June 23, 2024. . . “Bible promises: As white as snow” Isaiah 1:18

June 23, 2024. . . “Bible promises: As white as snow” Isaiah 1:18

June 23, 2024

“Bible promises: As white as snow”

Isaiah 1:18

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Born in November of 1831, James Garfield was a Christian minister, lawyer, Civil War general, and lest we forget, the twentieth president of our United States. Historians say that he was one of the most gifted and most worthy men ever to hold the office in American history.

But as it sometimes goes, his marriage wasn’t an easy one. His wife, Lucretia, loved him, but she was a reserved, shy, introverted kind of woman, and Garfield was a lively, vibrant, extroverted kind of man. Worse yet, he really didn’t love her, and both of them knew it. He had simply married her “out of duty.”

Then to make matters worse, for the first five years of their marriage, as he was rising through the ranks to become a general in the Union Army, she stayed home in Ohio. Later, she even complained that in their first six years of marriage, they barely spent six weeks together.

And if all that wasn’t bad enough, out of nowhere, along came a pretty, eighteen-year-old widow named Lucia Calhoun, a reporter for the New York Tribune. And just as soon as word got out about their affair, he went home and confessed his sin to his wife, Lucretia.

He wrote in a letter, “I believe after all, I had rather be respected than loved, if I can’t be both…I hope when you balance up the whole of my wayward self, you will still find, after the many proper and heavy deductions are made, a small balance left on which you can base some respect and affection.”

So what would you do if you were Lucretia? Would you kick him out or would you take him back again? Believe it or not, she chose to forgive him and to welcome him back home again.

Then in time, as he saw the great pain he had caused her, he began to see her in a new light. For the first time, he understood just how much she loved him, and slowly, he began to fall in love with his wife.

It’s one of the most surprising, important, and beautiful love stories there ever could be.

So it is in the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 1. I’ll start at verse 16: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before My eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:16-17).

Then it says, “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” (Isaiah 1:18).

It’s easy to say that the book of Isaiah is one of the most important books of the Bible. It’s a book that tells the story of a man and his ministry among the sinful, wayward, rebellious people of Israel seven hundred years before Christ.

He was there when Assyria conquered the northern kingdom, Israel, in 722 B.C., and when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, nearly captured Jerusalem. And throughout his sixty or so years of life, he saw quite a lot of good kings, like Uzziah, Jotham, and Hezekiah, and some not so good kings like Ahaz, come and go.

Even more, as one commentator wrote, “None of the other prophets had Isaiah’s literary genius, for some of the world’s most elevated, moving, and memorable poetry is found in this book--passage after passage of almost insupportable power and beauty.”

It’s no wonder then that, when Handel composed his Messiah, he quoted from this one book more than any other!

And why not? After all, it’s here that we find words like these: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14)...and ”For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)...and ”Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Before Jesus ever said, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28), Isaiah wrote, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1).

For good reason, many refer to him as “Isaiah the Evangelist,” right alongside Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

And it’s here in his book that we find this: “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” (Isaiah 1:18).

So what do we know about the color scarlet?

Any artist can tell you it’s a special kind of color. It’s a brilliant red, mixed with just a hint of fiery orange. In ancient times, it was the color of power, wealth, and luxury, as well as the color of blood and sacrifice. Today, it’s the color of British nobility and the House of Lords. In academics, it’s the color of law and theology.

And the color scarlet can have a different meaning as well. Think of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter or Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara, what some have called “possibly the most famous female character in American history.”

Look closely, and you’ll even find the color scarlet tracing all through the Bible!

When the Lord told Moses to build a tabernacle, He said, “You shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet” (Exodus 26:1). When Solomon spoke of a noble, virtuous woman, he said, “She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed with scarlet” (Proverbs 31:21). And when soldiers meant to mock Jesus and hail Him as the “King of the Jews,” the Bible says they pressed a crown of thorns down onto His head and dressed Him in a scarlet robe (Matthew 27:28).

So why scarlet? Scarlet was a very important color because it was a very expensive color.

So how did they ever come up with the color scarlet? Couldn’t they just stop by their local Walmart and pick up a package of Rit dye?

I’m afraid not! They had to do it the hard way.

Let me explain. You see, back in Bible times, the only way they could make the scarlet dye was to find a very special worm, what was called a “crimson worm.”

But crimson worms aren’t like ordinary worms. In fact, they’re more like a grub than a worm. And when the female worm is ready to lay her eggs, (what marks the end of her life), she climbs a tree, usually an oak tree, and attaches herself to it. And while her body is attached to that tree, she forms a hard, dark red, crimson shell around her, a shell so hard and so stuck to the wood that to take her off, you’d have to tear her body apart.

And while that worm is attached to the tree, she lays her eggs under her body, inside that crimson shell. Then when they hatch, they stay under that shell so they can feed on the living body of their mother for three days. After three days, the mother worm dies, and her body excretes a crimson or scarlet dye that stains the wood as well as her baby worms. And those worms stay stained for the rest of their lives--hence the name “crimson worms.”

And one more thing--after those three days pass, the tail of that mother worm pulls up into her head, forming a heart-shaped body that’s no longer crimson, but looks an awful lot like a patch of wool or a flake of snow.

So now that I’ve told you something about crimson worms, does any of it sound familiar?

Just as the mother worm attaches herself to a tree is part of God’s design, so it was also God’s plan to send His Son Jesus to die on a cross. And just like the mother worm attaches herself to the wood of a tree, so Jesus Himself laid down on a hard, wooden cross. And just as the mother worm excretes a crimson, scarlet dye that both covers the baby worms and stains them and marks them, Jesus was bruised and crushed for our sins. The scourging, the crown of thorns, and the nails driven through His hands and feet brought forth His crimson, scarlet blood that both washes away our sin and marks us as His own.

And finally, just as the baby worm depends on the mother worm for the crimson dye to give it life, we depend on the blood of Jesus for eternal life.

And that’s why Isaiah wrote (in a slightly more contemporary translation), “Come now, you and Me, let’s talk about this, let’s reason together, let’s settle this once and for all. You see, you’re in an impossible situation and you know it. All that you’ve done isn’t enough. Your good works, no matter how good, aren’t good enough. No matter how hard you try, you cannot fulfill My law.

“So here’s the deal, a deal you dare not refuse--even though your sins are as deep and as dark as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. And even though they’re red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

Born in March of 1789, the third of six children, Charlotte Elliott loved music and art. As a girl, she painted portraits and wrote rhymes and poems.

But even though her childhood was a happy one, as she grew older, she began to fret more and more about her faults, her failures, and her sins. When she looked for help or comfort from her family, they simply told her to try harder, pray harder, and ask for forgiveness.

Then shortly after her thirtieth birthday, if things weren’t already bad enough, her life suddenly took a turn for the worse. She suffered what she called a “crippling fatigue,” something that would stay with her for the rest of her life.

It was then that a friend of the family, a pastor by the name of Cesar Malan, stopped by. And as they sat around the table and shared in a meal, he asked if she was at peace with God, a question which she flatly, bluntly, and rudely refused to answer.

Then feeling badly for what she had said and done, a few weeks later, when she happened to see him again, she explained that she just wanted to cleanse her life before she became a Christian. And that’s when Pastor Malan said, “Come, just as you are.”

Twelve years later, she remembered his words, and that’s when she decided to write a hymn. You know how it goes: “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me. And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”

In the words of the prophet Isaiah: “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” (Isaiah 1:18).

And that’s a promise!

We thank You, Father, for washing us, cleansing us, and making us right with You. Though our sins are as scarlet, make them, we pray, as white as snow, by Your grace, for Jesus’ sake. Amen