One of the good things about all the new free to air TV channels is they’re re-playing a lot of old TV shows. Like Fawlty Towers, and The Brady Bunch. And Gilligan’s Island.
And the thing about poor old Gilligan, and the skipper, and Mr and Mrs Howell, and all the rest. Is that they were CAUGHT BETWEEN TWO REALITIES. On the ONE hand, they were marooned on a deserted island. Who knows how long they were going to be stuck there. So they got COMFORTABLE, settled in, and make the BEST of it. And so, they built houses, and all sorts of gadgets to make life easier. And life was pretty good.
But, on the OTHER hand, they didn’t BELONG there. They were from the MAINLAND. And they longed to get HOME. And so they were always looking out to sea. Scanning the horizon for ships or planes. Spending their time organising strategies, building rafts and radios and signal fires.
They were caught between two realities. Safe, but not yet saved. Home, but NOT home. And so they were always looking in two directions. Pulled to behave in two different ways.
And it’s the same for God’s people, Israel. Here in Ch 56. Isaiah’s prophecy seems to be directed to the people who’ve RETURNED to the Promised Land. SAVED out of Babylon.
God PROMISED it, right back in Ch 40. That he’d use King Cyrus of Persia to bring his people up out of captivity in Babylon, and restore them to Canaan. And he DID that in 538BC. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story.
And, even though things are looking UP for Israel, there’s a sense in which they’re LIVING BETWEEN TWO REALITIES. They’re HOME, but they’re NOT home.
On the ONE hand, God HAS rescued them. It’s not a COMPLETE rescue. But they’re ON THE WAY
They’ve got SOME freedom, but they’re still under the rule of Cyrus.
They’re back in the land, they’ve rebuilt the city walls, even the TEMPLE. But they’ve got to SHARE it with the foreigners who’ve moved in over the last half century it was vacant.
God’s people are TOGETHER in God’s place, but they’re also SCATTERED all over the known world. Some around Jerusalem, some back in Babylon, and some up in the northern kingdom.
But most IMPORTANT of the two realities- God’s promised them COMPLETE RESCUE. He’s promised a servant who’ll pay for their sin. He’s promised peace and restoration and paradise. He’s promised that it will be salvation FOR THE WHOLE WORLD. When people from EVERYWHERE will join with Israel in worshipping God. But he hasn’t DELIVERED it yet. That’s all ahead.
The reality of life in Israel is a long way from THAT. The rescue’s BEGUN, but there’s still a lot more to come.
So, how are God’s people to live in the meantime? Like Gilligan, they’re caught between two realities. How, then, should they live? Do they just make the BEST of it, and forget about the promises? Just give up HOPE?
Or should they be RESTLESS? Not settle down. Push forward to bring God’s FULL rescue about?
And it’s A RELEVANT question FOR US. Because their situation is pretty similar to OURS TODAY. WE’RE caught between two realities. On the one hand, God HAS sent Jesus. He HAS defeated sin and death and Satan. He IS seated at God’s right hand. But on the OTHER hand, a GREATER rescue is still to come. When death and Satan will be defeated COMPLETELY. When this broken world will be re-made. And pain and suffering and fighting will be over.
We’re SAVED, and yet we’re not saved YET. The victory’s been WON, and yet it HASN’T been FULLY won.
So how are WE to live in the meantime? As we wait for God’s FINAL, ultimate, COMPLETE victory?
Let’s turn to God’s words here in Isaiah 56. And see, practically, what it means that, even though God’s BEGUN to save, he’s not finished YET.
The coming justice of God (1-2)
Right at the beginning of the chapter, you can see the two realities there in v1. God’s SAVED his people. They’re in the land. And yet he still says there’s more coming. The coming justice of God.
56:1 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.
Salvation is coming. Not here yet. Righteousness is just around the corner.
So? Live out justice
And that means God’s people don’t just get to sit back and ENJOY their salvation. It’s BEGUN, but there’s more to come. There’s something for us to be GOING ON WITH while we WAIT. We’re to LIVE OUT justice, while we wait for God’s justice.
God desires SAVED people TO CHANGE. Not to rest in the salvation they’ve ALREADY received.
And v1 tells us they’re to change to REFLECT God’s COMING salvation. Have a look at the parallels
“MAINTAIN JUSTICE AND DO WHAT IS RIGHT, for (BECAUSE) my salvation is close at hand and MY righteousness will soon be revealed.
That’s the way to live between two realities. Between God’s salvation, and his coming salvation. It literally says, “DO RIGHTEOUSNESS… because MY righteousness will soon be revealed.”
We’re to act justly, and live holy lives, and to treat people RIGHTLY. Not just because God’s righteous judgment is coming FOR US (Which it IS). But because our just behaviour LOOKS FORWARD to that justice. Foreshadows it. We anticipate it as we act justly TODAY.
