Well, happy Father’s Day. How are you? Excellent. If you have your Bibles, let’s grab them. Isaiah 58 is where we will camp out today. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there should be a hardback black one somewhere near you, under your seat or somewhere around you, if you’ll grab that. It’s always important that you see that what I’m saying isn’t what I’m saying but rather what the Word of God is saying. One of us has authority, and one of us doesn’t.
It’s always imperative that we lean into where the authority lies, and that’s namely in God’s revealed Word to us in the Scriptures. We’re beginning a new series today. It’ll be six weeks long. We’ve entitled the series Grace Made Visible. That’s not unique to us or to me. That little phrase “grace made visible” is actually pulled from an article that was written by Jonathan Edwards, who was a pastor, a theologian, during the First Great Awakening in the early to mid-1700s in colonial life.
During that time, the Holy Spirit poured himself out in profound ways, and hundreds and thousands if not ultimately hundreds of thousands of men and women became believers and followers of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Great Awakening marked us and shaped us as a country, and the effects of those three decades still linger to this very day. It was a profound moment.
What happened in that revival is that there started to be some perversions of what God was doing. Jonathan Edwards had written an article about the evidence of genuine religious affection. What he wrote about in this article I read is, “Here is how you can see a man or woman who has legitimately experienced grace.”
I said two weeks ago when we gathered that you can tell the difference between someone who has an intellectual ability to define grace versus someone who has actually experienced grace in their guts. I would never argue that Christianity is merely experiential. All right? It’s intellectual. It has historical roots. It’s all of those things, but for someone to claim to understand grace and not be able to extend it reveals that they don’t understand grace, right?
If you understand grace, you extend it. If you have experienced in the guts of your being what it’s like to be found wanting, to be found needy, to be found broken, and find in your helplessness the mercy of God lavished upon you, the delight of God extended to you, then you will be hard-pressed to judge others cruelly, to be very quick to categorize and marginalize others, because you understand that while you were at your worst, Christ died for you.
I’ll give away the whole thing, and then we’ll backtrack and tease it out. Edwards says that grace made visible is most clearly seen in the generosity of the people of God. This series is built around the idea of generosity. Don’t get nervous. We’re not passing a plate. We’re not trying to build a new building. I don’t need a new home. We’re doing great.
I’m not talking about offerings. I’m talking about the freedom that comes from the human heart that has been set free by the grace of God, that is able to hold life, stuff, and things with open hands so that they might ultimately live a joy-filled life where they feel like they don’t have to manipulate, control, and keep a handle on everything. It is a life of rest and peace and confidence in the sovereign King of Glory. That’s what this series is going to be about, six weeks of it.
To set us up, what I thought we would do out of Isaiah 58 is… What the prophet Isaiah is going to do for us is he’s going to show us how grace is not made visible and then some things that are present when we have experienced the grace of God. What will happen this morning as we read the Word of God… My hope is that some of our areas will be exposed, and then when we end in the last few verses of this text, we might learn how to find rest for our souls that leads to generosity.
You don’t ultimately get to be generous people by activity. You get to be generous people as you experience and savor and wonder at the king of glory. With that said, let’s pick it up in chapter 58, starting in verse 1. “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.” If this is what the pastor is hearing in study, then you kind of have to buckle up for the sermon itself, correct?
While Isaiah is kind of going, “Well, what would you want me to say to the people, Lord?” He says, “Get the trumpet.” “What are we going to do with the trumpet?” “We’re going to declare to the people their sins and iniquities.” You just know that’s probably a weekend when you want to hit the lake. You probably don’t want to be there on that day. “I want to be on happy day. Where is happy day? Where is John 3:16? When are we covering that one?”
That’s not the call God gave Isaiah. In fact, as much as people love… If you have a church background, you’ll be with me. If you don’t, it’s okay. In Isaiah 6, there is a very famous passage among evangelical Christians where the Lord is saying, “Who will I send, and who will go for me?” Isaiah says, “Here I am. Send me.” People always use that as, “Let’s go, guys. Ra ra ra!”
