Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—“False Worship vs. True Worship”
Self-deception is a process of denying or rationalizing away the relevance, significance, or importance of opposing evidence and logical argument. Self-deception involves convincing oneself of a truth (or lack of truth) so that one does not reveal any self-knowledge of the deception. Biblical instances include King David who is self-deceived that his affair with Bathsheba is on the sly and nobody else knows. It is Ananias and Sapphira boasting of their selflessness when their generosity is anything but. But self-deception involves not just the “big acts” of hypocrisy, but the subtle the little ones as well.
For better or worse, we constantly convince ourselves of things that are not true. We kid ourselves about the most basic things in life: Who we are and what is going on around us. All too often, we lie to ourselves in order to maintain a sense of control. After all, no one likes feeling vulnerable or helpless.
The inhabitants of Judah are living a life of self-deception. God says of them: “For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.” (Isaiah 58:2, NIV84).
Yet, their worship is full of hypocrisy and false worship. While deliberately disobeying God’s commands, they pretended to “seek the Lord” daily. They feigned delight in knowing his will and drawing near to him in worship. In the face of oppression by foreigners, they presented themselves as a righteous nation deserving of God’s justice (58:2). Having exposed the general hypocrisy of the nation, Isaiah focused on their false worship.
I. FALSE WORSHIP IS WHEN THE PEOPLE OF GOD IDENTIFY WITH A RELIGIOUS SYSTEM INSTEAD OF THE LIVING GOD
- this was Israel's problem
- their relationship with the living God had been replaced by rituals that commemorated their religious obligations
- the first involves a vibrant faith, the latter a religious expediency
- Israel needed a prophet to help them see the error of their ways
- Isaiah was one of those prophets
- God commands the Prophet Isaiah to expose Judah’s hypocrisy
- “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1, NIV84)
- the announcement has to be shouted with trumpet-like volume to be heard over the racket of religious ritual
- the inhabitants of Judah are so self-deceived they don’t understand the depth of their hypocrisy
- they think that they are doing everything right, and so they don’t understand when God does not answer their prayers or respond to their fasting
- “‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.” (Isaiah 58:3, NIV84)
- only one fast day was mandatory under the Law and that was the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29)
- it’s apparent from the text, however, that they are fasting on other days as well
- we know from the New Testament that the Pharisees fasted twice-a-week
- the people could not understand why God did not seem to take note of their self-denial
- the explanation was simple
- on fast days these citizens were
- doing what they pleased;
- oppressing their employees;
- fighting among themselves; and
- making a big show of the entire enterprise (58:3–5)
- the in habitants of Judah are convinced that they are living righteously by observing all he law, while in actuality, they have forsaken the commands of God
A. INSTITUTIONALIZED RELIGION ALWAYS LEADS TO FALSE WORSHIP
- there is a phrase we experience over and over again in the Old Testament historical books—particularly in 1 Kings
- every time a king's son succeeded his father to the throne the Scriptures tell us, "He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, walking in the ways of his father and in his sin . . ."
- by the time we arrive at the era in which Isaiah is preaching genuine sacrifice and worship had given way to institutionalized religion
- “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?” (Isaiah 58:5, NIV84)
- God recognized the self-deception of His people
- Isaiah writes, Is that what you call a fast?
- the people of Israel had developed an identity crisis
- they forgot Whose they were, Who had brought them out of Egypt and Who had blessed them
- Israel saw themselves as a very religious people who were carrying out God’s instructions precisely
- they had reached the conclusion—falsely so—that worship was all about the ritual
- the result was that their worship had become a false worship
- God is about to reveal to them what He really things of their worship
- He doesn’t think much of it!
B. THE CHURCH TODAY HAS A SIMILAR IDENTITY CRISIS
- let me pose to you several spiritual diagnostic questions this evening
- you don't have to answer them verbally, but I do want you to think about these and answer them in your heart
- QUESTION #1 "When you talk about 'going to church,' are you referring to a red brick building or to renewing relationships with friends and community members based on a common experience with the risen Lord, Jesus Christ?"
