What would happen if God took you to court? When God called heaven and earth to bear witness against you, what would their testimony be? What would be exposed and laid bare? How would you plead? Could you, would you, dare to stand before the righteous Judge of all Creation and utter the words, “Not Guilty”? The book of Isaiah opens with a chapter that shows God calling His people to court.
Trial: Heaven and earth are brought in as witnesses (Isaiah 1:2). The charges are read aloud by the Judge, God almighty: My people have broken covenant and they do not know me (Isaiah 1:2b-3). Before the trial begins in earnest, the prophet, acting as the defence attorney, turns and urges his client to consider the evidence at hand and plead guilty with the hope of mercy (Isaiah 1:4-9). The defendant, Judah and Jerusalem, is finally hauled in under the alias of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:10). And then, a perhaps surprising accusation is leveled: My people offer hypocritical worship (Isaiah 1:11-15). And this is the crux of it all, hypocritical worship. Judah and Jerusalem stand accused of worship that does all the right things but is polluted by unresolved, unrepented, sin. Sins of commission and sins of omission are brought before the court and then, before the gavel falls and the trial ends, the Judge does something unexpected. He calls for repentance (Isaiah 1:16-17) and offers terms for an ancient equivalent of a plea bargain (Isaiah 1:18-20). Repent, says the Judge, and though your sins ar like scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool (Isaiah 1:18). On the other hand, the Judge continues, if you persist in your plea of “Not Guilty” then you shall be eaten by the sword (Isaiah 1:19).
The trial is now over and we wait. We wait for the verdict and sentencing.
Verdict: How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers (Isaiah 1:21). And the Judge continues (Isaiah 1:22-23), Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water (economic corruption). Your princes are rebels and companions of theives (abuse of power). Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts(materialistic selling out). They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them (lack of concern for the most vulnerable). Translation: Guilty as charged.
Sentencing: God will punish all sin (Isaiah 1:24). Yet, the repentant shall be spared, purified, and restored (Isaiah 1:25-27). The unrepentant shall be broken together, they shall burn with none to quench them (Isaiah 1:28-31).
Just like Judah and Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s day, we all will have our day in court. Scoffers may deny this, but it remains a most certain fact (2 Peter 3:1-10). Peter reminds us that heaven and earth will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed (2 Peter 3:10). There is no secret place to sin. On that day, what will be exposed and laid bare from your life? What will be exposed and laid bare from my life? How will we plead? How do we plead? I, for one, have already entered my plea, and this shall remain my plea for all eternity. My plea is this, “Guilty as charged, Lord have mercy.” And He shall because of Jesus Christ.
Reflecting on all of this, Peter extends the most serious and important of exhortations: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissovled, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we (who have pleaded guilty in repentance) are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:11-13).
Let us worship God for this Gospel of grace, not as unrepentant hypocrits, but as repentant sinners who have been saved by grace through faith by the death, resurrection, and advocacy of our High Priest, the Lord Jesus. To Him be glory forever and ever, for we are guilty, but He has taken our guilt away. And so we live for Him, repenting of sin and growing, yes ever growing, in sincere godliness and holiness. Amen.