In this sermon Tim unpacks chapters 5 and 6 of Isaiah, looking at God’s call to Isaiah to be His prophet to Israel and the Song of the Vineyard. Tim encourages us to think of where God is calling us and to respond like Isaiah did, confess our sins, accept God’s grace and forgiveness and follow Him obediently. Tim then looks at the song of the vineyard which is an image that judges the Israelites for producing bad fruit when God has done everything to provide for us, Tim specifically calls us to be generous and think about how we can serve sacrificially in that way! We are loving this series!
Sermon preached by Tim Giovanelli on Sunday October 10, 2021.
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Isaiah Week 1 – Isaiah’s Call
I note this week that the period of Israel’s history that we are studying continues to make the news.
- And I mean that literally. I was reading CNN.com on Thursday for a bit of international news and came across this headline…
- “Luxury 2700 year old toilet discovered in Jerusalem.”
- As the saying goes… I sh… kid you not.”
- And it reminded me that I missed something in my introduction to Isaiah last week… and that was that Isaiah wrote in an unprecedented time of national prosperity… and that will be relevant today!
- Anyhow the article described how archeologists discovered the limestone toilet dating back to the Kings of Judah (which was when Isaiah wrote).
- And the article notes that the toilet was designed with comfortable seating and a hole in the middle leading down to a sceptic tank!
- This apparently being the height of decadence in this era… having a toilet in your house!
- So. There. You. Go. Archeology today agreeing with Isaiah, written 700BC.
Today we are going to look at Chapters 5 and 6 of Isaiah… in reverse order… take notes.
- So that is the call of Isaiah as God’s prophet and then in chapter 5 the Song of the Vineyard.
- Probably biting off more than I can chew… but that is Isaiah… it is loaded with great teaching.
Well, in case you missed last week, lets just quickly recap our intro to Isaiah.
- So we are looking at the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament that was written around 740 BC
- It was written to the southern kingdom of Israel where we find the city of Jerusalem
- And they were under threat from the Assyrian empire that had already wiped out the northern kingdoms of Israel.
- And Isaiah’s message links this threat to the state of God’s people in relation to their breaking of the covenant that they had with God.
- Remember Deuteronomy 30, God makes a covenant with his people after the Exodus.
15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.16 For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
17 But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, 18 I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed.
So in Isaiah 1 the people of God are described as like children who have forgotten their parents and rebelled against them. They have broken this covenant relationship.
- And what is at the heart of the charge God has against them?
- Well their religious practices and worship has become meaningless because while they observe these rituals, they don’t do what is right, they don’t seek justice and they oppress the vulnerable.
- They have forgotten that at the heart of their covenant was to be different to other nations.
- They were called to value and care for all people and to be generous, compassionate and just.
So it’s a pretty full on start to the book, but there is also an offer from God….
- And it is linked to the covenant, and God’s constant gracious nature.
- If they repent and start doing the right thing, they will be blessed,
- But if they continue to resist and rebel they will be devoured by the sword.
- And I think the message to us from week 1 was how are we bearing fruit in keeping with repentance, right?
- As children of the new covenant, what does it mean for us to be faithful children?
- So we get to Isaiah’s call, and then we will do the Song of the Vineyard to conclude.
Now, we find Isaiah’s call to be a prophet in chapter 6. Let’s just spend some brief moments on it.
- Unlike in Ezekiel and Jeremiah where the “how they became a prophet” is in the first few verses, in Isaiah we have 5 chapters before we get to this.
- And scholars have come to a profound conclusion as to why this is so.
- They don’t know!
- But it is a great chapter, often referred to when people respond to a call of God in their lives
So chapters 6:1 of Isaiah.
6 In the year that King Uzziah died, 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.”
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!”
So Isaiah is given a vision of God, his majesty, his holiness and his glory!
- And the thing that I am struck by is Isaiah’s response is proportionate to what he has seen.
- In light of who God is, it becomes clear to Isaiah who he is. You with me?
- In light of the holiness and glory of God, Isaiah realizes he is a man of unclean lips.
- And it is funny how revelation often works like that.
- When you get the true picture of God, it brings your own life into stark contrast with God’s majesty!
- That was certainly how I became a Christian. Encountering God in Jesus brought my own life into perspective and I was drawn to Christ as I confronted my own failings.
So Isaiah sees God, high and exalted on a throne, surrounded with angels declaring him holy and his glory filling the earth.
- And so the enormity of encountering God and serving him dawns upon him…
- And he realises his own failures.
- Verse 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.”
- So he is humbled and he recognizes not just his own sin, but the sin of all of God’s people.
- He identifies with everyone.
I know that when I preach, one of the things that I try to be very careful about it is not preaching at “you”, but to “us”, “we” even “me”
- One of the great privileges of my life is that I have been set apart by this church community for ministry, and that includes studying and preaching God’s Word.
