Leading Question: “Do we need a conscious feeling of cleansing in order to be in God’s presence?”
Theme: Transition from evil to righteousness; God’s cleansing power and new garments.
Biblical passages: Isa 1-6; Isa 51; Isa 52, Isa 61; Luke 4:16-20
Comment: A focus on the book of Isaiah for this week’s lesson provides an opportunity to contrast positive and negative motivation in Scripture. If we adopt the “garment” theme, then we can note several contrasting images: the brutal stripping of arrogant garments in Isaiah 3:16-24; the fragile, moth-eaten, worm-eaten garments of human righteousness in Isaiah 51:6-8; the beautiful garments of Isaiah 52:1; the garland instead of ashes, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit of Isaiah 61:3; the garment of salvation, the robe of righteousness, the garland on the bridegroom, the bride with her jewels of Isaiah 61:10. In short, we find dramatically different “motivational” images, sharp contrasts between the negative and the positive. That contrast is a theme worth exploring in this week’s lesson.
The bad news of Isaiah 1. Note the following “negative” elements from Isaiah 1:
- Isa 1:5-6: The totally diseased body
- Isa 1:11: God’s rejection of all sacrifices and religious ritual
- Isa 1:15: God’s refusal to listen to any prayers at all
- Isa 1:23: God’s harsh judgment for not defending the widow and orphan
- Isa 1:25: God’s intention to burn away all dross and alloy
The vivid contrasts of Isaiah 2 to 5. Note the sharp contrasts between peace and judgment:
- Isa 2:2-4: The peaceful kingdom
- Isa 2:5 – 4:1: Wickedness and arrogance denounced
- Isa 4:2-6: Restoration of Zion
- Isa 5:1-30: The abandonment of God’s beautiful vineyard
The cleansing of the prophet in Isaiah 6. After all those contrasting images, comes the powerful narrative of Isaiah’s cleansing, preparing him for his ministry. Question: How can we apply all those contrasting images in ways that will give hope and courage to God’s people today, bringing reformation and revival rather than rejection of God’s message? Note this vivid ideal from the pen of Ellen White:
“Those who present the eternal principles of truth need the holy oil emptied from the two olive branches into the heart. This will flow forth in words that will reform but not exasperate. The truth is to be spoken in love. Then the Lord Jesus by His Spirit will provide the force and the power. That is his work.” Testimonies 6:123
The example of Jesus in Luke 4:16-20. It is worth exploring the effect of Jesus’ words in the synagogue at Nazareth when he quoted Isaiah 61. As reported in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus stopped short of the line “the day of vengeance of our God” in Isaiah 61:2. Two vivid phrases stand out from an otherwise buoyant Isaiah 61. In addition to the phrase, “the day of vengeance of our God” in 61:2, there is the strong statement against “robbery and wrongdoing” in 61:8. Question: How do we address the horrendous evils in our world without being tainted by the very evil which we are addressing?
Even though Jesus himself was unfailingly gentle – albeit firm – in the Gospel narratives, he could utter strong elements of judgment. Taking just the Gospel of Mark, for example, these three “negative” incidents stand out:
Jesus’ Sabbath healing of the man with the withered hand (Mark 3:5): “He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart….”
The millstone for those who lead astray God’s little ones (Mark 9:42): “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”
The fate of the wicked vineyard tenants (Mark 12:9): “What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
The other Gospels provide other examples. One of the more sobering ones is the parable of the judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) where condemnation falls, not for “active” evil and oppression, but for simple neglect.
Only once in her original published works – though it is repeated in six other contexts in various compilations – does Ellen White use the phrase “cruel kindness” to refer to pampered behavior. The quotation and application is worth noting:
“Mothers love their children with an idolatrous love and indulge their appetite when they know that it will injure their health and thereby bring upon them disease and unhappiness. This cruel kindness is manifested to a great extent in the present generation. The desires of children are gratified at the expense of health and happy tempers because it is easier for the mother, for the time being, to gratify them than to withhold that for which they clamor.” – 3T 141.1 (1872)
In another setting, Ellen White referred to the motivational dilemma illustrated by the contrasts in Isaiah and articulated bluntly by Paul in 1 Cor 4:21: “What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” Speaking to a man who apparently needed to be more careful in his choice of words, Ellen White counseled:
“You need to educate yourself, that you may have wisdom to deal with minds. You should with some have compassion, making a difference, while others you may save with fear, pulling them out of the fire [Jude 22-23]. Our heavenly Father frequently leaves us in uncertainty in regard to our efforts.” Testimonies 3:420 (1875).
Knowing when and how to use the wide variety of examples in Scripture is one of the most important and urgent challenges facing the church.