Justice: called to change

Preached on: Sunday 22nd November 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-11-22 Message PPT slides multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 61:1-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 61:1-9
Sunday 22nd November 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Today is our last week in our series focusing on justice through the book of Isaiah. Over the previous weeks, we’ve seen time and again that justice is a priority for the Lord because it is central to worship and core to His plan for bringing hope and light to the world, so that the norm changes and there might life for all. Each week, we’ve also had input from members of our church family, sharing with us ideas for seeking justice.

Of the passages we explored, several may be less well known to us, but today’s passage could be familiar, or the beginning at least, because these words were quoted by Jesus. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus is in the synagogue at Nazareth and He reads this very passage, then says: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:21) This passage of Scripture foretold of someone who would come, anointed in the Spirit of the Lord, to set the world right, to bring life and healing of soul and of society. In that synagogue, Jesus was claiming to be the person referred to in Isaiah, the promised Messiah who would come to suffer and to serve, that God’s promises and plan would be fulfilled. Many of the promises in this passage should be familiar to us by now because they echo many earlier passages that we read and more besides.
Yet, there is something else in this passage, which I think helpfully rounds off our series on justice. Isaiah said:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations…
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.’
(Isaiah 61:3-4, 6)

In these verses, we see that, whilst the principle agent of change and restoration is the promised Messiah, the people who benefit from Him, the people who receive…
His deliverance and salvation and help and grace, these same people are then called to be His ongoing agents, His ambassadors, His priests and ministers, such that they stand in the gap on His behalf and share what they have received from Him with the wider world. These people are called to change, they are called to change the world – to rebuild a world that has been devastated by sin, a world marked by a lack of love and too much cruelty and a way of life that says to take care of yourself first and at all costs. To all who have met with the Messiah, who have met with Jesus, there is a calling – we have a calling – to play a part in rebuilding lives and even rebuilding societies. It addresses the spiritual dynamics of life but also the material, for the earlier verses in the chapter speak of the Messiah transforming the full range of human reality and experience.
So, I wonder friends, as we heed last week’s message, that simply returning to normal is not viable and so we must look forward and look out, where are our resources being invested? What are we rebuilding or restoring? Are we simply maintaining the old structures and institution? Or can we learn the way of Jesus, to look outward and see the brokenness all around, and in love and compassion – where ‘compassion’ literally means ‘with suffering’ – can we love and suffer with this broken world for their benefit, and so play our part in what Jesus, the Messiah, is doing in our world? Friends, we are called to change, to change the world, so how is that seen in your life? How is that seen in our congregation’s life?

But this calling to change is not only external, it’s also internal. Isaiah did say:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour…
For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.’
(Isaiah 61:3, 8)

We are called to change, but not only to change the world, we are called to change within ourselves. The Lord through Isaiah says that those who experience the ministry of the Messiah will be called ‘oaks of righteousness’, they will change in character, in their nature, such that they ‘display…his splendour’, His glory, His likeness – they will pursue justice, because He…
is the Lord who loves justice. So firm is His commitment to our change, that it is in fact part of the everlasting covenant He makes with us, His people. And this is key friends, because we shouldn’t fall into a false understanding about these matters – we don’t grow in righteousness by trying harder, that would be man-made religion. Instead, we are ‘a planting of the Lord’ – it is He who will nurture and grow this righteousness in us.

It’s a theme picked up in many places across the New Testament. Paul will say to Titus: ‘…our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,…gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’ (Titus 2:14) God through Isaiah, God through Paul, God across the Scriptures invites us into relationship and through that relationship into a calling to change, to change on the inside. It’s something we see in the life and ministry of Jesus: He transformed a tax collector into a disciple, a prostitute into a missionary, a sceptic into an apostle, a madman into a family man, and a thief into a friend.

Of course, it takes time – the Scriptures don’t speak of us becoming perfect instantaneously – because an oak matures slowly, it doesn’t become great overnight. But nevertheless, this is part of God’s plan, part of His calling upon our lives – and He will help make it possible. He promises to give us His Spirit to dwell in us and enable us to change. Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit…put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) and the fruit of the Spirit – not the fruit of our hard labour – is ‘…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Gal. 5:22-23) God will do what we cannot do for ourselves – change our nature, change us on the inside.

