With Liberty and Justice for All - Isaiah 56
©August 28th, 2022 by Rev. Rick Goettsche SERIES: Isaiah
If you grew up in public school in the United States, there is a good chance you also grew up saying the pledge of allegiance each morning. As a result, most of us know it by heart. The final line of the pledge includes the phrase, “with liberty and justice for all.” That is the ideal on which the United States of America is founded, and the ideal to which we strive. In practice, that is sadly often not the case, but it remains the goal of our nation.
In our passage this morning, we see that God also promises liberty and justice for all. Unfortunately, we often misunderstand what this means, which gets us into trouble. This morning, as we look at Isaiah 56, we’re going to unpack how God promises these things to everyone, and what that should mean for us as we live for Him.
Isaiah 56 opens with God giving instructions to His people,
This is what the Lord says: “Be just and fair to all. Do what is right and good, for I am coming soon to rescue you and to display my righteousness among you. 2 Blessed are all those who are careful to do this. Blessed are those who honor my Sabbath days of rest and keep themselves from doing wrong. (Isaiah 56:1-2, NLT)
God’s instructions in these verses are clear—He simply tells the Israelites to follow His commands—to do what is right and good. Of course, it’s not just the Israelites who are supposed to follow God’s commands—we all are.
What specifically does He command us to do? He commands us to be just and fair to all. We’d like to believe that we act fairly to one another, but we often don’t. We try to treat the people we like fairly and gently, but we often don’t extend the same courtesy to those we don’t like as much.
Think about the difference in the way you’ll hear a piece of gossip about someone you consider a friend versus someone you do not care for. If someone gossips to you about a friend, you are unlikely to give much credence to the rumor. But when we hear rumors about someone we don’t like, we immediately assume they must be true. When we do this, we are not treating people justly and fairly. We must strive to deal honestly, kindly, and gently with everyone with whom we come into contact…even if we’d rather believe the worst about them. We should be defenders of the weak and the marginalized. We should be friends to the friendless. We should love those who are difficult to love. In so doing, we honor the Lord.
The second part of the command is to do what is right and good. This is a pretty broad command, but He speaks specifically about honoring His sabbath days of rest and keeping ourselves from doing wrong.
The command to keep the Sabbath is one of the ten commandments, and it has its basis in creation. God created the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. The Jews came up with a list of rules that tried to define precisely what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath, but Jesus reminded them that God’s intention for the Sabbath was not rule-following, but rest. The concept is that we should set aside a day each week in which we will make our focus worshiping and resting in Him. Our world tells us we need to be running constantly. The Lord tells us that we aren’t designed to be running constantly! We must make time in our week to sit quietly before the Lord and find refreshment and be refocused. God didn’t tell us to follow the Sabbath pattern to make life difficult for us, He told us to do it because He knew we needed it! When we organize our lives this way, we show that His priorities are our priorities.
He also tells us to keep ourselves from doing wrong. The way this command is worded is interesting—He doesn’t just say do what is right, He tells us that we should be active in keeping ourselves from sin. In other words, sinning comes naturally to us, so if we want to do what is right, we must be diligent in rooting evil thoughts and actions out of our lives. This requires us to be on the lookout for those things which are not as they should be and work to change them. We must be diligent in identifying bad habits and replacing them with good ones.
Why does God tell His people to do this? Because He is coming soon, and because living His way carries blessings along with it. Living for the Lord is difficult because it requires constant effort on our part. But we can find strength to keep pushing forward in our faith by remembering that we will one day give an account before God for all we have done. And we would also be well-served to remind ourselves that God’s way is the best. We don’t live for Him to earn His favor, but because we trust Him.
Open to All
Open to All
The next section of this passage would have been jarring to the people of Israel, because it would have challenged their preconceptions about who God’s people were.
3 “Don’t let foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’ And don’t let the eunuchs say, ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.’ 4 For this is what the Lord says: I will bless those eunuchs who keep my Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me. 5 I will give them—within the walls of my house—a memorial and a name far greater than sons and daughters could give. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear! 6 “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant. 7 I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. 8 For the Sovereign Lord, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.” (Isaiah 56:3-8, NLT)
The people of Israel believed they were God’s chosen people (because God said they were!) but they struggled to figure out what that meant for them practically. They had become complacent in their position as God’s people and began to intermingle with the world around them, slowly absorbing their practices and false religions. This was the reason God had sent them into exile in the first place—because they had believed that since they were God’s chosen people, what they did didn’t matter. But that’s not true.
