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Isaiah 1:18

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Cricket is a sport of many difficulties. One of the most persistent difficulties during my last 25 years playing cricket has been a peculiar one—removing stains.

You see, when the season begins you purchase (or give the annual wash to) a set of cricket whites—cosy and comfortable sports clothing. Yet during the season you amass a set of stains: mud, grass, dirt and so forth. But the most difficult of stains to remove is the redness which comes from ‘shining the ball’ on your cricket whites. And try all you might with special sprays, lovely liquids and brutal brushes—it’s near impossible to wash out those red stains. Due to this sad impossibility, a stained set of cricket whites normally finds itself disposed of!

Now, the stain problem which the ancient Israelites had was infinitely more problematic than cricket-related stains. Whereas cricket stains are merely physical and fairly insignificant, the stains of God’s people were deeply moral, and eternally significant.

You see, the crimson and scarlet hues that coloured the Israelites’ stain were due to sin. Ever since the tragic decline of Solomon’s golden era this stain was growing in colour and intensity. It was an awful stain of sin against their neighbours: their murdering hands were full of blood (Isa 1:15), they were filthy harlots (1:21), their rulers were corrupt thieves who disregarded the poor and needy around them (1:23). And this stain was due to awful sin against their God also: they rebelled against Yahweh (1:2), they forgot Yahweh (1:3), and they worshipped the other gods of the nations (1:13, 29). The parallels to our world today are obvious!

Further, this deep stain of sin would bring the Israelites dire consequences. Their sin against the infinite and holy God had aroused his anger, and his instrument of judgement was the godless nation of Assyria (10:5). They had been rampaging through the ancient near east, and had brought recent destruction to their north, and were now on the very doorstep of the sin-stained Israelites. Judgement was at hand, and the options were clear: are you to be a redeemed one, or a broken one (1:27-28)?

Now, if you were an Israelite who knew your history, that would be an easy choice! Remember that glorious exodus of Egypt? The redeemed of the Lord were those who painted the door-frames of their house with the blood of a lamb (Exod 12:7). The broken ones by the Lord were those who didn’t have that saving blood (Exod 12:12-13). But the problem with many of the Israelites of Isaiah’s day was their faulty memory. They’d forgotten and ignored the goodness of God towards them many years before, and had fallen headlong into sinful ways now. Or, in other words, their stain of sin was due to their disregard for the stain of salvation.

And the sin-stained world of today needs just as urgently to know about the stain of salvation. Many are guilty like the Israelites, and have ‘hands full of blood’ (Isa 1:15). The irreligious, immoral characters that make the front page of our newspapers and headlines in the media. The Boston bombers, the adulterous wife, the bully who tormented us for years at school. And yet many are like Pontius Pilate who think they can do something to wash their hands of guilt (Matt 27:24). Those who get involved with charities to cover over their guilt, those who dabble in pseudo-spirituality and hope for divine acceptance, and those who trust in their religious observance and avoidance of immorality for salvation. Both the irreligious and the religious have the same problem: the stain of sin. Therefore, hear the Word of God:

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

The stain of sin can only be washed away by the stain of salvation—and the only effectual stain of salvation is the blood of Christ.1 He was “pierced for our transgressions” and has “freed us from our sins by his blood” (Isa 53:5; Rev 1:5). There is no other stain remover under heaven by which man can have his stain cleaned. What a saviour!

  1. The blood of the Passover lamb is a type of Christ (1 Cor 5:7). The effective application of the blood of Christ applies both prospectively to believers today, and retrospectively to Old Testament believers.

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