what they must do to avoid God’s discipline. The formula is our text for today.

Wash yourselves,” Isaiah tells them.  The prophet then speaks for God: “…remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes.”  God demands that they divorce themselves from their  transgressions and no longer come to worship flaunting  their sins before him. It is time for repentance and separation from sin. This makes us consider how we offend our God with our sins. In chapter six Isaiah sees a vision of God in heaven. He writes of God, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.”  Immediately he writes of himself, “And I said: Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” ( Isaiah 6:3-5) What a difference there is between the righteous God of heaven and his vile creature man! 

The climax of the first half of these two verses is next: “…cease to do evil...” I  think that preacher who told me the story above was spot on. That is the formula for your behavior to please God. “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” Acts 3:19

Verse 17 begins with the second part of the directive: “…learn to do good…” They have learned the ways of sin and abandoned the ways of righteousness.

It is time for a reversal! It is not enough to cease sinning; evil must be replaced by goodness.

Jesus told a story about a person possessed by a devil who deserts his host seeking other quarters. Not finding suitable digs, he returns to his old host and “finds the house swept and in order”. So out he goes and finds seven of his fellows and takes them to live with him.  Jesus concludes, “…and the last state of of that person is worse than the first.” Luke 11:24-26

Evil will always fill the void left by the expulsion of righteousness. It is not enough just to avoid sin. A person must fill himself with goodness. It is his own duty to “learn to do good.”

Remember: “Wash yourselves” and “learn to do good.”

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