- And it is a humbling thing to do and I genuinely mean that.
- And I often come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit while preparing, of my own shortcomings in relation to our holy God and the life he calls us to.
- So please, if there is ever any strength to my preaching, know that it is probably because I have been convicted of my own need to respond!
Anyhow, unsurprisingly his confession is an opportunity for God to forgive!
- And this is something we see repeated in the life of Jesus. As people encounter the Word made flesh, God amongst us, they too are often struck by their own failings.
- Think Zacchaeus the tax collector, or the sinful woman at the dinner with the pharisees.
- They are met not with judgement… “that’s right you are a rotten scoundrel!”
- No, but with mercy and grace.
- So it says in verse 7 that Isaiah’s “guilt is taken away, and his sin is atoned for.”
And that brings us to the final part of Isaiah’s call as a prophet
- The voice of the Lord says “whom shall I send, who will go for us?”
- And Isaiah responds “Here am I. Send me.”
- It’s a wonderful moment of scripture. To the calling of prophet, an advocate on behalf of God to bring both judgement and the hope of redemption
- Isaiah puts his hand up and says; “here am I, send me.”
Now it is worth noting that this will be a difficult task that Isaiah is responding to.
- Ministry is not glamorous. It comes at a personal cost.
- As you will know many of the prophets weren’t greeted with reverence or their messages kindly received. Most were stoned to death.
- Because when your message is one of calling the rich and powerful back to covenantal faithfulness. To turning from idols and seeking justice…
- You can expect a rough ride. And while it isn’t recorded in the bible, later Jewish tradition suggest Isaiah was martyred by being sawn in two under King Manasseh.
So with that cheery side note, I wonder what you are being called to by God?
- Certainly the call of being a prophet, in the biblical sense is something to enter into with Godly fear and trepidation.
- But there are all kinds of things we get called to in life as ordinary Christians serving an extraordinary God.
- Not just ministry, like I am involved in, but all kinds of tasks in seeing his kingdom and righteousness get planted here on earth.
I can’t help at this stage but to think of one of the great Christian heroes – William Wilberforce. You may know his story from the film Amazing Grace.
- Wilberforce lived 200 years ago at the height of the transatlantic slave trade. The horrors and injustice of this era need no explanation…
- Wilberforce was born into wealth and privilege and like many of his era lived comfortably with the reality of the slave trade that was enriching the new colonies in the Americas.
- At age 26 he became an evangelical Christian and not long after a group of anti slave trade activists convinced him to take on the cause of the abolition of slavery.
As a member of parliament in the UK, he worked tirelessly for the next 46 years campaigning to end slavery from his Christian principles.
- And he was met with defeat after defeat and much scorn and ridicule for taking on this cause.
- In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was finally passed and he died 3 days later!
- Wilberforce is rightly remembered as a prophetic voice to a nation that turned a blind eye towards the slave trade and profited from its very existence.
- Like Isaiah, he put up his hand for a great cause in calling his nation to repent and change its ways. It was his life’s work among many other amazing social causes.
So what are you called to? Grasping the majesty, holiness and glory of God, what are you called to?
- And Isaiah reminds us that God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called. He is the one who forgives us and sends us into the world.
- Like Wilberforce, like Isaiah, where will your life be a message that stands on behalf of the oppressed voiceless and powerless.
- I think of Adam who is on the board of International Justice Mission that is fighting the scourge of modern day slavery.
- Or Greg whose charity Homes of Hope looks after the windows and orphans and children of sex workers.
- Or Hannah who has worked for Hope Street in their Women at risk projects.
- Where is God calling you to find your voice on behalf of the least of these….
Well let’s just shift backwards a chapter now to Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard, and I guess the link to his calling, is us asking again, what was his message? Let’s have a look at Isaiah 5.
- So we find in chapter 5 of Isaiah what is titled The Song of the Vineyard.
- And it looks and sounds a lot like one of the parables Jesus told in the New Testament. Again there is that link between the influence of Isaiah and Jesus.
- And we will get to Jesus talking about the vine and the branches in the Gospel of John in a moment.
- But like last week, lets go through this wonderfully challenging section of scripture.
So, Isaiah 5:1, speaking on behalf of God, Isaiah says;
I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.
So Isaiah starts with a pretty simple picture.
- God is the owner who has planted a vineyard on a fertile hillside.
- It’s a picture of God establishing his people into the promised land post the exodus. Planting them in a good land.
- And what are a vineyard meant to do? They are meant to produce good fruit that is a blessing to all around them.
- You know it’s funny, as a kid I remember being dragged to wineries and being so bored, and yet now as an adult, all I want to do on holidays is visit vineyards and do wine tasting!
- Anyhow… we are told God has cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest of vines! God has done all the work! And it is such a blessing!
Verse 3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?
So speaking through this parable, God asks his people what more could I have done for it?