Then the Lord responds to Isaiah’s, “Here I am. Send me,” with, “Go and tell these people who will not hear and who will not see what I have to say.” Who wants to enter that call of ministry? “Go preach your guts out. No one is going to listen to anything you say.” I honestly try to teach that to young pastors all the time. “You better be in this to be obedient to the Lord and not to get patted on the back or grow some empire unto yourself, lest you sell out and derail your own faith and the faith of others.”
Here is Isaiah in study again, getting ready to go proclaim the Word. What does God say to him? “Grab the trumpet, boss, and declare to the people, my people, their transgressions and their sins.” Look at verse 2. Verse 2 gets strange. “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways…” How is that a declaration of sin and transgression? “You seek me daily, and you delight to do my ways.”
Then look what he says next, because we start to get a feel for what is actually going on here. “…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. ’Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.”
Let’s stop there and talk about this. Really what we see… Grace is not… I’ll tell you why this is so important, specifically for where our lives are geographically playing themselves out. What the Word of God just said is that grace is not made visible with frenetic, hypocritical religious activity. You cannot spot a genuine love for Jesus Christ and a glad submission to God our Father through religious activity alone.
I’m not against religious activity; I am against (like the Bible is) religious activity that seeks to purchase from God his favor. It doesn’t work that way. You cannot purchase what is freely given. In fact, it is by grace we have been saved through faith. The faith to believe was given to us by God, so the faith to believe in his grace was given to us.
The Bible goes on to say in Ephesians 2, “…so that we would have nothing to boast in.” You have nothing to boast in. Religious activity cannot purchase for you the favor of God. It is granted to you in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone. It is the only righteousness you will ever have that is acceptable to God.
I’ll tell you why I think this should at least make us consider some things. Where we are in the South… I’m hesitant to call Texas “the South.” It’s kind of its own thing. You kind of measure the South by things like sweet tea and things like that. If you have to put sugar in your tea at a restaurant, you’re probably not in the South. I don’t know what Texas is. It’s just kind of its own maybe republic.
Anyway, in the middle of all of this, there is an external kind of religiosity here that is still somewhat applauded. “Where do you go to church?” It’s a common question, not one that brings much offense, but you get to other parts of the country, and that question is a dangerous one, a loaded one. In a place where the goodness of man in many ways is still built out around his religious activity, this text should lay some of us bare.
Frenzied, hypocritical religious activity does not equate a soul that has experienced the grace of God. It’s why so many people we have baptized over the years get in the water and say, “Grew up in church, grew up in a home that talked about the Bible, been around church my whole life. It’s only recently that I’ve surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.” It is because although they were actively involved in Christian stuff, they were not actively involved in a relationship with Jesus. Man, to make matters worse, a lot of us went to Christian schools.
I’m not anti-Christian schools. My kids go to one, but when all is said and done, if this becomes a routine, a rote that is intellectual and subtracted from a legitimate relationship with Jesus Christ, if the language we’re using around our relationship with Christ is not relational language, then what can end up happening is we can end up just trying to earn his approval just by checking boxes rather than by actually knowing, walking, and resting in him. There will be no rest for those who seek to earn what God has freely given.
It’s the equivalent of a man working 12-hour days, neglecting his family, and neglecting all the areas of beauty in life in order to pay a mortgage he doesn’t owe. Are you tracking with me? “Are you going to be home tonight?” “Baby, I work late.” “Baby, the kids have this. They have this. They really want you to be there. Why can’t you?” “Well, I can’t make it. I have to work this overtime. We have bills.” “Baby, we don’t have any bills.” “Well who is going to pay the mortgage?” “It’s paid for, honey. Come home.”
Religious activity does not bring about legitimate love and relationship with the King of Glory. The Lord tells Isaiah, “Tell them. Blow the trumpet. Tell them, ’This is not the fast I seek, not the fast I desire, not the pursuit of me that gets them me.’” On the other side of things, if you do love the Lord, please don’t start to go, “Well, I better stop doing religious…” No, no, no. The fact that the mortgage is paid for doesn’t mean you don’t live there. Hang out in the house.
