On the tree in the front yard hang the leftover berries from last fall. They were bright before frost, but now they look almost black against the snow. It brings to mind Isaiah 1:18. God says to the Israelites, “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.”
I think of scarlet and crimson as beautiful colors—like the berries before the frost—but God spends 16 verses describing the crimson and scarlet of the His peoples’ sins, and it’s ugly! “You’re rebellious,” He tells them. “I’ve loved you and cared for you, but you have rejected and ignored Me. All your ‘churchiness’ is nothing but show. You’re hypocrites, following an outward religion that has no goodness to it. In fact, you offer sacrifices to Me and then go out and live without love for others, abusing and neglecting the helpless” (my paraphrased summary)
“Do you think that’s what I, the GOOD GOD, want?”
The scarlet and crimson of verse 18, then, are NOT beautiful. These people are as far from the purity of white as they could be. The crimson and scarlet have set into the fabric of their souls, and they are irreparably stained.
We must remind ourselves that we are no different. OUR sins–collectively and individually–are scarlet and crimson. We, too, are irreparably stained.
This takes on deeper meaning when we see the terms “white as snow” and “white as wool” applied to Christ: Daniel 7:9 says, “…the Ancient One sat down to judge. His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool.” Revelation 1:14 describes Christ’s head and hair as “white like wool, as white as snow.”
Our crimson stains and Christ’s white purity are as unalike as possible. We drip with sin, as if we have been dipped in a vat of it, formed in it (Ps. 51:5). Now let’s look at what is in the vat. It is not simply liquid color—a straightforward red dye. No! To understand how God sees this crimson sin, we must go to another verse in Isaiah: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). The polluted garment is–to be as graphic as Scripture is–like the underclothes a woman would wear during her menstrual cycle. They would be permeated with a bodily fluid that stunk and stained.
THAT is the crimson, the scarlet.
God the Pure One cannot condone and “coexist” with our stench. He would cease to be perfect, sinless God if He said that our disregard for Him and our injustice toward our fellow man was “okay.” Though He longs to hold us in His arms, that is not possible as long as we are stained and dripping with this crimson.
We have tried, over and over through the centuries, to fix this problem ourselves. All religions are simply our efforts to make ourselves fit for communion with God, worthy of his approval. But we cannot do this, though we claim to. But any “god” we can reach through our own efforts must be a god of our own making–and therefore not truly Divine.
So we must be changed, somehow made pure. Some outside agent must be applied to go over our stain. That’s exactly what God did in Christ. Christ, unstained and pure, took on our human flesh, a body that was stained with the effects of sin, that would suffer and age, that had the same bodily functions ours do, with emotions and frailties. He was “in all points like we are…”
“Yet without sin.” That needs an exclamation mark! He had no inner stain and He kept Himself unstained!!! THAT enabled Him to do an amazing thing for us. His death allowed us to be covered with new garments–HIS complete, utter goodness, white as snow.
“Though your sins are like scarlet”–permeating to our very core, as much a part of us as dye becomes part of a garment when the garment is dipped in it–“I will make them as white as snow.”
With the covering of Christ’s purity, our stains—past, present and future (God is not bound by time)—are overwhelmed, and God the Good can draw us near to Himself. His Spirit enters our hearts like a bleaching agent, and begins transforming us from the inside out, a process that will end (oh, Heaven!) with us being LIKE Christ. Selfishness and pride will never again seep from our hearts. We will be pure not only in standing (with Christ’s covering) but in practical actuality.
I am thankful I opened my curtains yesterday and noticed the shriveled, darkened berries and the gleam of snow behind them. I am thankful for this reminder because my gratitude is in direct proportion to my realization of my need for Christ.
“For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).