Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Isaiah 1:18 White as snow

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, December 24, 2023

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 as crimson,
they shall be like wool.”

Here we have the word yacach in the sense of “reason, set the record straight.” How humble must a man be to reason or argue with God? We have no say in any matter before the Holy One. For our human reason and our ability to reason is flawed by sin. It’s like a clock that’s never quite right. There is a simple test for our reason: If my reason contradicts the Bible, then my reason is faulty and mistaken. “Reason does not instruct or correct the Word of God; reason is instructed and corrected by the Word of God.” When we use reason properly, it is a useful tool, but when we allow our reason to contradict the Bible, it becomes a tool in the hands of the devil, and we have unwittingly invited the Old Liar to rule our hearts and minds.

But what is it that God wants to reason with us about? It is the condition of our souls. What is going to happen to our sins? This is what truly frightens anyone whose reason is intact. “Keep remembering Lot’s wife!” Jesus warned (Luke 17:32). The judgments of the past are there for us to recall, to ponder, and to help us to remember that the final judgment is yet to come; there is time for the living soul to repent. Peter also says: “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). Christians and Christian ministers in particular should keep the Last Judgment in mind as we teach one another, with an eye always on saving and rescuing souls by pointing out sins, so that people will fear the judgment, turn away from their sins, and trust in Jesus for forgiveness.

What are your sins like? “They are like scarlet…, they are red as crimson.” Scarlet or red is the color of sin; this is God’s proclamation. Why? Luther asks with clear insight: “Why not black? Black denotes sadness, but red denotes bloodguiltiness.” Sins are red in the mind because we are guilty of blood. “Save me from bloodguilt, O God” (Psalm 51:14). “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3). Blood can stand for all kinds of sins: “All is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury, confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favors, pollution of souls, sexual perversion, disorder in marriage, adultery, and debauchery, and the worship of idols.” And the proclamation of God is simple: “The LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished” (Nahum 1:3).

The Lord God promises to take those scarlet red sins and make them something else, as when he took the red clay of the earth and made the holy and perfect, sinless first man, Adam. Your sins will be red no longer; they will be white as snow; white like wool. The purity of white wool is used to describe the appearance of God in Daniel 7:9 and the Son of God in Revelation 1:14. The stain of sin will be gone by an act of God.

What could this act of God be? It is the coming of his Son to take up all of our sins, to heft them onto his own shoulders, to allow them to be placed on his record. “They will not suffer for their sins,” he says, “if only they will believe in me. I will take their sins on myself; I will suffer, I will be tortured. The Father will abandon me, but not them. I will agonize in hell, but they will never do that. Whether the Romans whip me to death, or starve me, or feed me to beasts, or throw me from a cliff, or stone me, or even crucify me like the lowest criminal, I will endure it for their sakes.” As Augustine said: “He became a partaker of our weakness but not of our iniquity (sin), so that through that common weakness he might set loose our iniquity” (Letter 142). He did this so that he might reconcile the Father to us and be a sacrifice, not only for original sin, but also for all actual sins committed by mankind.

When a baby is newly born, it has blood and other fluids clinging to it from its mother’s womb and from the physical act of being born. The doctor, the nurse, or the father washes this blood away and wraps the baby in something warm. This is the very image of what happens, or should happen, soon after birth in baptism: The stain and the blood of sin are washed away in baptism, as the minister said to Paul: “Be baptized and wash your sins away” (Acts 22:16). And in baptism, something is wrapped around us; which is faith in Christ and a new, good conscience through the grace of God. “For this baptism now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). For it is not merely that Christ was put to death for us, but that he also rose again, giving to us all the promise of the resurrection and the new life we will inherit in heaven. This is the true gift of God to mankind: The gift of Christ his Son, who has taken away the guilt of our sin, and given to us the promise and the assurance of the resurrection to everlasting life in heaven.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


Browse Devotion Archive