If you are resting in the grace of God, then we are (if you remember back to two weeks ago) motivated by that love and grace to serve and to give of ourselves and to live open-handed lives and to engage people who need help and to serve others and to empty ourselves of ourselves, motivated by his love, motivated by that grace, motivated by the fact that that bill is paid in full.
The second way we know grace is not made visible… We know it’s not made visible by hypocritical, frenetic religious activity. In fact, this is so… We’re all hypocrites, right? Christian, if you’re a hypocrite, still have a hint of hypocrisy left, why don’t you get your hand up really quickly so our lost friends can see that we would make a good home for them. All right, put your hands down.
We are always imperfectly executing, but what these men and women are doing in this text is they’re trying to put God in their debt. They’re saying, “Hey, why have we fasted and you not seen? Why have you not given us what we wanted?” They’re trying to use God to get something beyond God. It’s not God they desire; it’s something else. They think they can use him to get what they want.
I had to do a sermon years ago for a conference on the de-churched. What happens where men and women grow up in church and then finally just punt the ball, don’t want to do it anymore, are done? What I’ve found so often as I sat down with probably two dozen men and women who had that testimony before the Lord graciously brought them back into or, actually for many of them, for the first time into a relationship with Jesus Christ is that this is what Christianity looks like.
You come and do this. You do these things, and you don’t do these things. What happened was they either realized they stunk at it, or they were really good at it, and both of them ended up bankrupt. The ones who couldn’t keep up with a checklist said, “This isn’t working for me,” and left. They never even had a relationship with Christ.
Have you ever met people who are just good at being good? My wife is that way. I think she got spanked twice her entire life. I pulled that off in a 20-minute span once. Lauren was just good at being good. She didn’t have to get taught, “Yes, ma’am. No, ma’am. Yes, sir. No, sir.” It was just natural for her. She graduated summa cum laude, made two B’s in her whole life, and even to this day would tell you why that’s the professor’s fault. She’s just a good girl.
There is a type of bankruptcy in self-righteousness that is foreign and painful to the self-righteous soul. It’s an interesting dynamic to watch. Self-righteous people hate self-righteous people. Think about how strange that is. People who are self-righteous hate people who are self-righteous. “They’re so self-righteous. If only they could be more like me.” Grace doesn’t produce this. This is not what grace produces. It doesn’t produce frenzied religious activity that seeks to gain something that has been freely given to them.
Here is the second thing we know grace doesn’t work in the hearts of people. Verse 4. “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.” Here is the second thing we see. We see that grace, when present…not the idea, but grace made visible…does something to our relationships that divides the amount of quarrelling and divides the amount of animosity and violence we feel toward one another. This text is somewhat humorous. They are fasting. They have laid food aside, and they’re using that time to seek the Lord. The interesting part of this is… Read it in its context.
When you and I do dinner, that’s what, like 35 or 40 minutes of the day? This is an agrarian society. The preparation of the meal itself would take hours. They have set aside not just meal time but work time to seek the Lord. Yet, somewhere along the way, getting away from food has not created humility in their hearts but has rather made them violent.
Have you ever heard of the word hangry? That moment when hunger and anger collide and you begin to act insane? Years ago, I was counselling a man at the end of a service. I was doing the Metro Bible Study over in Plano. I’m talking to this man. Lauren was pregnant with Audrey, who is our firstborn.
This man was just weeping and telling me his life story, and Lauren, who is in her second trimester and has some blood sugar issues, literally came and grabbed my arm like I was her kid and said, “We need to go.” I’m like, “Baby, please let go of my arm first, because that hurts. Secondly, do you have peanut butter crackers or anything in your purse?” I’m like, “My sweet wife would never act like that. She would never see a man bawling his eyes out and then come grab me like I’m a child.” “You get out here.”
