Get Real! – Isaiah 58:3-14
By Pastor Lee Hemen
April 6, 2014 AM
Like poor fitting underwear, our sins can creep up on us without our ever noticing and then we get frustrated when it begins to bind! This can happen with our worship of God as well. When we go to worship to feel better about ourselves; to gain some kind of happiness for the moment; as a requirement, or to try to please others or God are all examples of subtle sin that has crept into our worship. As a child I remember going to worship in fear, not knowing what God expected from me and that perhaps somehow in some way if I worshipped Him, He would be pleased with me. Nowadays there are those whose worship is all about anything but God.
God pointed out a subtle sin in Israel. The people worshiped but only for the purpose of getting what they wanted from God. God called them back to center their worship on what He desired of them. And, after having punished His people, God then would restore them, creating a new heaven and new earth of beauty and peace. After a final judgment God would restore Israel, bringing all nations to have faith in and serve Him with true worship. However, their first hurdle was to get real about their worship of God! This has not changed, Christians today need to get real about their worship also. Let’s discover how…
Like the old saying goes, “Denial is more than a river in Egypt!” So too is our denial of…
I. Self-Focused Religion! (Isaiah 58:3-5)
“Why have we fasted,” they say, “and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” Yet on the day of your fasting, 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. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 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?
1. The Israelites fasted in Isaiah’s time, assuming God would be impressed by their worship and grant their desires. When God did not act according to the Israelites’ timetable, the people complained, “Why have we fasted and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” Kind of like folks today who complain, “I went to worship and I still feel the same!” “I prayed to God when I made a mess of my life, but God did not answer me the way I wanted!” Isaiah declared the Israelites misunderstood fasting. The people performed the ritual, but their actions indicated selfishness. While employers fasted, they forced their employees to work, perhaps while demanding they fast as well! The employers wanted their desires satisfied, if not by God, then by their oppressed workers. Kind of like Christians who demand their church meet all their emotional needs, but offer little in return. “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.” They did as they pleased, so their piety was false. Sound familiar? Fasting should have brought the Israelites closer to God and prepared them to serve Him, but instead their fasting ended “in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists!” God rejected the Israelites’ fasting and told them, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” No one can continue to sin and expect God to honor their prayers or worship. Israel’s fasting focused purely on external actions, what they did as a show. They acted automatically, however, rather than from a genuine desire to repent and seek God. As wind blows a reed and makes it bow down, so their selfish desires made them go through the motions of worship. God 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?” Do we honestly expect God to honor us when we give only our selfish ritual worship or prayers? Isaiah declared God would never respond to self-focused religious ritual. Such a fasting from selfishness and strife would never be acceptable to the Lord. Get real, God does not honor self-focused religion!
EXAMPLE: The people needed to repent and demonstrate a changed life focused on God rather than on themselves. Worship, regardless of the style, that focuses on pleasing ourselves does not please God. Religion that focuses on getting what we want from God for the moment rather than on allowing God to transform us more each day into His image fails to be acceptable to God. We need to do more than just go through the motions of worship and church involvement. We need to allow God to help us focus on Him and others rather than ourselves. How has your worship and church involvement sometimes been more for yourself than for God? Get real, God does not honor self-focused religion!
Perhaps what is needed is that we forget about ourselves, magnify the Lord and enter into…
II. Other-Focused Service! (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 him, 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.
