Read Isaiah 58
The prophet Isaiah describes the people of Israel seeking to please God with outward spiritual disciplines. The people fast to show their obedience to him, while at the same time acting cruelly and unjustly toward their neighbors (v. 3-4). The people want justice and goodness for themselves (v.2), yet they don’t treat others within their community in those ways. What’s more, they don’t understand why God doesn’t respond to them for their “outward show” of fasting and worship (v.3). This passage shows how God views their actions in light of his desire for his people to pursue justice.
These verses are significant for us to truly know God and live as his disciples: he reveals his desire for people to be freed from oppression, protected when vulnerable, and provided for when in need. It follows that the people who call themselves by God’s name should desire and do the things that matter so much to him (see also Micah 6:6-8).
Yet, we might ask, isn’t this passage about freedom and meeting needs in a spiritual sense and not about actually lifting our neighbor’s burden or giving food and clothes to those who don’t have them? The answer is that these verses have both a spiritual and a literal meaning. As Christians, we have experienced the freedom that God provides by reconciling us to himself through the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. This is the spiritual meaning of Isaiah 58. In the gospel, God provided a way for us to be free from the punishment for sin that we deserve and experience God’s mercy in Christ bearing that punishment for us. Early in his ministry, Jesus made clear that he was the fulfillment of the promised Savior anointed by God “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4: 18). Jesus’ death and resurrection make a way for all of us to be free from the oppression and darkness of sin.
As Christians, we have been renewed in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit for the work of renewal in the world (Rev. 21:1-5). Much of that work of renewal is actively restoring justice in our neighborhoods and communities. This is the literal meaning of Isaiah 58. As Bethany Hoang, serving with International Justice Mission, writes, “Seeking justice is bringing right order and exerting life-giving power to protect the vulnerable.” We honor God’s desire for his people to act justly when we are actually helping to end oppressive practices, protecting widows and orphans, and caring for the homeless and displaced among us. As Christ reminds us, when we do these acts of justice for our neighbors in love and gratitude for what Christ has done for us, it is as though we have done them for Christ himself (Matt. 25:34-40).
Reflection: Take personal inventory of your life, heart, and spiritual journey. Use these prompts / questions as a way to prepare for group discussions – or – for personal times of prayer.
- What kinds of injustice locally and globally are most likely to get your attention?
- How does your faith inform your response to injustice and your desire for justice?
- What about the sermon stood out or impacted you the most? Do you have any follow up questions about the sermon?
- In Isaiah 58, verses 1-5 describe the fasting of the Israelites and why God takes no notice of it. What do we learn about how the Israelites were worshipping and serving God in these verses?
- How does God describe the fast that he desires in Isaiah 58:6-7? What will be the results of this kind of fasting (verses 8-14)?
- What meaning do Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25:34-40 have for us as we worship and serve God today?
- In light of the gospel, why do you think it is so important to God that his people pursue justice and stand against injustice? What difference does the gospel make in strengthening justice and eliminating injustice in the world?
In seeking justice, we can’t do everything, and we can’t do nothing. Each of us has limited time and resources; yet, we can see from God’s word that as Christians we are meant to take action to restore the justice that God desires in the world.
What, then, can we do? Discuss this question with your family, friends, community group and other significant people in your life. Work together to identify ways to wisely and actively seek justice in your neighborhood and community.
Learn more about the Redeemer Discipleship Project here.