Does this mean we have no part to play? Do we simply lie back and allow God to work some magic on us? Well no, in that same quote from Romans, Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) You, with the Spirit, but without the Spirit you haven’t got a chance; for our brokenness, our darkness, the captivity within us because of sin is too powerful for us to overcome alone. But by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and because He has ascended into heaven and sent the Spirit, we can now know the healing and transformation promised in Isaiah and so increasingly grow as oaks of righteousness.
In our culture today, there’s that practice of taking a picture or selfie and adding a filter to make you look better or jazz things up a bit. Sometimes it’s just for fun, but other times I wonder if it points to a wishful desire in us, or a discontentment with who we are – so we end up putting on the filter, we fake it, and whilst the outside changes, it does nothing about the inside. We’re still broken, we’re still insecure or easily angered, because we need outside help to change on the inside.

Friends, we’ve been exploring God’s call to seek justice. That call requires us to change, it requires us to put others first, and like every call and command of God, if we see it as optional, we will never change. When I first became a Christian, I knew I had to stop getting drunk, I knew I had to stop swearing, I knew I had to treat girls better,… because the Scriptures teach us these things and I knew it wasn’t an option. And so I wholeheartedly said “yes” to God’s way, and change came, much quicker than I ever expected – but I had to choose, I had to choose to submit to God and not see it as optional. By taking that step, that step of faith to trust God’s way over mine, He then gave power by His Spirit and I did change on the inside.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to change, to change this world and see it rebuilt and restored. But for that to be – for our future to be different from the past – we must also heeds God’s call to change on the inside and allow His Spirit to grow and mature us in His character and in His ways, which includes the seeking of justice.

I pray it may be so. Amen.

Justice: changing the norm

Preached on: Sunday 15th November 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-11-15-Message-PPT-slides-multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 56:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 56:1-8
Sunday 15th November 2020
Brightons Parish Church Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Eight months today was our last Sunday service here in the sanctuary at Brightons – it was the 15th of March. Numbers were already down at that stage, people were starting to stay home because of the spread of Coronavirus, and from the Sunday after we have been primarily online. Eight months of waiting. Eight months of waiting to return. Eight months of waiting to get back to some form of normal.

In our passage today, the people being addressed have been waiting. It’s not obvious straight away, but chapter 56 marks the start of a new section in the book of Isaiah. Up to chapter 40, the people were still in the land of Israel and God was calling them to change their ways and warning them what would happen if they did not. Sadly, Israel didn’t change its ways and so they were taken into exile, to Babylon, the whole nation was upheaved and marched hundreds of miles away. Chapters 40 to 55 speak into that time and share promises and hopes of what would eventually come: that the people would return to the land that God had given them and the scattered exiles would be gathered home.

By chapter 56 the Israelites have returned, or at least a portion of them have, for many chose to stay in Babylon… and so the mass return of exiles has not been realised – the great hopes and dreams and promises shared through Isaiah and other prophets are far from complete. The people are waiting. They live in an interim time. They are waiting for a new world to dawn.

And into that waiting, God spoke. I wonder, in our waiting, has God been speaking to you? Have you been seeking to listen? What might you have wanted Him to say? It strikes me that these words from Isaiah may not have been anticipated by His people. Here they are waiting, hoping for other exiles to return and complete the promises God made, of there being a people who belong to Him, living in His kingdom and living by His values. Yet, what God says here is startling:

‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant –
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 endure for ever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants… these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer…’ The Sovereign Lord declares – he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
‘I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.’ (v4-8)

God is going to gather ‘still others’ – others beyond the Israelite exiles – and not just any others, but eunuchs and foreigners, people who up till now have been excluded from worship in the inner places of the temple. This is unexpected! To a people who are waiting, who want to return to the glory days by having the exiles return, this is startling news. In the midst of their waiting, God directs their attention out and forward, rather than back.

Six weeks ago, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met – largely in a virtual way, with a minimal few in the Assembly Hall. At its opening, the Moderator, Martin Fair, brought this message to the church.
(PLAY VIDEO)

In our waiting, what are we waiting for? A return to normal? A return to what we were doing, life that was marked, in many cases, by catastrophic decline? Could it be possible, that in the midst of our waiting, God might come with a message that directs us to look forward and to look out?

The Lord began this section with these words:
‘…my salvation is close at hand
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.’ (v1)

His people were on the cusp of something new; they were on the cusp of God bringing about His righteous purposes such that lives would be changed, transformed,… delivered, saved. But to do that, there could be no returning to the old ways and so the Lord directs His people to look forward and to look out.