- And yet when he looks for good fruit, all he finds is bad.
- Instead of glorious, righteous, wonderful fruit, the crop that has been produced is a stinker. It is foul… rotten and good for nothing.
- So verses 5-7 God says the vineyard, his people will no longer be protected, instead they will be judged.
- Verse 6 briers and thorns will grow there. Why? Because we are told…
- Verse 7 And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Now a bit like Jesus in the parable of the sower that Clayton preached on 2 weeks ago, there is an explanation for the parable. This time what the bad fruit looks like is described as seven woes.
- It included a pertinent verse for our ages in verse 20; it says
- “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet to bitter.”
- That speaks to a people who have lost their moral compass. A people who have literally decreed evil to be good and good to be evil.
- And I don’t think you have to let your mind wander far to think about where in our society we see echoes of this.
- Celebrations of immortality and normalization of what for centuries has been consider to be sin. Gr
But I want to focus on the first woe in verse 8 because I think of all the woes, it is probably most pertinent to us, living in one of the wealthiest areas in the wealthiest city in the wealthiest country on earth.
- And oh boy, I think I may be preaching to myself again. Let’s get that inclusive judgement language firing! Haha! So verse 8…
- So what does the Lord say to “us”… verse 8…
- “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.”
Now what does Isaiah have in mind here in regards to this judgement about greed?
- Well again it goes back to the terms of the covenant they had with their God. This time we think about the year of Jubilee laws found in Leviticus 25.
- This was the 49th year in the calendar where the inequalities of society were to be evened out with a return of property to poor families.
- It says in Leviticus 25:23 that God owns the land and thus the rich were to return bought land from the poor, ensuring that massive inequalities never get entrenched into the people of God.
- And of note there was a law too, in Leviticus 19:9-10. Let me read it…
9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.
So again the idea being, leave some of the wealth of your crop for the poor to harvest. Don’t be so greedy that everything you produce is kept for you!
- So the “woe” of Isaiah 5:8 comes into perspective.
- If you add house to house, and field to field, what room could there possibly be to look after those less fortunate than you?
- And surely in adding to your ever expanding land and property holdings, where have they ignored the mandate of jubilee in stopping inequalities in the family of God?
Now we need to apply our Christian imaginations to this part of being faithful covenant keepers, because most of us aren’t farmers, and even in Manly, few of us own multiple homes, if any.
- But here is the principle that Isaiah railed against.
- It is the insatiable appetite for more and more wealth, without ever setting aside a good proportion of your wealth for those less fortunate than you. (say again)
- The woe is to those whose lifestyles always match their incomes, never first setting aside to give to God and the poor, with what God has entrusted you with.
- Let me say this a bit more pointedly. Woe to you, if you never out of your abundance, set aside a generous and sacrificial amount to give away!
- You are not reflecting your Heavenly Father who graciously gives to those who ask, and who provides for all of your needs!
So Manly Life, take generosity seriously. And if there are some of you listening who have failed in this area. We need to repent and start giving!
- There are also wonderful examples within our community who I have seen demonstrate covenantal faithfulness in regard to giving that is an inspiration of Christian faith.
- Obviously I am not going to name names, but I think of one older couple at this church who as far as I can tell, just have an incredible gift for making money.
- But this has been matched by their giving to this church, to multiple ministries over many years and to charities like Homes of Hope who care for the poor!
- So to reflect our God, when we are blessed, as promised in Genesis 12 to Abraham, we are to be a blessing to all families on earth!
Well finally today that brings us to Jesus, who as we will see, very much identifies with Isaiah
- And the image of the vine is found all through the New Testament.
- And you will most likely know this best through John 15 in which Jesus declares “I am the vine, you are the branches.”
- In Jesus we meet the fulfilment of what the people of God were always called to be. The fruitful one, the true vine of Israel. Jesus our Lord and saviour.
- It doesn’t get better than this guys!
- And like Isaiah, what does he say? John 15:2 “every branch that bears no fruit will be cut off.”
- But verse 5 ; “if you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”
Does that now make sense in light of Isaiah?
- Jesus is what the people of God could never be. He produces the righteousness and justice in his life. The fruit of his life, is… well… life!
- He loves, he blesses, he gives, he produces fruit. He is a glimpse of the vineyard as God intended it to be planted.
- And what he calls us to do is remain in him. And this is covenant language… stay faithful and close and connected to the one who can produce the blessings of good fruit…
- And you as a branch you will bear good fruit too!
- John 15:16 “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
Well, lets close there… we have had the call of Isaiah and the Song of the Vineyrd!
- And I am sure, if you are anything like me, the Lord has been speaking to you through Isaiah 5 and 6.
- Responding to the call of God in your life?
- And as the people of God, bearing fruit in our lives in keeping with the covenant. Generous, set apart and righteous for the Lord.