Today I’d like to talk from Isaiah 58 about the faith that pleases God. Verse 3 says, “’Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
And you have not noticed?’”
Israel was enthusiastic religiously. However, God was not pleased with their enthusiasm. They could be said to be in the condition of fruitless spiritual activity, of being in a rat race. We too must be careful to not fall to the same mistake. Today I would like to talk about 3 aspects of a faith that pleases God.
- A made to look like faith (Vs.1-5)
First please look at verses 1 to 5. Here vain fasting is written about. I’ll read verses 1 and 2. “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.
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.
This was spoken by God to Israel. God says to “Shout it aloud…raise your voice like a trumpet” (1) and declare to Israel. That’s because God’s people, “the descendant of Jacob”, (1) Israel has sinned. This must be declared to them. “Day after day they seek” (2) God and they “seem eager to know”(2) God. However, in reality they were far from God.
Their problem is explained in verses 3 to 5. It says, “’Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 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. 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?”
Certainly they were enthusiastic in the practice of fasting. However, their heart didn’t concretely accompany it. It seemed like they were seeking God’s righteousness, but in reality it was different. In reality they sought to do as they pleased. Here it says, “on the day of your fasting”. (3) This was the Day of Atonement. It is written in Lev. 16, but in Israel once a year the high priest was to slaughter a cow and goat as a sacrifice for sin. Its blood was sprinkled inside the tent, in other words on the mercy seat that was in holy of holies and all of Israel’s sin was atoned for. It was ordained that they must fast on that day. However, they didn’t fast just once a year. They fasted over and over again. For example, Zechariah 8:19 says, “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.“ They fasted on “the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months” (Zechariah 8:19) too. This was to repent to God. They fasted as a sign of repentance and sadness of sin that they had become captive to Babylon because they had committed sin.
That’s not all. Such religious enthusiasm gradually escalated and they began to fast twice a week, on Monday and Thursday. The scholars of the law and the Pharisees were like this. In the prayer of the tax collector and the Pharisee that appears in Luke 18:12, the Pharisee prays, “I fast twice a week…” is from this background.
However, no matter how much you humble yourself and fast, if it doesn’t fulfill its original purpose then it is completely meaningless. “On the day of fasting, (3) they did as they pleased and exploited all their workers. Their fasting ended “in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.” (4) Even though they were enthusiastic religiously, in their concrete life the fruit of it couldn’t be seen. No matter how much you fast like this there is no possibility that God will be pleased. The original purpose of fasting was to devote yourself to God and to become humble before God. If there isn’t that then even if you fast it will end in just being a fruitless activity. Also such a faith without realizing it becomes a hypocritical one. Hypocrisy means acting, dramatizing, or pretending. It is made to look like faith, but religiously there is no substance to it.
Let’s open your Bibles to Luke chapter 14. In verse 3 Jesus asks the scholars of the law and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” That was because there was a person there that suffered from dropsy. Dropsy is a sickness where the body accumulates too much water and becomes bloated. At that time it was thought that like leprosy dropsy was a sickness of a curse from God. Also the Jewish teachers, the Rabbi, that it was the result of fornication.
One Sabbath when Jesus entered a Pharisee leader’s house to eat a meal. However the scholars of the law brought a person suffering from dropsy there. That was to trap Jesus. If Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath then they would accuse him of sinning by breaking the law.
However, Jesus knew what was in in their heart and questioned them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” They were silent. They couldn’t answer. If they said that it is o.k. to heal on the Sabbath it would be breaking the principles of the Sabbath. However, if they answered that you mustn’t heal then it would mean that it was o.k. to ignore your neighbor’s suffering. Either answer would not be good. Therefore, they were silent. Then Jesus held the man suffering from dropsy, healed him, and sent him home. Then he said, “If one of you a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, you not immediately pull it out?” Luke 14:5
They couldn’t answer. That was because they didn’t understand the most important thing about the law. That is to love God and to love people. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:40) Even so they didn’t understand this. Therefore if this is not understood, no matter how formally the law is followed, it is not what God desires and is just a religious right that is being performed.
This is what we too must be careful about. There are cases where you think that you do religious duties like going to the worship service, giving offerings, reading your Bibles occasionally at home and praying so that you are ok. while at the same time “you do as you please” (3) quarreling and having strife. There are cases where even if you conduct yourself piously at the worship, when you leave the church and the moment you get in the car, you fight with your wife or have hatred for your relatives, or you walk among people and without reserve slander others, and gossip about others. There are cases when we get stuck on something and are angry all day. That is made to look like faith, but it isn’t.
The Lord Jesus’ brother Jacob said this, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to the, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”(James 2:14-17)
“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17) It doesn’t mean that if you don’t have deeds then you are not saved. Real faith is accompanied by deeds. If there are no deeds, then it is just a faith that is made to look like faith, but it really isn’t a faith.
