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From the Series: Restore My Soul
November 23, 2008

“The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.” (Isaiah 58:6)

Our title today is “Restore Justice.” That’s a prayer, and I want every Christian believer to own it. I want us to get the big picture of how knowing Christ makes a difference, not only to your personal life, but also to the community, the nation and the world. Revival begins in the heart, but it does not end there.

We’re going to look at three snapshots of the world: [1] The Church: Ignoring Justice (Isaiah 58:1-14), The Culture: Losing Justice (Isaiah 59:1-15), and The Christ: Bringing Justice (Isaiah 59:16, 17).

The Church: Ignoring Justice

“Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1).

This is clearly God’s word to his own people and so I want to apply these words to myself and to us, the church. Notice what God says about his own people. Do you think this describes Christians today?

Diligent people in rebellion

They were diligent about their personal relationship with God, in both worship and bible study: “Day after day they seek me out…” That’s worship. “They seem eager to know my ways” (v2). He’s talking about their eagerness to know his Word.

They were also diligent in prayer and fasting: “They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them” (v2). Asking is part of prayer. “Why have we fasted, they say, and you have not seen it?” (v3). These believers were serious not only about prayer, but also about fasting.

God’s people had been worshipping, studying the Bible, praying and fasting and yet bad things were happening to them. Trouble came upon their nation, and God wasn’t answering their prayers. So God’s people were frustrated.

They felt that God owed them because they worshipped, studied the Bible, fasted and prayed. They felt that God was under an obligation to come through for them because of what they had done for him.

God is looking for something more

Hasn’t God seen their devotion? Yes, God has seen their devotion, and he sends the prophet Isaiah to tell the people that he is not impressed: “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” (v3, 4).

These believers worship, read the Bible, pray and fast, so they are very committed to religious things. But they are no different from other men who did not worship, read the Bible, fast and pray.

They had settled for a private piety that left them as self-centered as others who did not share their faith. Their faith was a religious glaze over a fundamentally self-centered life. God says “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high” (v4).

God is looking for something more from us than a religious glaze over a self-centered life:

“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? 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 him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:5-7).

If you want one word to describe what God wants, that word is “justice.” Justice means integrity, trustworthiness, truthfulness, doing right, loving your neighbor as yourself, caring about the plight of others as if it was your own.

Do you see what God is saying? “I see many people going in to worship, but here’s my question: Have you shared your food with someone who is hungry? Have you done something to help a person who has no home? What are you doing with regard to children who need clothing?”

A distinguishing mark of true Christianity

This is not an isolated theme in Isaiah. It goes to the heart of authentic Christianity. You find it in the letters of John:

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (John 3:17).

“Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen… Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (John 4:20-21).

“This is how we know who the children of God are… Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).

If you do not love your brother, what reason is there to think that you are a Christian at all? There’s no reason to think that you have anything more than a religious glaze over a fundamentally unchanged life. A fresh movement of the Holy Spirit begins with God restoring faith, joy and repentance, but it does not end there.

The pursuit of Christ’s love

When God’s people get a fresh vision for justice it cannot stay hidden. It breaks out because the love of Christ is born again in your heart:

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear” (Isaiah 58:8).

When? When you share your food with the hungry. (v7)

Then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard” (v8).

When? When you provide the wanderer with shelter. (v7)

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I” (v9).

When? When you see the naked and clothe him. (v7)

We’re talking about spiritual renewal. Isaiah’s telling us what to pursue. Do you want a felt knowledge of the presence of God in your life? Here’s how to get it:

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk… 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. Then you will call and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help and He will say ‘Here am I.’” (Isaiah 58:9-10).

What about the Church today?

That was God’s Word to the prophet Isaiah for His people 700 years before Christ was born. Here’s my question: Do you think this speaks to evangelical Christians in America today? Do you think it might be relevant for us?

God sees our worship, our Bible studies, our prayer and maybe even some fasting. But He’s asking: “Do you really care about people in desperate need? Is your religion just a glaze over a self-centered life?”

I was speaking with someone in his twenties, who said that he had been around church for a while, but he had rejected Christianity. This was his reason: “It just seemed too selfish to be true.”

The Christians he had seen had been interested in themselves and their own advancement. The god they believed in seemed to exist to make them healthy, wealthy, comfortable and happy. Their church was primarily about meeting the needs of its own members. Their salvation was about making sure that they didn’t go to hell, but the plight of others seemed not even to be on their radar screen.

That’s what Isaiah is talking about—the Church ignoring justice. I hope that when you see it, you will want to join me in crying out to God “Restore justice!”

The Culture: Losing Justice

Here is an astonishing picture of our culture today:

 

Truth

“Truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey” (Isaiah 59:14, 15).

We live in a postmodern culture that says “There is no such thing as objective truth. Truth is just the way you see it, what’s true for you.” When a culture loses its grip on truth, justice falters in the courts.

“No one calls for justice. No one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies. Justice is far from us. Justice is driven back. The Lord looked [and saw that there was] no justice” (v4, 9, 14, 15).

When a culture is given over to selfishness and greed, the courts become about winning, not about what is true and what is right. It’s about who can present the most compelling story. When truth is lost, we find ourselves in a world of “spin,” where it is hard to know what is true and what is right, and the value of life itself is lost.

Life

“Your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt” (v3).

I cannot read that without thinking about the 50 million unborn babies whose lives have been lost over the last 35 years in this country that we love.[1] That’s the culture into which Isaiah speaks. You look at that and say “He’s talking about us right here!”

The root of the problem

We are a culture that is losing justice. “Losing justice” means losing integrity, trustworthiness, truthfulness, doing right, and loving your neighbor as yourself. It means caring about one another’s plight as if it was your own.

