This turned into a lot longer of a study than I originally intended, so I apologize ahead of time. I broke the study into two parts: one covering the entire chapter of Isaiah 58, and one covering additional scriptures.
Isaiah 58: A Message to My Church (part I)
1 “Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people their transgression, And the house of Jacob their sins.
Here verse one sets the tone for the rest of the chapter, placing it in context. God says this is a message to His people. "The house of Jacob" was a name for God's chosen people during Isaiah's time. Here we see God telling Isaiah to tell his own people their sins, not unbelievers, not heathen nations...but His church's sin. Just like in Christ's day. Were the Jewish people God's church? Weren't the Pharisees, also? Sure. But were their hearts far from God? Were they sinning unknowingly? Yes. That's why God says "tell my people", because they don't know! They don't realize it! Are we part of God's people today? Part of His church today? Perhaps we also have transgressions that we don't know about, or don't realize we have. Let's read on!
2 Yet they seek Me daily, And delight to know My ways, As a nation that did righteousness, And did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; They take delight in approaching God.
What does God say His people were doing? If I had you read only this verse you would think this passage was praising God's people. They seek God daily, they delight to know His ways, they do righteousness, and don't forsake the ordinance of God. They ask God for justice, they delight in approaching God! How beautiful they seem, don't they? Did the Pharisees also seem very religious on the outside? Didn't Jesus say they wash the outside of the cup...but that it was the inside that was filthy, the part no one could see. Let's read on and find out what God has to say about His people who look so religious on the outside.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ “ In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers.
Here we see their true motivation: to look good in front of God. They want to impress Him (and other people), to get noticed. But is that what God wants? Does He want us to go through the motions of religion to look good? Does He want us to follow His commands to get noticed by Him (or to be saved)? Or does He want us to obey Him because it's the right thing to do, because He knows what is best for His creation?
4 Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, To make your voice heard on high.
5 Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the LORD?
Here God shows their true motives. Selfish motives. Then He asks them a straight question: Is this the fast that I have chosen? Would you call this a fast? Would you call this an acceptable day to the Lord? Let's see what His answer is:
6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Here we see what God is truly looking for. Here we understand the scripture, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." God is looking for His people to minister to others. To be a blessing. To do Christ's work. If we are the body of Christ, we should be doing His work. We should be His hands...His feet. He says to "share your bread with the hungry", notice it doesn't say to give the hungry your extra bread only if you have enough for yourself first. No, it says share your bread. This is practical ministry, to give the hungry bread...when is the last time you did that? To bring the poor to your house, to cover the naked. Not to hide your face from your own people, your own flesh, your brothers and sisters. Yet, how many times do we try to avoid contact with the homeless person we drive or walk on by?
8 Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ “ If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
God says then, which means only after you have done what He has just specified. Namely: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, putting a roof over the head of the poor and cast out. When you minister to the needs of others instead of turning your head the other way, that's when your light will break forth like the morning and your healing shall spring forth and your righteousness will go before you and the Lord will protect you and God will answer your cries.
10 If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
In case you missed it, God summarizes what He just said. That's how important God thinks this particular message to His church is! Minister to the hungry, minister to the afflicted souls, then your light will shine, then you will have no darkness in you.
11 The LORD will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
How beautiful, my friends. Does the Lord guide you continually? Do you listen to Him throughout your day? At work? At school? Behind closed doors with your family? He will bless and strengthen and nourish you. You'll be like a spring whose waters do not fail. Does that sound familiar? Jesus said the same thing to the woman at the well, pointing us back to this message.
Most of what Jesus said He quoted directly from the Old Testament and I think we'd do well to always go back and study the passages he repeated for our benefit. It seems like much of what Jesus taught was trying to remind us of what we should already know if we studied the Scriptures. After all, that's the Bible Jesus used, just the Old Testament.
12 Those from among you Shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.
Here God shifts gears. He starts the chapter with what His people are doing, then He goes on to what His people should be doing, then He goes on to what will happen if they do what they're supposed to. Now He tells us about how we will make the switch from what we're currently doing to what we're supposed to be doing. Notice He says "those from among you". Now, we've already discovered this message is to His church, so God is saying people from within His church will build the old waste places, the places where our forefathers practiced their vain religion. They will raise up the foundations of many generations. What are the foundations of Christianity? What is the foundation of God's creation that has been fallen since Eden? Love, right? Love for our Creator and love for His creation. And they will be called "Repairers of the Breach", they will repair the break in the wall between God's love and our sinfulness. They will restore the true essence of Christianity: to minister to others.