- What real faith is like (Vs. 6,7)
Then what kind of fasting pleases God is written about in verses 6 and 7. “Is this not 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? 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 you own flesh and blood.”
Here it teaches us what kind of fast pleases God. In other words, it is “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke”. (6) Also it is “to share your food with the hungry.” (7) It is to welcome to your house the poor who have no house and provide him with a warm bed. It is to clothe the naked. It is also to take care of your poor relatives. In other words, it is to give a hand to those who are on the brink of difficulties and to those who are oppressed, and to give what is needed to those who are suffering from poverty.
This is in agreement with the letter of James that we read previously. Read faith is accompanied by substance. To be accompanied by substance means that if there are people suffering around you, to “untie the cords”. (6) If there are people that are actually asking for help, to give responding to their needs. James said this. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:26, 27)
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27) This doesn’t mean to be unconcerned about your brothers and sisters and neighbors, or to put up a front of being loving. Even if a person is religious and enthusiastically follows things of the law, if he is uninterested in the needs of the people around him or is uninterested in the needs of brothers and sisters in the church, that is not real faith. Real faith is to share concretely. That is because to share is concretely shown in God’s love.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
God gave Jesus to this world because he “loved the world”. (John 3:16) That was so “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “God is love. This is how God showed his love among us; He sent his one and only Son into the world.” (I John 4:8, 9) There is a saying that “love freely takes”. However in reality love is the opposite. It freely gives. We who were saved by love must become people that share.
During Golden Week any place you go is crowded so we didn’t go anywhere, but watched a DVD. The DVD was Schindler’s List. It is a true story of during World War II in the midst of the Jews being massacred by the German Nazis a German industrialist, Oskar Schindler saved over 1,100 Jews.
In August of 1939 Poland was captured by the German army. The stage of the movie is the Kraków Ghetto where the Germans move Polish Jews into as World War II begins. Oskar Schindler, an ethnic German, arrives in the city hoping to make use the war as a way to make his fortune. He acquired an enamelware factory and began business. In the course of time, a cruel lieutenant is sent to oversee the Krakow Ghetto and he began to murder Jew after Jew. Schindler who up until then had only been interested in making money witnesses the massacre and is profoundly affected. As time passes, Schindler’s focus shifts from making money to trying to save as many lives as possible. He bribes the lieutenant into allowing him to build a sub-camp for his workers so that he can better protect them.
As the Germans begin to lose the war, the lieutenant is ordered to ship the remaining Jews to Auschwitz concentration camp. Schindler asks the Lieutenant to allow him to move his workers to a new ammunitions factory he plans to build in his home town of Zwuttau-Brinnlitz. The Lieutenant agrees, but charges a huge bribe for each person that Schindler takes to his new factory. Schindler creates a list of people to be transferred from to Brinnlitz and thus saved from transport to Auschwitz. The list of “skilled workers” included children who were also hired. The list of Jews was “Schindler’s List”. It was called a list of life and there were more than 1,100 people on the list. Schindler used all the money he had to buy as many Jew as he could and save them.
In the course of time when the war ended and the Jews were set free, he apologized to the Jews saying that if he had had more money he would have saved more Jews.
The Jews who were saved by him were very thankful for him desperately saving them. For his work during the war, in 1963 Schindler was named Righteous Among the Nations, an award bestowed by the State of Israel on non-Jews who took an active role to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.
This is love. Love gives oneself freely. Love does not take away, it gives. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (John 3:16) To give our most important things is love. That is the fasting that pleases God. It is not a made up faith, but a real faith.
How about you? Are you giving joyfully to your neighbor? That is not something that can be done easily. We are really selfish and self centered and think only of ourselves. We think that its o.k. as long as we are getting the good end of it. However, let’s remember that the fasting that God is pleased with is to joyfully share with our neighbors. In order to walk like this let’s seek the Lord who is the source of love.
- Then (Vs. 8-14)
When we live as such a man of faith, what will happen? Lastly let’s look at the blessings God give to such people of faith. Let’s look at verse 8 to the end of the chapter. Here the word “Then” appears 3 times in verses 8, 9, and 14. First of all let’s read together verse 8. “Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.”
““Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear.” (8) “Your healing will quickly appear” (8) means you will be restored quickly. Their spirits which rotted and died by hypocrisy when they listen and follow the Word of God will begin to be restored
Here it says, “your light will break forth”. (8) This is a strange expression. Israel is not a light. Their faith is rotten. Therefore, they don’t have any light at all. Even so it says, “your light”. (8) This is not a light that they have, but it is the light they have received from God whom they believe in. This light is a light that shines in the darkness, and there is new power and recovery there. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Also Job 11:17 says, “Life will be brighter than noonday,
And darkness will become like morning.”
