Isaiah 58:6-10 / 61:1-4
“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? (Isaiah 58:6)
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? (Isaiah 58:7)
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. (Isaiah 58:8)
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, (Isaiah 58:9)
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. (Isaiah 58:10)
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1)
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, (Isaiah 61:2)
and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:3)
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. (Isaiah 61:4)
So these scriptures in Isaiah are of course know as prophecy. So what that means in this case is they’re looking ahead. And these scriptures in particular are prophesying about someone knows as ‘The Servant of the Lord’ who is, of course, Jesus.
So here Isaiah is prophesying, that is, looking ahead, to Jesus. And his kingdom. What we would call ‘The Kingdom of God’ or ‘The Government of God’ or ‘The Politics of God’ or ‘The Society of God’.
For many of you, what we just read sounds a little familiar ‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord has anointed me…’ b/c in the gospel of Luke, Jesus actually launched his ministry with these words. – In fact, it’s Jesus first sermon.
So imagine you are Jesus, and you’re getting ready to preach your first sermon. What text do you choose? Well Jesus chose Isaiah 61, and he’s saying ‘This is what I’m about.’ This is the core of what I’m here for.
So all that to say, this passage gives us a summary of the kingdom of God.
Jesus had compassion on everyone. The poor, the rich, the left, the right, the men, the women, the black, the white. Well, I’m not sure there was a lot of ‘white’ happening, but you get my point.
But Jesus spend a disproportionate amount of time with the down and out and the poor. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.
In fact, if you were to ask the question “Who did Jesus spend the most time with?” The answer would be: The Poor… – The Blind – The Lame – The Lepers – The Hungry – Sinners – Prostitutes – Tax Collectors – The Persecuted – The Downtrodden – The Captives – Those with unclean spirits – The heavy burdened, – The rebel who spits on the law – The Little Ones – The Least – The Last – The Lost
If you’re familiar with the story of the gospels, you know that he spent a huge amount of time embracing the poor, and warning the rich.
It’s been said ‘Jesus came to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.’ ‘Afflict’ is probably too strong of a word, but overall, that’s pretty true.
If you take seriously the message of Jesus, eventually you will be confronted with your relationship with the poor.
If – ask “Why should a Christian be involved with the poor?”
And so if you were to ask the question: “Why should a believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ be involved with the poor?”
I would say there’s 3 answers, and they all come from these verses. So I’m going to go through them.
“Why should a believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ be involved with the poor?” The answers: Because of the future, because of the present, and because of the past.
1. The Future.
Again, Isaiah 61
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me…” “to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor” (Isaiah 61:2)
What is the ‘year of the Lord’s favor’? That’s a weird phrase.
Well, it’s from Leviticus 25 which is going over Israels law given to them by Moses, it’s knows as the ‘Mosaic legislation’.
Here’s the idea: Every 50 years, all debts were forgiven, all slaves were freed, and all the land went back to its original allotments.
Backstory: When Israel came out of Egypt into the promised land, it was divided up. Every clan, every tribe, every family got an equal amount of land.
You might be thinking “That’s doesn’t sound like capitalism!!!” Yeah it wasn’t.
And as every year goes by, what happens? Some people do better, some people do worse.
Some people b/c of luck, and/or hard work, and/or good decisions would start owning more land.
And some people b/c of luck and/or laziness and/or bad decisions would lose their land. Or they had to sell it.
Well God says every 50 years, no matter what happens the land goes back to it’s original owner.
One Bible scholar put it like this. “On the average, each person or family had at least once in a lifetime a chance to start afresh no matter how irresponsibly they had handled their finances or how far into debt they had fallen.”
P.S. can you imagine if this was the policy in America? Can you imagine Americans being told “Every 50 years, everything goes back to the way it was. Where every single American is the same.”
The reason is b/c God is saying ‘I own all the land.’ Anything good that you have is a gift from me, and I don’t want permanent poverty in my country.’
It’s that a fascinating law? I’m not sure HOW I feel about it.
Seems like people at the top would hate it and the people at the bottom would like it.
It seems like it would be bad news for the rich and good news for the poor.
So the prophecy is that when Jesus comes, this is going to essentially happen.
He goes on to explain it: “I am going to release the prisoners from darkness. I’m going to proclaim freedom for the captives. I’m going to bind up the brokenhearted. I’m going to preach good news to the poor.”
And then in verse 3 “I’m going to get rid of all mourning. I’m going to get rid of all grief. I’m going to get rid of all sorrow.”
So again, this is talking about the future that Jesus is bringing.
Someday the physical world is going to be wiped clean of all problems, and flaws, and blemishes.
All poverty, injustice, hunger, disease, death, suffering will be gone.
That’s the future.
So what does that mean for us? Well 2 things:
God doesn’t just care our spiritual need, he cares about our physical need as well.
That in God resurrecting us, he doesn’t just care about us as ‘spirits in the sky’ but as human beings living in the world.
He’s getting rid of both spiritual and physical darkness.
