Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

03/10/18 Sermon - There are Consequences in Life

“There are Consequences in Life”

Isaiah 5:8-23

Last week we read the first part of Isaiah 5 and listened to the illustration of the vineyard that although had been given all the best possible practices in creating a vineyard, still managed to produce poisonous grapes. The hearers were told by Isaiah that he was talking about them, verse 7, “The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel”.

In today’s Scripture the bitter grapes are defined. Isaiah lists five specific behaviors and each of them has been introduced with the word “woe.” In Isaiah’s day, this word was associated with funerals. It had the meaning of great sorrow and distress. When this word was used concerning a death, there was a sense of regret and anger over the particular death and the mourners were truly sad because the death was completely avoidable. These woes were the sins of the people of God.

Their actions were equated as sins because they were not living the way God had intended for them to live in regards to the covenant they had established on Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

Isaiah had been living among them, and recognized their actions had been told by God to proclaim what he saw and to also proclaim the consequences. The sins Isaiah described included greed, self-indulgence, cynicism, moral perversion, and social injustice.

Isaiah reminds them that they are not immune to the consequences of their negative behaviors just because they are in relationship with God, or because they are His chosen people. Negative behavior produces negative consequences, and just like the vineyard with bitter grapes will be destroyed, Isaiah proclaims the same will happen to Israel.

I dare say, greed, self-indulgence, cynicism, moral perversion, and social injustice, remain problems for our society today. So whatever Isaiah had to say about these woes, can be helpful for us to understand.

The first sin Isaiah addressed was “greed.” The particular expression of greed he focused on was the greed for bigger houses and more land. Isaiah was addressing those who purchased more and more land, causing the previous owners to be disposed of and becoming his serfs, while he ends up obtaining a large estate. This particular practice was disturbing to God on many levels. First, God had established within His covenant with His people that God was the owner of land, and He would give parts of it to humans in the form of a grant. The grants were not absolute possessions that could be disposed of when one desired, but they were to be maintained within the families in which they were given for all time. God had two purposes for such an arrangement.

First, there would always be a realization that God was providing, but it also gave the small landowner a sense of worth and a way to sustain himself. The consequence for such a sin seems to fit the crime, as the rich man dispossesses others, so he will be dispossessed, and all the land he has acquired, will produce nothing. Notice the emphasis here is not on how much land one owns, but on the means in which one goes about obtaining this land and how others are treated along the way.

The next “woe” in verses 11-17, focuses on self-indulgence. The idea of self-indulgence itself is not wrong. God is in no way opposed to physical pleasure. Isaiah talks about a banquet that God prepares for all peoples on the earth, in chapter 25. The New Testament talks about a similar wedding feast in the book of Revelation. God is not against humans experiencing pleasurable things. What Isaiah is talking about, is those people who place their pleasure above all else.

Those people who pay attention to their own physical pleasures and see them more important than paying attention to God and His “work.” In verse 12, Isaiah reminds them that they are giving attention to things that will eventually pass away.

The punishment again, matches their crime. For those who paid attention to what went down their throats, their demise will be that they will have nothing to go down their throats, they will go hungry and they will die of thirst. Satan will be happy and overjoyed as they will enter the grave “without limit.”

The third woe Isaiah presents is that of “cynicism.” Up to this point, Isaiah has described fleshly sins of greed and self-indulgence. Now Isaiah goes to the underlying attitudes for such sins. In a sense, Isaiah is stating that the people are daring God to take action. Verses 18-19,

“For those who draw sin along cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes,” has been explained like this by Calvin, "They flatter themselves by imagining that what is sin is not sin, or by some excuse or idle pretence they lessen its enormity. These, then, are cords, wicked ropes, by which they draw iniquity." (Calvin)

Isaiah is describing people who delight in sinning, and who have no problem in finding ways to keep delighting in sin. All the while, they keep telling themselves and others, that if it was so bad, then why hasn’t God done something about it? So until He does, they intend to keep on sinning and enjoying every minute of it, regardless of the cost.

