January 1, 2009
Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.
To whom, then will you compare God?
As we step into a new year today we need to be grounded in our lives with the knowledge of eternal God, to be able to understand and consider his true greatness and value. To worship means to consider the worth of some thing, and to worship God means to contemplate him. But worship of God refreshes our spirits, feels right to our souls, lifts our burdens, renews our hope for the future, and paves the way forward in life. The recognition of God’s greatness and his love for us creates a center to our lives, a central focus that allows us to place everything else around. “Without a center there can be no circumference,” and our lives only make sense as we find God to be that center.
One of the challenges in worshipping God, as Isaiah pointed out, is that there is nothing to which we can adequately compare him. He has already made the points that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, but before he gets to his application he wants us to also consider the value of God. His greatness surpasses the heavens, his wisdom is from everlasting, and his intrinsic worth is likewise beyond anything or anyone else.
What is the worth of God? Not only in terms of his meaning to us personally, but in the entire scheme of things? What price tag could you place upon the one who created all and by whose word they are sustained? Paul wrote of Christ in these terms:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
It is beyond human ability to truly place a specific price on God. He created the universe and holds everything together.
But what is he worth to me? To you? The prophet is causing us to think and consider, to become reasonable people. He is presenting his argument for the greatness of God based on a series of comparisons. He first dealt with power, then wisdom, now he comes to the earth’s people and its raw resources.
“Nations” refers not to lands but to inhabitants, to people. Wherever our paths will take us in this world we will find human societies and cultures. We have each come from at least one culture ourselves; some have been raised in societal eddies, where two or more cultures have collided with one another and created their own whirlpools and new currents. But human cultures and societies that are based upon our interests, survival, and perspectives alone are not a fitting match for the kingdom of God. All of these things morph and change with the times, but God is eternal.
God loves the world and sent Christ to redeem the world; that is not the issue here. What Isaiah was comparing unfavorably to the intrinsic value of God was the real value of any and every unredeemed human culture. We as human beings were created in the image of God, but sin has marred that image. Every human culture has something to recommend it, but the best of human cultures is still far short of the glory of God, still far less than what God created us to be, and still far less than what we shall be one day in the New Jerusalem.
In our fallenness we see man acting out of hatred against his fellowhuman, wars, murders, injuries, jealousies, hatreds, and the list goes on. We may pat ourselves on the backs for a little social progress here and there (and perhaps we should, for real and true progress is a rare enough commodity) but the only way the world will truly be made right is through the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Until Christ comes in his power and righteousness to reign there will be no lasting peace on earth.
Isaiah also addressed the holiness of God. Were Lebanon, known in those days for its forests and livestock, to use all of its trees for the altar fire and all of its animals for the sacrifice, even that would not be worthy of the glory of God.
So what can we then bring to God, for worship demands our response? We can bring ourselves humbly and through the mercies of Christ Jesus appeal to God for his offer of forgiveness and restoration.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
This is all that God requires, all that he wants from us: our repentance from sin and our faith in Christ.
Lord, you are truly great. Whatever greatness we seek to bestow on our fellow humans does not compare to you. We bow before your power and knowledge. We kneel in worship before your true righteousness and love. As we acknowledge you as Lord today. May you be the center of our thoughts and our lives. May we walk in your paths. Amen.