©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
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.