Back to series
Isaiah 2:2-5; 3:13-15—God’s Vineyard
Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of Isaiah, chapter 2, and we’re going to start reading in v.2.
I’m going to go ahead and start this week with an apology, because with Adam out last week, I did the announcements, and I should never do the announcements. I can barely keep up with my own life, let alone what’s happening in the world around me. I remember myself saying last week that the weather forecast was clear, and about day four of thunderstorms this week, we last-minute cancelled Wednesday in the middle of one of them, I decided if the church building is still there when I get there on Sunday, if it didn’t wash away, I should apologize for thinking I could do the announcements.
This is the second week of what, God willing, will be a thirty-two week series through the book of Isaiah, and I realized something else this week, besides just that I’m bad at announcements. I realized, usually when I do a sermon series, I start the sermon with just a little recap of everything we’ve talked about thus far in the series. So, last week, we talked through exactly five minutes of historical background, but mainly focused on this image Isaiah gives in chapter 1 of people worshipping God, lifting their hands up to him to pray, with blood on their hands—and they don’t even seem to realize, to recognize something’s wrong in the world around them, and it’s horrifying.
Isaiah tells us very simply, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean.” How? “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
And I called us all to dispense with the show, the religion games we play, and instead to confess: God, there is something wrong in the world, there is something wrong with me, and I’m not going to be able to fix it. And I talked about how none of us are exempt. Just because at our church we spend a lot of time and effort trying to minister to the needs of the homeless, it doesn’t mean we get to check the justice box off of our to-do list—we’re too talented at sin for that. We are sinful enough to hand someone food with one hand, and with the other cause division, quarrel, harm the people we most love.
So back to my realization about this 32 week series. That recap just took like three minutes. If I keep doing that all the way through this 32 week Isaiah series, eventually the recap will be the whole sermon, and we’re never going to be able to preach on anything new. This is a serious issue. I fear I may have started a sermon series that I have no way of ever ending. Don’t worry though, we have our best minds on the issue, and I hope to have some sort of solution soon.
In the meantime, read with me in Isaiah, chapter 2. We’re going to start in vs.2-5, then skip over to chapter 3:13-15 in order to capture what will be one of the major images running through the book of Isaiah: God’s vineyard, his garden, what he intended, and what we have actually become. Read with me. [Isaiah 2:2-5; 3:13-15] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly.
Father God, we confess, we are so satisfied with the way we are, that we don’t even seek the purposes for which you made us. Christ, have mercy. Holy Spirit, we beg for your conviction this morning that we might actually have hope of change. Please show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
All through Isaiah, we’re going to see this same contrast we saw in the two passages we read just now, Isaiah is going to show us over and over again, what God intends for us, our telos, our purpose in life. And then he is going to show us the way we are. Over and over again, he is going to show us the distance between the way humanity, the way creation is meant to be, verses the way we actually are—that distance, that gap is what we call sin. The word literally means, we have fallen short of the purposes, the ways, the life our creator intended for us.
Because so often in our lives, we don’t even realize, we don’t even remember what we were supposed to be. We’re so easily pleased, we’re so satisfied with the lives we make for ourselves that we don’t even see a need to change ourselves, or to work to change the world around us.
As C.S. Lewis writes, famously, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
So my first point from the text today is this: We need to understand our purpose in order to see our own brokenness. We need to understand our purpose in order to see our own brokenness.
I’ve mentioned this before, some of you know this—I’m colorblind. I’m not as bad as a lot of people, but I’m bad enough that I know I’m missing some of the beauty of the world. My ability to create art, or decorate a room—even just dress myself—are pretty limited.
Colorblindness is strange, because it’s a comparative disability, meaning you don’t recognize there’s anything’s wrong until someone mentions something you missed—before Anne-Elise tells me my clothes don’t match, I’m usually pretty content with how I’ve dressed myself. It takes someone who sees what I can’t telling me what I’ve missed.
They have glasses now that would be able to let me see color, which is amazing—I don’t know how they work, but you can look up videos online of people seeing color for the first time, and usually weeping. Robyn asked me the other day if I would want to use the glasses one day, and I said I would want to try them on just once, to see what I’m missing, but then I thought about it.
I don’t think I want to try them on, because then I would see what I’m missing. I thought of the videos of people weeping, and I understood why. Until you know what the world is supposed to be like you can be pretty content with the way it has always been. If I ever saw the world in full color, I think I would mourn.