So literally, the rest of that season and every time she was pregnant after that, I was like, “Baby, do you have your crackers? Do you have your peanut butter crackers? Let’s make sure you have your peanut butter crackers so you don’t lose your mind and treat me like I’m 4 as I’m trying to minister to a man whose heart has been broken by the gospel.” This is hangry. This is what hangry is. It makes you operate in a way that is contrary to how you would normally operate.
What has happened in this text is instead of their fast leading them to humility, instead of that fast turning their eyes upon the Lord, it has made them violent toward each other. We even read in here that somebody punched somebody. How does that happen? You come to a prayer meeting. You’ve been fasting all day, and then it goes to blows?
We know that when grace is present, it does something to the relational dynamics we walk in. This is what we know grace doesn’t look like and what it means when it is present. From there, Isaiah is going to begin to unpack really what grace does look like, how grace is made visible. Let’s look at this. By the way, there are three of these, and I’m going to wrap them up into one. I know some of you are a bit more linear, like, “Why don’t you just do the one and cut 25 minutes off your sermon?” Sorry, I’m just not wired that way. The Lord didn’t make me that way.
Let’s go to verse 5. “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 a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?” Grace is made visible when the people of God walk in humility, when there is a lowliness and gladness of heart in knowing there is something bigger than us and more important to us.
A pursuit of the Lord is marked by a lowliness of posture that has us bowing our heads. “You are worthy. You are holy. I am unworthy. You are magnificent. I am not.” It has us in sackcloth and ashes. What that simply means is there is a confession of our great need and of our great failure before the holiness of our God. Romans 8 makes it clear that you and I are being conformed into the image of the Son. We’re being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ.
What we read in Philippians 2, starting in verse 5, is this. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
If you are a Christian, this is your future. This is my future. The more we mature in our faith, the more humility we will walk in, and the more we will gladly step into obedience that leads to death that (we’ll cover here in a moment) ultimately leads to life. There is no room for swagger. Our culture loves it. We love the kind of cocky guy. We love the one who is just arrogant, boastful, and backs it up. We love that guy. We love him in athletics. We love him in business. We love that guy.
Yet the people of God are marked by lowliness, by humility, by a consistent confession of weakness and coming to our God for help. We understand that we have limits. Our narrative is not that we pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, that we make it happen, that we overcome, that we get it done. Our narrative is that it is God via his grace granting us faith to put in that grace that has saved us, rescued us, marked us, and made us who we are. That’s our story.
The longer we follow him, the more and more and more we will be marked by a lowliness of heart. It is a ferocious type of humility that gladly surrenders to God on high. In fact, the psalmist would say this about those who are walking in humility. Psalm 25:9 says this. “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.”
The greatest obstacle to the fullness of life in your life is your own pride. It takes humility to say, “I’m going to trust God at his Word.” Every one of your disobediences is tied to, “I’m smarter than God.” Now you would never say that, would you? If we were to sit down and talk about this issue of obedience you had, you would talk about how hard it is and why it’s difficult and how, even if you remember back to two weeks ago, it feels like an assault on your dreams.
Yet, if you let me kind of tease it apart, what would happen is you would say, “I would just think in this situation, in this season I’m in, that part of the Word of God doesn’t apply to me. I think if God knew what I would be going through, he wouldn’t have written it that way.” This is pride. This is pride as the primary obstacle to the fullness of life and joy.
We want an asterisk by certain parts of the Scripture. We want an asterisk by certain commands of God because we don’t want to do them, because we do believe we know what’s best for us despite the evidence that is stacked up against that idea and notion. You are terrible to you. We see here that grace is made visible in the humility of the people of God.
The second thing we see here is… Look at verse 6. “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?” Grace is made visible, first in humility and secondly when the people of God are moved to action for the overwhelmed, the oppressed, and the enslaved.
