"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." 2 Cor 1:3-4
Friday, December 16, 2016
Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 167
Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah Day 167
On Thursday Isaiah offered us a look at the insincere fasting the people participated in. They observed religious rituals and looked pious on the outside, but on the inside they were unrepentant and greedy. Today the Lord describes for us the attitudes of those who are right with Him and how He will honor those who honor Him.
We tend to think of fasting in its most common and obvious form: abstaining from food for a period of time. But this is for the purpose of immersing ourselves in prayer and in the presence of the Lord while seeking His will. Fasting can take many forms, as we will see today, and it does not necessarily have to include skipping meals. Some of us can't very safely observe a food fast: my blood sugar tends to run too low when my eating gets off schedule, so that I become very shaky and faint-headed. Some of you may be required to eat a meal with your medication, or you may have other health considerations that prohibit spending a day without food. But that's okay, because there are other ways of denying ourselves while seeking the Lord, and He's going to provide us with a list of things that honor Him.
"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?" (Isaiah 58:6) In yesterday's section the Lord pointed out that the meanness hidden in their hearts came out into the open when they fasted. Their discomfort at being hungry led them to show their true colors. They oppressed and mistreated their servants and even ended up, by the end of the day, bickering with each other and in some cases resorting to physical violence. Nothing about these behaviors honored the Lord. He would rather they had not fasted at all than to behave like this.
How can we say we love the Lord and yet mistreat our fellow man, who is created in God's image? As the Apostle John so wisely pointed out, "Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen." (1 John 4:20) I think John's words were probably inspired by the words of the Savior, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35) We all will be tempted to respond incorrectly to our fellow man. We live in a stressful world and it's easy to become tired and exasperated and be rude or unfair to others. It's easy to be so absorbed in our own problems that we simply don't want to concern ourselves with the problems of others. But at the core of the principle of fasting is the denial of self, and whenever we don't give in to our weak human natures, we are denying ourselves and taking up our cross and following Jesus. Jesus experienced days when He was tired and hungry and thirsty, yet He continued to minister and to treat others with respect.
"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?" (Isaiah 58:7) Here we see a fast that is both literal and figurative. If a person decides to fast for the day, he can donate that portion of his food to the hungry, plus his hunger serves to remind him how fortunate he is not to be hungry every day. It should fill his heart with compassion for those who don't have enough. Also we find a form of fasting in not spending all our money on ourselves but using it to supply the needs of others, even if those "others" include our mean old Uncle Joe. If we see needs in our own families, we are not to use the excuse that we don't like a particular person or that so-and-so has been rude to us or has done us dirty in the past. The Apostle Paul summed up this principle by saying, "Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (1 Timothy 5:8)
Next we come to a passage that is so often quoted out of context, as if the blessings in it are promised to us without us having fulfilled the verses above it. "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. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I." (Isaiah 58:8-9a) Most blessings in the Bible are conditional. We can't just pluck verses out and claim them without studying them in their proper context. The Lord says to treat our fellow man in a way that pleases Him, to love and help out our fellow man, and then the blessings of verses 8 and 9 are ours. It would be the height of hypocrisy to hate and mistreat others and at the same time to pray for blessings on ourselves. I imagine the Lord saying, "You are asking Me to show favor to you that you have not shown to your fellow man. Why should I bless you in ways you have not blessed others?"
"If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." (Isaiah 58:9b-10) Lest we were feeling pretty good about ourselves right now, thinking about how generous we might have been in our giving or how kindly we may have treated someone who previously hurt our feelings, the Lord points out that backbiting and gossiping and speaking ugly words are as offensive to Him as the withholding of help from the needy. Who has never said something ugly about somebody? Or repeated gossip? Or pointed the finger at someone else? Or enjoyed hearing about some scandal in the community? I've done all those things at one time or another, so I have nothing to feel self-righteous about. Refraining from this type of behavior is also an acceptable form of fasting. It's our fallen human nature that causes us to want to participate in such things, but it honors the Lord when we refuse to give in. It makes us a little bit more like Jesus.
If we have fulfilled the requirements of the section above, "The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings." (Isaiah 58:11-12) The Lord isn't saying we are saved by works; He's saying we are blessed by works. The behaviors He wants to see in us are the behaviors of the redeemed. Isaiah wasn't preaching to a people who did not know the Lord and were not familiar with His commandments. He was telling them what their behaviors should have been based on the fact that they did know the Lord. If unbelievers find nothing attractive about the behavior of believers, what is there to attract them to Christ? If we say we are His children, we ought to look something like Him.
"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please and speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken." (Isaiah 58:13-14) There is some disagreement among scholars as to whether the New Testament commands us to observe the Sabbath in the way the Old Testament commanded it. If anything, I think in the church age we are to keep the spirit of the Sabbath every day. Keeping the Sabbath was a denial of self to serve God and since Christ came I believe we are intended, as best we can, to live this way every day. As the Apostle Paul said, we are to have the same attitude as Christ. As the Son of God, He deserved the highest honors, but instead He humbled Himself and served others. The Lord looks with favor upon our desire to be a blessing to others.