There's something wrong when a church bends itself into pretzels to go along and get along. In the world, sure. But not in the church. Jesus is not a plastic Savior; He did not change His tune to fit what was popular in that culture. He took our nails in His flesh—nails which otherwise justly would have pierced us. The wages of sin is death, and we have earned those wages. Jesus intervened and bought our freedom. That didn't take a weak or plastic person; it took a strong and unbending person, relentless in being love.
We haven't always responded to Him with the respect due Him. We get distracted. We forget the price paid and we forget the blessings that are ours as Jesus' redeemed disciples.
We are going to look today at a teaching of Scripture that God knew would put His church out of sync with the world. He put it into His Word anyway. He gave us something definite, all while knowing that in the end-time there would be an abundance of vagueness and plasticity, and that right things would be considered wrong things.
Jesus calls us to be solids in that end-time mist, people who stand for the right because it is right, people who honor the cross not from a vague position, but in solidity. In a time so painfully dominated by smoke and mirrors, we have been given that which is definite and knowable; something which can be cleaved to. We are not called to gauge the direction of the wind. God will help us lay hold of something solid today.
True Fast, True Sabbath
Open your Bible to Isaiah 58.
Through His gospel prophet, God gives us enormous insight into His Bible truth, and, in particular, His sabbath.
I think you know the situation in Isaiah 58. God calls His people, His true agents, to be faithful watchmen. They are to embrace and present His truth with a loud voice (58:1). To sound one's voice as a trumpet is a clear reference to war. It was by the trumpet call that ancient armies marshaled themselves for battle. Lines of troops maneuvering across the battlefield were steered by distinctive signals by trumpet call.
Our passage today gives important insight connecting the false and true fast with the false sabbath and true sabbath. There is a broader spirit involved. This is true with all the commandments of God. Not committing adultery, not stealing, and so on, are more than rigid rules to their own ends; all of God's commandments are windows into how God loves us and how we are to love Him. His expression of love toward us, and us toward Him, is not abstract and shapeless. As Isaiah would faithfully proclaim God’s truth to transgressors, God links sinning and not sinning with our living in His sabbath truth or out of it.
This military element ("lift up your voice like a trumpet") is important. Armies are ever engaged in maneuvers, and our first maneuver must always be to surrender our sin and guilt. Jesus' faithful watchmen must tell it like it is, not as they prefer it is. Here is exactly such a call to repentance for God’s own people. Verses 2-5 outline their hypocrisy, the big skit they put on, the big fake show of being all in for God, and all their self-serving fastings and self-affliction. Like rats on wheels spinning, continuously indulging in pleasure and harshness toward their workers, in tiresome debating and discussing and all self-assured they are standing on God's side; that is, in all their relentless, empty spiritual theater.
Theirs was a useless kind of self-denial. It was not impressing God. Their long lists of rules and practices utterly lacked any authentic spirit of service to Him or to each other. There was a lot of apparently spiritual activity, but very little evidence it was pleasing to God. His blessing never attended their antiseptic exercises.
Questions and Answers
But I want us to look especially at verses 6 and 7, for there we will find the questions and answers we seek. When the Bible writer is asking a question, God has a purpose. Through His prophet Isaiah 2700 years ago, He's asking the right question for 2020.
There is one question and eight answers in many respects blended together.
First, the master question: "Is not this the fast that I have chosen?" In other words, through Isaiah He is going to tell us exactly what His true fast is. It isn't a mystery. Here we actually have a revelation of true fasting, and, as we shall see, true sabbath observance.
First in the list is His call to loose the bonds of wickedness. There is right and there is wrong. There is justice and injustice. These are not neutral values, or forces of yin and yang. Wickedness is not required for there to be righteousness. God is rooting out of His universe bonds of wickedness. There are injustices in the world, unfairnesses. We encounter them frequently; these are all intruders in God's universe. He calls us to loose these bonds. We can do so directly, and sometimes less directly. Sometimes we simply are in no position to loose wicked bonds and we ourselves are subject to wicked bondage.