Friends, in your waiting, which direction are you focussing on? Is it back, “back to normal”? It’s not easy to look forward and it’s not easy to look out when we feel vulnerable. But if our future is to be other than decline, then we can’t just look back to what was normal, we need to look forward and we need to look out.

Yet in the waiting time, the Lord also had another major point to raise with His people. Not only were they to look forward and out, they were also to evidence His kingdom through justice in the present time. He says to them:
‘Maintain justice…
and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. Blessed is the one who does this – the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil.’ (v1-2)

We see again those words, ‘mishpat’ and ‘tzadeqah’, ‘justice’ and ‘doing what is right’. It can seem confusing at first why God would string together justice, salvation and sabbath in these verses, but He has good reason. The Lord wants them to look forward and out, but He does not want them to neglect doing right in the present time either, and doing right involves, once again, seeking justice, justice for all.
Because Sabbath had to do with rest; not just for masters and Israelites, but servants and foreigners as well as for animals. To keep the Sabbath, meant, among other things, that you valued what God valued, that you cared for what He cared for. The Sabbath was not an end in itself, but a sign that you wanted your life to be lived in submission to God, such that you shared His values, including His passionate concern for justice.

In their waiting, the Lord’s people were to look forward and look out, but they were also to evidence the values of the Lord, particularly through justice. They were to be a visible sign that the Kingdom of God was breaking into the world and making itself felt, and not just for those on the inside, or those with status or the right credentials – there was to be justice for all.

I wonder friends, would our local community see this in us? Are we a visible sign that the kingdom of God is breaking into this world and setting things right? That’s part of God’s righteousness, His righteous purposes – He doesn’t just correct sin, He also sets things right.

We sang earlier:
‘Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.’

Do our lives evidence this? Or are they just nice words? Who is in ‘moral proximity’ to us and are we doing anything about their needs? Because in our waiting, there is a world out there who needs to know there is a God who cares, yet His plan is for His people to show His love and concern, and to do that we must share His values.
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Brothers and sisters, we are in a waiting time, but may we not simply wait for a return to normal. Instead, may we open ourselves to the Lord’s leading by His Spirit, that this time of waiting might equip us to look forward and out, and also to be a people who seek justice in the present.

I pray it may be so. Amen.

Justice: God has a plan of hope

Preached on: Sunday 8th November 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-11-08-Message-PPT-slides-multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 25:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 25:1-12
Sunday 8th November 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

What did you feel when you woke up on Wednesday morning and saw that the US election was still rumbling on and hadn’t been decided? What did you feel when it seemed a legal battle might ensue? What have you been feeling as the events of this year have developed, improved, worsened and continue to change and roll on? What did you feel when you heard of terrorism in France, racism in America, or conflicts around the world?

I wonder, in the face of any – and all – of these events, did you feel any hope? Has your level of hope begun to wane as 2020 plays itself out, particularly if you’ve faced a difficult year personally?

Ancient Israel was no stranger to difficulty and was only too familiar with losing people in war, as they suffered from invasion and defeat time and time again. I wonder, what did they feel? What was their level of hope? We may be two and a half thousand years on from Isaiah’s time, but we still live in a world full of oppression, arrogance, hatred, conflict, death and mourning. So, the message from Isaiah is just as relevant and powerful for us as it was in his day.

Isaiah came with good news for the Lord’s people, good news that God has a plan. He said:
‘Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.’ (v1)

God has a plan, a plan for wonderful things, deeds beyond mere human ability, and this echoes that promise made in chapter 9 of a king who would be ‘Wonderful Counsellor and Mighty God’ (Isa. 9:7).

Yet, this plan will not simply be for ancient Israel, because from a heart of overflowing love and grace God says through Isaiah that:
‘On this mountain [He] will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples…’ (v6)

All peoples! Everyone is invited to the feast. Everyone is invited to share in the good and abundant provision of God. So, what will this include? Isaiah goes on:
‘On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death for ever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.’ (v7-8)

God’s plan, the plan He invites everyone to share in, is a promise to utterly destroy death itself. God holds out hope to all the nations so that they can share in that day, when it comes, when He will pass from one individual to the next and wipe away each tear.

