But you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Leviticus 19:18
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Isaiah 58:6
Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Isaiah 58 speaks of every oppressive yoke that must be broken. We barely know how to live without creating oppression – which is, treating a human being as a means to an end, without any sincere care for that person. That is oppression, and we’re swimming in an ocean of it. Isaiah is saying, it’s easy to live that way and at the same time be “a committed Christian.” But Jesus isn’t like that. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. The first step to loving our neighbors is for us to be so loved by Jesus that we ourselves are set free.
God is not saying here in Isaiah 58, “You have to earn my blessing. You have to deserve my blessing. You have to cause my blessing.” That is legalism. The conditions (“If . . . then”) in Isaiah 58 are God’s way of saying to us, “You’re way over there, and I’m way over here. You don’t even know how your indifference toward people is blocking out my blessing. But over here, where I am, here in the place of love and service and risk – over here it’s thick with blessing and power. I’m loving your neighbors. So come on over here. Join me. You don’t deserve it. You never will. But you can have it. My power is here in my love. Come get it!”
Love Your Neighbor is our campaign between now and April 18th, when Dr. Russell Moore will be us for a Saturday morning of thinking together how we can get past our culture war and bring God’s peace to our city. Too many of us Christians have been treating Jesus like a chip to play in the political game. But that only makes him ignorable, even offensive. It’s time to obey the second most important command in the universe and treat our neighbors with the love of Jesus. Then he’ll be non-ignorable.
Thank you for reading the booklet and praying about it and deciding how you’re going to serve and care and risk and love in new ways. What you’re doing is very pleasing to the Lord. He is with you in this. The Holy Spirit is an expert at helping sinners like us step out in new ways to love our neighbors. And who is our neighbor? Not only the people who live around us, but our neighbor is anyone who has a need. So until Jesus comes back and heals the universe, as he will, we will never lack opportunities to serve and give and care. It’s the second most important reason why we exist – right behind loving God himself.
What we’re going to see today from Isaiah is two insights into real love. What we see here is that loving our neighbors God’s way will get us sticking our necks out, and we see that that costly love is where we experience revival. In verses 1-7, real love is where God’s people reach out. In verses 8-12, real love is where God’s power comes down.
Real love is where God’s people reach out (1-7):
“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.” Isaiah 58:1 Clearly, something’s wrong. And God wants his people to know it. So how bad is it? What are these awful people doing? I’ll bet they’re trashing every one of the ten commandments. But look at verse 2: “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.” Isaiah 58:2
If you moved to a new town and found a church that sought God daily, delighted to know his ways, asked of God righteous judgments and delighted to draw near to him, you might join that church. I would. But God might not. God saw something back then that really bothered him. It’s possible for a church to do many good things with no awareness that, to God, something is wrong. What did God see that was so troubling? Underneath the good appearances, look what these people were thinking:
“‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’” Isaiah 58:3a
The people of God have been fasting. They’ve even afflicted themselves. (That’s the force of “humbled ourselves.”) That’s hard core. That’s impressive. That is serious Christianity. But God is ignoring them. God is standing off at a distance, withholding himself, and they wonder why. Have you ever resented God and doubted God because you were thinking, “I’m busting it! And God doesn’t care. What more does he want?”
But this question “Why?” in verse 3 is not always a sincere desire for insight and correction. These people were attacking God in their thoughts, because he seemed so unfair. So here are God’s people, they’re not slackers, they’re very involved, and they’re angry at God. We always end up angry at God, if we think our obedience can obligate God. Whenever we feel that our commitment deserves God’s blessing, we will soon hate him, because he isn’t playing that game. God deals with us only on terms of grace through the finished work of Christ on the cross. So here’s what we’re seeing. The thing that can poison us is not only our sins but also our religion, whenever we see ourselves as God’s Marines – the few, the proud, the brave.
