Isaiah 58:1-11 – Fasting for the Lord!
By Pastor Lee Hemen
March 3, 2013 AM
I can remember my mother telling us, “How many times do I have to repeat myself in order to get you to listen?” Then she would admonish, “Do not make me repeat myself!” We knew were supposed to listen the first time and do what she had told us to do. Why is it that we often do the very same thing in our relationship with the Lord? We are supposed to listen to the words of the Lord and then do what He has told us to do. We forget that this is part of our lives of fasting for the Lord.
Fasting for the Lord is more than about not eating or drinking. Fasting for God was and is about personal sacrifice. The Israelites of Isaiah’s day were a lot like many in our nation today. They had enjoyed success and years of religious and financial growth. So much so that many thought that they were blessed of God because of their success rather than the relationship they were to have with Him. God had been trying to get their attention but they were not listening. They needed to listen they needed to fast for the Lord. Let’s discover what this means for us this morning…
The other day as my four-year-old grandson and I were out and about, he broke away from me and I had to yell at the top of my lungs in order to get his attention. Have you ever had to do that or have you ever experienced someone yelling at the top of their lungs, in order to get people’s attention? Isaiah did. In fact, he was told by God to shout as loud as he could in order for the Israelites to hear what God was trying to tell them.
I. Fasting is not religious phoniness! (Vv. 1-4)
1. Immediately, God tells Isaiah, “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.” God desired to get the attention of His wayward people. Like a trumpet call to arms or a sounding an alarm, God is telling Isaiah to scream as loud as he can, to give full throttle to his voice! He wanted Isaiah to yell like a screamo band! They were not listening, they were not doing what He had asked of them, and they were not being the people He desired. The people needed something to rouse them to a sense of their guilt. The hypocrisy of it all was that “day after day” they sought God and “they seem[ed] eager to know [God’s] ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and [had] not forsaken the commands of its God.” They were going through the motions, but their faith was phony! In fact, they were spiritually clueless! They continually asked God “for just decisions” and they seemed “eager for God to come near them.” But was it true? Hypocrites love to profess their interest in God and to delight in religion but their delight is misplaced. We should not focus so much on what we get out of worship that we miss what God desires to do through our worship. In fact, we discover that “day after day” they seemed to seek God they had forgotten His commands. They wanted “just decisions” and were “eager for God to come near them” but they were far from God! This should sound frighteningly familiar. The Israelites loved their worship and they fasted daily. But their deceit had shown through. They retorted, “Why have we fasted and You have not seen it, why have we humbled ourselves, and You have not noticed?” God responds, “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.” God cannot do what He desires if we are continually in sin. “Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” Fasting is not religious phoniness!
EXAMPLE: We all say we hate phony people, but do we actually hate those who are counterfeit? Some of the phoniest folks I know think they are the most tolerant of others, when in fact they are not. I have discovered that those who resoundingly profess tolerance are often the most intolerant! Especially, if it comes to defining what your theological beliefs are. If you disagree with their irrational emotional behavior, you are branded as “intolerant” or “hateful.” Perhaps this is why some view God as intolerant: “Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” I have discovered that you cannot regulate another person’s acceptance. The same is true for trying to regulate God’s view of you, as the Israelites tried. Fasting is not our way of trying to gain God’s attention, when in fact we could care less about our walk. One cannot deprive oneself of something in order to gain the attention of God whom they do not truly follow! Fasting is not religious phoniness!
