Rituals Don’t Cancel Sin

by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Text: Isaiah 58:1-14


I.         Men get into their minds that they need to make God listen to them

            A.        Like a child holding his breath, they believe that if they suffer, then God will listen

            B.        There were false religions based on self-inflicted pain to gain their god’s attention - I Kings 18:28-29

II.        God decides whose requests He listens to

            A.        God wants it declared in no uncertain terms that Israel is in sin - Isaiah 58:1

            B.        But Israel sees themselves as righteous - Isaiah 58:2

                        1.         Seeking God, learning, living righteously, faithful, prayerful and close to God

                        2.         How can Israel miss what God declares? We lie to ourselves - I John 1:8

                        3.         They listened to the prophets, but don’t do as the prophets teach - Ezekiel 33:31-33

                        4.         It is well illustrated by the Jews, who seeking Jesus’ death, lied about an innocent man, and yet refused to “defile” themselves by entering a building owned by the Gentiles - John 18:28

                        5.         Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story - Luke 18:11-12

            C.        The Israelites can’t understand why they fast and God doesn’t notice - Isaiah 58:3

                        1.         The same question arises again in Malachi’s day - Malachi 3:14

                        2.         God answers that it is because their fasts don’t make them better people

                                    a.         They were going after their own desires and abusing their workers

                                    b.         Just as those in Malachi’s day concluded that sinning was better - Malachi 3:15

                        3.         When God set up the Day of Atonement, it included a fast - Leviticus 16:29-31

                                    a.         It should have been a time of humility and rejecting sin.

                                    b.         Instead they were violent and fought - Isaiah 58:4

                                    c.         Proving that they really weren’t interested in having God hear them

                        4.         God doesn’t heed the wicked - Psalms 66:18

            D.        There was only one fast in the Law of Moses, but Israel thought that if one was good, more would be better

                        1.         But their fasts were not being done according to God’s directions - Isaiah 58:5

                        2.         Just who were these fasts being done for? - Zechariah 7:5

                                    a.         Fasting or not, they were living for themselves - Zechariah 7:6

                                    b.         They were doing it to appear religious - Matthew 6:16-18

            E.        What God wanted were righteous acts - Isaiah 58:6-7

                        1.         A fast from sin, if you will

                        2.         And a time to undo the effects of sin on people’s lives

            F.        Then they would be righteous and God would listen to their prayers - Isaiah 58:8-9

                        1.         Quickly heard - Isaiah 65:24

                        2.         God listens to the righteous - Proverbs 15:29

            G.        If they just did as God said, they would shine - Isaiah 58:10

                        1.         Generosity leads to increase - Proverbs 11:24

                        2.         It gives stability to life - Psalms 112:5-9

            H.        God will get involved in their lives - Isaiah 58:11

                        1.         Life will return - Isaiah 41:17-20

                        2.         Those who fear God have no wants - Psalms 34:9

            I.         Things will be restored - Isaiah 58:12

                        1.         Because sin has been forgiven - Ezekiel 36:33-36

                        2.         This was quoted by James as proof that God would save the Gentiles - Acts 15:16-18

            J.         No longer follow your own desires - Isaiah 58:13

                        1.         Israel spent too much time doing as she pleased - Jeremiah 17:21-27

            K.        Instead, take delight in God and He will raise you up - Isaiah 58:14

                        1.         Isaiah 33:14-17

III.       The idea that people can make God listen through rituals and suffering continues today

            A.        Many denominations focus on ritual deeds, giving up marriage, or avoiding foods thinking these will make them more holy

                        1.         Yet, in life they practice sin - I Timothy 4:1-3

            B.        It is not uncommon to receive a note: “I’ve prayed and fasted for seven days! Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?”

            C.        It is sin that is the barrier between us and God - Isaiah 59:1-2

                        1.         Sin isn’t cancelled by rituals or by suffering

                        2.         It took Jesus’ death to pay for our sins

                        3.         It requires us to give up our desires to live for God - Galatians 2:20

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