Bitter for Sweet (2)
May 25, 2003 / No. 3151
Dear radio friends,
Last week we began a discussion of what we find in Isaiah 5:20, one of the “woes” that the prophet Isaiah was called to pronounce upon the people of his day. You will recall that I pointed out to you, in the last message, that in the prophecy of Isaiah God told Isaiah that He was going to bring judgment upon His people for their sin, that He was going to harden them through Isaiah’s ministry. Isaiah’s ministry was a ministry of calling them to repentance. But they would reject that word from God. They would settle themselves down in their sins and they would be hardened and therefore made ripe for eternal judgment.
I pointed out to you that in Isaiah 5:20 we really have the expression of the heart of the attitude of men and women in Isaiah’s day, the heart of a terrible attitude that is so prevalent also in our day. Let me read the verse to you: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” That verse, as I pointed out last time, means that God has set down an inflexible standard of that which is good and that which is evil. The inflexible standard is His holy law, or His will as it is expressed in the Scriptures, specifically in the Ten Commandments. That is good. To obey the Ten Commandments is good.
That implies that God has also expressed what is evil. Evil is to violate those commandments: corruption, darkness, bitterness, evil. It is to cast aside the will and the commandments of God.
And I pointed out to you that that is exactly the standard today. Today people want to call good what they consider to be good, and evil what they consider to be evil. That is, instead of bowing before a sovereign God, man today wants to make himself God. He claims that he has the right to determine his moral issues.
In reality what was being done in Isaiah’s day and what is done in our day is the attempt to twist the inflexible standard of right and wrong. That is what the prophet is saying. “Woe unto you that call evil good, and good evil; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” We understand in those words that what is being done is not simply the attempt to neutralize God’s law, nor the attempt merely to neutralize morality. It is not as if men would say, “Well, we really don’t know what is good or what is evil.” But they go so far as to say that evil is good, and what God calls good is evil. They take the very thing that God has pronounced evil and they call it good. They take the very thing that God has called good and they call it evil. Vice becomes virtue. That which God calls darkness (which is always a picture in the Scriptures of a turning away from God’s holiness) is now considered light. And that which God considers light (and God considers light to be purity, holiness) is now considered darkness.
The idea is that man in his sin attempts to make what is perverse in God’s sight to be accepted as good and then to take what God says is holy and to call that restrictive, evil, and narrow. That is what the prophet means when he says that they put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. God calls departure from His law bitterness. It will bring bitterness. And God says that that which will bring sweetness is obedience to the crucified Savior by the grace of God — a new life of holiness. But they turn that around. That is, men try to turn that upside down. They call sweet what God calls bitter. And they call bitter what God calls sweet.
Now that is exactly what is at the heart of our present day. That is exactly the expression of the so-called morality of our day, whether that is expressed in politics, or in government, or even in the church world, or in home, or in school, professors at colleges, leaders of our country, the voices of the media, Hollywood — we have Isaiah 5:20 before our very eyes in the day in which we live. Men call evil good. That is, men call what God calls evil, good. And men call good evil — what God calls good, men say is evil.
This can be demonstrated in a host of ways. You think about it this week. Let us take the first commandment of God’s law, which reads: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” This commandment says that it is good that man, the creature, made by the hands of the living God, should recognize one only living God, the one true and only God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of the Bible. Beside Him there is no other god. He is the creator and He is the sustainer. And we should recognize Him as the source of our life, the source of all that is good. We should render to God the allegiance of our heart and serve God; we should obey, trust, and know God. In the first commandment God says simply: “I am God alone!” He makes an absolute claim upon all: “Worship Me alone!” This is good. This is light. This is sweet. This is what man was created for. However, we are told today in educational and religious and political circles: “Oh, no, no, no! That’s too narrow. That is bigoted. That is exclusivistic. That is judgmental upon other people’s expressions of their faith in their gods (which the Bible says are idols).” The world says that it is an evil thing to insist that there is just one true God and that He is the creator of the heaven and the earth. Do you actually believe that, men ask? They would say to us that it is not intellectually sophisticated to talk of God who created the world out of nothing. And then they would say to us, “You talk of one true God? We don’t want that. We want all to get together and to serve God in the way that they like and simply to respect each other in this way.”
