The Prophet Isaiah lived in Jerusalem 700 years before Christ. These were dangerous and heart-breaking years for the prophet. The kingdom was divided between Israel to the north and Judah to the south. As sinful as the Southern Kingdom had become, Israel was even worse. Their idolatry, violence, and immorality made them indistinguishable from the pagan nations surrounding them. After generations of unheeded warnings God used a succession of ruthless Assyrian kings as instruments of his judgment. Finally, during the reign of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (705- 681) Israel, the Northern Kingdom was led away to captivity, never to be heard from again.
It was in these terrible times that God called Isaiah to be a prophet to Judah. No prophet said as much about matters of salvation and the need for sinners to be forgiven. No prophet said as much about the coming Savior who would be both “Mighty God” and “Suffering Servant.” More than any other prophet, Isaiah spoke to sin and forgiveness on an individual level, the transformation of the whole world by the grace and power of God, and the destiny of humanity in either heaven or hell. Little wonder why, from ancient times, Isaiah has been referred to as “Isaiah the Evangelist,” as if he had written a Gospel like John but 700 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.
On the final Sunday of October we pause in our normal routine to give thanks to God for the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. But we also give thanks for all those times of reformation and revival in which God worked mightily to reform the hearts of his people. On this Reformation Sunday we will look at the opening chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy because in it we see a pattern of confrontation, conviction, and reformation. Reformation is about far more than the correction of errant doctrine and practices of worship. It is never less than those things. But ultimately, reformation aims at the heart.
In the 16th century, men like Luther and Calvin saw that the church had lost her chief treasure: the gospel itself. And with the loss of the gospel, so too went the knowledge of salvation. Church hierarchy fiercely protected its rituals and traditions but had utterly neglected the heart. The church had become intellectually and spiritually corrupt and could no longer tell her own sons and daughters, much less the rest of the world, how to find forgiveness of sins, and entrance into life everlasting. When that happens then the church must return to her first treasure, the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must be reminded of first things, that though our sins be as scarlet, we can be made clean by the grace of Christ.