Irish spring soap.
Soap in the shape of little flowers.
Soap in the shape of cartoon characters.
Soap that’s big and manly (and smells of rich mahogany).
Over our sermon series, we’ve discussed the spiritual mess of sin. We talked about what it is, where it comes from and how serious it is. Today we want to talk about how to clean it -- what kind of spiritual soap should we use. Before we do that, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Wrong Kind of Soap
The Scripture for today is from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who lived 700 years before Jesus. He wrote this down at a time when the people of Israel had made a mess of their spiritual relationship with God. They had sinned by disobeying God. It had come from their hearts. They were in danger of spiritual death as a result of it.
But Israel wasn’t unaware of it. In fact, they had been taking actions to clean up their acts.
They had been attending worship.
They had been offering sacrifices.
They had been bringing offerings.
They did this in order to clean up their sinful mess.
But was it working?
Look at God’s response through the Prophet Isaiah:
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices--
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
Old Testament worship was very different from our worship of today.
Instead of bringing your offering in your wallet, purse, or iPhone, you’d bring it on a leash.
Instead of this pleasant altar with clean linens pressed upon it, there was a blood-stained altar with pieces of animal flesh hanging off the edges.
Instead of the beautiful music of organ or guitar, there was the loud, pained bleating of dying goats.
Instead of the nice smell of floral arrangements and morning coffee, there was the smell of burning and rotten corpses.
The reason the Israelites worshipped like this was that God had commanded it. In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, you can still read about how God commanded that his people worship by offering sacrifices. The reason he did this was to impress upon his people the harsh reality that the wages of sin was death. (Because blood equals death.)
So, the Israelites sacrificed.
They sacrificed and assumed that the animal sacrifice would clean up their sins.
They were wrong.
Sin cannot be cleaned by ANIMAL SACRIFICES
And maybe you’re thinking “duh”. But remember this was the Old Testament version of worship. This is what they were used to. It was the way that they worshipped. In fact, I wonder if the Israelites might have thought that Isaiah was just telling them they had bad form!
Should the altar be relocated to the front right?
Is that the wrong kind of knife for the job?
Maybe we should be using penguins instead of lambs?
But the problem wasn’t the type of worship. It was that they thought their worship could clean them from sin.
Look at what God says next:
When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? (v.12) Can you believe that? God’s calling all the people coming to worship tramplers. As if he’s shaking his fist and shouting: “Get off my lawn!”
Stop bringing meaningless offerings! (v.13a) Whether the offering was an animal or some money or their latest supply of corn. It was meaningless. Even if they brought the best crop of corn they have ever grown: NC State Fair, best in show, blue ribbon corn – that corn couldn’t remove sin.
Your incense is detestable to me. (v.13b) It doesn’t smell like the sweet aroma of calamus and lily of the valley, but it still smells like the greed in your heart from work yesterday.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- These were special ceremonies. Special gatherings. Extra ceremonies and extra gatherings. The Israelites would come to worship on more than just one day a week.
Yet, God says: I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. (v.13c-14)
Did you hear that?
God is calling all these extra religious festivals and extra religious activities, a burden.
As if God looks at his watch on a Sabbath and says “Aw man! There’s worship in 5 minutes? Ugh. Not again…”
Is this a strange section of Scripture?
Why is God upset with their worship?
Why was he upset with this religious activity?
Check out verse 15:
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!
A helpful note:
The Old Testament stance for prayer was to spread your legs apart, to raise your hands above your head, and open your hands towards God. The message this stance conveyed was “Dear God, hear my prayer.”
God said he wasn’t looking.
God said he wasn’t listening.
God said he wasn’t looking or listening because when they reached their hands up towards his heavenly throne, their hands were a mess.
They were filled with blood.
And he’s not talking about animal blood.
He’s talking about sin.
Sin cannot be cleaned by RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY.
It didn’t work for Old Testament Israel.
It doesn’t work for us.
If you think that your attendance today will wash away your sin…
If you think that the angle at which you bow your head for prayer will clean your soul…
If you think that the decibel at which you sing the upcoming hymns will knock lose sin from your heart…
If you think that because you do a certain kind of worship that kind of worship is designated to clean sin unlike any other kind of worship…
If you think that the offering you put in the plate will pay for your guilt….
If you think that the talent you display in serving will distract God from your shame…
If you think that the time you put in at 1100 Newton Road will counterbalance the time you put it sinning…
God still sees the greed all over your hands.
God still hears the words that you let out against your spouse.
God still sees the fingers that typed away to the latest porn site.
God still sees the finger that shot up in rage at your coworker.
Religious activity cannot wash away sin.
What then do we need to do?
Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. (v.16-17)
Instead of worrying about the cleanliness of your Sunday clothing; worry about the cleanliness of your heart.
Instead of taking a coin out of your pocket; take sin out of your life.
Instead of doing worship; just do good.
Figure out some way to remove all the guilt that you’ve amassed in your life up to this point.
Then, you’ll be clean.
Does this message from God leave anyone else in a panic?
This sounds impossible.
Because it is.
Here’s the truth:
Sin cannot be cleaned by YOU.
This is the truth God was impressing on the Israelites: They were worshiping with the idea that their worship would remove their sin.
