There are two main teachings in the Bible: Law and Gospel. The Law is that Word of God which shows us our sins. The Gospel is that Word of God which shows us our Savior.
Every Christian pastor is called to preach the Word of God by correctly preaching Law and Gospel, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Pastors do not preach the Law because they love to go negative and make people feel badly. Preaching the Law is done to prepare the sinner to receive the Gospel and be comforted by it.
This is what the book of Isaiah is about. All the prophets were preachers. The prophet was sent by God to speak the Word of the Lord. The Word of the Lord came to each prophet and he spoke that Word of God. Instead of “the word of the Lord came to Isaiah,” it is: “the word of the Lord that Isaiah saw…” Even though Isaiah lived 700 years before Christ, he was allowed to see what Christ did as a completed work. In Isaiah, you see Christ.
The book of Isaiah is divided into two parts. Chapters 1-39 are fairly chronological, the preaching responding to historical events. Chapters 40-66 are known as “the Book of Comfort,” containing all the beautiful pictures of Christ. We will look briefly at the first chapter in each part.
ISAIAH 1:1-18 (Read the entire section from your Bible.)
In verse 2, Isaiah tells what the Lord has said to him: “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me.” Starting in verse 4, the prophet preaches the Law. He calls God’s people a “sinful nation,” no better than the heathen unbelievers. He says they are “laden” — loaded down — “with iniquity.” Also: “They have forsaken the Lord.”
In verses 5-15, Isaiah the preacher describes how they really look to God because of their sins (having unbandaged, open wounds and sores — hideous!); warns them what is coming in the future because of their sins (“your cities burned with fire … your land desolate” — punishment!); and declares how they have made God’s holy place unholy. Instead of being made clean by the holy blood of true sacrifices, “your hands are full of blood” (verse 15).
This is the preaching of the Law: It shows what you really look like as a sinner. How do you feel when your pastor preaches this to you? Do you bristle? Do you want to make excuses? Remember, like Isaiah, he is describing how your sins make you look to God. But it is for your good — so that good will result. Isaiah is a pastoral preacher. He says in verse 5: “Why should you be stricken again?” This purpose is to soften a prideful heart.
Then Isaiah preaches the Gospel, giving these words of the Lord in verses 16-18: “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean… Come now, and let us reason together. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
This is the Gospel: God makes you pure, white, and clean in His eyes. The language of the Gospel is the language of promise: what “you shall be,” by God’s doing alone! Isaiah is allowed to see the pure whiteness of God’s people. This is what God says to you. This is the Gospel your pastor loves to preach to you. No sin, only holiness. God promises to bandage your sin-wounds, wash clean your blood-guilty hands, heal you completely. How? You know: by the blood of Jesus. “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
ISAIAH 40:1-11 (Read the entire section from your Bible.)
Because this begins the “Book of Comfort,” the sins are mentioned in passing. The preacher is dealing with troubled sinners.
Isaiah speaks of “her warfare… her iniquity” in verse 2, which reminds you of how you lack peace with God because of your sin. He speaks of the “rough and crooked places” in verse 4, which reminds you that your sins bring all sorts of difficult consequences. He says in verses 6-8 that “all flesh is grass,” reminding us: the wages of sin is death.
But the first words in the Book of Comfort are: “‘Comfort, yes, comfort My people,’ says your God.” After all the sins, He says He is still “your God.” The word He speaks is “comfort.” This means “cause to breathe again.” He is granting you relief — from what? Sin and ALL its consequences. He has redeemed you from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
The Gospel is the forgiveness of sins: “Her [your] iniquity is pardoned!”
What about each little sin? Is there one that is unforgiven? “She has received from the Lord’s hand DOUBLE [the forgiveness] for ALL her [your] sins.” The forgiveness is overflowing!
He says in verse 4 that the crooked places will be straight and the rough places will be smooth. How? He makes them straight and smooth. He does this to you by forgiving your sins.
Finally, He is the Shepherd (verse 11) who takes the tiny lambs and the ewes who are nursing their young — all who cannot keep up or walk on their own, the weak and the helpless, all who do not have the reason or strength to come to Him, believe in Him, or stay with Him — and He carries them. He carries you! His grace carries you all the way.
I, a sinner, come to Thee
With a penitent confession.
Savior, mercy show to me;
Grant for all my sins remission.
Let these words my soul relieve —
‘Jesus sinners doth receive’.
O how blest it is to know,
Were as scarlet my transgression,
It shall be as white as snow
By Thy blood and bitter Passion,
For these words I now believe —
‘Jesus sinners doth receive’.
(ELH 426 v. 5, 6)
Reverend Jerry Gernander
Bethany Lutheran Church