Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services.
Reading: Isaiah 58 WCF 21.7&8
Text: Isaiah 58:13&14
Isaiah 58New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Observances of Fasts
58 “Cry loudly, do not hold back;
Raise your voice like a trumpet,
And declare to My people their transgression
And to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 “Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways,
As a nation that has done righteousness
And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God.
They ask Me for just decisions,
They delight in the nearness of God.
3 ‘Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not [a]notice?’
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers.
4 “Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist.
You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.
5 “Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing [b]one’s head like a reed
And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?
Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord?
6 “Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
7 “Is it not to divide your bread [c]with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 “Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you remove the yoke from your midst,
The [d]pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
10 And if you [e]give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the [f]desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday.
11 “And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your [g]desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not [h]fail.
12 “Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;
You will raise up the age-old foundations;
And you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of the [i]streets in which to dwell.
Keeping the Sabbath
13 “If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable,
And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure
And speaking your own word,
14 Then you will take delight in the Lord,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Keeping the Lord’s Day
Isaiah 58:13& 14, WCF 12.7&8
These two sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith teach us about the validity of keeping one day and seven as a Day of rest and worship as well as how we can best use that day. For us who live this side of the resurrection, the day to keep is the first day of the week since that’s the day the Lord rose from the dead. By doing so he has earned for us an eternal Sabbath rest according to Hebrews 4:10. It says there that when Jesus rose from the grave and entered his state of exultation he entered his rest and through faith in Christ we enter ours. This is one of several reasons why the church has since its inception regarded Sunday or the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath.
The Confession also teaches us how to use the Lord’s Day properly or keep the Lord’s Day holy. It lists a few things which we can do to make it a day which is distinct and separate from our normal week day activities; a day set apart for the purpose God gave it and that is rest and worship
Now some find that a nuisance and many Christians included. They go to passage like Colossians 2:16 which says “let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day.” They use that verse to argue that it doesn’t matter what we do on the Sunday. And so church attendance becomes a take it or leave it matter and as soon as church is finished then the rest of the days is yours to enjoy as you please to go shopping or go out to a restaurant, attend a sporting fixture go to the hardware; anything goes!
Well Jesus also teaches us not to sit in judgment against another brother or sister as there is bound to be ‘log in our own eye’. Therefore we are to leave matters of judgment to the Lord. However we often do have to make moral judgments on the basis of Scripture and a careful study of scripture reveals a different theology of the Lord’s Day than the one presented above. Jesus spoke about the Sabbath in Mark 2saying the Sabbath was made for man rather than the other way around. The point he made there was that the Sabbath is meant to be a blessing to God’s people and not a curse. Therefore the case we would put to those who hurry away from church to please themselves on the Sabbath is to say, you’re missing out on the blessing of a Lord’s Day rest.
This is the very point Isaiah makes as well here in chapter 58.
The way he sets it out can be summarised with two words
If and then
1. Let’s start with the If
“If because of the Sabbath you turn your foot from doing all your own pleasure on my holy day. Now Isaiah is speaking figuratively here. To turn one’s foot on account of the Sabbath implies that the Sabbath is a holy day and that the unsanctified foot is not to walk on it in other words; one is not to profane the holy day. To put it another way, one is to refrain from desecrating the day, that is (looking at the next line in verse v13) refrain from doing as one please on the Sabbath.
Well wouldn’t that alone make a Christians who wants to live biblically think twice about doing as he or she pleases on the Sabbath!?
But then the argument which could be thrown up is;…. “well Isaiah is in the Old Testament and there is very little material in the NT which regulates the Lord’s day so surely that means that Isaiah doesn’t apply? But that view is very weak on several counts. First of all Jesus said in Matthew 5:17 that he didn’t come to abolish the law but fulfil it.
The other point is that the 10 Commandments still hold for the Christian today. It shows us our sin, drives us to Christ and then becomes a rule of gratitude to live by.
We should also remember that the Old and New Testaments are a unity. They represent a single covenant of grace from the time of the fall onwards. That means that if a principle has been set down in the Old Testament such as including infants and children within the covenant of grace and giving them the mark of belonging, tithing, Lord’s Day observance and the Regulative Principle of Worship, while these may not be expressly reiterated in the New unless they are specifically done away with (as circumcision was), then the biblical principle stands.
So we just can’t dismiss what it says here in Isaiah 58 just because its Old Covenant material. Isaiah teaches an abiding principle which is not abolished but fulfilled by Jesus Christ. For example he kept the Sabbath day perfectly leaving us an example to follow. The context of our text supports this.
Earlier in chapter 58 Isaiah weighed in against those who made an outward display of fasting but had no care for the homeless, poor and hungry. Isaiah speaking on behalf of the Lord. He warned them that unless they changed their ways it would go very badly for them. If they repented then their light would shine like the dawn and they would be like a spring of water which does not fail.
That applies to the Sabbath as well. God is just as concerned about those who make a bare show of Sabbath day observance, in other words make an appearance but whose hearts are not in it. They see it as a drudge and a bore. What they are really interested in is pleasing themselves.