Even if your heart is dark like darkness, it will become “brighter than noonday.” (Job 11:17) That light has that much power. By that light “your healing will quickly appear.” (8) How blessed it is to walk by that light!
That’s not all. The words that comes after it says, “then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.” (8) This too is not the righteousness that you made, but the righteousness that you received and believed in. That “righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.” (8) In other words, just like Israel who was led in the desert after the Exodus by the cloud during the day and the fire at night, the Lord will take care of us in the wilderness of life and lead us to the kingdom of heaven.
Please look at verse 9. Here is the second “then”. “Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” (9) If you call, “God!”, God will answer immediately. God will answer, “Here am I”. (9) That is if you “untie the cords of the yoke “(6) , stop gossiping, have concern for the poor, and satisfy the desires of those who are troubled.
Please look at verses 11 and 12. Let’s read this together. “The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations: you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
How wonderful! No matter what kind of soil you are, “the LORD will guide you always…You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (11) Also some of the people will “rebuild the ancient ruins” (12) of the temple in God’s city, Jerusalem, that was destroyed by Babylon and they “will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (12) Those who receive the Lord’s blessings, the Lord’s guidance will not be called the destroyed, but the “Repairer”. (12)
Then verse 14 says, “Then you will find your joy in the LORD.” In verse 13 it talks about the Sabbath again and this is the same thing. If you understand the meaning of the Sabbath, and give thankfulness and joy to the Lord for redeeming you, and worship the Lord from your hearts, then “you will find your joy in the LORD” (14) and enjoy plentiful food in the promised land.
Such blessings will be given. How about you? Do you desire the fasts that God desires? Are you seeking the faith that pleases God? On the outside it may seem like you are earnest faith, but it is possible that there is a gap of faith. Let’s seek to have a faith that pleases God.
Last week I went to the annual meeting of the Conservative Baptists. There I attended a lecture by a Pastor that I am close to. It was about a book that is now out of print, “The Emotionally Healthy Church” by Peter Scazzero. The pastor translated this book. As he translated this book he matured and was taught many things about the maturing of the church he was pastoring. That is in our hearts there are hurts that hamper our spiritual maturity. In many cases that is deeply connected that person’s upbringing. If the light of Gospel doesn’t shine on it, in other words, if we aren’t treated by the grace of the Gospel, no matter how much of the message of the Gospel we hear it just ends in knowledge. It doesn’t soak deep into the person’s heart. In other words, the faith is just on the surface. His faith doesn’t change. I Thess. 5:23 says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sanctification doesn’t soak into spirit, soul, and body. To do it is necessary that the light of the gospel soaks deeply into the spirit, soul, and body.
In his talk he talked about a woman that is in the church that he is pastoring. This woman has been a Christian for 40 years. It could be said that she was a grand Christian. She has always been single and worked as a nurse in a hospital. Of course she lives a disciplined Christian life. On the skin level she looks like a splendid Christian. However, she is cold. This Pastor went to college and seminary in America and so he spent a long time in America. She says things like, “Pastor you were in America for a long time so you don’t understand.”
This church has an early Morning Prayer meeting every Friday. One time this woman came to the prayer meeting. The Pastor was thrilled and said,” Oh, I’m glad you came. Let’s pray together.” The woman replied, “No, I just came to observe to see what the prayer meeting is like.” She is always cold. The pastor was always distressed not knowing why she was like that.
However, after reading the book, he realized that she must have a wound in her heart. That wound was hampering her from being meek and mild. The Pastor didn’t judge her, but listened from his heart to what she was saying. Then she said, “Pastor, you always talk about marriage and families, but I don’t understand it well.” The Pastor realized that that she never married and had always been single so whenever she heard such talks, she couldn’t accept it. However, by her opening up her heart to him about that and by the Pastor accepting how she felt she was changed.
In that church there was a young man from Mongol. He got hepatitis. She accepted him like her child and nursed him well. Of course, since she was a nurse that may seem natural, but what was different was it was not a superficial relationship. She payed for all his medical expenses.
She was changed this much because the grace of the Gospel wasn’t just a head knowledge, but soaked down deep into her spirit. The light of the Gospel had shown deep into her soul. As a result her faith was not superficial, but was really from her heart. She was really changed.
This is the kind of faith that pleases God. When we hear about the grace of the Gospel, we mustn’t listen to it as if it is for other people, but accept it into our hearts. If we actually put it into our life, God will definitely change you. James said, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22) How are you? Are you possibly just listening? Let’s obediently accept the Word of God hat has been given to us. Then we will become a person that pleases God. Let’s be a person that puts the Word of God into action. The Word of God can save your soul.