“1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah. 2 Listen, heavens, and pay attention, earth, for the Lord has spoken: “I have raised children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s feeding trough, but Israel does not know; my people do not understand.” 4 Oh sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, brood of evildoers, depraved children! They have abandoned the Lord; they have despised the Holy One of Israel; they have turned their backs on him. 5 Why do you want more beatings? Why do you keep on rebelling? The whole head is hurt, and the whole heart is sick. 6 From the sole of the foot even to the head, no spot is uninjured—wounds, welts, and festering sores not cleansed, bandaged, or soothed with oil. 7 Your land is desolate, your cities burned down; foreigners devour your fields right in front of you—a desolation, like a place demolished by foreigners. 8 Daughter Zion is abandoned like a shelter in a vineyard, like a shack in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. 9 If the Lord of Armies had not left us a few survivors, we would be like Sodom, we would resemble Gomorrah. 10 Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah!” (Isaiah 1:1-10 CSB)
There are few places on earth that can humble one as fast as a courtroom.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to tour the Federal District Court House in my hometown of London, Kentucky. The Federal Court House in London is one of the regional offices of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. The building is a large, magnificently designed, and formidable structure housing facilities for many important offices and the important individuals who lead them. Prior to my experience in touring this facility with a group several years ago, I had driven by the building more times than I could count – but I had never been inside.
Our tour was led by a U.S. Marshal and took us around the facility, enabling us to view many of those important offices and the various locations for the functions and divisions housed within the facility. However, the climax of the tour occurred when we were led into the actual district courtroom – a cavernous space decorated in rich wood tones with beautiful carpet and a full-length, wall-to-wall window in the very back of the space. The gorgeous and rich decor of the room and the sunlight streaming through the massive, wall-sized window were enough to captivate a person from the very beginning, but as the Marshal continued to explain the layout of the court room and the various stations within it, we all began to realize just how powerful that setting really was.
The Marshal began by explaining the various areas and stations within the courtroom. He gestured to the visitors’ gallery in front of the massive window, where we were then located, and then pointed out the jury box, the prosecutor’s table where representatives of the United States Attorney’s office would be located during a criminal trial, and the defendant’s table where the accused and their legal representatives would be located. He asked us to come forward to stand between the prosecutor’s and defense’s stations. As we shuffled into position, he gestured down at some small, square cutouts in the carpet at regular intervals along the seating area at the defense table. As I remember it, each square cutout had a top composed of the same carpet as the rest of the floor with a gold-colored, metal frame around it, a small circular ring in the center, and a hinge connecting it with the floor, giving it the appearance of some form of a small hatch or door that lifted up. As we stood staring at these small sections of the floor, puzzled as to what they could be, the Marshal then explained that those square pull-up hatches were the bases where the chains of federal prisoners would be anchored as they sat during their trial. As if that wasn’t sufficiently shocking enough to ponder, he then smiled as he informed us that we were standing where several of the FBI’s “most wanted” had stood and sat during their trials – and more recently than we’d care to imagine…
The Marshal then moved toward the front of the room. There, he explained where the court reporter was stationed and identified several other desks and stations before gesturing toward a lone desk and seat located at the top of a veritable mountain of steps in the back of the room. With great drama and a noticeable deepening of his voice, the Marshal then announced, “And this, ladies and gentlemen, is where the Federal Judge sits during proceedings of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.” Our group gazed up in awe at the desk and chair mounted at the highest spot in the courtroom. Behind the chair was something mounted even higher – the seal of the Eastern District of Kentucky. This was not a small seal – one of those that are roughly a foot or so in diameter that always seem to be positioned on a podium, desk, or table in front of important individuals holding various offices of state during their press conferences. No, this seal was massive – several feet in diameter and dwarfing everything else in the room. Seals are intended to convey rank, honor, and authority – and, given its enormous size and jaw-dropping placement, this one certainly conveyed all of those attributes without challenge.
After allowing the authority of the bench, as well as the individual who’s right and responsibility it was to sit upon the bench, to sink in, the Marshall then turned to us and asked a rather obvious question: “Notice that seal up there?” Our open mouths and captivated gaze gave the unspoken answer. He then smiled and said in a low voice, “This is the closest thing to being God on earth that a mere human being can experience.” He reviewed the requirements to become a Federal District Judge, noting that, while a lifetime of experience in the practice of the law, legal education, and distinguished accomplishment are required as prerequisites for the office, along with nomination by the President of the United States and confirmation by the United States Senate, once appointed, the individual judge serves for a term defined by the Constitution of the United States as, “good behavior.” Effectively, that means for life. While the barriers to entry are certainly exceedingly high, the office of a Federal District Judge is vested with enormous power – and no constitutional term limit. Though there are justifiable reasons for that lack of a term limit (namely, to facilitate an independent judiciary), we all took his point very clearly – “the closest thing to being God on earth that a mere human being can experience.”
In Isaiah 1, God invokes both this image and station of the judge – but arrayed in far more power and authority than any mere human being can know, experience, or convey. The scene which opens the magnificent chapters of Isaiah’s prophetic book is that of a courtroom trial, with the presiding judge as the Lord Himself. Given the holy and righteous nature of God and the clarity of His word and will, He needed no prosecutor to present His case. However, He used Isaiah, as His prophetic mouthpiece, to convey and deliver the prosecutorial charge. Who are the defendants? Shockingly, God’s own people – the very people of God in Judah and Jerusalem at the time of Isaiah’s writing. They stand before the bar of the almighty, righteous, all-knowing and all-seeing Judge of the universe. The burning question is: what is the charge against them?
