If you’ve been in church for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard the verse that says, “Come now let’s settle this says the Lord, though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them white as snow. Though they’re red like crimson, I will make them white is wool.”
This scripture has been utilized by countless pastors in countless messages. It has been quoted, talked about, used for altar calls and will be mentioned from church stages until Jesus Himself returns and brings further clarity to all who have used it. Especially those who have & continue to use it out of context.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT
Here’s what I can tell you about context: Rule 101 for Bible study of a passage is to read all the verses around it.
It’s hard for me to even express how mad I got when I grew up and read all of the verses for myself. That was when I realized many of the pastors that had preached this passage to me, either hadn’t read it in context, or simply chose to ignore what they read altogether.
So, let’s look at the rest of this passage and see what God was saying in Isaiah chapter 1.
In verse 11, it says, “What makes you think I want all of your sacrifices?” (It feels to me like God has an attitude here.) He continues on to say, “I’m sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship Me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts, this incense of your offerings disgust me.”
Wow! You know, we preach about offering God a sacrifice of praise that is a sweet smelling aroma, right? But, here, He’s saying that the aroma of the sacrifices they were offering actually disgusted Him.
Then, He says, “As for your celebrations of the new moon, and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting, they are sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations, your annual festivals, they are a burden to me. I can’t stand them. When you lift up your hands in prayer, I won’t even look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. Wash yourselves be clean. Get your sins out of my sight.”
Again, I find myself asking the question: “God, what are their sins?” And when He says “Give up your evil ways?” I want to know in what ways have these people been evil?
In verse 17 He answers my questions when He says, “Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed, defend the cause of orphans and fight for the rights of widows. It’s at this point, in verse 18 that we see our initial verse: “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them white as snow.”
Why was God angry? Why wouldn’t he listen to their prayers? It was because they weren’t interested in learning to do good. They weren’t seeking justice. They weren’t helping the oppressed. They weren’t defending the orphans. They weren’t protecting the widows. They weren’t carrying out God’s will on the earth in the way He desired it to be done.
Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them white as snow.
JUSTICE WAS BIBLICAL
It’s funny that people will look me in my face and try to tell me that the Bible does not deal with social justice. My response to that is “what Bible have you been reading?” Seriously.
I say this because people really want to argue with me and I don’t do arguments. I do facts. So, show me where it says in the Bible that we shouldn’t be involved in the fight for justice. Don’t worry, I’ve got time, I can wait. But, while I’m waiting, let me make sure you know that I have a bunch of scripture in my back pocket that absolutely does show God’s heart for us to be on the front lines of this fight.
Now, there are people who will read what I just said and say, “Well, Pastor Jay, that’s the Old Testament. You know, we don’t we don’t live on an Old Testament any more. Oh, ok.
Well, the book of Matthew is in the New Testament, right? And if you’ve ever heard of this man named Jesus, then I want you to know that from His lips comes what is said in Matthew 23:23: “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees, hypocrites. For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law; justice, mercy, and faith.
JUSTICE IS STILL BIBLICAL
Jesus says that you should tithe, but check out what he says after that: “Don’t neglect the more important things.” You mean there’s something more important than tithing? Now, these are not my words. This is Jesus telling them not to neglect the more important things.
Yes, you should tithe. Yes, you should be faithful to your church. Yes, you should be a giver. Yes, you should volunteer your time. That’s wonderful! That’s great! And it is what religious figures everywhere do out of the goodness of their hearts.
However, I’ve got news for you. We shouldn’t want to just be a religious church. And I don’t want to just be a religious pastor. No, I want to be a pastor of a church where we care about the more important things such as justice, mercy, and faith.
Don’t neglect the more important things.
This is why I take this message wherever God opens the door. This is why I push people to pay attention to what the entire Bible tells us. This is why I challenge churches to stop picking and choosing which parts of the scripture they are pushing people to follow. This is also why both my nonprofit and my life’s calling revolves around the five points mentioned in Isaiah 1:17. Because I don’t want to neglect the more important things.
