Getting Real About Sin - Isaiah 59

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©September 18th, 2022 by Rev. Rick Goettsche SERIES: Isaiah
Our world today doesn’t seem to be able to agree on much. We disagree on politics, morality, religion, and even on silly things like sports and preferences that we give far greater importance than they deserve. Strangely, the one thing that people from all walks of life and all sorts of backgrounds seem able to agree on is the fact that our world is profoundly messed up. We may not agree about how it should look or what the solution is, but we all seem to agree that it’s not the way it should be.
Most of the time, we place the blame for the condition of our world on everyone else. We tend not to admit any personal culpability. This is in sharp contrast to the famous writer, G.K. Chesterton, who once responded to a newspaper article that asked the question, what’s wrong with our world today? He wrote a simple response: “I am. Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton.” This attitude results in change—the blame game does not.
Our passage this morning is not a particularly fun one, but it is important and valuable, because I believe these verses will challenge us to adopt an attitude more like G.K. Chesterton, recognizing that we are part of the problem in our world today—and also part of the solution.

Why The Lord Feels Distant

Isaiah 59 can be broken down into 4 sections. In the first section, Isaiah addresses his condemnations to “you.” In other words, he is speaking to someone else about their sin.
1 Listen! The Lord’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call. 2 It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore. 3 Your hands are the hands of murderers, and your fingers are filthy with sin. Your lips are full of lies, and your mouth spews corruption. (Isaiah 59:1-3, NLT)
Likely, Isaiah is speaking to people frustrated by their situation. Remember, at this point Israel had been conquered by invading armies. They had watched the destruction of their cities and had everything they held dear taken away. Surely they found themselves wondering how, if they were God’s people, this had happened.
Isaiah speaks directly to this question. He tells them that the Lord’s arm is not too weak to save them, and the problem isn’t that He is deaf and couldn’t hear them call. He says the source of their problems is sin. Their sin has cut them off from God, and as a result, God is distant from them. That is why He is not acting.
Sin puts distance between us and the Lord. God doesn’t tell us to live in a certain way because He wants to exert control over us, but because He loves us. His way is the only way we can experience life as He intended. When we sin, we are pushing God away and telling Him that we don’t care what He has to say—we’re going to do things our way. Like in any relationship, that kind of attitude creates distance. This is Isaiah’s diagnosis of the problem of the people of Israel. They feel distant from God, but it’s not God’s fault, they have pushed Him away by their rebellion.
Maybe you’ve felt the same way as Israel before. Maybe you feel that way now. Can I humbly suggest that you look at your life and see if there’s an area where you are living in rebellion toward God? In the times when God feels distant, we will almost always find that God hasn’t moved…we have. If we turn from our sin, we start walking back toward Him.

The Futility of Sin

The second section, in verses 4-8, sees Isaiah switch his subject. The first three verses are addressed to “you”, while these verses are addressed to “they”.
4 No one cares about being fair and honest. The people’s lawsuits are based on lies. They conceive evil deeds and then give birth to sin. 5 They hatch deadly snakes and weave spiders’ webs. Whoever eats their eggs will die; whoever cracks them will hatch a viper. 6 Their webs can’t be made into clothing, and nothing they do is productive. All their activity is filled with sin, and violence is their trademark. 7 Their feet run to do evil, and they rush to commit murder. They think only about sinning. Misery and destruction always follow them. 8 They don’t know where to find peace or what it means to be just and good. They have mapped out crooked roads, and no one who follows them knows a moment’s peace. (Isaiah 59:4-8, NLT)
Isaiah now seems to be describing the society as a whole. He says they have abandoned justice and honesty. Instead, everyone is looking out only for themselves. Doesn’t this sound a lot like our world today? We are consistently told not to worry about how our actions affect other people, but to do only what is best for us.
The result is frivolous lawsuits, broken families, people being unwilling to serve unless there’s something in it for them, and businesses that exploit customers and employees and vice versa. Common courtesy and kindness have all but disappeared. All that is left is an entitled and angry society. The question is no longer, “What is right?” It is, “What can I get away with?” or “What will get me what I want?” This kind of attitude will destroy a society from the inside out.
Isaiah says that people who live their lives by this code will find that it is ultimately empty. Misery and destruction always follow. They will never know peace, because they are always looking for a new angle they can exploit. This attitude of selfishness is pervasive…and destructive.
This attitude is everywhere in our society and we have to be on guard against it. If we aren’t careful, these attitudes can creep in without our realizing it. When we are concerned only with getting what we want, without regard to how we go about getting it, we can quickly find ourselves bypassing what we know is right in order to do what we think will get us what we want, and telling ourselves this is good in the process! This is an insidious attitude of sin that we have to guard against diligently. Doing things God’s way doesn’t guarantee that we will get what we want when we want it, but it is the only way that guarantees peace and satisfaction.