From our point of view, we express faith in the SURENESS of the COMING of God’s eternal kingdom by living justly TODAY. We practice what’s right NOW because that’s the way we’ll be living FOR ETERNITY.
Like Gilligan’s Island. The Professor continuing his experiments, or Ginger continuing her beauty routines, or the Skipper putting on his cap every day. They did it because WHEN THEY WERE SAVED, that’s what they’d be doing AGAIN. It was an expression of faith in their future rescue.
And that’s what WE do as we live out justice TODAY. It’s the behaviour we’ll be doing FOREVER in God’s perfect kingdom.
But that’s not all. We express faith in the RIGHTNESS of God’s eternal kingdom by living that out TODAY. In the in-between time. God’s ways of doing things aren’t just for THEN, they’re for NOW, TOO.
Gentleness, fairness, humility, truth, justice. All things that are difficult to live out consistently. Yet, when we DO live them out, we’re expressing trust in God that that’s the way we work best. That LIFE is at its best when we live God’s way.
Footballers, when they train, practice skills again and again under fatigue. When they’re EXHAUSTED. In some senses, it doesn’t matter during the week. But they do it that way because they’re practicing for when it DOES count.
They get their bodies used to doing what’s required when the pressure’s on. In the 80th minute of the grand final.
There’s a sense in which living out gentleness, fairness, humility, truth and justice NOW are getting us USED to doing it when it COUNTS. In God’s NEW kingdom. Forever.
And that’s something people NOTICE. There’s something ATTRACTIVE about communities like that. The church, and our relationships with each other and outsiders, should give people a TASTE of what God’s eternal, righteous kingdom will be like. Make them HUNGER for eternity with God. And to lose their appetite for THIS world.
How are we DOING at that? (DOING righteousness because GOD’S righteousness will soon be revealed).
And then in v2 we get A CONCRETE EXAMPLE of what that right living looked like IN PRACTICE.
2 Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, WHO KEEPS THE SABBATH without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Why the focus on the Sabbath?
Back in Ch 1, God was angry with his people because they kept the Sabbath, and offered sacrifices, but they didn’t live out justice in the rest of the week. He says in v13,
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
They might as well not bother observing the Sabbath! And the REASON he’s not interested is down in v15.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! SEEK JUSTICE, ENCOURAGE THE OPPRESSED. DEFEND THE CAUSE OF THE FATHERLESS, PLEAD THE CASE OF THE WIDOW.
Worship on SUNDAY is MEANINGLESS – it’s WORSE than MEANINGLESS – it’s OFFENSIVE to God. If you don’t live justly before him for the REST of the week.
God’s saying here in v2 of Ch 56 that the man who keeps the Sabbath WITHOUT DESECRATING IT will be blessed. In other words, who lives his WHOLE WEEK before God, not just for an hour on Sunday. “Maintain justice and do what’s right ALL WEEK. And then when you come before me at church, I’ll be pleased with what you’ve got to say.”
How do YOU go with compartmentalising your life? Is your behaviour CONSISTENT? Your tongue? Your mind? Are you as conscious of your behaviour at work, or on the sports field, or with your family as you are here at church?
Do you live for an audience of one – for God – for the WHOLE week? Or just when we get together? God NOTICES.
But there’s ANOTHER aspect of keeping the Sabbath. It’s not just about honouring God. It’s about looking forward to God’s ETERNAL rest. His eternal SALVATION. It’s A FORETASTE OF ETERNITY. (Just like acting JUSTLY is a foretaste of God’s just future kingdom.)
Over in Ch 65 God talks about creating A NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH. He’ll re-create Jerusalem and REJOICE over it and over its people. Then over in Ch 66, almost at the end of the book, we read about what his people will be DOING for eternity. V22
22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from ONE SABBATH TO ANOTHER, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD.
ONE LONG SABBATH. Centred around God. Rest, rejoicing, and worship.
And Sabbath NOW, a time to stop, rest and focus our worship on God, is a foretaste, a trial run, for ETERNITY. When it will be ALWAYS be Sabbath.
I wonder whether we think about keeping the Sabbath in THOSE terms. As a FORETASTE of ETERNITY.
As Christians, following the practice of the early church, we’ve taken our Sabbath as SUNDAY, rather than SATURDAY. Because that’s when Jesus rose from the grave.
And there’s been a certain type of Christianity that’s focussed on RULE-KEEPING on Sunday. Making it a very dreary and boring time. A whole list of things you can’t do.