It is because of what’s written in the Bible that I choose to do everything possible to learn how to treat people. This is why I ask questions, and try to spend time with folks. I try to figure out how they would like to be spoken to? How they would like to be worked with and what approach works best for them if I have a problem with something that they are doing? Why? Because I want to learn how to do good by them.
Remember that doing good for someone can only be considered as good when the person you’re doing it for says it’s good. In other words, quit trying to give people what you want them to have and give them what they are asking you for.
Doing good for someone can only be considered as good when the person you’re doing it for says it’s good.
WHAT IS SOCIAL JUSTICE?
For me, I’m committed to seeking justice. I want to see the right things happen to the right people. And I want to see the right things happen to the wrong people as well. In my eyes, both the reward & the punishment should be the same regardless of income, race, gender or the zip code that a person has grown up in. Understand that when I speak of social justice, if you ever hear me utilize that term, I am not speaking of equal outcomes. No, I’m speaking of equal access.
See, equal outcomes are based on how bad you want it. Equal outcomes are based on how hard you willing to work. Equal outcomes are based on how much sleep you are willing to go without to get what you want.
However, equal access means I want the opportunity to have the same education you have. Equal access is that I want high paying jobs here in my community, so that I don’t have to drive all the way to yours. Equal Access is having a real grocery store in my home city of North Chicago. That is what equal access looks like.
However, on the other side, we all know that if you live in certain zip codes, you are more likely to have a certain type of education than if you live in others. That’s not equal access. If you live in certain zip codes, you’re more likely to have healthier food options than if you live in another one. That’s not equal access and these kinds of disparities severely limit the opportunities for there to be equal outcomes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, if we give you equal access to healthy foods and you’re still 450 pounds, that’s your fault. Again, I’m not fighting for equal outcomes, but equal access. The person that goes and works out every day at the gym is probably going to look nice, tight & fit. And if you’re at home sitting on your couch 48 hours a day, you’re probably not gonna have the same outcomes. Does that make sense?
Access says that you both can go to the same gym that’s five miles away from your house. Outcomes are that he did it and you didn’t. That’s what social justice is. That’s what it’s about. Not all this other stuff that they’re throwing out here and that Satan is having a field day with.
My desire is to help the oppressed, or those that are navigating spaces where they’re unable to move forward in a way that should be accessible to anybody that is living and breathing. I want to defend those that can’t defend themselves.
This is why at my church, we’ve said that our three pillars are going to be children, teenagers and single moms. Why? Because in the book of James it tells us that pure religion is to take care of widows and orphans in their distress. So, we just want to align ourselves with what God wants. Then we challenge Him with His word by saying, “Lord, you said that you want to take care of widows and orphans and we want to do the same thing, so let’s partner.”
In response to that, He says, “That’s all I want. I’ll send you whatever you need, as long as you line up with what I said I want you to do.”
It is with His voice in mind that I have pledged my life to fighting for those without a voice. See, back in the Bible times, it was a completely male dominated society in which widows had no voice to really advocate for themselves or their needs.
Many of them knew they would couldn’t survive on their own once their husband died which is why there were laws in place to allow the brother of the man who died to marry the widowed wife because society recognized that she needed the provision & protection. Widows needed the covering and they needed somebody to help take care of them and advocate on their behalf.
THE CHURCH MUST LEAD
I don’t know about you, but at the end of the day, I want to be part of a church that has no problem with learning to do good, seeking justice, fighting for the oppressed, defending the defenseless and protecting those who can’t protect themselves as stated in Isaiah 1:17.
In my opinion, we must take the lead in doing this. I believe that it is our responsibility to use our abilities, our finances, our numbers and anything else God has blessed us with to challenge the status quo in every arena where equal access does not exist. Why? Because this is what God desires and it is what our Bible refers to as sin when we refuse to do it.