It is a grand plan and a grand promise, but not a wishful promise – it is a promise guaranteed and verified as truly available to each of us, because that promised King came, it was Jesus and Jesus truly rose from the dead, confirming His claim:
‘‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” (John 11:25) Friends, we have such a hope, offered to us by God Himself, but how do we share in that hope? How do we take up the invitation of God? Isaiah says:
‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’ (v9)

Those who trust, and continue to trust, in the Lord will share in this promise, will share in this hope. Yet, on the other hand, if we, like Moab, that country which bordered ancient Israel, if we are like them and with pride keep our distance, then we will not share that hope and not share that promise. For it’s not enough to belong to a group who stand on the threshold of God’s kingdom, or to have known some who crossed over into it. So, it’s not enough to watch this service today, or simply come to church, or have your name down as member – it’s not enough! You could do all that and more besides and still be on the threshold, you could still be holding back and not trusting the Lord, not trusting His promise and plan.

Friends, is your trust in the Lord? Is your trust in His promise? If your hope is low, if it’s beginning to wane, then renew your trust in the Lord. Come to Him afresh, confess where you’ve put your hope in other things, and talk with Him about how you want to put your trust in Him and His promises alone.

Isaiah came with good news, good news that would have inspired hope. But might it also have inspired bewilderment? For Isaiah also said:
‘…strong peoples will honour [the Lord]; cities of ruthless nations will revere [Him].’ (v3)

Isaiah is saying that the very people who have invaded and defeated Israel, these same people will be invited to the feast, to this glorious hope. Can you imagine what the people might have felt? Is it any wonder that they might have felt bewilderment? How could God do such a thing? How could He forgive? How is it enough that they simply repented? Where is justice?

Isaiah, will respond to such questions, but not for many chapters. So, let us instead turn to the New Testament, where read:
‘God offered [Jesus], so that by his blood he should become the means by which people’s sins are forgiven through their faith [their trust] in him. God did this in order to demonstrate that he is righteous. In the past he was patient and overlooked people’s sins; but in the present time he deals with their sins, in order to demonstrate his righteousness. In this way God shows that he himself is righteous and that he puts right everyone who believes in Jesus.’ (Romans 3:25-26)

God doesn’t overlook sin – not yours, not mine, nor the tyrant or the oppressor – every one will be judged, there will be justice. But anyone who puts their trust in the death of Jesus will be forgiven, and they will be invited to the banquet, where together they can rejoice in the love and grace of God, and there be unity.

You may wonder, if this is possible. You may wonder, if this is just fanciful nonsense. So, let me play you an old recording, wherein Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian, who was captured and sent to a concentration camp by the Nazi’s, shares a little of her story.
(PLAY VIDEO)

In Jesus Christ, we have hope that God has a plan, including to conquer death itself, and in this same Jesus Christ, we see that there will be justice, but there will also be mercy, if we will but trust in Jesus. Friends, I pray that you will know the scandalous forgiveness and grace of God, such that you have hope for the storms of life, and love for the least, the last and the lost, no matter who they be, or what they may have done. May it be so.
Amen.

Justice: light in the darkness?

Preached on: Sunday 25th October 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-10-25-Message-PPT-slides-multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 9:2-7
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 9:2-7
Sunday 25th October 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

In the last few weeks, we’ve watched or read much about local, national and international government. As our politicians seek to respond to Coronavirus, we saw tensions mount between representatives in Manchester and Westminster. And in less than 10 days, we will know whether the United States has a new President or not. Looking in upon both these scenarios, and even our own issues of government here in Scotland and Falkirk, we may well agree with Winston Churchill, who famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” In every era of history, humanity has tried various forms of government, but none are perfect, and none can be.

None can be, because they are made up, of human beings and we are not perfect. There is a darkness to all our souls, a selfishness, a brokenness, and so we find ourselves looking out upon a world and see this brokenness played out before us on an international scale, with such horror and brutality and evil that human trafficking and other injustices continue in our day.

We may ask: what is there to be done? Is there any hope? Does God care? But God has not been silent, for the Scriptures never dodge the darkness in our world, even in own lives, for through the Bible we’re helped to see that the darkness of our world in not the only, nor the fundamental, reality of things. The darkness is not all of the story, it is not the end of the story – there is more to come, there can be hope, there is hope.

In our passage today, we are at the end of a portion in which God has been trying to persuade Israel to put their trust in Him. Yet, they have not listened, they have rejected God’s ways, and so now find themselves surrounded, overtaken even, by the Assyrian army.
Darkness appears to be on all sides, and yet despite Israel’s rejection, despite their lack of trust, God, in His grace, draws near once more and brings a message of hope, a message that the story is not finished, the story will not end in darkness, for there is hope of a future king and His kingdom.

