Gospel Gazette Online
Vol. 14 No. 5 May 2012
Page 12

The Heart of Christianity

Chad Ezelle

There are plenty of Messianic prophecies scattered throughout the Old Testament, but none is more well known and beloved than Isaiah’s servant song in Isaiah 53. There, he beautifully foretold the coming of the Messiah, His existence, His punishment and His death for the world. Interestingly, Isaiah had much to say about the people Jesus would target. (Credit for this collection of passages goes to Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in their book, When Helping Hurts). I know the following passages are lengthy, but every word is worth it.

Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-17)

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:3-6)

Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching God. “Why have we fasted,” they say, “and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?” In fact, in the day of your fast, you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers… Is it a fast that I have chosen, a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, and to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and 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.” If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as the noonday. (Isaiah 58:1-3, 5-10)

Clearly, God had a heart for the oppressed. He cared about the ones who were needy, burdened, cast out, oppressed, hungry, poor, naked and unable to help themselves.

God’s plan was to help the hurting, but His chosen group of people weren’t up to the task. The Hebrew people didn’t share His heart for the needy, but God had another way of accomplishing His task. When Jesus first came on the scene in His public ministry, He did so in a Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath Day, a time when it would have been filled with Jewish people, people who should have been heeding God’s teachings – the ones you just read from Isaiah.

To make His appearance, Jesus took a scroll, found another passage in Isaiah (61:1-2), and read it aloud to the people. His words are recorded for us in Luke 4:18-19. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” To announce His arrival on the theological scene, Jesus told the people about God’s heart for the poor, the religious leaders’ unwillingness to share God’s heart and His own plan to reach those people. Jesus arrived and immediately went to the weary.

When was the last time you went to the weary? The needy? The helpless? The oppressed? The burdened? The poor? If you’re like me, you probably have a hard time remembering when you – on your own – went to these people with a mind to help them out of their state. Maybe it’s because we’ve focused on the wrong people. Maybe we’ve stayed in our comfort zones with our own friends, neighbors and coworkers, trying to share the message of Jesus with them.

It’s not working is it? Maybe it’s time we got out of our comfortable places and went to the uncomfortable ones – the places where the needy, hurting, helpless people are.

[Editor's Note: The down and out are more approachable and responsive than others who are enamored with the good life. In addition, the world's poor and suffering souls are as valuable as anyone else's soul (Matthew 16:26) and part of "all the world" and "every creature" of the Great Commission (Mark 16:15-16). However, we must remember that the greatest gift we have to offer any soul is salvation from past sins (Acts 2:38) and the legitimate prospect of spending eternity with God in heaven (2 Timothy 2:10). We will always have the poor around us (Matthew 26:11), and while we may (and should, Galatians 6:10) alleviate genuine needs where we can, the overriding thrust of every child of God concerning other souls ought to be to acquaint them with the saving Gospel (Romans 1:16; Matthew 28:19). While attending to the physical needs of our peers, we must not overlook the more important and eternally durable spiritual needs. ~ Louis Rushmore]

Idle Sunday Pursuits

Jim Faughn

Jim FaughnIt was sixty-seven years ago. It was on a Sunday. It was December 7, 1941. It was, our president would say the next day, “a date which will live in infamy.”

On the sixtieth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I read an article by an Associated Press writer by the name of Paul Grassley. The first sentence of his article caught my attention. Seven years later, I am still disturbed by it. See what you think about it: “The attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years ago caught Americans in idle Sunday pursuits and changed many of them forever.”

My concern with his opening sentence really involves the placement of just one word. If he had just put the word “many” somewhere else in that opening sentence (or used it twice), the sentence might leave a different impression than it does. It is definitely true that many Americans’ lives were changed forever on that Sunday years ago. It is definitely not true that all Americans were involved in “idle Sunday pursuits.”

To be sure, some were. No doubt, many were relaxing, enjoying some recreation, getting caught up with some odd jobs, visiting relatives, etc. They were, indeed, involved in “idle Sunday pursuits.”

However, all across this great nation of ours, there were people who were definitely not involved in any pursuit that could be described as idle. Their pursuit involved a closer relationship with and knowledge about God.

On that Sunday morning, sixty-seven years ago, the first ship was struck at 7:56 a.m. (Hawaii time). Given the different time zones and the fact that the attack lasted about three hours, Americans in different parts of the country were either preparing for, involved in or finished with a time of worshiping the Lord on His day.

I, for one, am thankful for them and for those of our present time who honor the Lord by worshiping Him on His day and by living for Him each day. The world may see their (our) choices as simplistic, uninformed or just plain dumb, but on that last great day, those who did not choose to use Sundays in idle pursuits will be much happier than those who did.

[Editor’s Note: While practicing Christians may find themselves involved in odd jobs, relaxing, recreation or visiting relatives – even on the Lord’s Day, all of this is secondary to and at other times than worshipping our God in His own appointed way (John 4:24) upon each first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2). Faithful Christians have their priorities correctly ordered (Matthew 6:33). ~ Louis Rushmore]

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