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Gospelling from Isaiah - God's grand plan ::

A full-text evangelistic talk based on Isaiah by DAVID MARTIN

Source: Perspective Vol8 No2 ©Perspective 2000

An idea to generate interest.

This sermon was preached by David Martin the week before Easter at a university campus. David offers this advice for stirring up interest:- “In the week leading up to the talk, we went onto the library lawn with video camera in tow and did some ‘Vox Pops’. We asked uni students two simple questions: 1. What grand plans do you have for your life? 2. Do you think God has any grand plans? If so what do you think they might be?
We then collated these into a five minute introduction for the talk (with some background music). The impact was fantastic.
Apart from the advantage of providing a great introduction to the talk and generating interest, it also spurred our members up to invite their friends and involved them more in the evangelistic event. Parish situations could easily do it in shopping centres, sporting fixtures or recreation parks.
If this is impossible you could even stage a ‘Vox Pop’ at your service by having short and snappy interviews with several people. You could ask them to answer the questions from their pre-Christian mindset.

Most people have grand plans for their life. They have some idea of what they hope to achieve in life. [Refer to some that came out of the Vox Pop such as a good career, becoming rich and famous, having a family.] When I was growing up I had lots of grand plans. [Insert some of your own far-fetched plans.] In the sporting world I dreamed of making the Olympics in swimming. In the political world I dreamed of becoming Prime Minister. In the business world I dreamed of becoming a partner in a large accounting firm. And in the romantic world I dreamed of finding a wife for my kids. As I look back over my life the only one that I have achieved is finding a wife and kids. Romance wins the day.

A more important question though is this: Has God got any grand plans? [Refer again to Vox Pop responses ]. Well, the Bible says that God has got grand plans, grand plans for us. And they are grander than any of the plans that we might have.

But before we can appreciate what they are we need to understand who we are. Who are we who have these grand plans? And who are we for whom God has a grand plan?

The passage we read in Isaiah answers that question for us. It was addressed to God’s nation, Israel. And they are described as sinful, corrupt and rebellious. Verse four explains sin in these words, “They have forsaken the Lord, they have spurned the Holy one of Israel and turned their backs on Him.” In a nutshell, sin is turning your back on God. That’s what God’s nation, his special nation, was like.

Even God’s chosen prophet, Isaiah himself identifies himself with the nation. In chapter six, where he sees a vision of God, he cries out “Woe to me. I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the king, the Lord Almighty.” Here is this great man of God recognising his own sinfulness and rebellion and therefore his own uncleanliness before God.

Now if God’s special nation turned their back on God and became unclean, and if God’s chosen prophet admitted the same thing about himself, then I’d like to suggest that we too are guilty of turning our backs on God as well. Whatever our grand plans are, we are people who have rebelled against God. We’ve pushed him out of the road.

Just imagine for a moment that your grand plan to ‘have a family’ is fulfilled. You get married, have children, nurture them, love them and provide for them in every way possible. And yet for all your love they turn their back on you. As soon as they are old enough, they leave home and they never ring up, write to you or visit you ever again. They just turn their back on you. In a very real way, the Bible says that you and I have done that to God.

Now this leads us to expect judgement from God. We expect that God’s grand plan is one of judgement. Even if you can’t accept that we’ve all turned our back on God, many people still think God is a mean ‘Ogre’ ready to pounce on the slightest bit of bad behaviour. That’s the expected plan of God in some people’s minds. They expect Him to pursue their sins to the utmost.

But friends, that’s not what the Bible says. In fact the Bible says the complete opposite. And that’s why it’s God’s SURPRISING plan. God’s grand plan is to cleanse us from sin. Not to punish us because of sin but to cleanse us from sin and to remove sin from us. That is a great surprise to us and a welcome relief.

Let me show you where it comes from. [Read verse 18] Scarlet and red are the colours for blood. It conveys the idea of guiltiness. Though everyone is full of guilt because of their sin they shall be as white as snow. The sin and guilt will be washed away. They will be cleansed.

Illustration: Housecleaning illustration. (see end of main article)

This tells us something very important about how God operates. It tells us that God is a God of mercy. We expect judgement but He comes through with mercy first. Before giving his people what they deserve for sin, he holds out mercy, he offers them forgiveness.

Have a look with me at verses 21 to 27. This is a poem. The subject of verses 21 to 23 is the sin of the people. The poem reaches a climax in verse 24 (the consequences of sin). [Read verse 24] Here we have the Lord’s vengeance, his judgement. BUT, no sooner has judgment been spoken of we read on to hear about the offer of mercy. A poem about sin and vengeance turns into a poem about cleansing and restoration (verses 25-26). It’s an offer of mercy to those who are willing to turn back to God (verse 27). God’s grand plan is not to ruin and destroy but to cleanse and restore those who are willing.

We must ask then – how can God do this cleansing. How can He cleanse us of sin and yet still give sin what it deserves.

There are two hints in Isaiah. The first hint is in verse 25. “I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.” This is an image of crude ore passing through the furnace and emerging as refined metal, that is, without any impurities. Here we have a refinery. And the essential element in a refinery is the fire burning away the impurities. Often enough, in the Bible, ‘fire’ is likened to God’s refining judgment. Here we have judgment but even in the midst of judgment, God brings about mercy. So the first hint as to how God achieves cleansing and refining is that it will happen through the fires of God’s judgment.