We read today: ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called…
Wonderful Counsellor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.’
(Isa. 9:2, 6)

In the midst of darkness comes light, and Isaiah is so sure of it coming about that his words speak of it as if it had already happened: ‘…for to us a child IS born.’ Yet this child will be no ordinary king, for the first three names designate divinity ‘Wonderful counsellor’ speaks of one who can work wonders and whose wisdom is far above any human’s, and so this individual is described in Hebrew terms which convey a ‘supernatural’ quality.

No wonder then, that this future king is described as ‘Mighty God’, a mighty warrior who leads the hosts of heaven, and yet He is also ‘Everlasting Father’ for He loves with such perfect and parental love. This is no ordinary child, but it is a human child nonetheless, as confirmed for us by the title ‘Prince of Peace’, where ‘prince’ is always used in the Scriptures of human leaders.

Through Isaiah, God brings a message of hope, that the story is not ending here, the darkness will not prevail, for the odds will be overcome by this future King. Indeed, that is why we read here of the reference to Midian in verse 4, which points us back to the book of Judges. At that time, Israel was once more surrounded by a vast multitude of the enemy, swarming over the land, and yet the Lord defeats this foe with a mere 300 individuals led by the trembling Gideon. Israel felt powerless at that time, Israel thought the darkness would win out, but the
Lord brought a different ending, ‘for as in the day of Midian’s defeat…’ the Lord broke the rod and broke the bar. Isaiah is saying the same thing will happen through this child, that the odds will be overcome, there is good news, there is hope, the story does not end here and the Lord will turn our darkness into light, our conflict into peace, our loss into abundance and our despair into joy.

And He will do this in the coming of a child, a child who was no mere human being, a child who would then grow up and one day begin to fulfil these words of prophecy, such that we read in the book of Matthew:
‘[Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali – to fulfil what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’
From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’’
(Matt. 4:12-17)

In the person of Jesus, this prophecy began to be fulfilled – the King had come and so His Kingdom was breaking into this world, it had come near. As we read through the four gospels of the New Testament, we see signs of God’s Kingdom breaking in, we see signs of the One who is
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He came with power to work wonders; He came with wisdom and teaching that has lasted the ages; He came revealing the love of God in His life and most powerfully in His death. Jesus was this promised King, the One who ensured that the story would not end in darkness but that light had dawned, and yet, this Jesus is not dead, He is not a myth or a child’s story or a relic of history, but He is the Living One, Everlasting, for He was raised to life and He will return to bring the fullness of His Kingdom into reality.

I wonder friends, do you know this Jesus? Do you know this living King? Because without faith in Him, without relationship with Him, all we are left with are the worst

forms of government that we as a species have tried from time to time. But Jesus came saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12) Darkness does not need to be our only or fundamental reality, for in Jesus there is hope, He is our living King and one day His Kingdom will be all that there is.

Now Isaiah’s prophecy also gives us some details of that kingdom, for we read today:
‘Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing
and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.’ (Isa. 9:7)

There are some very key words in this verse, for ‘peace’ is the Hebrew word ‘shalom’, referring to a well-being or wholeness, which impacts all of an individual’s life, and all life between individuals. In that future kingdom, where shalom exists, all things are whole, healthy and complete. The experience of shalom will be spiritual, physical, psychological and social.

It should be no surprise then, that in the next sentence we read that this King will uphold His kingdom with justice, ‘mishpat’, and righteousness, ‘tzadeqah’. Tim Keller, in his book on Generous Justice, argues that when we see these two words close to one another, as in this verse, then the best English expression of our time, to convey its meaning, could be ‘social justice’. If that’s accurate, then the hope of this future King and the hope of His future Kingdom brings a message that darkness will not prevail, that the darkness of human trafficking will not prevail, there will be right relationship between God and humanity, and right relationship across humanity, from one to another, and rather than treat one another as commodities or as slaves, there will be social justice.

But is it all just future? Is all that we have to offer simply a message of hope? Well, Jesus said:
‘This, then, is how you should pray:
‘“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth
as it is in heaven…”’
(Matt. 6:9-10)

God’s Kingdom, this Kingdom which will have peace and social justice, we are to pray for this kingdom to come in greater measure in our day, that on earth we would see the kingdom of God. But is all we have to offer a prayer?

