Preached by Dr. Gene Scott on January 1, 1984
No man hath seen God at any time; the
only begotten Son . . . hath declared him.
And the common people heard him gladly.
GOD IS A VERY COLORFUL PREACHER; it’s too bad the church has watered Him down. You seldom have any doubt about what He is saying. In 1st Kings 14, God through His prophet sent a message to a king warning him that He would kill all those in his house who do “something” against a wall. Today, a preacher is not allowed to say what God said. But there was simply no confusion as to what God was talking about: He described something only men did against a wall. You will find that God knows how to say exactly what He means. While I have gradually expanded the perimeters of my ability to communicate what God has actually said, even I cannot read that passage out loud in a church service. Maybe God should have instructed the King James Version translators to include a heading to warn readers about His use of language.
The Bible is full of passages that are hardly ever preached on. Isaiah 20 is another such passage. Do you believe a man of God ought to do what God tells him to do? Now we read in Isaiah 20, “In the year that Tartan came unto Ashdod (when Sargon the king of Assyria sent him), and fought against Ashdod, and took it; at the same time spake the LORD by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, go and loose the sackcloth from off thy loins, and put off thy shoe from thy foot. And he did so, walking naked and barefoot. And the LORD said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years . . .”
Someone might say, “That’s impossible! God would never allow something like that to happen. He would never tell a man to walk naked and barefoot for three years!” There are people in traditional churches who would not believe this passage is in the Bible. They are certain God has never seen a naked man. Such a thing hasn’t happened ever since Adam and Eve had to cover themselves in Eden! Maybe there is something wrong with my Bible. You should check yours to see if this passage is really there. Do you realize how many people would read the Bible if they knew what was in it?
Why would the Lord make the prophet Isaiah walk around naked and barefoot for 36 months? The Scripture says, “Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia; so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.”
If any preacher today did the things God told Isaiah to do, he would be thrown out of the city. Why would God make a man do such a thing? There is no sense in having a man run around naked for three years only to say, “Hey, you Egyptians and Ethiopians! The king of Assyria is going to invade your land. He will strip you naked and lead you away captive!” Is there anyone who could not understand that statement? If you were an Egyptian, what would this mean to you? It could only mean that you were going to be captured by the Assyrians and led away naked into captivity. And in case you didn’t know what the word “naked” means, your rear end is going to be exposed. That’s what God said. Now is that understandable? Then why would God make a prophet run around naked to make a point? Because some people are so dull, if you don’t shock them into attention they won’t listen.
Now I would have us notice that Isaiah’s message was not actually addressed to the Egyptians and Ethiopians; God didn’t tell them what was going to happen to them. He told the Israelites, so they would understand how tough God can be when he gets angry at people. He made Isaiah walk around naked for three years to show His people how the Egyptians and the Ethiopians were going to be treated. God knew how to get His people’s attention.
There are some who find my manner of speech offensive. They say I am too graphic in the way I describe some of the church’s weaknesses. There is a reason I preach the way I do. For too long, sermons have been preached without people listening to what was being said. Too many preachers preach using what I call “stained-glass tones.” And the moment the congregation hears the preacher begin to drone, “O Gawd, Omnipotent and Omnipresent…,” their brains turn off. Then comes the altar call and the organ starts playing, and the congregation momentarily comes to attention. If they can get one person to respond to the altar call and walk down the aisle, they think they are on God’s side for the rest of the week. They have done their little routines. That is why lives are not changed. I grew up in those kinds of churches and I never saw one ounce of spiritual growth in some people.
I remember one deacon who lived to lead the singing every Sunday morning. He didn’t want the church to grow because he was afraid God might send someone who could lead the singing better than he did. He never changed. I remember one lady who came to church every Sunday just so she could stand up at the testimony meeting. That was her great hour of witness and you could always count on her to jump up and shout, “He’s the lily of the valley, the bright and morning star! He’s the pearl of great price!” For one thing, her theology was wrong. Jesus is not “the pearl of great price,” we are the pearl of great price. Jesus is the price that was paid to purchase us. But she always said the same thing and she never grew spiritually. I have had enough of the church keeping the residue and losing the cream by allowing traditions and fools to rule.
God was a preacher who got your attention. It gets worse. I must use the word “blanks” to stand for all the words I am not allowed to say. You will have to read your own Bible in order to fill in the blanks. Turn to Ezekiel 23: “The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying, Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: and they committed blanks in Egypt.” That should have been enough. Maybe it was too much, but it goes on, “They committed blanks in their youth: there were their blanks blanked, and there they blanked the blanks of their virginity.” The whole chapter is full of that kind of language. And the shocking thing is that none of those things really happened. God made up this whole story! There really weren’t two sisters who did the terrible things described. God was describing idolatry and His people entering into illicit relationships with other nations. He was using a parable, but He chose to make up a story His people would understand. God made it up to shock them into attention. He took what they had dignified and He dragged it, by analogy, into the gutter to shock them.