Later, they swung to the opposite end of the spectrum, believing that as God’s people, they were the only ones God cared for, and anyone else must necessarily be rejected by Him. They became isolationist and sought to separate themselves from the world entirely. This too, was a mistake.
What God is saying in these verses is significant. He is telling the Israelites that anyone who submits to Him is welcome—even those who would normally be excluded from fellowship. In Deuteronomy, we were told that anyone whose genitals were mutilated (as would be the case for a eunuch) or was a foreigner would be excluded from being able to worship at the temple. Now God is stating specifically that such people should be welcomed, and that He will not reject them.
Did God change His mind? Not at all. God is not saying that everyone is welcome no matter what they do, but He is saying that everyone who desires to come to Him is welcome, no matter what is in their past. If we submit to the Lord, then what we were before doesn’t matter—what matters is who we are now.
Some churches today have misunderstood this concept. They declare that we should be “open and affirming” to everyone who comes through our doors. Don’t get me wrong, the Church should welcome anyone who wants to come to Christ, no matter who they are, where they are from, or what’s in their past. But these churches get it wrong when they say they are to be open and affirming. Nowhere does the Bible speak of affirming lifestyles that are in defiance of God. The Lord says that anyone who wants to submit to Him is welcome. But He does not say that those who refuse to submit to Him are welcome. On the contrary, those people will be punished.
Here’s what we must remember though: everyone refuses to submit to the Lord until they don’t. We need to be faithful in reaching out to others and to accepting those who want to come to Christ—even if they are different than we are. We must remember that the gospel message is open to everyone—even those we might think should be excluded. It is open to:
· The person who looks different than you do
· The person with more or less money than you have
· The person whose political ideologies are opposed to yours
· The person who has a bad reputation
· The person who is struggling with sin or addiction
· The person with a criminal record
We tend to push away people who are different. But we should welcome any and every person who wants to follow Christ with us. What unites us as a church is not our politics, our socioeconomic status, our education, or even where we live—what unites us is that we are all seeking to live for the Lord. Anyone who desires to follow Him is welcome. We must work to communicate that to our world. We must be kind, gentle, and welcoming to those who are expressing an interest in the Lord. And we should encourage them in faith, in the hopes that they too will become part of our family.
A Warning for Leaders
A Warning for Leaders
After these encouraging words of welcome for people from all nations and backgrounds, Isaiah returns to speaking to the leaders in the community of faith. And he has some dire warnings for them.
9 Come, wild animals of the field! Come, wild animals of the forest! Come and devour my people! 10 For the leaders of my people— the Lord’s watchmen, his shepherds— are blind and ignorant. They are like silent watchdogs that give no warning when danger comes. They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming. 11 Like greedy dogs, they are never satisfied. They are ignorant shepherds, all following their own path and intent on personal gain. 12 “Come,” they say, “let’s get some wine and have a party. Let’s all get drunk. Then tomorrow we’ll do it again and have an even bigger party!” (Isaiah 56:9-12, NLT)
In these verses God condemns the religious leaders of the people of Israel, because they weren’t doing their jobs. Instead of speaking to the people about the dangers that surrounded them, they were focusing on having parties, feeding their own desires and plunging themselves into sin as well. As such, God declares that destruction is coming because of their laziness.
For those in positions of Christian leadership, these words should haunt us. We should serve in a way that ensures the Lord will not declare that we are lazy and derelict in our duties. We should strive to speak the truth and to turn others from sin. We should be on guard against false teaching and do what we can to prevent others from being led astray. We should tend to our own spiritual life to ensure that we are not led astray as well.
Even those who are not in positions of leadership should be driven to examine their lives. We should work diligently at the tasks God has given to each of us, including our own relationship with Him.
I think part of the reason the Lord includes this solemn warning to the people of Israel after telling them how He was going to welcome people from all nations and all walks of life was to remind them that their heritage was not enough. It would be tempting to conclude that since God will welcome all sorts of other people, then the Israelites could simply relax because they were God’s chosen people. These words are a corrective to that attitude. God is reminding them that though He has chosen them as His people, they will only enjoy the blessings of that status if they actually follow Him. He is reminding them that they need to be diligent in their faith, because even they can be led astray if they aren’t careful. In fact, the people they look down on might actually be closer to the Lord than they are. We see this in scripture. Listen to how one commentator points this out.