Getting Personal

The third section of Isaiah 59 sees another shift in Isaiah’s subject. First, his subject was “you”, then it became “they”, now it becomes “we”.
9 So there is no justice among us, and we know nothing about right living. We look for light but find only darkness. We look for bright skies but walk in gloom. 10 We grope like the blind along a wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. Even at brightest noontime, we stumble as though it were dark. Among the living, we are like the dead. 11 We growl like hungry bears; we moan like mournful doves. We look for justice, but it never comes. We look for rescue, but it is far away from us. 12 For our sins are piled up before God and testify against us. Yes, we know what sinners we are. 13 We know we have rebelled and have denied the Lord. We have turned our backs on our God. We know how unfair and oppressive we have been, carefully planning our deceitful lies. 14 Our courts oppose the righteous, and justice is nowhere to be found. Truth stumbles in the streets, and honesty has been outlawed. 15 Yes, truth is gone, and anyone who renounces evil is attacked. (Isaiah 59:9-15a, NLT)
You can hear the frustration and despair in Isaiah’s words. But the shift in Isaiah’s choice of pronouns is telling. In the first two sections, it seemed as though Isaiah was issuing condemnations only to the people around him. But in these verses, he seems to recognize that he too is guilty. This is an important lesson for us.
Recognition of our own sin and admitting that we are part of the problem with our world is the first step in solving the problems of our world. It’s also the only thing we have any control over. We tend to be great at pointing out sin in others, while explaining away or distracting from our own sin. But we will not find healing and change until we begin to work on the sin in our own lives. Jesus spoke about this several times during His ministry.
In Matthew 7, Jesus said,
3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5, NLT)
Ironically, I often hear people use this verse to tell others to mind their own business…which completely misses the point! Jesus did not say this so we could tell people to buzz off when they confront sin in our lives; He said this to remind us that we all have sin in our lives that we need to deal with. If we don’t, we will be blind, even though we don’t know it!
In Luke, we read this account,
9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, NLT)
It is tempting, when talking about sin, to try to convince ourselves that we are good by comparing ourselves to other people. That’s what the Pharisee was doing in this story. Isn’t it amazing that we always seem to pick people we compare favorably to (in our eyes)? When we do this, we will never see change in our lives, just like a person with a disease will never get better until they admit they need treatment. We need to acknowledge that we have sinful attitudes and actions that need to be dealt with. It’s the only way we can get any better, and the only way our world will get any better.
So often we get worked up about all the evil others are doing…but I think that’s often a way to avoid having to deal with the evil inside of us. Isaiah reminds us that the first step to solving the problems in our society is to recognize we are part of the problem. Until we own up to our sin, we will remain distant from the Lord and peace will be elusive.