We all tend to compartmentalize. We have our religion over here, and we have our workaday world over there. But God brings the two together. Here’s what God says:
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” Isaiah 58:3b-7
These verses get us asking new questions, like, However committed we are, is our Christianity helping anyone? Are we doing hard religious things, like fasting, in order to evade doing even harder humanitarian things? We can’t forget God over that in that part of life, and think it’s okay, because we’re really putting out for God over here in this part of life. Religious disciplines are demanding. But they aren’t nearly as demanding as caring for people. God doesn’t want us to prove our devotion to him by making ourselves hungry and miserable, while ignoring our obligation to make other people full and happy. If our Christianity, however sincere, doesn’t move us to make our world a better place, it’s not just unhelpful to others; it’s unacceptable to God. The Bible says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
When God said to us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” he wasn’t saying, “Go to church.” There are other verses about that. But no amount of going to church allows us to ignore loving our neighbors. When people were asking John the Baptist what repentance should look like – and it was a time of revival, it was the glory of the Lord coming down – when people asked John how they should repent, he didn’t talk about religious things. He didn’t say, “Fast and pray.” He didn’t say, “Go to church.” He didn’t say, “Read your Bible.” What did John say? He said, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors asked John how they should repent, and he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers asked him how they should repent, and he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” When Zacchaeus said to Jesus, “If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold,” Jesus did not reply, “You don’t have to do that. What I want you to do is go evangelize people.” What did Jesus say? He said, “Today salvation has come to this house.” In other words, “Now you’re being evangelized!” Do we Christians need to be converted to the real Jesus? The Bible says, “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how can God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18). Jesus was poor when he lived in this world. But now he’s in glory above. Still, he has left people here in his place. He has people in the world today who represent him. Who are they? Everyone who crosses our path with a need. Jesus walks among us as a needy person, a disadvantaged person, anyone we can help. Jesus said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
John Perkins, the African-American Christian leader, speaks of “the bigness of the Bible – how it takes in the whole person, both an individual’s personal actions and social actions.” And Jonathan Edwards said:
Christian love disposes a person to be public-spirited. A man of a right spirit is not a man of narrow and private views but is greatly concerned for the good of the community to which he belongs, and particularly of the city where he resides.
Our Christianity must be deeply internal, very personal. If it stops there, it’s just a spare-time hobby. But if out of that deep love for the Lord flows a life of love for our neighbors – that’s where the power of God comes down:
Real love is where God’s power comes down (8-12)
Here at Immanuel, we love revival. But for some years, I think I had the wrong idea of revival. I thought of it as a private religious joy ride. But real revival, according to Scripture, stirs us to do what we can about poverty, illiteracy, slavery, abortion, political manipulation, people being treated like animals, people going to eternal hell. So when we suffer, God isn’t being cruel to us. God is giving us a gift. He’s helping us to feel what so many are feeling and to care more sincerely for them (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). The symbol of our faith is a cross. It speaks of love poured out for people in desperate need. Jesus always creates generous, hard-working, available people. The Bible says, “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13-14). And what is Isaiah saying here in verses 8-12? He’s saying that God smiles on that kind of Christianity:
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; 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.” Isaiah 58:8-9a
Do you want God to answer your prayers? Be his answer to someone else’s prayer. Do you want God to come in his immediacy and his presence and say to you, “Here I am”? Get close to someone who needs you and say, “Here I am.” Here’s the insight: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Why does happiness always work that way? Because God is a happy Giver, an intense Lover, a relevant Helper, and he wants us to taste his joy.
If your life is a continual effort to cope with the grim business of survival, if you’re living in constant fear, your jaw set, your expectations minimal, God has so much more for you. Verse 11 speaks of “a spring of water that doesn’t fail.” Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink, and out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38). Jesus died and rose again not to give you coping mechanisms but to pour out upon you overflowing blessing from on high. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Where is that? It’s where he is, in the place of love.
Jonathan Edwards wisely connected loving our neighbors with the power of revival. Here is what he said:
God’s people, at this time of revival, ought especially to abound in deeds of charity. . . . Nothing would have a greater tendency to bring the God of love down from heaven to earth, so beautiful would be the sight in the eyes of our loving and exalted Redeemer. It would soon, as it were, fetch him down from his throne in heaven, to set up his tabernacle with men on earth and dwell with them. I do not remember ever to have read of any remarkable outpouring of the Spirit that continued any long time, but what was attended with an abundance of deeds of mercy.
Could there be anything more wonderful for you and me than that? Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”