13 “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words,
Now this is a familiar scripture. This is one of the first verses I learned when I joined God's church. I used this verse to try to show my brother-in-law how God calls us to keep the Sabbath. Isn't this a verse that helps prove that we should keep the Sabbath holy? To convert those who don't keep the Sabbath? No, it's for those who already keep the Sabbath. Well, didn't the Jews keep the Sabbath in Isaiah's time? Certainly. Did the Pharisees keep the Sabbath in Jesus' time? Of course! In fact, they took pride in it. They used their strict observance of the Sabbath to prove how religious they were, to prove they were true followers of God. Does this sound familiar? Does our own church often feel this same way? Notice that this verse starts with the word "if", so if we do all these things, then what happens? Read on.
14 Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
If we observe the Sabbath the way God intended, if our religious experience is more than just church attendance and Bible study (if we're more than just hearers of the word), then we'll delight ourselves in the Lord and He'll abundantly bless us.
Wow. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Isaiah 58, a chapter I'd used to try to prove my theology, was actually a message for myself and the rest of God's people, or God's church.
Still Not Convicted? Matthew, James, Revelation and Deuteronomy (pt II)
Perhaps too much emphasis was placed on this one obscure message back in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, though. That would be a possibility, except that Jesus brings us right back to this message when He told us about the great White Throne Judgement when Christ separates the sheep from the goats, those who will receive eternal life from those who will receive everlasting punishment. Let's read Jesus' words:
Matthew 25:31-46, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand,
‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Amazing. He doesn't say come inherit the kingdom prepared for you because you kept my commandments, you observed my Sabbath, your doctrines were correct. No, He says those who inherit the kingdom will do so because they ministered to others. And those who will be cast into the everlasting fire will be cast out because they did not minister to others. Did the Pharisees keep the commandments? Better than you or I probably ever have. It was their compassion that was lacking. Their love for others.
Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? All the Jews passed their brother by, turned a blind eye to his need. It was the members of God's church that did not help their brother! It was a Samaritan, a "bitter enemy" of God's people, that stopped and had compassion on the Jew who had fallen into trouble.
From the end of Matthew chapter 25 we learn that what really separates the saved from the lost are the sins of omission. Not just the sins of commission.
James 4:17, "Therefore, to him that knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin."
If we did what we were supposed to do, we wouldn't have to worry about committing sins. If we spent our time ministering to others, we would have little opportunity to commit sins.
Okay well there's two passages, one from Christ's own lips, but how can we be sure this is so important? Well let's see what else James has to say about it:
James 1:27, "Pure and undefiled religion is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."
James 2:15-17, "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled." but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
It just doesn't get more simple than that. God tells us point-blank through the Apostle that pure and undefiled religion is to minister to the needs of others and to not partake in the sins of the world. It does no good to merely give lip service and to speak good words.
James 1:22, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."
This is a call to action, beloved. A call to ministry. A call to true Christianity.
Still feel like this stuff doesn't apply to you? That you have your own place in the grand scheme of things, your own jobs to do? You don't have need of these things? Let's take a look at God's message specifically to His end-time Church:
Revelation 3:14-22, “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.
Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’”
Do we feel rich with knowledge, wealthy in doctrines, having no need for ministry to those in need? Perhaps instead we should obey God's command to "be zealous and repent" and to open the door to our hearts so that His Spirit will dwell within us. A Spirit of ministry. A Spirit of love.
Our example is Christ. What is the nature of Christ, the nature of God?
Deuteronomy 10:17-19, "For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
A pretty perfect summary of the Character of God, if you ask me. Helping the fatherless and the widow, giving food and clothing to the stranger. Does He want any less of us? He actually promises no less of us:
Matthew 5:48, "Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect."
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the Bible seems to be clear that our Christian walk should be less about church attendance and giving Bible studies (though these things are indeed important) and more about loving our fellow man.
So the one question I have is this: When is the last time you ministered to someone in need? Now we all have a choice about what kind of Christians we're going to be. Are you a hearer...or are you a doer?