Again, we are called to undo heavy burdens. There are heavy burdens built into this world of sin, incidental to it, in consequence of Satan's adventures. Paul writes in one place of the care Paul has for the churches, and, in another, pleads for believers to obey godly leaders (Hebrews 13:17) so as not to increase their burdens. Christians can do much for others in removing their burdens. We are not always able to loose bonds of wickedness but we can often find some way to give relief to those who are bound.
A third call is to let the oppressed go free. Sometimes we can help people be released by a direct intervention. Other times, we come into contact with persons bound by their own habits and practices. These we need to "let" go free. That is, we need to seek insight from God in how we can gently guide and lead that person to where they are able to find that pathway to their release that their own attachment to bondage has prevented. There are many kinds of chains. Some are actual chains physically holding us back. But More often, the chains that bind us are our own free commitments to wrong things, commitments to certain pleasures, certain conveniences, certain illusions. There are both hard and soft, subtle idols. Most people have many on their shelves. Polytheism is a difficult habit to break!
Next, there is the call to break every yoke, to engage in violent, sudden change. Sometimes we are in place to break every yoke, enabled to destroy literally things which unjustly bind. But other times there must be binding. A father who disciplines his child needs to exercise discipline; there must be some degree of yoking. But the person who has been forced unjustly into slavery needs every such unjust yoke shattered. Sometimes a whole program of injustice can and should be ended. Sometimes God places us where He would use us in the ending of it.
Living our lives in His true fast means sharing our bread with the hungry. There are persons in need and often we can help them in their need. But the directive is to "let" the oppressed go free. If we facilitate people in self-destructive behaviors, we are not letting them go free. There is help that truly helps people and there is a kind of help we must not give, for it strengthens a kind of presumption in them. We do not help the liquor addict by passing him another beer, or the money to purchase another beer. That is like handing him a new set of handcuffs, a new set of ankle manicles.
Isaiah says to bring to our house the poor who are cast out. Here are people not only in need of shelter, but whose social connections have crashed and who have been thrown out of their living space. Many weary travelers are in need of shelter. At different times Jacob, Moses, and other godly persons needed this kind of help. It may well be that at some future time you or I will need the ministration of shelter, or even the care of an inviting family to help us in a time of desperation.
We should remember also that the Bible warns us to a caution with regard to some travelers. We cannot guarantee them; we do not know what they are (Proverbs 6:1-5). We can do them kindnesses but we should be very careful about putting others at risk for them. There are many travelers today, with many well-honed stories. We can help them best by verifying their stories before we give them that which God has been withholding from them for their own good.
In Isaiah 58 We are further commanded, when we see the naked, to cover them. There is a basic human dignity. We cannot depend on the state to do anything for people in this regard. We have seen the state act more and more clearly as exploiter, as herder. Sometimes we can help those who have lost all their material possessions. We should not lose sight of human dignity. It will always be the Christian’s duty to uphold this dignity. God can open doors so that we can render people help. You know that Jesus would give you the shirt off His back if you needed that. We should remember that all our shirts belong to Jesus.
Finally, we are not to hide ourselves from our own flesh; we are not to forget our own families. But it is also true we are part of the human family. The human family is our flesh. We are not to isolate ourselves from others. We cannot forget who and what we are. We are human. We are not to be blended with machines, or to replace people with machines. We are not to be blended with animals. We need to keep our human DNA. We are not to modify human DNA. God was intentional in His design and did exactly what needed to be done to make us as He intended.
He linked us with each other and with Himself intimately. This linkage is the reason for His true fast, and His true sabbath. We cannot rest in Him if we are busy becoming less and less like Him. As we draw nearer and nearer to Him we can rest more and more in Him, and become more like Him.
Christians have a different spirit than the person trapped in the world, because Christians are agents of Heaven. We have the spirit of Heaven and we cannot apologize for the spirit of true fasting or the spirit of the true sabbath.