When Christ was born, Magi—star-gazers!—came all the way from Persia to worship him, while his own people in Jerusalem wouldn’t walk six miles down the road to Bethlehem to check it out (Matthew 2:1–12). When a Roman centurion trusted Jesus implicitly, our Savior said, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness” (Matthew 8:10–12). The Apostle John wrote, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11, 12).
We must guard against spiritual complacency. Some people imagine that the faith of their family is enough for them. They point to their faithful parents or grandparents or spouse and declare that they are Christians because their family are Christians. Being born into a Christian family doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being born in a garage makes you a car! You must decide to follow Christ for yourself.
Others become complacent because they feel that once they reach a certain milestone of faith, they can put their relationship with Christ on the back burner. Maybe you were diligent in your faith until you got baptized, or joined the church, or served in a position of leadership, or began teaching, or even were appointed as a pastor, but then you shifted your attention elsewhere. That’s what was happening in the hearts of the Jewish people. God’s warning to them applies to us as well. We must be diligent in growing in our faith throughout our lives—the moment we think we have “arrived” is the moment we set ourselves up for failure. Our faith in Christ is not an achievement we check off; it is a relationship we must cultivate.
These verses have some wonderful promises as well as some stern warnings for us. As such, I think there are two primary lessons we should draw from them.
First, personal holiness needs to be a priority throughout our lives. One of the greatest dangers to people of faith is complacency. It is easy for us to look at our faith as something we must accomplish, but then once we have accomplished it, we can move on to something else. But nothing could be further from the truth. Our faith must be an ongoing, vibrant relationship with the Lord that causes us to keep growing throughout our lives. It’s like a marriage or a friendship. We must tend to the relationship to keep it vibrant.
As such, we must be constantly working to root out sin and build godly habits into our lives. We don’t do these things as a means of earning God’s favor, but we do them because we love Him, we desire to honor Him, and because we know that there are blessings associated with living the way God has told us to. So we should work at being just and fair to all, at making regular worship and service to the Lord a part of our regular rhythm of life, and at identifying our sinful patterns and working to change them. If we will do that, we will draw ever closer to the Lord, and we will find strength and encouragement on the way.
Second, we must recognize the gospel is for everyone who will come. There are two sides to this truth. First, if you have never trusted in Jesus to save you, then I invite you to do so today. If you don’t understand the message of the gospel, please talk to someone about it, ask questions, and settle in your own heart where you stand with the Lord. If you are someone who thinks you don’t belong because of something in your past, these verses should show you that the Lord has opened the door to anyone who will come. The Lord does not excuse or condone your sin, but He does offer a way to be forgiven. He asks you to turn from your sinful lifestyle and live for Him. Anyone who is willing to follow Him is welcome—yes, even you.
The other side of this truth is that those who are already part of the family of faith must be people who truly believe that all are welcome. It is easy to say that, but it’s more difficult in practice. It requires us to confront our own prejudices and recognize when we are pushing people away, rather than welcoming them. Not everyone who comes to faith in Christ will be like you. Some may be quite different. Some may rub you the wrong way. Some will be rough around the edges. We are called to love them and encourage them all, even when it’s hard. Let’s be a church where people feel welcome, no matter what their past might be. If they desire to follow Jesus, then they belong.
The American ideal is that of liberty and justice for all. In a sense, that’s what God promises to the world. There is freedom available to any person who is willing to commit their lives to Christ. We tend to think of freedom as being able to do whatever we want. But true freedom is found when we trust in Jesus, have our sin forgiven and experience life the way God intended. The Lord makes that available to everyone who will come—but we must come on His terms, not ours.
Similarly, God promises justice. Our sin deserves to be punished. For those who put their faith in Jesus, justice means that Jesus bore the punishment we deserved. If you refuse to trust in Christ, then you will also receive justice—unfortunately, that means an eternity separated from God in Hell. I encourage you to count the cost of your decisions and choose wisely.
God has made it possible for anyone who desires to become part of His family. The benefits of doing so are far greater than we can truly fathom. Today, I invite you to trust in Jesus and to follow Him—to begin building your relationship with Him and live your life in obedience to Him. In Him alone can we find both liberty and justice…for all.
©August 28th, 2022 by Rev. Rick Goettsche SERIES: Isaiah
Ortlund, Raymond C., Jr., and R. Kent Hughes. Isaiah: God Saves Sinners. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005.