For some this is the season of Lent, a period of approximately six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday, from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday. The traditional purpose of Lent is the supposed preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the death and resurrection of Jesus. During Lent, many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence. However, we discover here in Isaiah that…
II. Fasting is more than deprivation! (Vv. 5-7)
1. God bluntly asks, “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?” Of course, the answer is “No.” Perhaps in our day God would ask, “Is this the kind of sacrifice I want, only one day for you to worship me? You wave your hands like a reed being blown in the wind and ask me for forgiveness, but you do not change? Is this what you call worship and acceptable?” The Israelites thought they could get away with their “fasting” by seeming to do what the law required. God was more interested in their obedience than their phony rituals. Fasting was more than the act of depriving oneself of sustenance. It was to be an outward act of showing one’s willingness to sacrifice everything to God. In a society where the gathering of food was a daily concern, we cannot truly relate to it in our day and age. When a person who is daily dependent upon what he will eat and where he will get it, and then deliberately deprives himself – that is sacrifice! What are you willing to sacrifice in your life for another? God desires His people to be involved and concerned for one another. He remarks, “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?” They wanted God to respond to their hypocritical acts of religion, but they were unconcerned for their own! How concerned are you for the lost in sin in your family, neighborhood, job, community, or world? God continues by telling them, “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 him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Wow! Jesus remarked, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40 NIV) Fasting is more about self-discipline and the heartfelt desire to share what God has given us, than a means to garner God’s attention for our own selfish concerns. Fasting is more than deprivation!
EXAMPLE: There are those who try to beat themselves with rods, do acts of contrition, or even have themselves nailed to cross beams in order to gain some kind of grace. Then there are those who spend their time helping the poor, feeding the homeless, and witnessing to the lost because they love God and see these as acts of worship. Which do you think God desires? Our faith should make us respond to the conditions of the world, not the conditions of the world make us respond out of guilt. Nor should we try to garner God’s grace by self-indulgence. Fasting is to be the way of life for the believer. Jesus related something very startling, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:23-25 NIV) Fasting is more than deprivation!
Fasting for the believers is to be a way of life. I am not talking about making sure you set aside a certain amount of your daily sustenance, but rather set aside anything that hinders your daily walk with God. We forget we are to live our lives for Him alone. Jesus said something that many of us struggle with at best and many of us truly do not understand; He related this attitude of fasting: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38 NIV) What “measure” do you use? Isaiah teaches us that…
III. Fasting fills us to the fullest! (Vv. 8-11)
1. Paul reminded the Ephesians of Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35 NIV) Here, Isaiah is reminded that if God’s people truly fast, they will reap the benefits. God tells them, “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.” Today’s believer often wonders why God is not as evident in the lives of His people as He was in bygone days. My reproof is the fact that He is! The problem is not with the Lord but rather with us. We expect God to be our own cosmic genie in a tiny little confined space we create. God is the Creator of all things and is not confined by our emotional desires. Our “light” is the Lord and our wounds are healed by His sacrificial bandages. His righteousness goes before us in battle and protects our rear! Our fasting does not insure God’s pleasure, but rather increases our willingness to be His completely. When we fast, when we are in the true sacrificial mode we are supposed to be in our lives, “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” Wow! Barnes related, “The sense is, that if we go before God renouncing all our sins, and desirous of doing our duty, then we have a right to expect that He will hear us. But if we go indulging still in sin; if we are false and hollow and hypocritical in our worship; or if, while we keep up the regular forms of devotion, we are nevertheless guilty of oppression, cruelty, and dishonesty, we have no right to expect that He will hear us!” Herein is the key: “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.” In other words, fasting should make us forget about ourselves, magnify the Lord and worship Him! This is how “The LORD will guide you always!” When we sacrifice ourselves, fast, God “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.” The idea here is that fasting fills us to the fullest!
EXAMPLE: We live in a physically and spiritually transient nation. We leave home as fast as we can, go and live wherever we desire, and take comfort in our independence from our family. It is only later we may realize that our choices have restricted our cohesiveness. The same is true of our spirituality. We think we can cast off our core theological beliefs whenever it suits us in order to allow ourselves the emotional fulfillment of the moment. Abortion, homosexuality, adultery, or promiscuity becomes more acceptable when a family member falls into its clutches. Yet, Jesus teaches us that our faith is to transcend such notions. Our lives are to be one of sacrifice, of fasting. “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37-38 NIV) And then Jesus goes on to relate how we find fulfillment, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (v. 39) Fasting fills us to the fullest!
Fasting is not religious phoniness! Fasting is more than deprivation! Fasting fills us to the fullest!
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.