It strikes me that Esau’s response to his parents in this passage is very similar to people’s response to God sometimes. Esau married some Hittites, who didn’t believe in God, and it deeply upset his parents. Esau didn’t even realize how upset his parents were until Isaac sent Jacob off with his blessing, but telling him not to marry one of the Canaanites. In order to gain favor from his father, Esau decided to marry someone who would be more acceptable to his parents. He of course couldn’t go where Jacob went, so he went to what he felt was the next best thing: the descendants of Ishmael. But how much better that was in the eyes of Isaac and Rebekah is very debatable.
In the same way, many people often do things that deeply hurt God, and they don’t even notice it. When they do, they try to make up for it, usually by doing some kind of good things to balance out the bad things that they did. But in Isaiah, it says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” Isaiah 64:6 (NIV).
In other words, the good things that we do is simply not enough in the eyes of God to take away the stain of sin in our lives. It’s like saying, “God, I’m really sorry for my sins. But let me give you a present.” And as a present, you give him dirty, filthy rags. The picture Isaiah gives here is very graphic. The word he uses for “filthy rags” is a “menstrual cloth.” Do you think that anyone, no less God, would accept that as a gift? Of course not. Yet time and again, people come before God with the mindset that if they just do enough good things, God will accept them. But it doesn’t work that way.
Let’s put it another way, my two year old daughter will sometimes offer me a kiss. Usually, I’m very happy to accept that kiss. But if she’s been eating spaghetti and there’s sauce all over her mouth, there’s no way I’m going to accept a kiss from her until that sauce is wiped away. Her kiss is stained with the spaghetti sauce.
In the same way, we may try to offer things to God, but if it’s stained with the sin in our lives, God will not accept it.
So what’s the key to be accepted by God? It’s not our good deeds. Our good deeds are stained with sin, and God won’t accept it until that sin is dealt with. And there is only one way to deal with the sin. It’s through Jesus Christ. In Romans 5, it says this:
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (NIV)
We were powerless to save ourselves. Everything we did was stained by sin in our lives. But while we were still powerless, Jesus died on the cross and took the punishment for our sin. And because he took our punishment, we are saved from God’s wrath, and even more, we are reconciled to God. Not because of our own good works. But because of Jesus’ work on the cross.
Are you trying to win God’s favor by doing good things? It won’t work. Everything you do is stained by sin. The only way to be made acceptable to God is to have your sins cleansed. And the only way to have your sins cleansed is by putting your faith in the work Jesus did on the cross. Will you put your faith in him today? It’s as simple as a prayer:
Lord Jesus, I have tried living my own way, and in doing so I’ve hurt you, I’ve hurt others, and I’ve even hurt myself. I’m sorry. I’ve tried to make things right by doing a lot of good things, but I understand now that you can’t accept them because everything I do is stained with sin. But you died on the cross to take the punishment for my sin. Thank you for that. Please come into my life and forgive my sin. I want to live your way now. Help me to live a life pleasing to you. In Jesus name, amen.