… it is not intellectually sophisticated to talk of God who created the world out of nothing.
But that is not the first commandment. The first commandment says that there is no other god to serve but the true God. We must serve Him! But man says, “You call other gods idols? That’s too narrow. That is evil for you to say that! How dare you say that? That’s evil. You are a threat (you Christian, you believer in the first commandment) to society. You are a threat when you say that God is God and you must have Him first, supreme, and only.” Say that, and today you would be called evil. For what is good is called evil. And what is evil is called good.
Let us then take the second commandment. Let us bring that a little closer to the church world. God says in the second commandment that “I will dictate the terms on how I will be worshiped: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” The second commandment differs from the first in that in the second commandment God is telling us how He will be worshiped by man. God says, “I know the human heart and I require that I be worshiped as I will teach you in My Word.” Still more, God says in the second commandment, “You shall learn and conceive of Me as I am known in My Word.” Therefore the second commandment calls for purity of doctrine — we are to conceive of God not according to how we feel He ought to be, but as He has revealed Himself in the infallible (that is, without error) holy Bible.
Now if you believe that, in the church today you will be called narrow, exclusivistic, and a mere traditionalist. We are told that we must be with it. We must be sensitive to the fads. We cannot say which doctrine is right and which one is wrong. Many in the church would say to me, How dare you insist on the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty? How dare you say that He is the Savior by grace through Jesus Christ? How dare you insist on that and say that that is the truth? How dare you insist on the truth of marriage, that marriage is, according to Scripture, a lifelong bond that can be broken only by death, and that remarriage while one’s spouse is living is adultery. People would say to me, How dare you say that? It is evil for you to say that!
How dare you insist on the truth of marriage,
that marriage is, according to Scripture,
a lifelong bond that can be broken only by death?
And again, in the church, how is God worshiped? We are told that we may worship God according to whatever the worship committee decides this week, whatever we think is going to be catchy and appealing to people. If I say that you may not do that, that God says in the second commandment that you may not do that, you may not make a golden calf, God will tell you how to worship Him, look for it in the Word, then again I would be called evil, as someone who judges the religious offerings of people in other churches, and I would be told that my heart is just too narrow. I am evil.
Let us take the fourth commandment. God says that it is good to keep the Sabbath in holy exercises and to set aside our daily work. God says that this is sweet, that it is for man’s good and for God’s glory to keep the Sabbath Day, Sunday, sacred. Today, that is called evil. Today, that is called constricting, binding. Today, one who says such things is called a kill-joy, who imposes his rituals on other people. So “blue laws,” according to which society at one time said that businesses should be closed on the Sabbath, have got to go. Such laws are said to be evil against our society. And, as in Isaiah’s day, that sound goes out of Jerusalem. The church, the visible church of God, calls the fourth commandment evil, bitter, and darkness. It cannot wait to set it aside. They do not want new converts to think that Sunday is any different from any other day.
Or take the fifth commandment. God calls it good to honor all in authority for the position that God has given to them. God says that is good, that is light, that is sweet. All whom God has placed over me in my life, whether that is in the home (parent), or in the church (elder), or in the state (policeman, governor), or in the work place (employer) — God says, “For My sake, I want you to honor them. I want you to obey them. Unless they tell you to contradict My Word, you must obey them.” Today that is called evil and bitter and dark.
Children, when you make plain that you intend to follow and obey and take seriously what your parents tell you, then you are going to be looked upon by your peers as some “holier-than-thou” kid, some kid who is not “with it,” like what’s the matter with you? Today, if you have to obey anyone, if you have to submit to someone, even in the church, well, how terrible, how oppressive, how hurtful, how evil, how degrading.
In marriage — a wife submit to her husband? In the home — children to parents? In the workplace — employer to employee? Oh, that is terrible, that is evil.
Let us take the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” — the commandment calling for the sanctity of life. Today, who will live and who will die is determined by what is convenient for man. God says it is evil to take life, except when I say you must, namely, in capital punishment. Then the murderer is to be executed. Today, is it not revealing that those who push for the abolition of the death penalty are pushing for abortion laws not to be repealed but to be kept. Both cheapen life. To push for the abolition of the death penalty and to support abortion is sin. God has said that because He gives life, anyone who takes life is to be put to death. And God has said that when He puts life in the womb, no one may take that life. That is human life! Thou shalt not kill! Always the Scriptures treat the life of the conceived in the womb as a human life, as a person conceived by the hand of God. To take that life is murder. But today abortion has the endorsement of the state. In fact, it is even called a virtue. They say, “You don’t want unwanted children in the world. How terrible, how cruel to interfere in the choice of a woman over her body,” we are told. You are evil if you say abortion is wrong.