More Connections Between True Sabbath and True Fast
Notice, there are rich veins to mine in verses 8-14, but we have time for only a few bits mostly in 13 and 14.
Notice in those verses that this passage on God’s true fast culminates with His true sabbath. Blessing is promised to who? Those who turn away from disregard for the sabbath. When we do whatever we want on the sabbath, we are doing much worse than just breaking a rule; we are training ourselves not to live in the spirit of the sabbath—of God's true fast. We are playing into the devil's game. His whole game is predicated on undermining God's law, because his subtle process of undermining discredits God’s character. It is not enough to keep the sabbath as a mere rule. Verse 13 says we are to call the sabbath a delight. We are to regard as blessed and holy, what? The day which God blessed and made holy!
Even in the creation, God made people social beings. He designed us to know right from wrong. From the very beginning He introduced the seventh day rest so the humans he created could pause and be social with Him. The promise in 13 and 14 is that if we have regard for the sabbath that Jesus made, we will have the spirit of the sabbath and those blessings connected to obedience to His sabbath.
We might review much here. But, very briefly, let us notice a few more pieces. One of the keywords in the chapter is "pleasure." We see it in the third verse. Isaiah complains that in the day of their false fast still they find pleasure in exploiting others. They are not really keeping the sabbath, not literally nor in spirit.
In contrast, in verse 13 "pleasure" is mentioned twice. The contrast is between doing your own pleasure and not doing your own pleasure. Jesus put us first by dying on the cross. We can put Him first by receiving the blessing He longs to give us. We can be agents living His spirit in a world which is engaged in attempting to eradicate His spirit. Pleasure here is a link between fast and sabbath.
Another linkage is the word "delight," found twice in the second verse and then two more times in verses 13 and 14. In the false fast they claim to be glad to know God’s ways. They make the expected noises. They appear to delight in approaching God. Sadly it is only subterfuge and theater; their fast is fake. But in verses 13 and 14 men and women of God really have His Spirit and they truly delight in the sabbath and the Lord. The sabbath and the Lord of the sabbath always go together.
There is much more here if we come in close and look at the use of the word "sabbath" in the chapter, as well as the word "fast." But we hasten onward.
Connection of Literal with Spirit
This chapter makes clear the impossibility of separating the literal from the spiritual. Try separating coveting from stealing. Try separating literal adultery from symbolic. Try separating the spirit of idolatry from literal idolatry. It’s never possible. Those who do the literal are in opposition also in spirit, and those who transgress in spirit are as guilty as if they acted it out literally.
There are people who delight in misusing words, falsely separating the inseparable. That is all fakery again. What God has joined together cannot be separated even when eloquent humans mouth cleverly our words. God is not mocked and He is a close Reasoner. He lets us use words. But we introduce harm when we misuse them. As His agents we are to keep His things together. Satan is the agent who chose to use words for destruction. His conversation with literal Eve should warn us, for when she came under his spell it was through the misuse of words. He used words to carve out a plausable sounding disregard of God's character and to open a slime-space for his own crookedness.
Christians are solids in the mist. When up is down and down is up; when light is dark and dark is light; when the moral is inverted, called immoral, and vice versa; then there we are: actual people standing for something actual. We are definite people standing for something definite, in a world where lots of folk are wetting their finger and holding it up to see which way the wind is blowing.
Jesus died for our sins, our very definite sins. God’s law was broken, His very definite law. Just as definite as is our guilt, just that definite is Jesus’ innocence. And just as definite are the nail prints in His hands. So the Bible says,
He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus is Lord. Not lord of mists but Lord of Lords. He is the Lord of solids. His disciples actually learn from Him, actually live His way in this world. Hackers call this, the real world, the "meat space." But Jesus is Lord of all. He is looking for representatives here in the "meat space" to experience the spirit of His sabbath and the literal fact of His sabbath blessing. Jesus died, controlled Himself, and was executed for our sins, to give us actual, literal blessings like eternal life. He makes us solids in the mist.
Fremont MI SDA church 2020-07-18
Muskegon MI SDA church 2020-07-18