The second hint is found later on in Isaiah. In Isaiah 53 we learn that a special servant will come and that he’ll be raised and lifted up. Let me read to you what happens. [ Read Isaiah 53:4-6 ] This part of Isaiah hints that God’s special servant is going to incur the fires of God’s judgment. Notice that the servant was ‘stricken by God’, ‘smitten by God’. Verse 5 actually uses the word ‘punishment’. Not only that but this servant doesn’t take God’s punishment for his own sin but for our sin. That idea is repeated seven times in that short passage I read. This servant is taking our punishment.

Of course, the servant is Jesus, God’s son. And the exchange of punishment took place when Jesus died on the cross. God’s grand plan for you is not happiness, not fame and fortune, not family either. God’s grand plan for you is even better than that. God’s grand plan was to send his son to die, to be raised and lifted up on the cross and take your punishment. That is God’s grand plan.

In the New Testament the death of Jesus is constantly referred to as cleansing and purifying. What happens is like what happens in a furnace. The fire of God’s judgment is poured out onto Jesus and we who trust in him are (in the process) cleansed and purified of sin. [Read 1 John 1,7,9 and 2.2 and explain ‘atoning sacrifice’ as turning aside God’s anger. ] And so God’s grand plan of Isaiah 1:18 is achieved. Even though our sins make us like scarlet we are made as white as snow. Though they are red they become like wool.

Illustration: Cleaning grease off hands. (see end of main article)

Now, we must never think that we can achieve that cleansing by ourselves.

Illustration: A religious act to wash away sin. (see end of main article)

Even the Israelites trusted in some form of religious act. Verses 10-15 talk about some of these. There are animal sacrifices, burning of incense even religious festivals and feasts. But what does God say about those religious acts. He says, “I am weary of them”.

Now we might think that today we are above mistakes like that. That we wouldn’t think that some external religious act could wash away sin. But there are still a few lingering around today. For example some people today think that sins can be washed away by baptism or by going to confession or by giving up certain foods at certain times, not eating red meat on Good Friday for example. They’re all the same, attempts to be clean by some religious act. God says, “I am weary of them”.

So what does God want if he doesn’t want religious acts? Well, verse 18 says God wants you to reason with him. “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord.” God is asking you to consider the wisdom of the alternatives left to you. You and I, our sin is like scarlet. We are guilty. If we meet but one condition they’ll be as white as snow. That one condition is spelt out in verse 19. “If you are willing and obedient.” If you are willing to turn back to God and, in turning back, you are willing therefore to obey him, then you will be cleansed and forgiven.

God wants your whole attitude to him to change. He wants you to stop rebelling. This is God’s hand of mercy extended to you.
If however, you resist turning back to God, and therefore, in resisting, you continue to rebel, then you will inevitably face God’s judgment alone without Jesus bearing it for you.
My prayer is that you will be willing to turn back to God and obedient to Him. Let me pray that now.

David Martin ministers to university students in Bathurst, NSW


1. Housecleaning (easily adaptable to your own situation).
A couple of weeks ago I was procrastinating again over something. To avoid what I should have been doing I decided to sweep the family room floor. Our family has been rather busy of late, so the floor had been very much neglected. To be quite honest it was filthy. There was dirt and mud, fluff, 100’s and 1000’s, sticky bits and food crumbs scattered all over the floor. It was yuk. When I swept the floor I cleaned up all that filth. I removed all the muck. When my wife got home she was so surprised (and indeed shocked) that she had to lie down for ten minutes to get over the shock [ Poetic License here ] Then she was so spurred on by my efforts that she got the mop out, dusted the cobwebs off it, and gave the floor an even more thorough cleaning with it. God’s grand plan is to do that in your life – to sweep it and mop it clean of sin!

2. Cleaning grease off hands.
When you work on a farm, whether it be out in the paddock or in yards with sheep or cattle you can get very dirty. But that kind of dirt was nothing that soap couldn’t get off. You can simply wash your hands with a bit of soap and your hands would be clean. But occasionally on farms you would have to fix tractors and other pieces of machinery and would end up with black grease over your hands. No amount of soap would get the grease off. On our farm we had this special green gel called “Swarfega” [pronounced swore-fee-ga] We would wet our hands and then rub swarfega over them. And as we did this the swarfega would gradually turn slightly grey, then more grey and then finally black as the gel absorbed the grease on our hands.
When Jesus died on the cross, Isaiah 53 says he bears our sin. The LORD lays on him our iniquities. It is transferred onto him so that we are left clean and he not. It is just like the grease transferred onto the gel leaving my hands clean. That’s God’s grand plan for all of us – to cleanse us of sin !!! And it can only be achieved by Jesus’ death for us.

3. A religious act to wash away sin.
There was an article in the Good Weekend recently [3rd March, 2001 page 30] about 32 million Hindus gathered in January ready to go for a ‘holy’ dip. Apparently every 12 years there is a special alignment of the planet Jupiter with the sun and the moon. Hindus believe that this causes the waters at the place where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet, to become holy. So Hindus, in their millions, go for a dip to wash away their sins. They think that that religious act, at that special place, and at that special time, will be enough to wash away sin.

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