So as his ambassadors in this world, we don’t just care about people spirits, and you know, getting them into heaven when they die, but we also care about things like poverty, and sickness, and death.
That’s it’s our job to reflect his priorities in our priorities.
So we care about the poor b/c of the future.
2. The Present.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice.” (Isaiah 58:6)
Well talk about fasting in a minute.
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer (that’s the homeless person) with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:7)
And verse 10 says we are to ‘Spend ourselves’ on behalf of the hungry.
That puts it pretty far beyond the place of ‘Yeah what the heck, I’ve got an extra quarter’. No, the idea of ‘spending yourself’ means that you decrease a little bit. That it actually cost you something.
And I love the fact that God calls caring the the poor ‘Justice’.
B/C if it was just basically ‘charity’ well that’s kinda optional. You know what I mean? Sometimes I’m charitable, sometimes I’m not, but hey it’s optional. JUSTICE on the other hand is mandatory. At least it is for the Christian.
God here is saying “If you don’t feed the hungry, you’re being unjust,”
And a lot of people would say “I don’t agree with that. I don’t owe the poor anything. If I WANT to give them something, I will, but I don’t owe them anything.“
Well that doesn’t work with the text. And here’s why:
“…share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” – WHAT?!
When you hear that phrase ‘Your own flesh and blood’ what does that mean? It means your family. Right? It’s someone you’re related to.
But here the ‘poor wanderer’ is described as your own flesh and blood.
BTW in bible talk, a ‘wanderer’ is someone from a different nationality. – Often translated as ‘stranger’ or ‘alien’ or ‘immigrant’. Not getting political, just teaching you the bible.
“Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Shelter the poor wanderer. Do not turn away from your own flesh and blood.”
To God, the poor wander IS your flesh and blood.
So what’s the saying: “Every human being is made in the image of God. And turning away from them IS turning away from your own flesh and blood. Therefore, you are responsible for their needs. Turning away from your own flesh and blood is not just uncharitable, it’s wrong.
Which is pretty strong language. Wouldn’t you agree?
And I think it goes back to what we’ve talked about before. That we, especially Americans, who live in this amazing country, have a tendency to think we’re self made people. When we aren’t. You’re actually where you are today mostly b/c of a lot of gifts.
- You were born in this century and not the 6th century.
- You were born in this country, not in another one.
- You were born with talent. Some of you.
- You were born with your health.
And without that stuff, you wouldn’t be anywhere.
So mainly what you have is a gift from God.
But a lot of us act like “This is all mine and I give it away if I want.”
In fact, if you act like everything you have is what you deserve, then it just shows that you don’t understand your relationship with God, and the rest of the human race.
If you don’t care for the poor, it’s not just uncharitable, it’s unjust.
- We take care – poor b/c – future
- We take care – poor b/c – present.
But – can’t stop there.
B/C if we stopped there the summary of the sermon could be thing “Feel guilty, feel guilty, feel guilty. Now give to the poor.” That pretty much where we’ve gotten so far. “God cares about the poor. Don’t you want to be like God?!” – Basically guilt guilt guilt. Let pray.
But it won’t work. It might work briefly, for like a week, but it won’r last long term. Guilt isn’t a good long-term motivator. Guilt doesn’t change hearts.
But the Bible gives us a third reason. And it’s not the future, it’s not the present…
3. The Past.
The idea here: You look at the sacrifice of Jesus, and when you really understand what was happening there, you’ll WANT to care for the poor.
And even more than that, it’ll will change your understanding of the poor.
Remember at the beginning of the passage we read “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen …?” Well what’s the deal with that?
Well the beginning of the chapter, it’s a place we didn’t read, the Israelites are complaining that they fast, and they fast, and they fast, and still God doesn’t answer their prayers.
‘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. (Isaiah 58:3)
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. (Isaiah 58:4)
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? (Isaiah 58:5)
And then he goes on to explain the kind of fast he wants, which is to care for the poor.
So it’s kind of a weird exchange.
But you could essentially say it like this: “Don’t just give up food for a day every once in awhile, but pour yourself out continually for the pour.
Don’t just give up candy during Lent, but give of yourself freely always.
God is essentially saying “If you really understood your faith, and saw the hungry, you’d feed them. And saw the naked, you would clothe them, you saw the homeless, you would provide shelter for them.
Now let’s be understanding to the Israelites, they didn’t have Jesus, they didn’t have the cross, they just had a general sense of God being kind and loving.
But us, we have LESS excuse.
Centuries later, in one of the most brutal, bloodcurdling parts of the Bible, in Matthew 25, Jesus takes Isaiah 58 and reworks it.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. (Matthew 25:31)
All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:32)
He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:33)
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. (Matthew 25:34)
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, (Matthew 25:35)
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:36)
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? (Matthew 25:37)
When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? (Matthew 25:38)
When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ (Matthew 25:39)
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40)
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41)
For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, (Matthew 25:42)
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 25:43)
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ (Matthew 25:44)
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:45)
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)
So these people received ‘eternal punishment’. How come? B/C they didn’t believe the right thing? No, because they didn’t care the poor, the immigrant, the prisoner.
