(Written by Pastor Tim Redfield)
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 – This is what the Lord says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. 6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” 8 The Sovereign Lord declares— he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”
The gospel is meant for all people. This point is not shocking to us. We know many passages that tell us that truth. We know that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” We recognize that “God wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” These are familiar passages that stick with us because of our desire to share the gospel with others. However, when we look back to the time when Jesus lived on earth, we are reminded of people who did not share this desire to reach out to all people.
The Israelite religious leaders at the time of Jesus were doing the opposite of what Isaiah described in chapter 56 verse 6. In that verse, God praises those people who are not Israelites and yet they properly serve the Lord. He speaks about, “Foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant.” These foreigners, these Gentiles were showing more appreciation for God’s salvation than those who were supposed to be God’s chosen people. The Israelites were the ones who were desecrating the Sabbath and they were the ones who were not holding fast to God’s covenant.
They were following their own man made religion of good works. You can find plenty of examples. They tried to accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath regulations which prohibited work when he used his divine power to heal on the Sabbath. The Pharisees compared themselves to others and boasted about how great they were. They would point out how they gave more money to the temple. They would look down upon tax collectors and prostitutes. They treated those people like they were scum because of their sin. They failed to recognize that we are all terrible sinners who are lost without the mercy and forgiveness of God.
The biggest problem with the actions of these Jewish leaders was this: they made the message of salvation inaccessible to many people. Even if they never said it, they certainly acted like they did not want non-Jews to be saved. They mocked Jesus for being a friend to those terrible sinners. Through their man-made rules and regulations, they had excluded many people from the possibility of obtaining eternal life with God. We need to recognize what they did so that we can watch out for the same kinds of temptations today. This is something that I am conscious of as a church leader. I certainly pray that I never do anything that might lead someone to push God’s grace out of their lives.
You might be wondering what I mean by that. How could a pastor do such a thing? Isn’t my goal to always bring people to Christ? Absolutely I want to bring people to Christ. And yet, I too am a sinful human being. I, as a pastor, am nervous about failing to make the time to serve the needs of God’s people. I don’t want my mistakes, failures, or sins to be something that offends a person and leads them to a point where they fail to see the forgiveness of the Lord. The truth is that their rejection of Jesus’ forgiveness would be their own sin but I would have trouble not taking it personally if they used something I did as their excuse for walking away from this Christian family.
Think about your own lives. Are there times that you may have offended other people even at church? Are there times when you may have inadvertently put a stumbling block in someone’s way which caused them to push away from the church? There are temptations that we all fall into which can hurt the feelings of our brothers and sisters in Christ and cause them to push away from his family. We can fall into those temptations to gossip about each other. We cut each other down with our words. We form cliques and factions over various issues. These types of actions can divide our Christian family.
We at times become so focused on ourselves that we fail to reach out to others with the gospel. In Israel they were satisfied with knowing that they were the chosen people so they looked down upon the Gentiles. We too can become complacent with the Gospel. We don’t take advantage of every opportunity to share it with others. We falsely assume that people are doing just fine the way they are. We keep the gospel treasure to ourselves. We focus on our close group of friends and spending time with them rather than taking the gospel and giving it to many. Because of our own sinfulness we can become guilty of making the gospel inaccessible to others. We need to be watchful so that we can avoid these temptations. We need to celebrate God’s wonderful mercy so that we can be rejuvenated to share his forgiveness
God knows that we are weak and frail human beings. That is why he leads us to the living water of his Word. He brings us back to the bread of life so that we can be built up. God brings his people to worship so that we can be strengthened. In verse 7 of our text he talks about this very subject. Speaking of his believers he says, “These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.” God brings us to his holy mountain. He gives us joy as we gather in his house for prayer. I have heard many Christians who talk about how their week just doesn’t feel right if they miss their time in worship. It just feels like something is missing. Also, when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it gives us a feeling of joy as we take part in that Holy Supper.
We rejoice that God has been gracious to us miserable sinners. We dedicate ourselves to the ministry that he gives us. We acknowledge our faults and we share the love that he has shown to us. God’s salvation is so close to us. He has done all the work. He wants all to be saved. He obeyed the law for us and died in our place. He has gift wrapped the present of salvation for us. Enjoy the blessed salvation of our God. Take that gospel joy that you feel during worship and make it part of every minute of your day.
With his salvation overflowing out of our heart, we can’t help but share it with others. Even though we have failed at times to share, our forgiveness urges us to try again, to reach out, to share the love of Christ. Our Christian love compels us to be a friend of sinners just like Jesus. We too are sinners who will make mistakes. We can’t change the times that we have sinned in the past. But moving forward, we are rejuvenated by forgiveness. We learn from our mistakes. We share the love of Christ with all people.