“OUR FILTHY RAGS” Isaiah 64:1-9
INTRO – When is the last time you were just worn slap out?
- Maybe you worked in your yard all day yesterday, or at your deer camp all weekend getting it ready for deer season.
- Maybe it was a long day at work this week that just never seemed to let up.
- Maybe your kids were sick & you had to take care of them.
- Maybe there was a project at school that consumed all of your time & energy.
There are lots of ways that we expend large amounts of energy trying to accomplish some goal or finish some task. And hard work is an important quality for all of us to have. Thomas Edison put it plainly when he said, “There is no substitute for hard work.”
But there’s one thing that millions upon millions of people all over the world do that completely wears them out. And the sad thing is that they will never accomplish what they’re working for.
That thing that they’re working for: They’re working for their salvation. They’re working to try & make themselves right w/ God, to try & get in His good graces, to try & earn a place in heaven.
The OT prophet Isaiah was called to bring God’s message of repentance to the people of the nation of Judah. They had gone through times of revival & times of rebellion. There were times that they were walking w/ God & responding to His leadership, & there were times that they were walking away from God & rebelling against His leadership. There were times that they stumbled around in a state of spiritual deafness & blindness – Isa. 42:6-7 – “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
The weight of the sins of the people was heavy, as sin always is. Isa. 43:24 – “But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities.”
That’s what sin always does. It ALWAYS weighs us down. It ALWAYS brings weariness into our lives. There have been so many people that I’ve talked to & counseled with who found themselves mired in the quicksand of sin. The signs of spiritual, emotional, relational, & physical weariness are all over them as they struggle w/ sin & its consequences. You can see it in their eyes, in their countenance, in their body language, & hear it in their voice.
3 elements I want us to look at today in this passage:
Our Pitiful Reality – v. 6 – The book of Isaiah has been called the Romans of the OT. The NT book of Romans is known to be the book in the NT that shapes our doctrine & theology more than any other book. Isaiah has that same distinction in the OT. It is chocked full of deep spiritual truth. Paul made it clear in Romans that we are all great sinners who are in need of a great Savior.
- Romans 3:9-18, 23 (v. 15-17 are quotes from Isa. 59:7-8)
Isaiah makes that same truth clear in v. 6 in Isa. 64 when he gives us the “3 ‘Alls’” of our pitiful reality:
- We are all unclean
- All our righteous acts are as filthy rags
- We are all shriveled up like a leaf blowing in the wind
We don’t like to see that about ourselves. We don’t like to be told that about ourselves. And we certainly don’t like to believe that about ourselves. But it’s the plain truth of Scripture: The pitiful reality of our lives is that we are all sinners. The infection of sin has spread to everyone everywhere. There is no one who is immune or has been able to avoid it. Isaiah is making it clear to the people that this is not a problem that has been brought upon them by an outside force. It is a heart problem that causes every person to be unable to avoid that which is sinful. It has so pervaded our lives that even our righteous acts are like filthy contaminated rags that a woman would use during her time of the month. It’s horrible. It ‘s so much more than just a slight or harmless mistake that probably doesn’t even need to be confessed. No, it is a condition of the heart that adversely affects every area of our life. One commentator said, “Sin is a dark and destructive act that makes a person an enemy of God.”
Look at the descriptiveness that the 2nd part of v. 6 shows us. Sin will shrivel up all of our lives like a dead leaf. Why does a leaf die? B/c it’s lost its source of nutrients, either from disease or blight, or by being separated from the tree itself. And then when that happens, the winds will pick that leaf up & blow it away. That is our pitiful reality. The blight of sin shrivels up our lives, keeping us from the source of nutrients that we find in Christ alone, causing us to be a vile disgrace. And then, to make matters worse, our sins don’t stop there but blow us away like a hurricane-force wind, farther & farther away from the Lord. As someone once said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, & cost you more than you want to pay.”
Our Poor Response – v. 7 – Verse 7 goes on to show our poor response to our pitiful reality. Sin blinds us to who we really are & what is the actual state of our lives. The enemy, who is a liar & the father of lies, whispers to us that we aren’t all that bad; that there are so many other people who are worse than we are; that we can live any way we want to live, do anything we want to do, b/c, after all, it’s our life, so we have the right to do w/ it whatever we choose to do. Pride seeps into our thinking & keeps us from truly acknowledging how desperately wicked our lives truly are. So instead of calling out to God in confession & repentance, no one calls on His name. No one makes any effort to take hold of God for the help that only He can bring. We think we are smart enough to fix our own problems, or strong enough to make it w/out God. So many people try so many other avenues to try & find peace & contentment in their lives before they ever turn to God.
Because our poor response is to not call out to God, it seems that God has hidden His face from us. We are always looking to place the blame on someone else, even on God Himself. The truth is that He has already told us this in Isa. 59:1-2: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
Our Possible Restoration – v. 8-9 – So far, this sermon has been pretty heavy, showing us the truth of our pitiful reality – we are all sinners, all shriveled up, all dead, all blown away by the winds of our sin. We’ve also seen how poor our response is to our sinfulness. We don’t call on God, but instead try to cover up our sins, or minimize them, or try to ignore them. It’s a tremendously sad situation!
But, I want to end this sermon on some good news. I want you to understand the possibility of our restoration. And that restoration will only come in the hands of God. And that restoration only happens when we willing yield our lives completely to Him, like the clay in the hands of the potter. “Just as the clay finds its highest purpose when it remains pliable in the hands of the potter, so our lives fulfill their highest purpose when we let our Potter have His way with us.” (http://www.gotquestions.org/potter-and-clay.html)
In 1902, Adelaide A. Pollard, a hymn writer, was hoping to go to Africa as a missionary but found herself unable to raise the needed funds to make the journey. Greatly discouraged, she attended a prayer service one evening and as she sat there, she overheard an elderly woman say “It really doesn’t matter what you do with us, Lord, just have your own way with our lives.” The elderly woman inspired Pollard and…upon her return home that evening, wrote all four stanzas of the hymn “Have Thine Own Way, Lord” before retiring for the night.
1 Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
while I am waiting, yielded and still.
2 Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Search me and try me, Master today!
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
As in thy presence humbly I bow.
3 Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Wounded and weary, help me I pray!
Power, all power, surely is thine!
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine!
4 Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway.
Fill with thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me!
 Smith, G. (2009). Isaiah 40-66 (Vol. 15B, p. 690). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.