IN TIMES LIKE THESE: FOR MAKING THINGS BETTER, NOW AND FOREVER, GOD’S WAY IS SURE
After their fall from a state of perfection, with all the good things that go with living in paradise, God pronounced judgment on mankind --- Adam and Eve: “In sorrow thou shalt”. God did not, however, leave us without a way to be restored to favor with our Maker.
Even though pain, hardship and distress (denoted in Genesis by “sorrow” and “sweat”) became inevitable, God provided for our redemption from the consequences of rebellion against God, thus giving His people hope to carry on.
Simply put: Defiance of Divine Directive was offset by Divine Determination to restore Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained!
Throughout the Bible, from Genesis 11 through Revelation 20, we see God’s Story of Redemption acted out in and through countless numbers of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament . . . then in the New Testament, we see the story actualized in and through God’s Son Jesus Christ and those who identified with Him who was the One in whom the Drama of Redemption would be fulfilled in time, and, for eternity.
Until the Messiah came to bring light out of darkness and to usher in God’s Way for regaining Paradise, the people who walked in darkness relied on prophets and priests for “words from the Lord” . . . to receive God’s directives.
Only if God’s people listened to the prophets and obeyed the Word of the Lord could they experience peace and happiness. So hard to do!
During one of those periods in biblical history, when speaking to His people through Isaiah, God directed them to adopt a better way to honor Him by becoming instruments of good will on behalf of folks whose pitiful plights had rendered them helpless and hopeless.
God’s people, says Isaiah, had been spending way too much time and energy on their personal piety - seeking to impress God with rituals that, unfortunately, were being practiced insincerely and therefore had become bothersome if not burdensome.
Actually, those to whom Isaiah declared God’s directive had been complaining (58:3-5) that their “suffering for the Lord” was going unnoticed by the Lord.
They resented not being recognized for all their pain associated with denial of self . . . pangs of hunger which they were forced to endure . . . inconvenience of putting on that stupid “sackcloth” and spreading out those darn “ashes” - not to mention having to bow their heads so often that they might miss out on something. Wow!
Very quickly the Lord let them know that their self-directed ritual of fasting had indeed been observed by Him and that, contrary to the intended purpose for “fasting and praying”, He had noticed no attitude adjustments and no lifestyle changes. Rather:
The Lord told them He had noticed how grudgingly they went about their daily routines as if no changes in behavior were called for, no bad situations needed to be remedied.
For making things better, now and forever, God directed all people called by His Name to humble themselves and pray, to become instruments of peace by seeking to right wrongs . . . to relieve suffering --- Isaiah 58:6-7 . . .
The LORD God challenges us to turn: negatives to positives - first in our own lives, then in the lives of others . . . sorrow to joy . . . night to day . . . poverty to plenty . . . motivated by love for God plus love for others – not only as a privilege but also as a priority!
The heart of Old Testament law was: (1) a right relationship with God plus (2) a right relationship with others - which God demanded of Israel when He gave Moses the Ten Commandments (four directed to God, six directed to others) . . .
Through Isaiah -- The LORD told His people that their most effective worship would be service to people around them – especially anyone being mistreated . . . abused . . . in need of food, clothing, shelter --- most certainly family members.
Focus your attention . . . pray . . . give . . . lend a helping hand . . . devote energy to relieving the plight of the poor in particular and the blight of the human condition in general - by alleviating suffering . . . combating human trafficking . . . preventing injustice to the helpless (unborn, little children, oppressed, heavy laden, the elderly). Such are by far better ways than rituals to honor your Maker, Father and Redeemer.
So said Isaiah . . . Jesus . . . President Lincoln . . . Dietrich Bonhoeffer . . . Martin Luther King, Jr. . . . President Eisenhower . . . Mother Teresa . . . Billy Graham . . . So say we all!
The blessings of honoring God by intervening and overcoming injustices are worth it all (58:8-11) - renewed sense of God’s presence that has a healing effect on emotions and a new awareness of our Lord’s watch care and protection, with the added benefit of getting refreshed and reinvigorated for the rest of our journey. It pays to serve Jesus!
The heart of our New Testament law of love is: (1) a right relationship with God plus (2) a right relationship with others - as symbolized by the Cross (+) . . .
Since the Christ of the Cross has come, and the His suffering on the Cross is behind us, we wait with earnest expectation for the final phase of God’s restoration - Paradise regained! Until then, remember that the sorrows of our day are as real as in Isaiah’s day - and therefore, Christians must do our best to honor God as instruments of peace and good will.
In the name of Jesus, let us focus attention . . . pray . . . give . . . lend helping hands . . . devote energy to the plight of people who live in fear - and - never hear an encouraging word . . . are oppressed by evildoers . . . plead for our prayers and mission support . . . need to be saved from their helpless and hopeless condition!
Christ is the answer! In Him is our hope! Without Christ, we are nothing! With Christ, we have heaven to gain!
Without Him, we have everything to lose! There is no in-between. Either we are for Him, or, we are against Him . . . Christ is Savior and Lord, or, He is not!
The Word we preach and teach . . . by which we testify says: “There is no other Name (no better way) under heaven given to us by which we must be saved.” For making things better, now and forever, God’s Way is sure!
In the Old Testament, the LORD God called on His people to make things better by serving as instruments of peace and good will.
In the New Testament, Christ our Lord calls on His disciples to make things better, now and forever, by being instruments of God’s salvation that was secured by the atoning sacrifice of His Son at Calvary.
As a testimony of love for Christ and willingness to serve as instruments of salvation which brings peace and good will to all who are saved, let us follow the example of the Lord Jesus who - on that Thursday evening in the Upper Room - “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, then gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat. This is my body.’”
“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
In remembrance of our Savior’s love for God and for us, and in appreciation for His willingness to serve as the atoning sacrifice required for making life better, now and forever, for you and me, we participate in the ritual of the Lord’s Supper:
Give thanks: (in unison)
Thank you God our Father - for your great love - that sent your Son - to die for our sins. Thank you Christ our Savior - for your willingness – to sacrifice your life – to restore us - to favor with God. Thank you Holy Spirit - for convicting us of our sins – for convicting us of our sins – and for prodding us - to accept God’s offer of salvation – through Christ our Lord - Amen. Pass the elements . . . Play music . . . Sing Blest Be the Tie . . . Benediction: (in unison)
May the love of God our Father, the grace of Christ our Savior,
the fellowship of the Holy Spirit our Teacher,
abide with us, for making things better, now and forever! Amen!