Let us take the seventh commandment. God says that the sexual nature of man and woman is good in the union of marriage. And there alone it is to be practiced. Violation of that is adultery. Fornication is evil. But fornication, too, is called good today. We are told that it is good to divorce and to marry another if one cannot make his marriage work. We are told that it is good for young people to be experienced sexually. They do not need to have guilt about that. It is to be expected of young people.
We are told that homosexuality is good. God calls it a perversion, a wickedness, a sin. And God calls for repentance. God calls for a clinging to the cross of Jesus where we find the wonderful power to cleanse our souls from the sins that we commit. But today, if you preach the gospel that way and call people to forsake sexual sins and to find the wonder, the sweetness of purity in Jesus Christ, you will be called evil. You will be called judgmental.
Man must be liberated, we are told. Man must be liberated in allowing his own choice — whatever a man wants to choose, however he wants to satisfy his lusts. And if God’s law stands in the way, well, then God’s law is evil!
All right. That is the way it is in the world. But I assume that many who are listening to the program confess that we are children of God. What about us, then? Do we call what God calls evil not so evil, something to play with? While we denounce all of these things in the world — murder, abortion, adultery, homosexuality — do we as Christians play fast and loose with God’s law? And when it suits our fancy, do we set it aside? Do you murder in hatred of your brother and sister? Do you, while you condemn adultery, entertain yourself on the TV with it?
While we denounce all of these things in the world
— murder, abortion, adultery, homosexuality —
do we as Christians play fast and loose
with God’s law?
This text is speaking to us. God says that, because man has cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts and despised the Holy One of Israel, judgment will come. There are many who are saying that we are not going to regard certain portions of God’s Word. Oh, we do not want to push God off His throne just yet. We do not want to push Him out of the physical creation. But we are simply going to set aside certain things God has said. We do not like it that He says He is the creator in six, twenty-four hour days, so we will set that aside. And we will set aside other things too. But God says, “When you begin to set aside My Word, then you are not recognizing Me as God and as the Lawgiver and the Judge.”
God has made this world. Therefore you are accountable to Him. But, you see, if God did not make the world, then you are not accountable to Him, are you? It is just that simple. When you begin to set aside parts of God’s Word, when you set aside the truth of creation, you are attempting to push God off His throne. That is what you are doing.
And there is a result to that. The result is that, once that seed starts growing in our hearts, we begin to push God off His throne in every area of life. The moment God’s Word loses its absolute authority and God’s law is no longer the standard, then there will be indifference to God’s wrath and men will not fear the wrath of God. Men will not know their sin. Men will not know the danger under which they are. They will begin to despise the Holy One of Israel.
Let us hear the Word of God. That Word of God to us is this: “Beware lest you find yourself conforming to this age.” There is something always in our flesh that would like to believe that the current standards of morality are good and sweet and light. God says, “Flee.” God says, “Deal ruthlessly with your sin.” God says, “My way, My law, My will is good, sweet, and light.”
Let us go to God and lay our sins at the foot of the cross and ask God for purifying grace of repentance, to know our sin, and to turn from that sin to Jesus Christ the blessed Savior.
Let us also beware lest we become ashamed of God’s Word. God’s law and Word is binding today. Let us not be ashamed of saying that.
Finally, let us be ready, for Jesus is coming very soon. When we see the sin of man and the arrogance that is being thrown in the face of God, we ask the question, “How long can it be?” When this spirit runs rampant throughout our land, when men call what God calls good evil and what God calls evil good, then how long can it be before the Son of Man Himself shall appear on the clouds of glory?
Therefore, to all who by His grace ask the question, “What is good? What is light? What is sweet?” hear the word, the Word of the living One, the Word of God: “My Word is good, is light, is sweet. Live ye in it.”
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word today. We pray for its conviction in our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.