If you’ll remember some of the things we covered two weeks ago about motivations… Ultimately, as we’re walking in humility, we are a people who realized we were helpless and God helped us in our helplessness. When you get that, really understand that, really understand that you were picked up out of the muck and the mire and your feet were set on a rock… You didn’t crawl out of the muck and the mire; you were picked up out of the muck and the mire.
When you realize that God was the one who saved you, was the one who opened up your heart to believe, that it was his grace that was lavished upon you, then you’re able to extend it to others. Your eye begins to drift to the helpless when you begin to understand that you were helpless and God saved you. This is why if you think that God rescued you because you’re awesome and he needed you on the team to succeed, your eyes will rarely go to the helpless. Your eyes will rarely go to the oppressed, rarely go to those who are overwhelmed.
Why can’t they just be awesome like you? Why are they such a life suck on the Christian community? When you understand that while you were at your worst, Christ died for you, if you understand that you were helpless and were helped, then the helplessness of others draws you toward them and doesn’t repel you away from them. Grace is made visible when the people of God walk in humility. Grace is made visible when the people of God… Their eyes drift toward and their actions move toward the overwhelmed, the oppressed, and the enslaved.
History is riddled with men and women, the people of God, engaging and rallying around issues of injustice to see them overthrown. From the trans-Atlantic slave trade to… On and on I could go. The people of God have engaged in social issues, not because of political allegiances but because of allegiance to the Word of God and how he has revealed himself and his will to us.
The third thing we see here… Look at verse 7. “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?” The third thing… Then I’m going to combine all of these into what Edwards was really making his point around. The third thing here is that grace is made visible when the people of God walk in humility. Grace is made visible when the people of God see and are moved toward, in action, the overwhelmed, the oppressed, and the enslaved.
Grace is made visible when the people of God die to themselves. The great paradox in the Christian life is found in Matthew 16:25. Here is what that says. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Now that’s a great paradox. That is a massive paradox. “Do you want life? Do you want joy? Do you want the fullness of life possible? Quit trying to get it. Do you want the fullness of life possible? Serve other people. Try to help other people have the best life possible. That’s how you find the best life possible.”
Doesn’t that feel like… Isn’t there just a small… I don’t care how long you’ve been following. Isn’t there just a small part of you that thinks, “Well who is going to take care of me then? Who is going to make sure I get what I deserve?” Listen brother, you don’t want what you deserve. I said two weeks ago this banner over us. “What about me? Who is going to take care of me? What about mine? Who is going to take care of what I need? What about my desires, my dreams, my hopes?”
The Bible is saying if you want those things, lay them all down and pursue obedience to the Lord, that life is found in losing your life, not in seeking to find your life. In another text, the reciprocity is true. If you want to hang on to your life, you will lose it. See, there is great freedom that comes in losing our lives. We gain far more than we ever lose.
Hear me say this. It will become important. It’s already important. It’s important for us to really get it at a deep level. Following Jesus Christ involves sacrifice. It involves a picking up of the cross and following after. Everyone in this room who is following Jesus Christ has laid certain desires and wants down to pursue a greater desire. We have laid treasures down to get the greater treasure. We have laid wants down to pursue the greater want.
There is sacrifice and cross-bearing involved in following Jesus Christ, because the fullness of life is found in losing your life. This is how grace is made visible. Think of how strange this is in our culture. Think of how odd it would be to go, “Don’t worry about me. How are you? Don’t worry about me. What’s going on over here?”
If you could just make a tangent, think about the changes in your marriage if the default posture of your heart was death to self and the exaltation, encouragement, and applause of your other. Think of the dynamic shifts in your relationship with spouse, friends, how you see church… Think about how everything begins to change if you can die to yourself.
You’re nearly impossible to offend if you have died to yourself. You don’t take so many things personally if you’ve died to yourself, because most times, they’re not personal. It’s your insecurities talking. Freedom is found in death to self. Listen. Can’t you feel it in you right now? Even right now, can’t you feel it? “No, sir, that can’t be right. You don’t know my wife. You’re crazy. You just gave her all sorts of ammunition, bro. It’s Father’s Day. You should have inverted that illustration, man.”
