–By Elizabeth Ahlman
Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause (Isaiah 1:10-11, 16-17 ESV).
November 20, 2013 is Buß- und Bettag in Saxony, Germany. This is even a school holiday here and churches will have a service. It is similar to Ash Wednesday in that it serves as a penitential day in the Church Year, this one leading us into Advent. And the readings are certainly harsh: Isaiah 1:10-17, Romans 2:1-11, and Luke 13:1-9. In this Isaiah passage, God says that he has had enough of the sinners, but not just that — he’s even had enough of their vain sacrifices, their attempts to “make things right” with God. He goes so far as to tell them that even when they lift their hands in prayer, he will not listen and will turn away from looking on them. Yahweh accuses us, “your hands are full of blood.” Yahweh exhorts Isaiah’s peers and us to wash ourselves and make ourselves clean, to cease doing evil and learn good, to seek justice, to correct oppression, to help the widow and the fatherless. In other words, REPENT! Do a 180 degree turn from the evil you practice, and even from the multitude of sacrifices you think you are making, you think will get you “in” with God, and instead wash, be clean, remove all the evil.
Here we are, loving our little and not so little sins, while making our sacrifices: getting up early and heading to Church, helping that neighbor in need, talking the talk, walking the walk. Doing exactly what God Himself prescribed for us. But God Himself says that doesn’t cut it. He won’t accept it. In fact, He’ll just ignore us until we get it right. This doesn’t sound like the loving God we thought we had! And neither does the guy in the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13. That guy has it in for this poor little tree that’s not been able to bear fruit so far. Fed up with the barren plant, the owner urges the vinedresser to raze it. “Get rid of it and stop wasting the ground it’s planted in,” he says. Here we are, with little to no fruit to show, at least not the kind of fruit God apparently actually wants. And God wants to raze us. Stop wasting space! So what will become of us? How can we stand in the face of such an angry God?
That’s when the vinedresser comes in. “Wait,” he says, “just one year longer. Yes, you’ve already waited three, but just give it one more. I’ll spread my manure around this little plant. Then we’ll let it have another year, and then we’ll see.” And you know what, the vinedresser has probably said the exact same thing every year previously. He probably plans to say the exact same thing every year to come. “Just one more year. Don’t give up on it yet. I’ll spread my manure around it, and it will yield its fruit in due season.”
And so it is with us. The Lord looks down in His righteous anger at our poor sacrifices, our favorite sins, our dirty selves, and says, “That’s it! I’m done! Just let this one go and stop wasting space/time/energy on her.” But Jesus steps in with the perfect blood He offered on the cross as the sacrifice greater than that of bulls and beasts, the sacrifice that satisfied everything, and He says, “Just wait. Just give it a little more time. Here, I’ll drown her again in the waters of her Baptism. I’ll feed her with My body and My blood. I’ll hold out My blood stained hands before Your face, Father, and remind You that she is mine. Just one more year. Just a little more time.” And so Christ dresses us, His little trees. He spreads His manure around. He sprinkles water over us. He removes our evil deeds. He causes us to act in justice and mercy. He brings us to repentance, and He presents us before the Father as little trees with plenty of fruit. The fruit coaxed forth by His blood stained hands.
Lord Jesus Christ, You are the perfect sacrifice; please plead for us before the Father, feed us, wash us, and bring us to repentance so that we may live in Your love and bask in Your forgiveness. In Your Name we pray, Amen.
- Did you miss last week’s devotion? You can read it here.
- Be sure to check the Eurasia Blog Wednesday devotion each week of Advent for a devotion on a different Advent hymn each week, chosen by our missionaries. There will also be audio recordings of the hymns.