Our Savior Urges Us to Live Lives of True Godliness!
O Lord God, we live in a wicked world which is in constant warfare against You and Your truths. Please remain with us, so we do not weary along the way. Strengthen us as we worship this day. Help us to persevere in our faith and to live lives of true godliness to the glory of Your saving name. Amen.
Our Christian faith is not based upon the wisdom of man but rather upon the power and revelation of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ!
Our Christian faith, which embraces the righteousness of Jesus Christ, is to reveal itself as a salt or a light in the form of good works, which glorify our Father in heaven.
Text: Isaiah 58:5-9a
Is it a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry. And He will say, "Here I am."
In Christ Jesus, Who declares us to be His salt and His lights in this world, dear fellow redeemed:
A waitress went into the kitchen of a local restaurant recently and declared to the cook, "A group of people from Immanuel are out there, and I cannot believe how they are gossiping about other members of their church. I would never want to go to that church." Ouch! That was a report I heard earlier this week together with a plea, "Find some way, pastor, to remind people not to gossip." What we say and what we do reflect on our congregation and the gospel ministry entrusted to us for good or for bad. It can happen so easily that we forget who we are at times, with the result that we must confess with St. Paul, “The good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:19). When we fall into sin, it does not necessarily mean that we lose our faith, for we can sin in weakness or in ignorance. Pastor Libby is fond of saying, "Our church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints." When we sin, however, it does mean that our sinful flesh has gotten the best of us by leading us away from God and the strength He alone can provide us. When we sin, it is important to turn back to God—to confess our sins, to receive His forgiveness, and to be empowered by His Spirit as He works in our hearts using His precious word. Let us review these matters by considering this truth—OUR SAVIOR URGES US TO LIVE LIVES OF TRUE GODLINESS! He enables us to do this, when He instills within our hearts repentance, love, and joy!
Repentance is a change of mind effected within us by the Spirit of God. Before we can live lives of true godliness, the Spirit has to work repentance in our hearts through the preaching of His law and gospel. When the law is preached it reveals our sins and announces God’s judgment upon sin. When the gospel is preached it reveals God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
The law must be preached to us in all of its severity, for we human beings by nature do not want to hear the truth about our actions or ourselves. This past Wednesday night in Bible Class we considered a series of Bible passages, which describe our situation by nature—sinful from conception (cf. Psalm 51:5); evil from our youth (cf. Genesis 8:21); enemies of God (cf. Romans 5:10); dead in trespasses and sins (cf. Ephesians 5:1). That is pretty hard to admit and accept! We human beings by nature like to think of ourselves as pretty nice overall and somewhat acceptable even to God. Yet God’s word clearly tells us that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and that even if we sin only one time, we are “guilty of all” (James 2:10b). The preaching of God’s law is intended to strike fear in our hearts, so that we seek God’s forgiveness and receive by faith the assurances of God’s grace as revealed by the gospel.
In our text we find just such a preaching of the law. The Lord was seeking to lead His Old Testament people to repentance. The Lord asks, “Is it a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?” Here was the situation—
God’s Old Testament people were outwardly religious, but they were not practicing true godliness. They were not listening to the word of their God, which would have humbled them by condemning their sins and showing them their need for a Savior. Instead, they chose their own path to God apart from His revealed will. They came up with a “fast,” which gave them an opportunity to put on a good show. They put on sackcloth and painted their faces with ashes. They bowed low before the Lord’s altar, so that everyone could see them. At the same time, they chose to ignore God’s commandments and felt no need for a Savior.
It is so easy for you and for me to fall into similar traps, for such traps are all around us in every religion. Hindu holy men deprive themselves of food, while Buddhist monks climb to isolated mountaintops to meditate. Muslims travels to Mecca, while many Christians decide what to give up for Lent—all in seeming shows of outward religiosity, as if somehow this will impress God. Yet, God has commanded none of this, but rather states that He looks with favor upon “him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My (His) word” (Isaiah 66:2b). My dear friends, OUR SAVIOR URGES US TO LIVE LIVES OF TRUE GODLINESS! He enables us to do this, when He instills within our hearts repentance—a true change of heart, which sorrows over sin, trusts in Jesus for forgiveness, and then desires to live in accordance with God’s word and will!