Life is found, full life is found, in dying to self. Grace is made visible, according to the prophet Isaiah preaching to the people of God, when the people of God walk in humility, when the people of God begin to be moved into action by the overwhelmed, the oppressed, and the enslaved, and when the people of God die to themselves.
If I could just kind of distill all of that down into a single statement… Grace is made visible when the people of God live with an open-handed generosity, where they see all they have and all their abilities and all of their time as being owned by their Creator and given to them to simply steward for the glory of his name. That’s how grace is made visible.
How do we reflect the beauty of God to the world around us? How do we show that grace is not just something we could define but something that is in our guts? We live with open-handed generosity. We see all we have and all we are as being given to us by our Creator to be stewarded for the glory of his name. That’s how grace is made visible.
The more that is not true about us, the more grace is not being made visible. Something else is being made visible, something unfortunately that oftentimes we as religious people think is lovely. Instead, it’s enslaving and exhausting. If I’m straight there, I have run across nothing that is more exhausting than frenetic religious activity that is detached from the vitality and energy found in Jesus Christ.
You hide your sin. You go underground. You live in constant guilt. You have to constantly put up masks. You are hiding lies, hiding secrets, burrowing down into yourself, not fully known by anyone, completely enslaving yourself to… What? …frenetic religious activity. It is being close in the desert to the sweetest water possible and not taking a drink.
In C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, in the book The Silver Chair, it tells a story of a young girl in the wilderness just dying of thirst. There is Aslan as a lion. There is this river behind Aslan flowing with water, and she wants a drink so badly, and Aslan is bidding her to come drink. “Come and drink,” but she is afraid of him, so she won’t come. Finally, she just gives up and says, “You know what? I’ll find another river.” Aslan says to her, “There is no other river.” This is so many of us.
When grace is made visible, when it’s in our gut, we are walking in humility. These things are taking place. Let’s look at God’s response to that. Look at verse 8. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn…” I want to stop there. Light breaking forth like the dawn is talking about how we reflect the beauty and grace of God to the world around us, so the light breaking forth like the dawn is speaking of how we reflect the beauty of God to the world around us.
When Christians have been moved by grace to extend grace, when Christians who were helpless and were helped by God find their lives being poured out to help others, the light of Christ is seen and acknowledged in the world. The New Testament would call us salt and light. That’s how we would unpack this idea. Our light breaks forth like the dawn.
Then I love this next line. “…and your healing shall spring up speedily…” Let’s talk about healing. This text certainly (and we know from life experiences and other places in the Bible) doesn’t mean that if you live a grace-saturated life that you don’t get sick and that you don’t die of diseases. I don’t think that’s what is happening here. I think what you’re getting a picture of is the nature and character of God in his fervent pursuit of the deepest hurts and wounds in our hearts.
I did a funeral yesterday morning. The man whose funeral I did was a long-term covenant member here. He had just a beautiful last seven years of his life. When he was 11 years old, he was playing. This moment marked him. When he was 11 years old, he was playing with his 14-year-old brother. They had black powder muskets. They were playing around with the black powder muskets.
The man whose funeral I did yesterday fired the weapon, and there was something in the barrel that struck his 14-year-old brother and killed him. The parents’ response to this… God bless them. I can only imagine what happens in that moment. It was to have this man leave to clean up the mess and to never bring up the brother again.
This man lived the majority of his life fearful, broken, unable to connect relationally and in any way emotionally. He wrecked his first marriage. His relationship with many of his kids was really damaged with all of this hurt in him. He was acting in a way that was sinful, that was flowing out of this deep, deep wound.
Then about seven or eight years ago, he sat down with a biblical counselor just a couple of blocks from here and began to walk through what he remembered, because he didn’t remember much of what had occurred. He had to put it together after this initial confession. He began to walk through, “This is what I remember. This is what happened. This is how it has led to these things in my life.”
