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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1278

November 6, 2016 Luke 6:20-26

Dr. Ed Pettus Isaiah 5:20-30

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)



“Woe Warnings!”


Last week we heard from Isaiah and the parable of the vineyard. The Lord created a vineyard and worked it, planted the finest vines, and expected it to yield good grapes. But it yielded bad grapes. After the story we see that Israel is the vineyard and Israel has not lived up to what God expected of them. They would be punished for their rebellion and laid waste just as the vineyard was laid waste. Then we considered what other vineyards might be yielding bad grapes. Is it possible the United States is yielding bad grapes? Is it possible parts of the church are producing bad fruit? Are we as individual believers yielding what God expects? Today we will look at the last verses of chapter 5 which give warnings to the rebellious bad grapes.


  • What do you mean, woe? Isaiah 5:20-23


Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! 22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!


The pew Bibles (NRSV), you may have noticed, have replaced “woe” with “ah”. That's a mighty weak substitute! “Ah” sounds like something discovered or realized while “woe” carries the appropriated weight of warning and somber pain and grief of what is to come. Modern translators may have used “ah” as it relates to alas, or perhaps because woe is not used much in modern conversation. “Woe” is an expression of the grief that will come upon those who sin and rebel against God. “Woe” is an expression of gloom and doom. Be warned!


  • Jesus and Isaiah – The Woe Givers


Woe is not exclusive to Isaiah. We heard in the first reading today that Jesus also gave a series of woes to those who deal falsely with the blessings of God. The rich, the satiated, those who treat life as if God were non-existent. It is not just in being rich or full that brings the woe, but those who are living apart from God in their riches, living falsely would be the best understanding. These will receive what is due them, so the warning is extended.


Isaiah is also dealing with the same kind of people. “...those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Let's consider something we might label in this way today. Some people call abortion by the term “reproductive rights”. We might put that in the category of calling evil good. Some people oppose the Christian foundations of our country and we might call that putting darkness for light. Some people lie to us on a daily basis either from the political office or in advertising products and we might call that putting bitter for sweet. It really boils down to truth. The woe is against those who lie and what is perhaps more heinous is to lie in the way described in the text, completely turning around good and evil, light and darkness, or bitter and sweet. We know how frustrating it is to try to argue with someone who cannot recognize truth. There is no point even trying with someone who knows nothing but lies.


Another woe are those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! We might consider all who do not follow Jesus in this category. We might look to some voters this way. We might also see lots of political candidates this way. We can also fall short in this way when we abandon God's word for our own way of thinking. This is why we seek to learn the scripture more deeply and live not by our own sight, but by the way of God. This is why we are taught in Proverbs to trust God in all things.


Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. 7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. 8 It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (3:5-8)


Next up are those who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right! I'm not sure about you, but some might think about recent email stories in this category. But that's all I say about that.


  • Woe Warnings!


The “woe” leads to the reasons to grieve. The woe warnings are that false lives will lead to flames of fire, rotten roots, and blossoms of dust. The anger of the Lord will be against you. In Israel's case that meant exile - driven from their home. The warnings teach us that there are consequences to our actions. There are consequences to what is said and thought and particularly when those things are against God and His ways.

There has been a meme going around that claims to come from John Calvin that says, “When God wants to judge a nation, He gives them wicked rulers”. While this is not a direct quote from any of Calvin's works, it is very close to several things he wrote about judgment upon nations. He did write in the Institutes that they who rule unjustly and incompetently have been raised up by him to punish the wickedness of the people” (Book IV, ch.20, sec.25). With the election Tuesday, we might wonder if this is God's intention.


  • Avoid the woes!


How do nations and people avoid the woes? The root problem is revealed in Isaiah 5:24b.


...for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.


This is why the vineyard yielded bad grapes and why Israel yielded rotten fruit, they rejected God's word. This is one of our deepest concerns for our nation, that, as a nation, at least in certain power and societal aspects, we have rejected God's law. It began with prayer removed from public schools and proceeded in removing the Ten Commandments from government places. Now, numerous religious liberties are threatened and may well be completely gone with the next presidential election. How many times do we see people despising the word of God? The most prominent of these in recent years has been the debate over human sexuality and the utter refusal of people to consider what God's word says about these things. Sadly, that has not been the case only for the non-believer, but also for many Christians who have misunderstood and misrepresented God's word.


While Isaiah reveals the negative rejection and despising of God's word, I want us to note the positive statements of Jesus about keeping commandment.


John 14:15-21

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”


Keeping commandment is tied deeply to loving God. We are disciples of the One whom we love because of what Jesus has done for us. It is in love that we hope to never reject or despise the word of God. Jesus has sent us his Spirit to help us in this way of life.

John 15:9-11

9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.


The same thought is opened to us here, to abide in Jesus' love by keeping commandment. If only Israel had abided in God's love, perhaps they would have keep His commandments.


Time will tell if God's judgment plays out for us through the woes of Isaiah 5. It is up to us as God's people to keep commandment and to set the example of obedience and love as we live out our faith.


One final point that I believe is crucial to our life of faith and trust. All through Isaiah 5, and all through the Bible, we can see that God is sovereign over all things. He is the God who plants a vineyard, sets down the way of life, judges when things go wrong, and, while much later in Isaiah, he redeems his people. Certainly we know that, for we know Jesus Christ and the work he has done. All this is to say, yes, we need to be keenly aware of the woes of Isaiah and Luke, but we also recognize the love of God through it all, a love that enables us to avoid the woes by keeping His Word. Amen.