In that first passage we read, Isaiah gives us a picture of what the kingdom of God on earth would look like. God himself is in their midst, a light on a hill bright enough to enlighten the entire world. The gates of the city flung open, with people from all the nations come to worship their creator, to hear and obey God’s laws, to walk, to live, the same way he walks. God, himself, will rule. No more corruption, every judgement just, so for every wrong done, for every injustice, the person who is victimized or oppressed is lifted up again, made whole.
That world is like a garden, he writes. There’s no fear for anyone outside of the city walls, the gates never close. People from every race and nation are invited into the houses of the people of Jerusalem, meals eaten together in hospitality, the houses are unlocked at night; there’s no one to make them afraid. Peace is so pervasive that weapons, not only sit unused, but people forget the purpose of weapons—they use the metal instead for gardening tools. Violence is so unheard of that entire nations forget how to wage war, the skillsets of war are lost to history; Other skillsets, like gardening, are what parents teach to their children.
They spend their days outside and together, they gather together, people from every race and nation, in the city to feast each week and spend time in joy and worship with the people of God made whole. No poverty, oppression, or sickness, no division.
Isaiah writes, that’s the way the world is meant to be. That’s our purpose, what God intended. But according to Isaiah, Judah is far from the way it is meant to be. According to Isaiah—and this is an image that’s going to come up again and again throughout the book—Judah is like a vineyard God planted, the people are like the vines he planted, the city of Jerusalem like a house he built in which to dwell.
And in the second passage we read, Isaiah is saying—you think our society is the way it’s meant to be, but it’s not. The truth is, we are very far from what God intended. We who are supposed to be his servants, workers in the vineyard, and we have taken the fruit of his vineyard for ourselves. Instead of bringing the produce into the city, we’ve let the city starve while we’ve glutted ourselves.
We need to remember who we are in the world. We are not the owners of the people and things of this world, we are the workers. We are meant to use what is given us in this world for the benefit of the creator, or the owner of the vineyard, not for our own pleasure or power.
God created people to worship him—that’s their purpose, but we’ve taken them and used them for our own purposes, to make us wealthy or powerful, or any of the other thousand ways we’ve found to use the people around us instead of caring for them, propping them up, making sure they bear fruit in their lives. It’s like, instead of stomping on grapes in our winepresses, we’re stomping on the people we were meant to feed—a horrifying image, because God is horrified at how far we have strayed from his purpose for our lives and for our communities. Just like last week, he’s amazed, horrified, at how we don’t seem to see anything is wrong in our society, in our own lives.
You have to realize that as Isaiah is writing this, his people are fairly content. Judah hasn’t yet fallen. Sure, they had problems, but life was generally pretty good. They saw no real reason to change. It’s like they were seeing in black and white, Isaiah offers them a chance to see the world in color, as it really is, and they said, “no, we’d rather not. That might cause us to weep; we’d rather not know the world in color.”
And here’s where my analogy falls short. If I never do see the world in full color, I’m not that much worse for it. My clothes may not match sometimes, big deal. But church, listen—if we fail to see our sin for what it really is, it’s going to destroy us. You can’t just content yourself with the world as you see it, you have to learn to long for the world as God intended it.
So Isaiah goes farther, challenging them to see how broken their society really is. If Judah were a house, the house is in such disrepair, there are so many leaks and cracks that it’s all about to fall. He tells them their problems are deeper than they know, and soon their sins would destroy them. The nations will come to Jerusalem, but not to worship, not to live in peace—they’ll come to steal, kill, and destroy, to overthrow, to, themselves, sit in God’s place in the center of the capital city on a throne and rule.
Anyone who lives outside of the city walls, unprotected by the watchmen and fortifications, will be terrified. Instead of coming into the city each morning with their harvest to feed the city, the gardeners and farmers in the surrounding areas will flee into the city to escape marauders; beg for food from the people they used to feed. Their vineyards will burn. Those who don’t have weapons will melt down the very tools of their livelihood to make weapons to defend their lands. They won’t need pruning hooks because their vineyards will be burned. They won’t need their plows because their land will soon be taken from them.