At some point, the biblical counselor shut his Bible. He got up from his chair, and he walked over. He sat next to this man and held him, and the two just wept together for 30 minutes. On that couch just a couple of blocks from here, that man’s healing sprung forth speedily. The way he operated for the last eight years of his life was completely different from how he operated the first 60-some odd years of his life.
The grace-saturated living has God getting to the deepest, darkest wounds possible and beginning to heal them. The Lord’s desire in his grace is not just to make us pretty externally; he wants the deep parts of the soul. In fact, what no one ever told me before I became a Christian was how diligently Christ would pursue those deep wounds, how he wasn’t going to let them go, how he was going to come after them, that it wasn’t enough for me to just not cuss and get drunk and chase women.
He wanted something else out of my heart. He wanted those deep wounds from which all of these other behaviors sprung up. He wanted those too, and he came after them. That’s what grace does, and what God is saying here is, “When we walk in that grace, you’ll show out my glory by pushing back what is dark, and I’m coming after those wounds. It’s going to be slower than you want it to be, and it’s going to be more painful than you can imagine, but I’m going to heal those broken spaces, but you have to open up and let me in.”
You have to walk in those ongoing reps of confession and repentance. You have to understand that those behaviors that haunt you have a root that is somewhere down there. I’ve said it before. We don’t mow over weeds. They grow too quickly. We pull them up by the root. “…your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”
What we know this isn’t saying is that by doing these activities, you become righteous. That’s absurd. We know we can’t become righteous by doing activity, that Christ and Christ alone calls us righteous by imputing his righteousness to us. We have no righteousness of our own that can be accomplished via works…none. What this text is talking about is the surrounding nature of the grace of God. He goes before us, and his glory is our rear guard. We are surrounded by the grace of God.
Here is why that’s such good news. I can think back on the last 22 years of following the Lord, and I can think of a handful of days when I thought I nailed it. Anyone else? I went to bed at night, and I was like, “Nailed it. Got up this morning, spent time in the Word, shared the gospel with like three people today, guarded my thoughts, walked in integrity with all I know, treated my wife the way the Lord would have me treat my wife, treated my kids the way the Lord would have me…”
I went to bed proud of myself. “Thank you, Lord, for strengthening me and sustaining me,” but if I’m straight, those are a handful of days. Most days, I’ve gone to bed at night and thought, “Dang it. We’ll get them tomorrow.” Mercies are new in the morning, remember? Here is why I love this idea of being surrounded by grace. On the day I nailed it, he took those filthy rags of my own righteousness and called them righteous because of Jesus.
On those days when I did my best with all the Holy Spirit’s power to be completely obedient and fell woefully short, he was right there and called me righteous. Let him be in front of me as my righteousness, and let his glory be my rear guard. It means wherever I go, there he is. Good days or bad, there he is unmoved, unwavering, ferociously committed to me because of Christ. Praise God.
Then here’s the second thing I want you to see. Not only do you see that God blesses us when our lives are saturated by grace, but then look at this next one. I’ll show you what we get and what we don’t get. Verse 9. “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say…” What does he say? “…’Here I am.’” Now, it’s time to talk.
Lest you think we have kind of drifted into some prosperity gospel moment where you can control God with your behavior, let me tell you some things I cannot promise you. I cannot promise you that by submitting your life to the Lord and following after him, everything is going to go the way you want it. I cannot promise you good marriages.
I cannot promise you health and long life. I cannot promise you a full bank account. I cannot promise you that you will not wrestle. I cannot promise you that you will not have to fight your flesh as long as you breathe air. I cannot promise you that your children will grow up and love the Lord. I cannot promise you any of those things.
I can promise you simply what God promises you here. When you cry out, you will hear, “Here I am.” Over and over and over again, I have tried to make this one thing clear. The beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not that by following him, we get what we want. Gosh, you don’t want most of what you want. If God were to give them to you, it would be cruel of him.