This is the truth God is impressing on you. If you are worshiping God with the idea that YOU worshiping will remove your sins, you’re wrong.
In fact, if you are trusting that your worship is the key to your forgiveness.
It’s not only wrong.
II. The Right Kind of Soap
Then, what is the right kind of spiritual soap?
Check out what God says next: “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (v.18)
Did you see it? This is the part of the Scripture where God tells us how to clean our heart.
Don’t miss it.
It’s extremely important.
What does God tell us to do.
He doesn’t tell us to do anything to clean our sins, because there isn’t anything we can do to clean our sins.
But he still says our sins will be clean.
Because of him.
Sin is cleaned by OUR LORD.
It’s only fall, but briefly. Let’s talk about snow. The first snowfall is so very beautiful. The crisp, white flakes cover up everything in a nice, pristine blanket of white. In fact, if you look outside after a fresh snow fall you can’t see anything but snow.
Gone is the muddy area where grass wasn’t growing out back.
Gone is the pile of leaves that your kids forgot to clean up.
Gone are the piles of yuck that your dogs left behind.
Gone is the garbage.
Gone is the trash.
Gone is the oil spill from your nephew’s car.
All the gross is gone. Covered up by the clean snow.
That’s what God does to your sins.
They are covered.
White as snow.
Imagine you had a pair of wool socks. And as you wore those socks, tripped on a rock. In fact, you hit that rock so hard that you opened up the skin on your toe. It bled. Suddenly, your socks became crimson, the color of blood.
Blood is a tough stain to get out. It’s deep. It’s red. It’s obvious. You can’t hide it very well at all and you might not ever be able to get it out. Unless… you use the right kind of detergent. The right kind of bleach can do the miraculous. It can remove the blood red stain and leave behind nothing but wool.
As if the stain never existed.
That’s what God does to your sins.
They have been removed.
White as wool.
How does God cleanse us from the stain of sin?
Is it some divine form of bleach?
Does it involve a long soak in holy water?
Does he just use a bunch of holy elbow grease?
Take a look at Hebrews 11. It’s a New Testament book written after Jesus that makes a connection to Old Testament worship. It says:
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ…cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death. (v.13-14)
Do you get it?
In the Old Testament, animal sacrifices never cleansed anyone’s sin.
But these sacrifices foreshadowed a sacrifice that would.
TRUTH: Sin is cleansed by JESUS’ BLOOD.
Jesus lived perfectly.
Jesus died innocently.
Jesus rose triumphantly.
As a result, the blood of Christ cleanses you from all acts that lead to death. (aka: sin)
Because of Jesus’ divine blood, the blood of sin on your hands has been removed.
Your heart is clean.
Your heart is pure.
Your heart is spotless because of the blood of the eternal lamb, Jesus Christ.
Of course, God need to connect us to this washing. And we can’t have a sermon on washing our souls clean without commenting on one very powerful way he connects us to the cleaning power of Jesus’ blood:
TRUTH: Sin is cleansed THROUGH BAPTISM.
Titus 3:5, “We were saved not because of the righteous things that we have done, but because of the washing with water through the Word.”
Baptism doesn’t look as impressive as the slaughtering of many sacrificial animals.
It’s just a little bit of water.
It’s just poured upon a head.
It looks like a regular old bath.
But it’s so much more.
Titus 3:5, ”we were saved not because of the righteous things that we have done, but because of the washing with water through the Word.”
That is baptism.
Baptism that washes.
It washes away our sins as it connects us to the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood.
III. What Now?
(1) Worship because you’ve been cleaned
Notice how that is phrased. It doesn’t say, “Worship in order to be clean,” but, “worship because you are clean.”
And you have been cleaned by Jesus’ Christ.
It’d be like if you had a party and the party left a big mess. Streamers everywhere. Drink glasses throughout. Birthday cake sprinkles all over the kitchen floor. Wrapping paper in the living room. And a spot of spit up from your young niece on the couch cushion.
And you lay down for a quick nap in order to get some energy to clean.
But when you wake up, it’s all done. Mom did it while you were sleeping. Everything’s clean: dusted, vacuumed, and picked up.
How do you react to that? With thanks!
It’s the same with Jesus.
We worship out of thanks for his forgiveness.
We worship out of thanks for the clean he left in our heart.
We worship out of thanks for the purity that he brought into our souls.
(2) Cherish Baptism
Baptism is one of the incredible ways God connects us to the powerful washing of his blood. So, we cherish it!
If you haven’t been baptized, cherish it – and be baptized.
If you have been baptized, cherish it – and thank God for your baptism.
Rather than an Old Testament sacrifice.
Baptism connects us to Jesus’ sacrifice.
Rather than something we do daily.
Baptism connects us to something Jesus did once.
Rather than something we hope might work.
Baptism connects us to Jesus’ death that worked completely.
Rather than leave you with bloody hands and a sinful heart.
Baptism leaves you with a wet head and a heart cleaned by your Savior.
So…You are clean.
We’re finishing up the sermon series all about the messiness of sin.
And maybe by the end of it you thought:
“Man, my sin has really made a mess.”
“My life’s a mess.”
“I’m a mess.”
If so, hear the message of today one last time:
Jesus cleans messes.
Jesus cleans your mess.
He doesn’t call you “Mess,” but, “clean.”