Here’s the paraphrase: “If you love me and if you know my love and if you know what I’ve done for you, then when you see the poor, you will love the poor. If you don’t love the poor, then that shows you don’t love me, and you don’t understand my love at all.”
“Nobody gets into Heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.” (Rev. James Forbes)
He’s NOT saying: If you care for the poor, then you’ll be saved.
He IS saying: “Here’s how you know you’re saved. You care for the poor.”
I know what you’re thinking: “Whoa Jesus, chill.”
Well let me ask you a question: If you were to stand before God right now, would you be willing to admit there’s absolutely nothing you have ever done that is worthy of him? Even your best moments are filled with bad motives.
We’re supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We’ve never done that perfectly.
We’re supposed to love our neighbor as ourself. We’ve never done that perfectly.
Husbands, you’re supposed to love your wife just as Jesus loves the church. You’ve never done that.
If you honest, none of have anything to present to God that would make us worthy of him. Nothing. – Even those of us with Christian bumper stickers.
You could say it like this: We’re bankrupt. – We’re morally and spiritual bankrupt.
Do you truly believe that the only reason you’re here is b/c of God’s generosity? B/C you should.
And if you believe that, then you are ‘spiritually poor’. Which is actually a good thing.
Serou’ll recall from the sermon on the mount that it’s the poor in spirit that inherit the kingdom of heaven. And so you never leave that ‘poor in spirit’ mentality.
And so you never look down on the poor. You can never be condescending.
You can never say ‘You got yourself into that mess!!’ B/c so did you, spiritually speaking, but God’s generosity saved you.
No, instead, when you see the physically poor, you say ‘Me too.’
But a lot of us are more like ‘middle class in spirit’.
“Yeah God has really helped me, but if we being honest, I’m not too bad myself.”
So when you see the poor, you just think ‘Well, just be more like me.’
Well Jesus comes and SHUTS THAT NONSENSE DOWN.
He says that the way we treat the poor is the way we treat him. Just let that sink in real deep.
And Jesus never asks us to do something he’s not willing to do. And this was his entire life: caring for the undeserving.
Ask yourself: When it comes to the poor, do I look more like Jesus or more like a Pharisee?
And honestly ask yourself: When it comes to the poor, do I look more like Jesus or more like the Pharisee? The religious rulers of the day who scoffed at the poor.
Jesus himself became a victim of injustice. Jesus himself became powerless.
And we have to love people like he did. We have to!
And the idea is this: we don’t serve the poor b/c of guilt, we serve the poor b/c we are the poor, and we love the poor, and b/c we understand grace.
I’m gonna let a little bit of pressure of you.
I’m sure we all know plenty of people who claim to be Christ followers but have almost nothing to do with the poor. Maybe give a few bucks here and there. But certainly not ‘spending themselves’ (verse 10).
Our fault. – Us preachers.
I hope you appreciate what I’m doing for you here. I’m totally letting you off the hook. Here’s why I think it’s our fault: There’s something beautiful that happens when a Christian connects giving to the poor, not with guilt, but with grace. Something changes in them. That there’s this really simple, beautiful, concrete way of serving Jesus, and giving directly to him. But I think a lot of preachers only know how to motivate you to give with guilt. And that never works, at least not for long. But when you finally make the connection between ‘Grace’ and ‘Giving to the Poor’, you wake up.
And so we want to give you an opportunity.
FEED THE KIDS – Video – (Jayne)
(Prepare – Communion)
I want to close with a quote for a sermon in the 1830’s that when I read it, it woke me up.
This is from the 1830s in Scotland – Robert Murray M’Cheyne.
“Now, dear Christians, some of you pray night and day to be made branches of the True Vine; you pray to be made all over in the image of Christ. If so, you must be like him in giving. “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor …”
Objection: my money is my own. Answer: Christ might have said, ‘My blood is my own, my life is my own; no man will force it from me.’ Then where should we have been?
Objection: the poor are undeserving. Answer: Christ might have said the same thing. They are wicked rebels against my Father’s law: shall I lay down my life for these? I will give to the good angels. But no … he gave his blood for the undeserving.
Objection: the poor may abuse it. Answer: Christ might have said the same; with far greater truth. Christ knew that thousands would trample his blood under their feet; that most would despise it; that many would make it an excuse for sinning more; yet he gave his own blood.
Oh, my dear Christians! If you would be like Christ, give much, give often, give freely, to the vile and the poor, the thankless and the undeserving. Christ is glorious and happy, and so will you be. It is not your money God wants, but your happiness. Remember his own word: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. (Proverbs 19:17)
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)
Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42)
When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:12-14)
If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry (Isaiah 58:10)
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:33-34)
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:11)
Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, (Proverbs 14:31)
but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, (Proverbs 28:27)
but those who close their eyes to the poor receive many curses.
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:11)
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)