The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is regardless of our circumstances, we get God, and he’ll be enough. On the day of trouble, we’ll cry out, and we will hear, “Here I am.” When marriage is difficult, and we cry out, we will hear, “Here I am.” On the day the doctor says, “Can you come in? We need to talk,” we will hear as we cry out to God, “Here I am.”
He will not abandon. He will not quit, and he will not cut out his children. He is ever present, ever chasing, ever hoping, ever putting his Holy Spirit’s power into us to sustain us and hold us up regardless of life’s circumstances. This is how he blesses those who are saturated in grace. He is present. He is enough. We get the one thing we need over and above the things we want and that are even good to desire.
Health isn’t a bad thing to desire. Long life is not a bad thing to desire. A great marriage is not a bad thing to desire or pursue. Pursue all of them, but it is God who sends the storm when his children need the storm, and it is God who holds them fast in the middle of it. He will quiet the waves when it is time to quiet the waves.
There is a mystery in there, I know. I’ve been there before. It’s like, “All right. I got it. I learned. I’ve got it. I heard you. Oh really, you’re going to still make the wind blow a little bit, huh?” This is where we trust him as we hear him say, “Here I am.” From here the text just repeats, but it’s a bit more poetic. Let’s pick it up after, “Here I am.”
“If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”
Then it says, “And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”
It continues, “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth…” Yes, please. “…I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Let me land our time today simply with this. One of the dangers of Isaiah 58 is for you to read through this text and go, “Okay, let me engage the oppressed and the needy. Let me take care of the thirsty and the starving. Let me spend my life on the overwhelmed. Let me work on these things. Let me do these things.” Yet the prophet ends this sermon like this. “Turn your foot back to the Sabbath.”
What’s the Sabbath? Generosity is not achieved via a bunch of frenzied activity. Generosity is birthed in the quietness of heart that has learned to rest in God regardless of circumstances. There is a rest that is found in him when we slow ourselves down to hear, meditate upon, and believe that what he has said about us is true. We are his. He is ours, and he is unwavering in his commitment to us as his children. That’s Sabbath.
That’s not vacation. That’s not a day off. Sabbath is that spot where we stop doing and rest in who he says we are. Generosity bursts forth out of that ground, not out of the ground that goes, “Well let me pare down my budget so I have money to give away.” We’ll get to that, but motivations matter. The Bible is clear that we should never give away or be generous begrudgingly or under compulsion.
It’s an interesting note that what drives Christian action is not the just commands to Christian action but rather a heart that has been deeply transformed by what God has said about us. We are forgiven. We are loved. We are delighted in. Oh that you might slow down a bit, that you might quietly consider.
I’m no fool. Some of you are exhausted in this place today, so busy trying to earn something that has already been paid for. Look at me. You don’t have a mortgage payment in glory. That house has been paid for. I don’t know what you’re trying to work toward. I’m not saying Christian activity doesn’t matter. It matters a ton, but it needs to be birthed out of resting in who God says we are. Let’s pray.
Father, we want to be generous people. We want to operate in open-handed generosity, seeing all we have and all we are as gifts from you to be stewarded for the glory of your name. That starts with being able to rest in you, so in this moment I pray, Father, for my brothers and sisters who are just exhausted. I pray they would be able to rest in you in this moment, that even in this moment, Father, you would allow the Holy Spirit just to breathe peace onto their hearts, that the weight of trying to earn would melt off, that the worry of trying to obtain would vanish.
In its place would be the peaceful confidence that comes from knowing you are for us and not against us and the cross of Christ is all the evidence we need. Regardless of any life experience, regardless of any other situation or scenario we find ourselves in, the cross beckons us as a beacon to consider your goodness and grace.
Let us rest in that today. Let us not put our hope in a vacation that’s coming up or a day off that’s coming up, but let us find our rest in you. Let us turn back our feet from simply doing for the sake of doing and turn it back into moving toward you to rest in you, to quiet our hearts before you, and to be ministered to deeply by you. Help us, Father. It’s for your beautiful name I pray, amen.