Over and over again throughout this book, Isaiah is going to tell his people, if you refuse to see, if you refuse to address your own brokenness, it’s going to destroy you. We have to understand, to remember our purpose in order to see our brokenness; otherwise we become used to brokenness, we forget to long for, to work toward, anything else. We become half-hearted creatures, pleased with the world we’ve made, not even able to mourn the broken state we are in, not even able to recognize the damage our sin is doing in our lives and in the lives of people we know and love. One of the worst, most horrifying things in life you can be is pleased with the world the way it is.
You and I, today. We need to understand, to remember our purpose. We need to know, need to imagine, our lives if they were the way God intended for us to be.
What would your life be if you and your loved ones had never gotten sick or addicted in the first place? If your friend and family relationships were defined by love and peace? If everyone around you were generous and you had never wanted for basic necessities? What would your life be like if the world around you had been just, and eager to make right anything done wrong against you? If you had never seen war or violence, never even heard of inequality?
And I ask you to imagine your life as God intended it to be, knowing I’m asking you to do something very difficult, that I’m asking you to mourn, because when we imagine our lives the way they were meant to be, we will see our own brokenness, our sin, that distance between what God intended and what we actually are.
We need to see our original purpose and see our sin—the way we still take people, who are created to worship God, and use them for our own purposes, crush them even, for our own enjoyment. We were placed in the Lord’s vineyard to care for it, and instead we threw a feast and devoured it. Lord, have mercy.
So, we need to understand our original purpose in order to see our brokenness. But, also, this is my second point from the text today, we need to see our brokenness in order to understand God’s salvation. We need to see our brokenness in order to understand God’s salvation; to begin to understand it at least.
One of the truly remarkable aspects of the passage we just read is, right from the start, Isaiah doesn’t just ask the people to look at their own sin, in comparison to the way God meant for them to be. In v.2 he writes “it shall come to pass in the latter days,” so not only does God have a purpose for which he created us, but he is going to restore us to that purpose. He’s going to bring us into that world he originally intended. If we believe in him, if we are willing to hope in him, one day he is going to make us the way we’ve always meant to be.
The reason I’m starting this series through Isaiah trying to convince you of your own brokenness—of how dead in our sins we all are, of how much trouble the world is in—it’s so you can understand how remarkable the rest of the story is.
In our society, we like to downplay sin. We like to say, whatever your mistakes are, they aren’t that big a deal; everyone is sinful, so we should all learn to accept each other as we are. And it’s true that everyone is sinful, but if our goal is the world restored back to the way it’s meant to be, then the fact that everyone around us is in the same predicament isn’t a comforting thought. If we’re all on the same sinking ship, and none of us are able to do anything to stop it sinking, then we need a rescuer.
It seems loving and good to the people around you to downplay sin, but what we don’t realize is, if we downplay sin, we’re also downplaying grace, and so we take the great salvation of our God and make it into a story about a people who needed nothing worshipping a God whose actions are largely irrelevant.
We need to see our brokenness in order to understand God’s salvation, and we need to understand both at the same time, both the true depth of our problem and the greatness of God’s salvation. If you lose sight of either one, the other will fade as well.
Many people believe that Christianity is about being a better person, doing the work to close that distance between what we are meant to be and who we are now—that’s simply not the case; Christianity is not about being a better person. In fact, if you speak to mature Christians about whether or not they have become good people through their pursuit of Christ, they will tell you—absolutely not; they’ve not become good by following Jesus. And then they will likely get flustered, and try to explain how God has been working in their life the whole time, how he has saved them from sin and suffering in this life in incredible ways—it’s just, every time they learned something else about God, every step closer to his light, they’ve realized again and with greater conviction just how sinful they really are.
When you step up to the edge of that space between where we are meant to be and where we are now, you can see, what looked from far away to be a small crack in our otherwise smooth facade is actually a chasm, impassable.
It’s a strange inverse: the worst Christians you meet will be the ones who are most convinced of their own goodness, and the best Christians you meet will be the ones who are the most convinced of their own sinfulness, even as their lives are conformed more and more each day to the laws and ways of the Lord. The closer you get to the Lord, the more you realize how good he is, and in comparison, how sinful and broken we are.
We need to remember who we are supposed to be to see our own brokenness. We need to see our own brokenness in order to understand the salvation of God. I would invite you today to admit that you’re broken so you can be made whole again. Admit that you’re in need of salvation so you might be saved.