- if ‘going to church’ is just making a visit to a red-brick building, you may guilty of the false worship of institutionalized religion
- QUESTION #2 "When you talk about 'the work of the church,' are you referring to plans and programs or to people who are filled with the Holy Spirit collectively accomplishing God's will in their community?”
- if you think ‘the work of the church’ is referring to plans and programs, you may guilty of the false worship of institutionalized religion
- QUESTION #3 "When you talk about 'building the church,' are you referring to concrete, lumber and Sheetrock or to men and women, boys and girls who are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?"
- if you believe that ‘building the church’ is all about bricks and lumber and Sheetrock, you may guilty of the false worship of institutionalized religion
- many Christians are confused as to what the church is
- they have no clear understanding of the church's character and its biblical purpose and mission
- why do I bring this up?
- because confusion regarding our identity as the church affects our worship
- Israel's identity crisis caused them to institutionalize their faith and feign worship of the true God and eventually led to the worship of idols
C. SOME BELIEVERS HAVE SUBSTITUTED AN INSTITUTIONALIZED RELIGION FOR THE LIFE-CHANGING DYNAMIC OF A LIVING FAITH
- like Israel during the life of Isaiah, many believers have settled for a religion of convenience!
- their motto is 'Religion is fine as long as I don't have to go out of my way for it!
- the church is plagued by a consumer mentality that is pervasive in our society
- ILLUS. Charles Coleson calls it the "McChurch" mentality. It’s all about having it your way!
- unfortunately, some members view church as they would any other commodity
- they want choice
- they want variety
- they want service
- they want change back for their dollar!
- we are no longer concerned with what the church stands for, but in the personal fulfillment it can deliver
- False Worship reigns when the People of God Have Identified with a Religious System Instead of the Living God
II. FALSE WORSHIP IS WHEN WE IGNORE THE ‘WEIGHTIER’ MATTERS OF FAITH
- “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6–7, NIV84)
- religious rituals and practices are worthless when we disregard the things that are important to God
- God commissions his prophet to warn his people of their sins as they blithely go through the routines of religion
- they must learn that true fasting and true worship is seeking justice and compassion for the needy
- in fact, their fasting and worship had merely become a way of boosting their own religious ego
- God wants his people to show their religion through their concern and help for other people in need
- true worship, according to God, calls for concrete action in how we relate to others
- in the New Testament, Jesus reminds us of the two greatest commandments in the Scriptures
- “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28–31, NIV84)
- Jesus is not laying down some new, unknown command here—he is quoting from the Torah, specifically Lev. 19:18
- true worship is inextricably linked with, not only with how we treat God, but how we treat our neighbor
- Jesus makes this clear as closes the parable of separating the sheep from the goats as the end of the age by saying ...
- “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40, NIV84)
- in the Gospels we see Jesus criticizing the religious leaders of his day for the same thing Isaiah’s listeners were guilty of
- "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23, NIV84)
- going through the motions of worship will simply not ‘cut it’ with God
A. THE BODY OF CHRIST IS NOT IMMUNE TO FALSE WORSHIP
- is not much of the Church guilty of playing the ‘worship game’ that Israel is so roundly condemned for?
- like the people of Judah we can be guilty of going through the motions of worship while ignoring the weightier matters of the faith
- in our own day we need to be careful about two trends affecting the Church
- the Church Growth Movement and Seeker-sensitive Worship
- how can a desire for church growth and a sensitivity to spiritual seeker lead us into false worship?
- both ask the question: “What do people want?” the assumption being that if we provide it “They will come”
- this philosophy turns church growth and worship methodology into consumer-driven commodities based on the felt-needs of the un-saved person or immature believer
- the result is usually an over-emphasis on evangelical-entertainment, and a devaluation of expositional preaching
- the result is that the audience has become sovereign
- this is exactly what had taken place in Judah
- worship had become all about the worshiper and not the one being worshiped!
