The Agenda God Sets for Us – Isaiah 58: 6-8
By: Northern Seminary
(Part 2 of a two part study of Isaiah 58:1-8)
The first five verses of Isaiah 58 have strong words of condemnation for people who were exploiting their workers, arguing and fighting, but who thought all was well between them and God because they fasted and carried out other rituals of their faith. God asks them, “Do you really believe your fasting makes everything acceptable to me?”
The answer is very clear in the verses that follow: Isaiah 58:6-8.
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Words like these are not uncommon in either the Old Testament or New Testament.
The prophet Amos, for example, challenged people about exploitation and corruption, and yet the people he was challenging met every requirement of religious observance. They worshipped God and gave him offerings, but God says he will accept none of them. Instead, God says: “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5: 23-24).
God’s message: Don’t just profess what’s right, do what’s right.
The division of people at final judgment like a shepherd separates sheep and goats is part of Jesus’ teaching. Some fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, gave clothes to the naked, cared for the sick, and visited prisoners. They are welcomed into the kingdom. Not those who did nothing; they are left outside (Matthew 25: 31-46).
Not for a moment is Jesus teaching that anyone is saved by works, by what they do. But he is saying that when God is alive in people’s lives it will change their way of living. They will never be the same as before; they will never live like the rest of the world. And they will do plenty – and what they do will bring justice, comfort, healing and peace to people’s lives.
What is the agenda God sets for us?
Jesus said: “I have come that people may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10: 10).
That was Jesus’ agenda and it’s ours too.
At its simplest the birthright of every person in this world consists of two things:
One – to know personally the good news of the gospel.
Two – to experience personally the love God has for all people.
There is no fullness of life without knowing Jesus as Savior and Lord. No matter how much someone has – wealth, comfort, knowledge, friends, family – if it’s all just for this world, if it’s lived in isolation from God, it’s empty. It’s so much less than God intended.
And it’s not fullness of life either to watch your baby waste away before your eyes because of starvation. Or for you and your little children to choke and die because a dictator uses chemical weapons on his own citizens. Or for someone to be turned into a sex slave. Or for a child to be forced to work sixteen hours a day in slave labor. I could go on. There is much in this world that is good, and I can give thanks daily to God for his blessings. But millions, billions, don’t have what I have.
I cannot celebrate my blessings, including my relationship with God through Christ, without being God’s voice and God’s worker in this world. There is no option about being a witness for Jesus and the gospel; about being a peacemaker, a healer, and someone who works for justice in this broken world.
One winter’s night in Edinburgh, Scotland, when I was a young Christian in my late teens, I set off to rescue men who were called ‘down and outs’. They had wrecked their lives and relationships with alcohol. They’d lost their families, homes, employment, and their health. In one area of the city they were often slumped on the sidewalk or in doorways. I walked up and down those streets. No-one was lost that night. No-one was waiting for Alistair Brown to rescue him!
As I walked away I passed a massive church building, all closed up of course because it was ten o’clock at night. That’s when I saw him. A man’s body lay motionless on the steps. I crouched down beside him. The stench of urine and alcohol was nauseating. He was alive, but the temperature was below freezing and he’d die soon of hypothermia if I left him there.
I could not bring him round, and I could not pick him up, so I looked for someone to help. Everyone passing kept their heads down – they did not want to stop. I saw two police officers coming. “At last!” I thought, but they whispered to each other and crossed to the other side of the road.
I prayed in desperation: “Lord, please. Send someone!” God did. But not one I wanted. A very drunk man stopped, and in slurred words asked if I needed help. I told him I did, but inside my head was thinking ‘But not from someone like you.’ Off he went, though, swaying from side to side as he walked.
Ten minutes later he was back with two wonderfully sober young men. They ran a soup kitchen nearby, and they told me they hadn’t been sure whether to believe the drunk man but thought they should check it out.
Together we picked up the unconscious figure from the church steps. In his pocket we found a piece of paper with an address, and we took him there. The door of the house was opened by a woman whose face turned white with shock when she saw who we were holding. After we had got him inside and settled, she explained it was her brother. He had been in a drying-out unit for three months and this was his first day out on trial.
I will never forget the look on that poor woman’s face. But, even more, I will never forget that Edinburgh’s finest citizens, rather than get involved, were all willing to walk by and leave a man to die on a winter’s night on the freezing steps of a church building.
We can never be those who walk by. We are those who get our hands dirty with the needs of the world. We are those who share our faith and who live our faith.
Through Isaiah God says the kind of fasting he has chosen means freeing people from injustice, sharing food with the hungry, and much more.
Those who truly know God’s love through Jesus will never have a faith that is only about what’s done in church or only about private devotions; it will be a faith that reaches out with good news, a faith that shows love, and a faith that helps bring fullness of life to all people.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.