Today we begin a four week series looking in the Old Testament and finding God’s heart for justice in the world. We’ll explore 4 different Scriptures that share God’s heart for justice and his call to those who follow him to have his heart and work for justice in the world.
Today and for the next 3 weeks we will be exploring God of Justice. Many times when we think of the Old Testament we don’t realize the amount of space given to God’s heart for the poor, oppressed and needy. In fact, the whole of the Scriptures mention poverty and God’s heart for the poor over 2,000 times.
In our world today many are longing for justice. We have seen it in Baltimore, in Ferguson, and many other places. I believe justice is a cry that is innate in every human heart. A cry that I believe is connected to God’s heart and God’s image on every human. Longing for justice makes us human. NT Wright, in his book simply Christian puts it this way, “Christians believe this is so because all humans have heard, deep within themselves, the echo of a voice which calls us to live like that.”
But what is justice? What does God say about justice? What is our role in living out justice in this world? These are some of the questions that we’ll be exploring over the next 4 weeks in this series entitled God of Justice.
I would define justice the same way that I would use the word shalom. Back last fall we spent a few weeks talking about the concept of biblical non-violence and I used the word shalom, which is the Hebrew word for peace. But Shalom can best be defined as the way things should be. Justice I believe can be defined the same way. It is when things are the way that they really should be.
The other night I finally sat down and watched the deeply troubling and heart wrenching story of Martin Luther King Jr. and his march from Selma to Mobile, Alabama and the work of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) to secure rights of African Americans related to voting. Their cries for justice were met with tear gas, guns, batons, water cannons, and dogs. It broke my heart that people were treated that way, and it breaks my heart that people are still treated that way, many times from people who call themselves Christians. Those who follow after the God that has a heart for the needy, the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. So often we don’t realize the connection between connecting with God and seeking justice in the world. But there is a deep connection between our spiritual internal lives and our external missional life. I don’t believe we can have one without the other. They are intrinsically linked. Jesus said it so himself when he said that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Let’s look at today’s text and see what it has to say to us about our relationship with God and our relationship with the world around us, and how they are connected. Turn to Isaiah 58:6-12. “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? 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? 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. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in 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. 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.”
What was happening in the days of Isaiah the prophet was that the people of God, the Israelites were doing all the external acts of religion. They were praying, they were fasting, they were worshipping. But at the same time they were treating their workers poorly. They were exploiting the poor and needy. And they were asking God, “God why aren’t you answering our prayers. Why aren’t you hearing us and moving in the way we want you to move? How come you don’t feel close anymore?” It’s almost like they believed that there was a reciprocal relationship between their religious practices, and getting what they wanted from God. Almost like, if we do these certain religious rituals (prayer, fasting, etc..), we can get God in our debt, and he can give us what we want. But also it seems like they also believed that God was only concerned about the “religious” rituals and not life as a whole. Because while doing all their religious rituals, they were, according to the verses before our text, “you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.”
God then tells them that if they want to hear from him, if they want to have their prayers answered, if they want to feel close to God again, then they need to fast in the right way. They need to fast in a way that pleases him which begins with getting right with their brothers and sisters and stop oppressing others. Isaiah is telling them (and us) this simple but hard to live reality. That worship that doesn't lead to a life of justice, is not worship. You can fast, pray, worship all you want but unless you are living the kind of fast that God wants, it means nothing. It is just noise to Him. Getting right with God begins by stopping the evil that we do to others.
Normally we think of fasting as giving up something, mostly food. And this is a good practice to do. To give up something for a period of time and use that time, money, etc.. to grow closer to Him and maybe even seek to do some acts of justice through the fasting process. But in Isaiah 58:6-7 we see the kind of Fasting that God wants his people to be involved in, and it has more to do with working and fighting against injustice, then just giving up food. In verses 6-7 we read the kind of fasting that he wants his people to live out, “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 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?” Proper fasting is not merely refraining from food, but a commitment to justice for the poor. This is where God’s people will find life. If God’s people would couple their fasting, with works and lives of justice, then God would answer their prayers, meet them where they are, and make his presence in their lives reality.
What does it look like then to live for justice? What does it look like to fast in the way that God desires from his people? What does it look like to live out verses 6-7? It looks the same as the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Notice the overlap between verses 6-7, verse 10 and what the “sheep: are commended for in the parable. They are the same things. Justice in both Isaiah and Matthew looks like feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, giving radical hospitality, clothing the naked, looking after the sick and visiting the prisoner.
Isaiah after laying out the kind of fasting that God desires, lays out 3 things that the people of God should stop doing and 2 things that the people of God should start doing. In verses 9-10 we read, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,” The 3 things God through the prophet Isaiah is calling the people of God to stop doing are to stop oppressing people, to stop pointing fingers at others and to stop speaking malicious talk. And the 2 things that God wants the people of God to start doing is to spend themselves on behalf of the hungry and to satisfy the needs of the oppressed.”
The people of God, who were fasting, praying, and worshipping and desiring God to show up, if they were to live out the call of justice in the world, then God would said “Here I Am.” When they would work for justice, God would satisfy them, protect them, guide them, and allow them to see clearly. Their heart’s desire to connect with God was great and right. But as I said before however true worship is not just about prayer, worship, and fasting. True worship leads us into acts of justice and compassion like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, hospitality to strangers, etc.. And then as you pour yourself out for others, you will find yourself filled up. You will find God in the faces of those who you are pouring your life into. Those faces of people that you are seeking to love and come alongside of. And ss Jesus said in Matthew 10:39, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
I love what God through the prophet Isaiah says is the end result of what happens when God’s people move beyond just religious rituals and begin to work for justice in the world. Not only does He say that he will show up, his will give guidance, and that he will answer their prayers. Isaiah says that when God’s people work for justice in the world, “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.” That to me is what justice looks like. When everything seems to be crumbling and falling apart. When the foundations of society are borken and shattered. When justice seems like an impossibility, followers of Jesus will work in building the Kingdom of God. NT Wright puts verse 12 this way, “We dream the dream of justice. We glimpse for a moment of a world at one, a world put to rights, a world where things work out, where societies function fairly and efficiently, where we know not only what we ought to do but actually do it.”
I don’t know about you but I really want to be called “Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” I want to work for justice in the world and be apart of working to make this place the way that it should be. I want to see justice come for all people. I want to see a world where hunger, poverty, disease, homelessness, lack of clean water, etc… come to be known as things of the past. I want to work for justice not only around the world but also here in Lancaster. I also want to see the face of Jesus in the faces of those that we love, serve, and work alongside in helping justice to come. I want my worship to lead to acts of justice and mercy. I want to fast in the way that is pleasing to Him.
What about you? What about us as a community? How does our worship and fasting and religious life actually get in the way of working for justice? What does working for justice look like here in Lancaster? What does working for justice look like around the world? How can you and I fast in the way that God through Isaiah is calling the people of God to? Let’s talk about true worship, true prayer, and true fasting, which is working for justice in the world. And let’s talk about concrete ways that we have been “fasting” and ways that we might “fast” in the future.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have about Isaiah 58:6-12 and/or the message?
2. How could "fasting" get in the way of actually living out justice in the world?
3. How can we live out fasting that God desires in Lancaster and around the world? Give some concrete ideas of ways to work for justice in the world?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?