The Help We Need

At this point, you may find yourself discouraged, thinking there is no hope, but that’s not the case at all. Listen to how Isaiah concludes this passage,
The Lord looked and was displeased to find there was no justice. 16 He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So he himself stepped in to save them with his strong arm, and his justice sustained him. 17 He put on righteousness as his body armor and placed the helmet of salvation on his head. He clothed himself with a robe of vengeance and wrapped himself in a cloak of divine passion. 18 He will repay his enemies for their evil deeds. His fury will fall on his foes. He will pay them back even to the ends of the earth. 19 In the west, people will respect the name of the Lord; in the east, they will glorify him. For he will come like a raging flood tide driven by the breath of the Lord. 20 “The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem to buy back those in Israel who have turned from their sins,” says the Lord.
21 “And this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children’s children forever. I, the Lord, have spoken! (Isaiah 59:15b-21, NLT)
God sees the situation in our world, just as He saw the situation in Israel. He knew that left to our own devices, nothing would ever change. So God took action. He sent a redeemer, a mighty warrior to correct what people couldn’t correct themselves. These verses point forward to Jesus coming to the earth. He came to provide payment for our sins and restore our relationship with God. He will come again to take His people to be with Him forever and to punish and abolish sin once and for all.
This is the good news for us today. We have separated ourselves from God, but He has provided a way for us to be brought near once more. We cannot do it in our own strength, but He promises us that He will provide a way—and that way is through trusting in Jesus Christ to forgive us.
But notice that Isaiah doesn’t say that we are just supposed to say a prayer or make a declaration or even get baptized. He says the redeemer is coming to “buy back those in Israel who have turned from their sins.” How does a person know whether they are truly a follower of Jesus? Look at what direction you’re walking. Have you turned from your sin and walked toward Christ, or are you continuing to walk away from Him? God promises peace and forgiveness for those who have turned from their sins, but destruction for those who persist in their rebellion. God has provided a way of forgiveness, but we must choose to follow Him.
Let me be clear, these verses are not telling us that we have to be good enough to merit God’s forgiveness. On the contrary—they are saying we can never be good enough. But the person who trusts in Jesus will turn from their sin and go in a different direction. This means we must be constantly working to identify our sin and root it out. If we simply excuse our sin, explain it away, or try to deflect focus to someone else, we are not following the Lord. We will not be perfect at doing this—we will still fall into sin. When we do, that shouldn’t cause us to doubt our salvation—it should cause us to own up to our sin and do something about it. If you are a follower of Christ, you should be working to identify the things you are doing that push God away and getting rid of them. It’s not usually an easy process, but it’s what followers do.


This is a difficult passage for the simple reason that it calls us to confront our own sin. Isaiah calls everyone listening (including himself!) to task for their sin and calls on us to recognize it and go in a different direction. With that said, I’ve got a couple points of application as we close.
First, you can never be good enough to earn your way to God. The danger any time we start talking about dealing with sin is that people misunderstand, believing that if they can just be a little better, then they’ll be acceptable to God. That leads to an endless cycle of frustration and doubt, or worse, self-delusion, ignoring sin so we believe we’re better than we are. We can never be good enough to earn forgiveness or merit God’s favor. No number of good deeds can erase the debt we have accrued through our sin. The good news is Jesus has done that for us. If we will trust in Him and the sacrifice He made for our sin on the cross, then we can be forgiven of our sin. We do not need to worry about trying to keep score in the hopes that we get enough “points” to get in. We need only to follow Jesus.
With that said, the second truth is that followers obey their leader. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, then we should be ordering our lives based on what He tells us to do. This means we refuse to simply go along with our culture when they begin to live in ways that are contrary to the Lord. We must stand firm, doing what the Lord has said, even when the world tells us it’s foolish. We must trust the Lord’s guidance more than the world’s. It’s never foolish to follow the Lord—it is foolish to oppose Him.
Third, sin always has consequences. Sometimes our sin has immediate and visible consequences, like committing a crime and having to go to prison. But sometimes the consequences of our sin are much more subtle—like when we feel distant from God. Sometimes, when we rebel against the Lord, I believe He allows us to feel the separation that our sin causes. We feel distant, lost, stuck, and frustrated. We may even begin to question if the Lord is there at all. But the goal of this is not to make us miserable; it is to cause us to repent of our sin and turn to God. If you feel stuck in your faith, if you find yourself wondering why you’re not growing, I’d challenge you to look for areas where you are living in defiance of God. Those things put distance between you and the Lord, whether you realize it or not. So get rid of them, and run to the Lord.
Fourth, God will help us in our battle against sin. This is good news, because quite frankly, we’ve found ourselves far too weak to break the hold sin has on us. In 1 Corinthians 10:13, God gives us a wonderful promise,
13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. (1 Corinthians 10:13, NLT)
God promises us that He will never put us in a situation where we cannot resist sin—moreover, He promises that He will always provide a way out for us. God desires for us to turn from our sin, and He has promised to help us. It will still be a fight, but this promise means we never fight alone.
Israel shows us what happens when we don’t address the sin in our lives—we end up drifting from God and our sin tends to snowball. Because talking about sin is difficult, we sometimes try to shift the focus when we hear a message like this. We think, “I wish so and so could hear this…”, when the truth is that we need to listen to it ourselves. My hope for you this week is that you allow the Lord to show you the things in your life which are putting distance between you and Him, and that you’ll start fighting to change your life for the better. We aren’t saved by being good, but the only way to enjoy the freedom God promises is to do what He says.
©September 18th, 2022 by Rev. Rick Goettsche SERIES: Isaiah
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