But Jesus himself said the Sabbath was made for Man, not man for the Sabbath. Let’s make OUR day of rest one that’s focussed on God. That’s lived in anticipation of eternity. Let’s make him the focus of our SUNDAYS because he’s who’ll be our focus for ETERNITY. Let’s use it to whet our appetites for what the new heavens and the new earth will be all about. Eternal rest and eternal relationship.
The missionary heart of God (3-8)
That’s the FIRST point. (God’s justice is coming, so we’re to live out justice). The SECOND thing this chapter tells us about God is that HE’S GOT A MISSIONARY HEART.
In case you haven’t noticed in Isaiah yet, God’s plans for saving Israel will never be complete until they include THE WHOLE WORLD. It’s there all the way through the Bible. But just jump back a FEW chapters. To Ch 49 for example. God says to his servant in v6.
6 he says: “It is TOO SMALL A THING for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, that you may bring my salvation TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”
It makes sense that the God who made THE WHOLE WORLD would want to SAVE the whole world.
And he wants his kingdom of Israel, living between two realities, to REFLECT that vision. That world-wide vision.
It would have been a genuine mixed bag of nations when the people first returned from Babylon. Over fifty years of exile meant the land had been taken over by people from all the surrounding nations.
It COULD be a recipe for DISASTER. (Israel was well-known for being led astray by foreigners). But it’s PERFECT for God’s eternal plans. So he says in ch 56. V3.
3 Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”
God wants to include EVERY NATION of people who genuinely turn to God. And so he says, down in v6.
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.”
But not just FOREIGNERS, there’s EUNUCHS TOO (v4). Rejects, ceremonially unclean, unable to enter the temple according to Deut 23. Yet God says they can be part of God’s people TOO. V4.
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant– 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.
God’s going to make clean those who are unclean. Old categories won’t apply. Old divisions won’t matter.
These eunuchs may not be able to have their name continue through having kids. But for those who choose what pleases God, he’ll do something even BETTER than sons and daughters. He’ll give them an everlasting name within his temple that won’t be cut off.
So? Grow a missionary heart
That’s God’s promise for his ETERNAL kingdom. But what about us, NOW? What that means for US, is that WE’RE to have a missionary heart, TOO. We’re to reach out to the rejects and the foreigners around US. And to work towards making THIS “in-between” kingdom reflect, and prepare for, and God’s ULTIMATE kingdom.
As we live today between two realities, we’re to look forward to God’s perfect, inclusive, peaceful world-wide future by reaching out and including rejects and foreigners.
We’re called to be revolutionary, other worldly, counter-cultural in our inclusiveness. To use a phrase from Kirk Patston’s commentary, we’re to live lives of SCANDALOUS INCLUSIVENESS.
How are we GOING at that? As individuals? As a church?
Would people think it UNUSUAL when they look at the way we treat people? The way we INCLUDE them. That’s the whole point of the open crowd festivals we have before the movie nights and Christmas carols. To build bridges, and INCLUDE people.
Christians aren’t normally known for their INCLUSIVENESS. Normally it’s a reputation for JUDGMENTALISM, INSTEAD.
How can we do it BETTER? How can we connect with people others reject? New arrivals? Needy people?
What about ESL classes? Lots of churches have started classes for teaching English as a second language to new Australians. Is that something WE could do? I’m not sure where or when.
You don’t need to be qualified, and there are people in the pressie church who can help train us. (See me if you reckon it’s something worth thinking about.)
Or what about asylum seekers? What is the Christian response to asylum seekers? God’s heart is to show them justice and compassion. He says it to Israel in Deut 10:18-19. God
defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien , giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.
How do we show God’s justice and compassion and inclusiveness? It will be there in his ETERNAL kingdom. How can we reflect those qualities NOW.
Let me share a real life example of what this SCANDALOUS INCLUSIVENESS looked like. Acts ch 8 v26. Phillip, one of the seven Jewish Christian deacons, has been told by an angel to head out on the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza. He sees a guy who turns out to be a eunuch from Ethiopia. Been to Jerusalem to worship. But unable to enter the temple. He’s reading from the book of Isaiah. Chapter 53, about the suffering servant whose wounds bring us forgiveness. And includes EVERYONE into God’s family.
He doesn’t understand it. So in v35, Phillip starts explaining to him about Jesus. BEGINNING WITH THAT VERY PASSAGE. And quite probably, they KEEP READING. Until they get to today’s promise by God in Isaiah 56 that to foreigners and eunuchs who holds fast to God, he’ll scandalously include. And give them a place in eternity.
And I just love the words of the Ethiopian there in v36. They come to some water, and the eunuch says
“Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
Included in God’s kingdom. Forever. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for US to be telling a similar story as we live out God’s justice and missionary inclusiveness TODAY. As we wait for God’s ULTIMATE justice and inclusion.
Come, Lord Jesus, Come.