Well the point here is that along with fasting and a proper observance of the Sabbath there has to be love for God and ones neighbour. And to love God with respect to the fourth commandment is as Isaiah puts it, “to call the Sabbath day a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable. Or, to honour God on the Sabbath as it says in verse 13b.
Isaiah then provides three ways to do that honour God on the Sabbath
The first is to desist from doing your own ways. That seems to be a parallel to the earlier “doing your own pleasure”. Now this doing your own thing isn’t just restricted to business or trading as the Jews once did in Nehemiah’s day. It refers to any activity which one would do in preference to doing God’s will. Such actions might be perfectly alright to do the other six days of the week. However they must not intrude into the day which is to be used for rest and worship.
The second expression not finding your own pleasure is again simply reiterating the point Isaiah stresses and that is that keeping the Sabbath is more to please the Lord rather than yourself.
The third expression is to desist from speaking your own words. This probably refers to idle words which are vain and in which God is forgotten or doesn’t figure. Now that makes us think about our lunch time conversation in the hall after morning worship. I don’t believe it means that we can’t ask one another how we are doing or what is going on in each other’s lives. Especially given the many one another passages in the NT such as “encourage one another”. But what it means is that we refrain from talk which would be displeasing to God such as idle gossip, or maybe using the time to talk about things which are not in keeping with the command to build one another up in love.
We can also ask, why does Isaiah mention the Sabbath at this point in his prophecy? Could it not be that the Sabbath was something which encouraged unity among God’s people and something which would bind the people together as no other ordinance would? And isn’t that just as true today? When we meet together on the Lord’s Day we see each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord! We are reminded that not only do we have communion with God but we also have that communion with each other. On the other hand to do as you please and stay away from church on the Lord’s Day will only weaken the communion we enjoy together as God’s people.
Furthermore the Sabbath is a creation ordinance. It was given to us by a gracious and good God from the time of creation and will carry through to our eternal Sabbath rest. From that time onwards we’ll enjoy living in perfect unity and in the presence of God for ever on the new earth he is preparing for us.
So, if we keep the Lord’s Day as God intended it, if we live to please Him rather than ourselves, if we refrain from idle talk and desist from going our own way but obediently go the Lord’s way and do what he knows is best for us……….
(and this is my second point) you will take delight in the Lord, not just by enjoying a day of rest and worship and fellowship with God’s people but enjoying the Lord Himself. Israel would enjoy God in Isaiah’s day; the church will enjoy God today because the person with a redeemed heart and mind will enjoy doing God’s will rather than his own.
Instead of having the warped view of seeing God’s law being a burden or a kill joy; God and his law will become a delight and a joy.
It God a joy to you? Do you take delight in the Lord? We have every reason to because he is the one who has given us our Sabbath rest. He is the one who sent Jesus to die for our sin in order to make that rest possible. How should we respond to that? Isaiah helps us by stressing that the Lord’s Day observance is at the heart of true devotion to God. Whoever keeps the Lord’s Day as intended will also find his delight in the Lord.
Isaiah continues “I will make you ride on the heights of the earth”. This gives us the idea of victory, the kind of victory which overcomes difficulties in our lives because of a mind devoted to the Lord.
When Christians ignore the Lord’s day and do as they please, they may kid themselves that they are the winners by living their lives the way they please; the way they want and no one is going to tell us otherwise; certainly not the elders of the church! But the sad reality is theirs is the way of a defeated rather than a victorious Christian.
When we keep the Lord’s Day then we are acting like royalty. We are following Christ in his kingly role by having dominion over sin and our circumstances rather than letting sin and circumstances rule us.
Finally Isaiah says “I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob” What that means is that those who love the Lord are also rewarded by God with enjoyment of the peaceful possession of their heritage. In O.T. terms this was the Promised Land. Isaiah wrote, “I will feed you with this heritage”. Earlier in OT history the Promised Land which was the Israelites heritage was a land flowing with milk and honey. If they obeyed Deuteronomy 28: 5 says their basket and kneading bowl would be blessed they would abound in the offspring of body, beast and the produce from the ground. Their heritage would be secure because God was a delight to them.
That principle remains true for believers today obedience to the Lord is that which also brings blessing in this life. Obedience to God’s commands does, as a general rule, cause our families and our church to prosper.
So what’s it to be?
The Lord has loved us with a love we can never match in a 1000 lifetimes. He sent his son to die on the cross. He has blessed us with a 1000 blessings. He has given His law which is the law of love and the pathway to a blessed life.
What will it be? Will we ignore this great blessing of the 4th Commandment and the Lord’s Day and go our own way and impoverish our Christians lives? Or will we honour the Lord and call the Sabbath a delight which it is. It strengthens the unity we have with each other. It is another way we can live as co-heirs with Christ. And it’s a foretaste of our eternal rest.
Last but not least, on the Lord’s day we have yet another opportunity to receive and give God’s love