Well, I don’t think so, because as we said about prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, part of prayer is about changing us – that as we focus on God, as we understand more of His Kingdom and pray and yearn for this, then we change, and more often than not, we are then the answer to this prayer, for we realise we are to embody His character and ways, and so must live differently. Yes, let’s pray “Thy kingdom come”, but we better get ready to be the answer to that prayer as well, for through you God might do a work of bringing justice upon the earth.

Friends, this Halloween, let us replace darkness with light, let us scrap the costume and take up justice, let us forget the stories of witches and mummies or superheroes, and instead be a people who say that darkness is not the end of the story, that there is hope, there is Good News of a King, His Kingdom is breaking into this world, and so we will stand alongside the oppressed, for our God and His Kingdom is one of justice and of light. May it be so. Amen.

Justice: compassion over complacency?

Preached on: Sunday 18th October 2020
There are no sermon text or Powerpoint pdfs accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Isaiah 5:1-8, 18, 20-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Justice: central to worship

Preached on: Sunday 11th October 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-10-11-Message-PPT-slides-2×2.
Bible references: Isaiah 1:1-4, 11-18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 1:1-4, 11-18
Sunday 11th October 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchIntroduction to Reading
Today we begin a new teaching series and similar to this time last year, we’re going to work through one of the Old Testament prophets, in particular, the prophecies of Isaiah. This is a book within which we find some of our favourite passages, like, ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…’ or ‘…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…They will soar on wings like eagles…’ and finally ‘…he was pierced for our transgressions…the punishment that brough us peace was on him.’ Great passages laden with significance and pointing us to Jesus.

But there is much more to the book of Isaiah, much that we never read or dig into, and so for seven weeks, leading up to Advent, we’re going to focus on some unfamiliar passages. Since March, we’ve had many a sermon, in fact a couple of series even, that have spoken into our current situation, encouraging us to look to God and look out for one another. This will continue in many ways through the life of our church and even in our Sunday worship. But nevertheless, there are issues beyond coronavirus, issues that make people’s lives desperate and truly hard, issues that many of us are simply unaware of. And so, part of the aim of this series is to help us look out and to do so by turning to those passages which talk about the issue of ‘justice’.

I don’t actually know what to expect from this series, I don’t know what particular issues may arise, but I hope that as we give time and space to this, especially amidst restrictions, that God might use this time to help us mature as His children, so that when one day we can again be together physically we will go out into the world with His light and hope and good news.

Today, we read from Isaiah chapter 1, which serves as an introduction to the rest of the book. It is set around the 8th century BC, roughly 700 years before the coming of Jesus, at a time when Israel was being invaded by the Assyrian Empire.

So, let us turn to God’s Word, which is read today for us by Donald Meek.
(PAUSE)

Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be pure and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Have you ever wondered what gets under God’s skin? Ever wondered what bothers God? If you were to go and ask the average person on the street – socially distanced of course – what do you think they would say? Feel free to share in the Live Chat. I suspect many people would talk about God being bothered that they don’t go to church or they’re not religious enough, maybe they would name the “big issues” like sexual immorality.
In our passage today, God is very bothered by His people, in fact there’s a surprising rejection here by God due to a rebellion by His people. He says through the prophet Isaiah:
‘“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me…” Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.’

But what is the nature of this rebellion? What is so grievous that it brings a rejection by God? Are they not religious enough? Do they not attend church enough? Are they too promiscuous? What have they done which bothers God so much?

Well, it’s not their level of worship. In verses 11 to 15, we see that the people are being very regular in worship, meeting the requirements of the ‘offerings’ and special festivals like ‘New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations’, and they are bringing ‘many prayers’. In fact, they are offering their ‘fattened animals’, which would have been costly. So, their worship is meticulous, it is plentiful in time and outrageously sacrificial in terms of money. They are more than religious enough, so what’s got under God’s skin?

Let us read on:
‘Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.’

Again, we might ask, what are these evils deeds? What is the wrong they are to stop? We read:
‘Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.’

At the heart of what is bothering God is their lack of justice. Not their lack of religious attendance or giving, not their lack of sexual purity or fidelity, but justice. I doubt very much, that this would have been the answer from people on the street – I wonder if it would have been an answer given by ourselves?

Yet what is ‘justice’? Is not caring for the fatherless and widow more an issue of charity, than justice? In preparation for this series, I read a few helpful books, one being ‘Generous Justice’ by Tim Keller. I’d highly recommend getting a copy.