- true worship asks: What does God require of us?
- it answers, God wants us to worship him in the truth of who he is and what he has accomplished, not on the basis of what we feel or believe we need
- true worship begins with God and is authenticated in how we deal with the people around us
B. ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP UNTO THE LORD
- what is the key to divine blessing according to the mouth of the Lord?
- what is acceptable worship unto the Lord?
- God called for concrete action—helping others in need involved five specific actions
- God’s people are to loose the chains of injustice
- this means to set free those whom wicked persons have wrongfully imprisoned, and is probably a reference to the release of unjustly held Jewish slaves
- according to the law, slaves of Israelite descent were to be emancipated every three years—however, we know from the Prophet Jeremiah that the Jews did not always follow this command
- we need to understand that we live in an era where many are still imprisoned by the chains of injustice
- ILLUS. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that there are as many as 150,000 to 200,000 sex-slaves in the U.S. Many of them brought here from Asian countries on the promise of work only to be forced into prostitution. It’s not just a ‘big-city’ problem. In 2009, a Kansas City man pleaded guilty in federal court today to child sex trafficking involving the sale of at least five minor victims for prostitution in Chillicothe, Missouri. He was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison without parole. The United States is a source, transit hub, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor, debt bondage, document servitude, and sex trafficking.
- it something the church needs to vigilant to soundly condemn
- God’s people are to untie the cords of the yoke; to set the oppressed free and break every yoke
- many scholars believe this refers to obsessive debt incurred as a result of excessive usury charges or excessive confiscatory taxation
- debt is another way to regiment and control people
- again, the church must vigilant and, like Isaiah—sound the trumpet—when we see an individual, business, or government oppressing people through excessive loan charges or confiscatory taxation
- God’s people are to share your food with the hungry
- ‘nuf said
- God’s people are to provide the poor wanderer with shelter
- ‘nuf said
- God’s people are to clothe the naked
- ‘nuf said
- God’s people are not to turn away from your own flesh and blood
- you cannot ignore the needs of those closet to you
- doesn’t this sound remarkably similar to what the Apostle James teaches us?
- “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 1:27–2:4, NIV84)
- whether it was in the Old Testament or the New Testament, true worship begins with God and is authenticated in how we deal with the people around us
III. TRUE WORSHIP IS HONORED BY GOD
- “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” (Isaiah 58:8–10, NIV84)
- when God’s people learn that the results of true salvation means giving themselves to establish righteousness and justice for others, then God’s promises and purposes are fulfilled
- God’s people will become a light to the nations
- healing for the nation and the needy will take place
- God’s righteousness, revealed in their righteous acts will be a witness to the gentiles
- God’s glory—will protect them
A. TRUE WORSHIP IS A PRE-REQUISITE TO ANSWERED PRAYER
- the prophet writes, “ ... Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I... “
- Isaiah would remind us that God is present for his people only when his people are present for others
- pointing a finger of blame at another or gossiping maliciously about another is not the way to do that
- in other words, using and manipulating other people is a sin that God despises
- instead, ministering to the needs of other—feeding the hungry and helping the oppressed—is what God honors and blesses
- when God’s people begin doing these things, God promises to hear them
B. TRUE WORSHIP IS A PRE-REQUISITE FOR THE BLESSING OF GOD
- “The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:11–14, NIV84)
- in these verses, God uses language of blessing that the people of Judah would especially understand
- true worship, right worship, God-honoring worship leads to multiply blessings and joy in the Lord
Isaiah was speaking to “good” people. They knew how to fast and call on God while at the same time forsaking his commands. Isaiah reminds us that God knows our sins and wants to forgive them and bring deliverance and salvation. But he will do so only when we repent of our sins and worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Doing so will always lead us to minister to other people—both the saved and the lost.