Isaiah 64 - What's That Smell?
Even your best efforts are as filthy rags, so you need new clothes!
Read / Listen
Read Isaiah 64
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.
8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.
10 Your sacred cities have become a wasteland;
even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and glorious temple, where our fathers praised you,
has been burned with fire,
and all that we treasured lies in ruins.
12 After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back?
Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?
Listen to passage & devotional:
Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 62
Q. Why can’t the good we do
make us right with God,
or at least help make us
right with him?
A. Because the righteousness
which can pass God’s scrutiny
must be entirely perfect
and must in every way
measure up to the divine law.
Even the very best we do in this life
and stained with sin.
Isaiah 64 captures both the transcendence and immanence of God. Normally those concepts are polar opposites: many religions feature a transcendent God like the greek god Zeus, who controls all things from on high; new age religions focus solely on the immanent aspects of their god, which is often reduced to a generic spirituality that pervades all things.
The God of the Bible is both of these extremes all at once. The mountains tremble before Him and the nations quake as He makes His name known. Yet at the very same time, this powerful God is our Father who will not remember our sins forever.
Though there's much we could drill into here in this beautiful passage, today we're going to focus in on the ugliness it communicates: that even our most righteous acts are like filthy rags. We were created as image bearers of God in all of the beauty that comes along with that, able to think and act just like our Father, but having fallen into sin, Isaiah writes that we've all shriveled up like a leaf, and like the wind we've been swept away by our sins.
It's passages like this one that our Catechism is summarizing when it says that even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin. So along with Isaiah in v5, we cry out, "How then can we be saved?"
Isaiah's prayer here in this 64th chapter is that God will reshape us, His broken shards of clay, completely bereft of any goodness, back into the work of His hand.
When I was a freshmen at Dordt College in NW Iowa 33 years ago, I worked on an egg farm. By the end of the year, my work clothes stunk so bad that even the guys who worked in hog barns plugged their noses when I came around. Although they still looked good from a distance, my clothes were nothing but filthy rags. There was no amount of laundering that could remove the stench. They needed to be thrown away.
So it is with your actions before God. Even your best works, scrubbed and polished as much as possible, still stink. Jesus didn't come just to bring you a better version of detergent, He came to bring you a whole new set of clothes, so that as you stand before God, you God smells the sweet aroma of Christ's perfect righteousness given to you.
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: Our Father, who causes nations to quake and mountains to tremble;
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Thank God for removing your filthy rags and replacing it with the perfect righteousness of Christ, and pray that you will be as clay in the Potter's hand.
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED:
Read the New Testament in a year, a chapter a day - Ephesians 5