The fourth woe, Isaiah laments is where humans take sin one step further. Not only are they enjoying their sin and daring God to condemn the sin, Isaiah claims that the Israelites are now declaring there is no such thing as sin in the first place. They have taken God out of the picture all together, and have decided that they can determine morality for themselves.

How interesting that the morality they created, is completely opposite to that which God proclaims. Isaiah has seen morality as God established, gone out the window. Why? It has too many restrictions, too many things that keep me from doing what I want to do, that make me feel…..good. Not only were people asserting their own right to choose what is morally correct, but they were revolting against any type of moral authority whatsoever.

Sound familiar? I hear this point of view every day when I listen to the news. Whenever someone is told that what they are doing is wrong, they retaliate with “say’s who?” It feels right to me, it makes me feel good, who are you to say otherwise? What makes you so smart? You don’t know me? You don’t know what I know? We too live in a world where morals are no longer universally accepted.

The final woe in this series for Isaiah comes back to the social injustice practiced among them all. Isaiah ironically praises those who were great at doing things that didn’t really matter, like mixing drinks, but were terrible at the things that did matter, like justice. Judah had turned from standing for noble causes such as standing up for the helpless, to praising those who can drink the most liquor before going under the table. It was like Isaiah was describing some fraternity party.

How sad to read what Isaiah prophesied so long ago, and realize that he could be saying the same thing to us today. And it is even sadder, to realize that were Isaiah to come today and purchase a 60 second advertisement spot during the Superbowl to share this message, the majority of those listening, wouldn’t agree.

Our society, much like Judah at the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, has this goal in mind, “To take care of oneself.” So it makes sense that they would be serving one’s own appetite and perverting justice in order to do so.

But individuals both then and now, need to recognize that the manner in which they are living, is illogical when you remember that there is a God, who desires to have a personal relationship with His creation. This God is the sole creator of the universe and all that is in it and as such, He has the right to expect us to live in accord with His purposes and character, especially since He has revealed these to His creation, through the covenant in the Old Testament, and through His resurrection in the New Testament. Our generation, like those in Judah, have lost the concept of there being a someone outside of ourselves who has the right to establish the parameters of how we should exist, for our good. Taken to the nth degree, if there truly is no one superior to our desires, then who can say when enough is enough?

If I seek what is pleasurable and of comfort and security, to me, who can speak against this? These sins of the flesh, greed and self-indulgence come from a deeper sin, the sins of one’s spirit. When we live in such a way, that demonstrates that our needs are all important, and therefore I have a right to meet them any way that I see fit, that is when we have usurped God. When there is a conflict between what I want and what God’s revealed will is, we enter the place where the Israelites had entered. We become cynical against God, and we challenge God with our actions, almost as if to say, “If what I am doing is against God’s will, let’s see Him stop me.” At that point, we have taken it upon ourselves to be the one who determines what is right or wrong. Why, no one knows what I need better than me? Right? So if God’s so-called will, is against what I think or feel I need, well than God must be false. We come to believe that it’s not God’s will at all, but some other person using their power or authority to push their will on me. We in essence decide that we are god, we are in control.

As long as people think this way, the outcome of social injustice will remain. When people think that their well-being and their personal needs are best met by themselves, they will not even entertain helping others. How often have you heard the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.” That is not biblical. It came originally from an English political theorist, Algernon Sidney and was later used by Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanack and thus has been widely quoted. When you read the Bible, God is constantly helping those who can’t help themselves. And He keeps asking His children to follow His example. God desires social justice, and this cannot happen until we realize that the meeting of our personal needs must be secondary to meeting the needs of others. And we can only come to that understanding when we ultimately comprehend that it is God who wishes to meet our needs and is far more capable of doing so than we will ever be.

We’d like to take credit for it, but when we look at the big picture, God is the builder of the vineyard, and when we get that into our heads, we are able to commit ourselves to the values of God. And God’s values begin with recognizing that every person is of absolute worth to Him, and for those of us who belong to Him, we must see all people they way God does, and then be willing to act towards them the way God does. God doesn’t ask us not to take care of ourselves, He is telling us that we should not make taking care of ourselves the number one goal in our life, because our relationship with Him should be what’s first in our lives. When that occurs, everything else falls into place.

Let’s pray.