In the opening chapter, Keller introduces us to the biblical idea of justice. He writes that there are two Hebrew words for justice, the first being ‘mishpat’, which we [red] in verse 17. Across the range of its use, mishpat means to ‘give people what they are due, whether punishment or protection and care’. (pg. 4) This is sometimes called ‘rectifying justice’, as in correcting or repairing. We see it in verse 17 today, where the fatherless and the widow need care and protection. But it is also possible, as the footnote in the NIV shows, to translate ‘defend the oppressed’ as ‘correct the oppressor’, and so we see that wider meaning of mishpat as well, to correct and punish. Justice, then, is about issues in society, that sin has a social dimension, and so to seek justice includes the transformation of the one inflicting oppression and the one who is suffering. This is mishpat.

The other Hebrew word is ‘tzadeqah’, sometimes called ‘primary justice’. This is about living in right relationship with God and right relationship with one another, and so it’s more often translated ‘righteousness’, but in our day we usually think of righteousness in terms of private morality and so maybe justice is more helpful. So,

tzadeqah, when talking about our relationships with other people, is about treating others with fairness, generosity and equity. If we lived out tzadeqah, justice, all the time then there would be no need for mishpat, for justice which puts things right. When you have primary justice, you don’t need rectifying justice.

But in Isaiah’s day, there were gross violations of tzadeqah, and so God calls them to seek mishpat, defending the oppressed, taking up the cause of the fatherless and pleading the case of the widow. Tim Keller argues that in today’s world, we should be thinking about any who lack social power, those most vulnerable, and so this might include the refugee, the migrant worker, the homeless, many single parents, even some elderly.
We see here that God is bothered about the lack of justice in Israelite society and He calls for justice because He sees a total divorce between worship and justice – the sacrifices keep coming, the prayers keep coming, but justice is completely ignored, it’s not even on the agenda of God’s people, and yet, it should be. For God had given laws about justice, justice is in the heart of God Himself and prompted the saving of His people, for He heard their cry in Egypt, their oppression, their lack of tzadeqah under Pharaoh, and so He brought them out, bringing mishpat, justice, to them and to the Egyptians.

But this has either been forgotten or completely disregarded by Israel, and so there is a divide between worship and how they live – they praise the God of justice and yet they live out injustice. As such their worship is ‘meaningless’ (v13), ‘detestable’ (v13) and God is ‘weary’ of it (v14) because genuine worship, real biblical faith, includes obedience to God’s ways. Indeed, in the New Testament itself, we [reed] in James, that ‘faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’ (James 2:17) and it was Jesus who said, ‘If you love me, keep my commands.’ (John 14:15) Real faith leads to obedience and that includes justice, for as the Psalmist reminds us:
‘The Lord loves righteousness [tzadeqah] and justice [mishpat]…’ (Psalm 33:5)

So, I wonder friends, how high up our agenda, is justice? Have we divorced worship and justice? Are we in danger of keeping up external religious appearances and yet disregarding the Word of God and its call to ‘justice’?
These are hard questions, but let me end on a note of hope, because time and again Isaiah will bring a word of hope, a message of grace. The people of Israel had got themselves stuck in a rut, their way of life had become so deeply ingrained that the Lord says their sins ‘are like scarlet…red as crimson’. Now, this colour was a deep permanent dye, virtually impossible to remove, and so the Lord is saying that the injustice He sees is deeply rooted in His people, permeating not only their society but their very souls.

Yet the Lord also says:
‘Come now [come near], let us settle the matter… Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.’

Though the stain of their sin seems as equally permanent as crimson, God extends an invitation of hope – an invitation to forgiveness, an invitation to a new life, with a purer heart, and so the hope of a transformed society. But it is God who takes the initiative, the holy One; He always takes the first step – whether it be God searching for Adam in the garden of Eden, or Jesus coming ‘to seek… and save the lost’, the initiative is God’s and He does it for love of us all, for love of His people then and love for you and me now. In undeserved grace, God comes close and invites us to take heed, to hear the word of the Lord and so ‘Learn to do right; seek justice [and] defend the oppressed.’ (v17)

Friends I pray that we would respond to the Lord in this new series, even today, and not be a people who divorce worship and justice, but instead, as a people of prayer, we come to Him in the isolated place of prayer we receive His forgiveness and allow Him to changes our lives from the inside out, preparing us now for the life we are called to live when we can gather once more together.

May it be so. Amen.