The first of a series of charges brought against God’s people is that of their rebellious hearts (vv. 2-10). God desired a loving relationship with His people – that He would be their Father and they would be His children. God, as He always is, had been faithful in His part of this relationship. However, His children had drifted far from Him and His leadership of their lives. He had chosen them to be His special witnesses – His peculiar people – to reflect His love, grace, and goodness in the world around them. However, through the years, generation after generation of God’s people had rebelled against Him. They had rejected His love. They had broken His commandments. They had abandoned Him.
The consequences of their actions were aptly displayed in their own experiences following their choice to forsake God. Their lives were consumed with immorality. Their society was marked by lawlessness, corruption, and greed. And their culture was steeped in violence. They had exchanged the grace of God for the lies and deceit of the world. And their lives proved their guilt. Why, then, does God spend the time to drive home such an obvious case against His people? The answer might surprise you.
The charge of rebellion levied against God’s people revealed three important facts about them. First, it revealed that, despite their self-assured arrogance and pride, they had less knowledge and understanding than an ox or donkey, which could recognize its master’s voice while Judah failed to recognize that of their own Master. Second, the Lord’s charge revealed the depth of His people’s sinful hearts, which had become loaded down with the burden of their guilt. And third, God’s charge revealed that His people had forsaken Him and turned their back on Him. The rebellion of God’s people was foolish and would lead to their continued detriment and ultimately judgment by Him. Despite God’s wondrously abundant grace and mercy, He also warned His people that if they failed to repent of their sinful rebellion, they would reap the fruits of that rebellion. As the fount of true justice, God promised that their sins would be judged and punished. And yet, as the fount of true mercy, God made a way for His people to be forgiven of their sin by turning from that sin and trusting Him.
God set the scene of this breathtaking heavenly courtroom trial, taking the time to draw up in arresting detail the crimes of his people and the failures they committed, for a vitally important purpose. It wasn’t to embarrass them before the rest of the world. The rest of the world was as guilty as they were. It wasn’t to articulate an original statement of His case against them. God had done that time and time again through prophet after prophet as He warned and pleaded with His people to change their ways. It certainly wasn’t to “reason through” their offenses in a judicial sense, as if He was ignorant of their true circumstances and that matters of fact, as well as those of guilt or innocence, needed to be adjudicated by Him before a verdict could be rendered. The preponderance of evidence was already clear. Beyond that, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt was already established! Why, then, did God take the time to move step-by-step through His case against Judah? The answer: because He wanted Judah to see its own case – to come face-to-face with their errors and rebellion so that they would understand, see, and acknowledge what they had done that was so terribly wrong, and then repent and return to their heavenly Father.Ultimately, God didn’t want their destruction (2 Peter 3:9) – He wanted their repentance!
The same is true of you and I today. As Raymond Ortlund and Kent Hughes observed in their commentary on this passage, we need a sense of our own sin:
“We need a sense of sin. We shouldn’t fear it or resent it. It is not destructive. It is life-giving, if we have the courage to let Christ save us. We are often told—or just whispered to—that what we need is more self-esteem. That is false. What we need is more humility and more Christ-esteem.”
The conviction of sin which God brings to our lives when we err and do wrongly is not with the intent of destroying our self-esteem, our sense of self-worth, or ability to function productively and joyfully as human beings in society. As a matter of fact, conviction of sin is designed to enhance a true Gospel-rooted sense and understanding of all of those attributes by enabling us to understand who we really are and what God really wants for us. We are God’s people – His highest, greatest, and most esteemed creation. He loves and cares for us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to the earth to pay the penalty for our sins and pave the way for our salvation and new life through His sinless death, burial, and victorious resurrection (John 3:16). As Jesus Himself told His disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). What greater love could the Father show to each of us than that He was willing to give the Son on our behalf? And yet, in His next breath, Jesus also reminded us of what is necessary for us to truly be His friends: “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14 ESV). Theologically, our faith in Christ is not conditioned on our obedience; our obedience is conditioned on our faith. That is, if we are truly His followers – His friends – our friendship with Christ will be demonstrated by our obedience to Him and His commandments. Put another way, the world will know that we are followers of Jesus by our love for Him, for His people, and for His commandments – our desire to follow His will and direction in our lives.
Our Heavenly Father, who gave His only begotten Son to save us from sin, loves us too much to leave us wallowing in it. He calls us to see it – to see our sin, its offensiveness, and its terrible nature. And, in doing so, He calls us to repent of it – to turn from it, forsake it, and to turn to Him, His will, and His desire for our lives.
In repentance, we can know His forgiveness and salvation.
In repentance, we can know His redemption and restoration.
In repentance, we can know His grace.
You may not know someone who is close to being “God on earth,” but praise God that we are known and loved by the one is truly God of the earth!
 The Constitution of the United States, Article III, Section 1. https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articleiii
 Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. and R. Kent Hughes, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 24–25.