1. God tells them succinctly, “This ain’t the kind of fasting I desire!” God then listed specific actions Israel could take. The people could “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke.” They could ensure the hungry had adequate food, the homeless had adequate shelter, and the poorly clothed had adequate clothes. We do not need to turn our homes into homeless shelters complete with food and clothing closets; but we do need to find ways to meet the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of others. God relates that believers are “not to turn away from your own flesh and blood” no matter the nation, ethnic group, or background! To ignore the needs of other Christians is to ignore our families! If the people would refocus on God, they would find exactly the opposite of what they had experienced. Instead of darkness, Israel would see a new dawn as God’s special people with a special mission to the world. “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.” Instead of separation from God, Israel again would enjoy His guiding presence. When the people called in prayer, God would answer. They would be His people and would worship Him as their God. Only a new, deeper understanding of and commitment to God and a resulting substantive change in behavior toward others would bring these blessings to the people. The Israelites needed to “do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk”! They needed to stop enslaving and maliciously gossiping against one another! If God’s people could practice God’s fast, the light of the nation and its righteous ways would never be dimmed or extinguished. The Israelites’ commitment to God would bring hope and abundant life to them and be a witness to others! Following God would provide all Israel’s needs. God promises that “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.” Israel’s renewed faith and ministry to others would lead to their renewal! Perhaps you do not find renewal in your life as a believer because you have not overcome your selfishness? While the people of Israel could not undo their sins and their consequences, they needed to ask forgiveness of one another and to work together. Christians need to get real and enter into other-focused service!
EXAMPLE: The Israelites would help right some of their ungodly wrongs and be involved in their physical and spiritual rebuilding. The work would bless people far into the future; it was not just for their momentary pleasure! Like Israel we face the temptation to give God something other than ourselves and our lives. Our faith is to be more than biblical refrigerator magnet Facebook quotes. Worship and/or Bible study is not all God expects of us, he desire more. Worship and Bible study are but the beginning of our growth in God. Worship empowers us to focus on how we can represent Christ faithfully and minister to others in God’s holy name in our daily lives. How can you faithfully minister to others this week? Christians need to get real and enter into other-focused service!
It all comes back to real worship for God’s people and here we discover our lives should be founded on…
III. God-Focused Worship! (Isaiah 58:13-14)
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 or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.
1. God shifted from the ritual of fasting to the ritual of keeping the Sabbath. He gives them some specifics that he knew they had not done, “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 or speaking idle words” then they would be honorable. However, the Israelites had desecrated the Sabbath by working, which showed the false belief they could supply their needs and desires better than God. They needed to cease work, reflect on God’s goodness, and recognize God supplied their needs. God suggested the proper way to honor the Sabbath. The Israelites needed to refrain from their normal work and reflect on God and their relationship with Him. They needed to treat the Sabbath as a “holy day” a day of “delight”, meditating on God’s goodness and joyfully committing to serving Him who provided their needs. They needed to “honor it by not going (their) own way and not doing as (they) please or speaking idle words”! How do you honor God on your day of worship? Is it just another day of fun for you to enjoy and please yourselves or do you use it to honor God? God’s kingdom is more than the fulfillment of our eternal happiness or daily gratification. His kingdom is developed in and through us as we honor and worship him. The people needed to focus their lives on God rather than on their selfish wants. By developing their relationship with God, the Israelites would find a fulfilling life that abounded in righteousness, selflessness, and service. If the Israelites could delight in God and live for Him and others rather than pursue their selfish desires, they would find new life. God would bless His people by fulfilling the promises He made to Jacob. By losing their lives in God they would find more satisfying lives, not in material wealth, power, and fame but in God’s presence, the joy of service, and reconciliation with God and others! Wow! What a concept! God’s people need to get real and return to God-focused worship!
EXAMPLE: We cannot serve others as God wants if we do not maintain intimate fellowship with God. When we try to deceive ourselves and God, we are just going through the motions, and we will suffer the consequences of our actions. However, when we actually do maintain our intimate fellowship with God we find completeness. Remember, Jesus taught that loving God totally and others are the two greatest commandments! Worship leads to service; and service requires continued refueling through prayer, praise, Bible study, and worship. When we link genuine worship focused on God with loving service given in His name, we please God and experience the abundant life. What steps can you take to link God-focused worship with ministry in His name? God’s people need to get real and return to God-focused worship!
1. Religion focused on pleasing ourselves is not genuine.
2. Religion focused on meeting others’ needs is genuine and receives God’s blessing.
3. Worship focused on God is genuine and pleasing to Him.
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