I quoted from these seldom-read passages to make a point. The church ought not to remove itself and its message from the realities of life. That is what is wrong with the church today. The Incarnation, which is a basic claim of the church, brought God down into the stuff of the street where the common people lived and worked. The Incarnation put God on display. John 1:18 says that though no man has seen God, Christ has declared Him. Literally, Christ led God forth and put Him on display. Jesus was understood by ordinary people. A basic claim of the church is that God was in Christ: He struck a tent in human flesh called Jesus of Nazareth. It is as heretical to deny the humanity of Christ as it is to deny His divinity. The Bible says the common people heard Him gladly. Who was it who didn’t hear Him gladly? Who got upset? It was the religious people who had substituted their own performance for God Himself and had totally forgotten who God was.
Jesus’ words might not shock us today, but in Jesus’ day His words were far more shocking than any prophet running around naked. Jesus said, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The Pharisees were the ones who told everyone else how they should act to get into heaven. The essence of their message was, “You’d better act like us, because we are the only ones who are going to make it in.” But Jesus came along and instead of telling us to try to be like those Pharisees, He said our righteousness had to surpass theirs, and even the Pharisees would not make it into heaven by their works. Jesus called them blind guides who would strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. I consider the “gnats” to be the moral equivalent of my occasional use of such words as “damn” and “hell.” Jesus told those Pharisees, in essence, “You are self-righteously and presumptuously putting yourself in the place of the Eternal God.”
Jesus was the only one who ever lived a perfect life, and He gave His life in order that He might remove the barrier between God and man that was created by our sins. He did this in order that He might now come and dwell in us. God’s Spirit living in us will come forth expressing His own righteousness through us and for us, and even without us trying. That is the paradox of Christianity: we go in one direction in order to get God to go in another. That is, we act in faith and God lives His righteousness through us.
Some people think I am too hard in my criticisms of the church. The church is supposed to be about Christ, so let’s listen to Him. He said, in essence, “Woe unto you, you hypocrites! Pull that gigantic timber out of your own eye; then you will see clearly to pluck a little speck out of your neighbor’s eye. Woe unto you! You are like whited sepulchers, tombs painted white on the outside, showing off your brilliance, while inside is a pile of stinking dead bodies, unclean, full of death and the remnants of death. You neither enter into the kingdom of heaven nor let anyone else go in because you position yourselves and your lamebrain standards at the doorway!” There never was a tougher preacher than Jesus; He shocked people with His words.
Jesus told a parable about two men who went to the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a publican. I can imagine the Pharisee saying, “I thank my God I am not like Dr. Scott and his congregation,” while we “publicans” would beat our breast and say, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” And Jesus would say, “I say unto you, the publican’s prayer will be answered, but not the Pharisee’s.”
The Pharisees had a good beginning. The name “Pharisees” means “separatists” and the Hanukkah celebration serves as a reminder of their origins. Judas Maccabaeus, the father of the Maccabees, would not bow to Antiochus Epiphanes, the successor to the Seleucid portion of Alexander the Great’s empire. He had given himself the name “Epiphanes,” which means “god manifest,” and he attempted to eradicate the Jewish religion. Judas Maccabaeus led the Maccabean rebellion to return God’s people to God’s laws. As the years went on, the Pharisees forgot the God in whose name the Maccabean leaders stood, and they began to pay more attention to their own performance than to God Himself. Everything they did was a ritual performance to conform to a set of rules.
The Pharisees would reason about hair-splitting technicalities of behavior. They had a rule that they were not allowed to walk more than three-fifths of a mile from their possessions on the Sabbath. So if they wanted to go farther than three-fifths of a mile on the Sabbath, the day before they would throw something on the ground such as a piece of clothing to establish a possession point; then they would go another three-fifths of a mile and thrown down another item. And by laying down a chain of possessions on the day before, they could make a journey of any length on the Sabbath without ever going more than three-fifths of a mile from their possessions.
Hillel and Shammai, two Jewish rabbis, debated whether or not it was lawful to eat an egg that was laid on the Sabbath. They argued for years on the matter and ultimately decided that if the chicken worked when she laid the egg, then you couldn’t eat the egg; but if it just dropped out without any effort, then you could go ahead and eat it. Religion hasn’t changed much over the centuries and people are still doing the very things that brought forth Jesus’ most scathing rebukes. Modern-day Pharisees would not approve of Isaiah showing his behind, but they engage in perpetual asininity.
God needs to get the attention of the church world today. If nothing else is accomplished by my preaching, the fact that God can save someone like me, and is saving someone like me, should give hope to the people Christ died to save. God sent the Christ, the Deliverer, to ordinary people right where they lived. Don’t you think it’s about time for the church to return to those people? Jesus said, “I will build my church,” but it has become someone else’s church, following someone else’s set of rules and someone else’s standard. Jesus said, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” That is the church we are committed to building.
We have shocked a few people with our words, but I think we are closer to the way God communicates than the nonsensical verbal massages that have failed to shake anyone in generations of preaching. The people of the New Testament church caused a riot everywhere they went! Let’s go into the coming year determined to be His church, a people who can say, “He that judgeth me is the Lord, and He died to save us.” The gates of hell shall not prevail against that church.
Reprinted with permission from Pastor Melissa Scott
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