I told you recently about my son, Sambhaji, and his nightly refusal to eat salad. He can be very manipulative/charming when he wants to be delivered from greens.
One night, because salad was all that remained on his plate and he knew he’d be told to eat it soon, he tilted his head in his cute way and smiled and said, “Mom, why do I love you so much?”
When that didn’t work he answered his own question honestly, frustrated, without the smile. “Because Jesus tell me to.”
The same kind of childishness happens in Isaiah 58. God’s children want deliverance so they declare their love for God and beg for his help. And then God answers.
1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
Because of the trumpet (shofar), the mention of fasting and humbling (or afflicting) themselves, some scholars believe this passage takes place after Yom kippur, the highest of holy days in the Jewish calendar. The day of atonement.
God’s people “afflict the soul” by denying the body any food and drink – even water – for 25 hours. Then the people gather and confess the sins the community has committed against God. On Yom Kippur those sins of the community are atoned for and the shofar is blown.
in Isaiah 58 the children of God have gathered to confess their sins, reaffirm their commitment to God, proclaim their love for Him, and ask for help. He doesn’t answer.
And when they go home disappointed God tells the prophet Isaiah to raise his voice as loud as their shofar had blown, to shout from his chest the sins of the people.
But what sins? Weren’t they all atoned for?
Yom Kippur covered only the community’s sins against God, not their sins against other people.
God explains His lack of responsiveness to their prayers…
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 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.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 “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?
7 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 them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Throughout scripture we’re shown that our relationship with God is inseparable from our relationship with people. We can deprive ourselves of food and drink and pray fervently – live the most committed ascetic life imaginable – and swear to God we love Him with all our heart and all our strength, but if we don’t love people we’re fooling ourselves. But God is not fooled.
Proverbs 19:17 tells us whoever gives to the poor is giving to the Lord. Proverbs 14:31 says that when we insult the poor we are insulting God.
At the end of history, God will gather the nations before his throne and sort those who have a relationship with him from those who don’t. One group will be welcomed in and will live with God forever. The rest will be sent away to live out eternity separated from God.
To those he sends away, God will say, “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” (Matthew 25:42-43)
And, confused, they’ll ask when they ever saw God on earth and neglected him.
God will answer them, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” – Matthew 25:46
God will determine if we have an authentic relationship with him based in part on the love we’ve shown other people.
In 1 John the correlation between love for God and love for others is put bluntly.
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:17,18
In Galatia, many Jews and pagans had become Christians and now tried to blend their very very different backgrounds together in loving community. The Jewish Christians, however, were telling the pagan Christians circumcision was required to be in right relationship with God. Paul stepped into the fray and reminded all Christians what really matters.
In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. -Galatians 5:6
The only thing that counts is faith – but that faith is not intellectual agreement with a set of facts. Saving faith is not believing God exists, that Jesus was his Son, or even that Jesus died on the cross. Even the demons believe that! They were there at the cross to see the hammer strike the nails and the spear pierce Christ’s side. No, the faith of a Christian expresses itself in love, in actions and not just doctrinal agreement, songs and sermons. In “deeds.”
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. -James 2:14-19
Martin Luther likened faith and deeds to heat and light. Both comprise a fire – inseparable from each other. You have only heat? Then you haven’t got a fire. You have only light? Then you haven’t got a fire. Faith and works cannot exist apart from one another.
Timothy Keller puts it this way.
“A deep social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to others, and especially the poor, is the inevitable sign of real faith and real connection with God. Justice is the grand symptom of real faith and real relationship with God.”
The Jews of Isaiah 58 fasted, prayed, confessed their sins, declared their love for God – but something was missing. God was unmoved. Unconvinced.
They said He was the King of their life but then they continually did as they pleased (v3). They said they loved God, but they continually hurt people. They exploited their workers (v3) and argued with each other (v4).
God reminded them, and reminds me today, that faith in God is either visible or it’s not viable. All that counts is faith expressing itself as love.
God, thank you for placing your love in me so that through me you can love others. I simply cannot love any other way. Apart from Christ I can do nothing (John 15:5). May I live out of Your love today – a love I only possess because I belong to you absolutely and forever. Amen.