One of the most difficult aspects of the Bible is its abundant focus on sin and punishment. This may not be evident to many Christians, since our preaching, by and large, does not seem to emphasize sin and punishment as much as the Bible does.
It struck me this week that the Bible spends more time describing our sin and God’s wrath than I would like. It struck me because I am growing weary of preaching it. I am just trying to lead my congregation through the great book of Isaiah and one would think that this should be an uplifting exercise. Yet, it seems like the last six weeks have been one giant workshop on our sinful wretchedness in light of God’s perfect holiness. Of course, there are glimmers of grace, but only after everyone is reminded seven times over that they are sinners deserving of hell. Israel was sinful and punished. Judah was sinful and punished. Jerusalem was sinful and punished (though spared for a time). Hoshea was sinful and punished. Ahaz was sinful and punished (though shown remarkable mercy in light of his idolatrous faithlessness). Hezekiah was faithful to a point, but eventually he sinned, and was punished. Humanity is sinful and will be punished. Yes, we get it!
Or do we? Do we really get it? As I took a big breath before ascending to the pulpit this week I was reminded that God spoke His Word into existence through the prophets and apostles with perfection. The content is perfect. The progressive nature of revelation is perfect. The emphasis is perfect. If we, or I, are growing weary of that which God has decided to emphasize, then we, or I, simply do not yet get it.
The emphasis is perfect? What in the world does this mean? It means that God definitively decided how He wanted to emphasize each and every theme in the Bible. God alone has authority to accent His Word. If God wants to put a heavy emphasis on sin and punishment, then God wants to put a heavy emphasis on sin and punishment. Who am I to change that emphasis? As a preacher of God’s Word, who am I to grow weary of what God has said or how God has said it?
If God emphasizes sin and punishment in Isaiah 1-5, then as His preacher, I must emphasize sin and punishment as I preach Isaiah 1-5. Perhaps, yes certainly, God is repeating and emphasizing our sin and His punishment because we need to be told, retold, reminded, and then reminded again, that we have sinned and deserve nothing from God. God must continually emphasize this difficult reality because in our sinfulness we are prone to be forgetful of our sinfulness. And, when we are forgetful of our sinfulness, then we cease crying out to God for His mercy and His grace. The Gospel is nonsensical without a clear understanding of our situation, and that situation is dire. Reminding us of our sin and His punishment until we have grown weary of hearing it is God’s way of loving us by warning us of the consequences of an unrepentant life.
God’s Word, then, is perfectly accented in order to give God maximum glory and us maximum assistance. When we preach with the same emphasis that God has given in His Word, then He will be glorified and we will be edified in the greatest possible measure. As an example of this, Isaiah 40:1 (Comfort, comfort my people, says your God…) just does not penetrate as deeply without persevering through the 39 chapters of sin and punishment that precede it. When we make our way through Isaiah 1-39 one verse at a time, then Isaiah 40 embraces our weary souls in a way that is simply not possible without the former chapters.
Preaching Isaiah 2-5 was a heavy assignment for me. But against the darkness of these chapters God also spoke Isaiah 2:2-4 and Isaiah 4:2-6. The emphasis is perfect just as God is perfect. And so we must continue to preach God’s Word as it is, trusting Him to do a mighty work by His Spirit.