I am no economist, but surely you don’t need a degree in economics to understand that at the root of the problem that is facing our country and the world today lies a tide of selfishness, a great failure to look out for others as we look out for ourselves, and massive indulgence in living beyond our means, individually and collectively.

I hope and pray that our leaders can deal wisely with the economy. But I know that no leader can deal with the greed and selfishness of the human heart that lies at the root of our problems. Only God can do that. Only God can take people who are fundamentally selfish, and make them into people who care for others.

Owning our sin in confession

In the middle of this chapter, God’s people come to Him in confession. Isaiah has been talking about ‘you,’ and ‘they’: “The way of peace they do not know, there is no justice in their paths” (v8). He uses that language because he is speaking the Word of God.

But then suddenly Isaiah is standing with the people, and they are standing with him. The prophet and the people turn to God, owning their own sin and the sin of the nation. I want us to join them by making these words our prayer for ourselves and for our nation today:

“Justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.

Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead.

We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away.

For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived” (Isaiah 59:9-13).

For a church that has been neglecting justice, in a culture that is losing justice—What hope is there? The obvious answer would seem to be God: “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear” (Isaiah 59:1).

But here’s the problem: “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). If we have no way of breaking through to God, our only hope is in God breaking through to us!

The Christ: Bringing Justice

 

“The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice, He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.” (Isaiah 59:15, 16)

Standing with us as our Champion

God is going to fight for the salvation of the world, for your salvation and mine. He comes to us and he stands with us as our Champion, when we could not break through to him because of our sin. He comes to deal with all the dark powers that lie behind sin and evil:

“He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak” (v17).

Do you see the picture? God is dressed for battle! He gets ready to battle for the salvation of his people, so he takes up the armor. That familiar image is found in the New Testament where Paul tells Christians to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11).

Whenever you find yourself in spiritual warfare, you put on the armor that Christ has already worn! Philip Ryken speaks about how the Christians wear “second-hand armor,” the “hand-me-downs” from Christ’s victory over Satan. [2]

As I tried to reflect on what it meant for Christ to bring justice I wrote these words:

He put on the breastplate of righteousness to give me a righteousness that I do not possess.

He put on the helmet of salvation to save me when I could not save myself.

He put on the garments of vengeance to defeat the dark powers that oppress us, and to give them what they deserve.

He wrapped himself in zeal to enter this fight that we could not win, so that we could not lose.

Becoming like Christ

Why did Jesus Christ come into the world? What would be a good, biblical answer? “So that I should have a happy and fulfilling life?” I don’t think so.

God’s purpose in sending his Son was that we should be “conformed to the likeness of his Son that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). Christ’s purpose in coming was to create a people who would become like him:

Like Him who was rich, but became poor,

so that others might inherit the world.

Like Him who became homeless,

so that others may have an everlasting home.

Like Him who went hungry,

so that others might have the bread of life.

Like Him who was stripped of His clothing,

so that others would be clothed in His righteousness.

Like Him who suffered injustice,

so that others may be justified before God.

When you ask the Holy Spirit to restore your soul, this is the Jesus you are asking to become more like. The distinguishing mark of Christ’s presence in your life will be that you care about others more than you care about yourself.

A true reflection of Christ

I thank God for all the ways I see a true reflection of the Lord Jesus Christ among us: The families that foster a child in need, the folks who visit prisons to bring hope to those who have none, those who care for the grieving, those who have a passion for the persecuted church and count it a party to write Christmas cards.

A true reflection of Christ is seen in those who serve the homeless, those who care for aging parents, neighbors or friends, the compassion of the whole congregation for the needs of the Congo, and other parts of the world. These are things that Jesus would do.

Thinking about this during the week my mind went back to a story I heard years ago. I don’t know its source, but it has helped me to grasp how we experience the presence of Jesus when we reach out to others in need. It’s the story of a monk who had given himself to prayer.

All his life he longed that, just once, Christ would appear to him in his cell. He prayed this for years and then one day it happened… The monk had been praying and, as he looked up, there he was: The Lord Jesus Christ standing right there in his cell!

The monk was completely overcome. This was the moment he’d longed for: A personal audience with Jesus Christ. His mind was filled with a thousand questions he wanted to ask. The moment he had longed for all his life had finally come.

At that moment, the bell over the door of the monastery rang. The monk knew what that meant. From time to time a beggar would climb the hill to the monastery to ask for bread. That day, the monk was on duty, which meant that he had to answer the door to this beggar.

The monk faced an agonizing choice. He must leave the Savior, or he must ignore the beggar. He rose from his knees, left his light-filled cell, went to the kitchen, and gave the beggar the bread. Then the monk slowly walked back to his room, distraught that his duty to the beggar had caused him to miss the presence of his Savior.

When he got to his cell, to his absolute astonishment, the Savior was still there waiting for him. He fell to his knees in wonder, and the Savior said to him “If you had not gone, I would not have stayed.”

Do you want to know more of Christ in your life? Seize every opportunity to loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, share your food with the hungry and provide the poor with shelter. “Then your light will break forth like the dawn… and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:6-9).

[1] Chapter 60 shows us a fourth snapshot—The City: Reflecting Justice (Isaiah 60:1-22).

[2] Paraphrased from The Message of Salvation by Phillip Ryken, p.57

[1] Extrapolated (according to the current annual abortion rate) from statistics provided by the Alan Guttmacher Institute and the Center for Disease and Control. Between 1973 (the year Roe v. Wade was passed) and 2006 (the first 33 years of legalized abortions in the U.S.) 48,589,993 abortions were performed. http://www.nrlc.org/abortion/facts/abortionstats.html



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