Yes, OUR SAVIOR URGES US TO LIVE LIVES OF TRUE GODLINESS! He enables us to do this, as well, when He instills within our hearts love! The Lord goes on to ask His people in our text, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?”
The essence of God’s law is "love" (cf. Romans 13:10). Instead of loving their neighbors as themselves (cf. Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39), God’s Old Testament people were loving themselves, while oppressing and forgetting about their neighbors. God here suggests that rather than setting up an outward religious show with an impressive “fast,” the people should stop oppressing their neighbors. While the exact nature of the oppression is not addressed, it was not uncommon in Isaiah’s day, for instance, for people or their children to be sold into slavery to settle a debt. It was this ruthless pursuit of personal wealth at the expense of love, which angered God. In addition, God condemned the callous attitude of His people over against the poor. Rather than putting on a religious show, would it not be better and more in accord with Christian love to reach out and help those in need?
My dear friends, we live in an age not dissimilar to that of Old Testament Israel. Materialism was present then, as it is now. Jesus’ words of admonition certainly remain appropriate for all believers of every age, “You cannot serve God and mammon…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:24,33). We belong to the Lord by virtue of our creation and redemption. He promises to take care of our every need, thus freeing us to love others. If we forget these truths, then we can so easily find ourselves concentrating on the mere accumulation of wealth at the expense of others. We will excuse our greed and cloak our efforts within a framework of that which is legal, but will chose to ignore that which is truly ethical. We will applaud our good business sense and will congratulate ourselves on jobs well done, while failing the fundamental test of God’s will for our lives—love! If, on the other hand, we recognize God’s wonderful role in our lives and our roles as His beloved children by grace and through faith, He will fill our lives with love. His promises will uphold us, while the knowledge of our certain future in heaven will sustain us. After all, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) God loves us unconditionally, and when we comprehend what His commitment to us means, we cannot but love Him in return. As St. John so beautifully puts it, “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). How will that love of God manifest itself? Will it not reveal itself in the simple kindness we show others? Jesus says, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). So, when the Lord gives us the opportunity to feed the hungry, or minister to the sick, or comfort the mourning, or encourage the down-hearted, or clothe the naked—let us do so with compassionate and loving hearts. Thereby we become Christ to our neighbors, and they become Christ to us!
Yes, OUR SAVIORURGES US TO LIVE LIVES OF TRUE GODLINESS! He enables us to do this when He instills within our hearts love. He does as well when He instills within our hearts joy! The final verse of our text does not use the word "joy," and yet it speaks of the confident joy, which can and should characterize the life of every believing child of God. Isaiah says, “Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry. And He will say, "Here I am.”
When Isaiah says, “Your light shall break forth like the morning,” he is using the same idea that Jesus used in our Gospel Lesson this morning, when He identifies us as “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). The child of God, who rejoices in God’s forgiving love and who in turn is committed by faith to a life of love, will be recognized as quite different in this world. Even as you cannot hide a city on a hill (cf. Matthew 5:14), so, the loving actions and joyous attitude of a believer is like the rising sun. It is seen! It is felt! Its results bring glory to our heavenly Father (cf. Matthew 5:16).
Isaiah says, “Your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you.” Jesus is our spiritual Physician, healing our sin-sick souls—forgiving, embracing, encouraging, and enabling us to live our lives in freedom and with love. Our righteousness is in reality His righteousness—that perfect righteousness of the Son of God, which is given to us as a gift. Isaiah speaks of this righteousness later in his book as the wedding gown of a bride or the wedding tuxedo of a groom—given to us by God and inspiring confidence in our hearts of the certainty of His love!
As Christ’s imputed righteousness goes before us, so “the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard!” We do not have a God far off, detached and unconcerned. No, our God is here, present, and accounted for! As a little known prophet once told a little known king of Judah, “The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). What joy that truth should bring us!
Finally, Isaiah assures us that when we cry out to the LORD, He will answer. Our God is that committed to us, when we in faith and with joy commit ourselves to His care. My dear friends, may we be led and enabled by the Spirit of our Savior God to live our lives in true godliness as He instills within our hearts repentance, love, and joy! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting