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: 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 and Mission (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 3rd November 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this sermon.
You can download a copy of the sections from ‘The Mission of God’ quoted in the sermon here: The-Mission-of-God-Christopher-Wright-compressed
Bible references: 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Leviticus 25: 1-13, 25-28, 39-43; Isaiah 61:1-9; Luke 4:14-21
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Good evening everyone welcome to Tuesday Evening Sermon our once a month time where we dig deeper into God’s word and really try and tease out a little bit of maybe some of the recent teaching that we’ve had on our Sunday services uh just chew on the word of God just that little bit more and so tonight is likely to be a little bit longer and because of the subject matter because of where I want to go with things it is much more kind of teaching session and maybe more so than just a sermon or a preach so hopefully you can bear with that this might be something that you want to keep coming back to or you might want to even pause and come back to things because there’s bits of it that you might just want to mull over and refresh yourself with just as we go through it so get your bibles ready uh you might want a pen and paper even just to jot some notes down as we go through things because tonight we’re going to look at the topic of justice and mission and we’re kind of trying to tease out is justice part of the church’s mission because it could be argued that the focus in the new testament is very much on evangelism and that evangelism is what mission is for the church today and so I want to try and tease into that a little bit in our time together so before we do that let’s take a moment to pray; let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

So is justice part of the mission of the church now we have to understand clearly that the church only has a mission because God has a mission so and we’re not going into that so much today explicitly and tied in with this would be maybe sometimes questions like well should the church be concerned about care of creation could that be part of mission because there’s a an ecumenical document that talks about the five marks of mission and the first couple are about uh sharing the faith with people seeing people come to faith discipling people so the normal kind of things that we tag on with evangelism and discipleship is probably quite comfortable with that as being part of mission but then it does talk about justice I think is mark number four and mark number five is care of creation is are these part of mission how could we argue for that and I think the creation care one is part of the kind of justice picture because as we’ve been seeing part of the old testament argument about justice is care of those who are powerless and who are vulnerable and it could be argued that that creation is very vulnerable particularly as mankind has developed capacity and in numbers that we have great power over creation apart from obviously the great natural disasters that happen we do have great power and even some of them that we are influencing because of our behavior so maybe those kind of things are not mentioned in in the scriptures explicitly because well humanity was never an efficient position to do both beforehand they cared much better for creation but even still could it be argued from the scriptures that creation care should be part of the mission of the church just like justice could be

And the people that would argue for that probably look back into the old testament as we have been doing with our series in Isaiah we’ve been going to the old testament and that raises one of the issues that I want to touch on just as we get into things tonight because there’s a couple of issues we need to touch on initially before we kind of dig into this

Because these issues I think are sometimes at the heart of why we might not see justice or creation care as part of new testament mission and the first is I thought that I came across in my reading over the summer in the book we need to talk about justice by Ben Lindsay I’ve mentioned him before and in the evening on a race in Scotland and later in the book he talks about race and theology and he talks about this tension between evangelism and a broader understanding of mission an understanding of mission that would be more community orientated than just an individual orientated and he quotes another pastor an academic who says generally in the black church you learn about Jesus through Moses white Christians through Paul that’s why they struggle with social issues Lindsay says this author’s overarching point is that many black churches promote a theology that leads to Jesus through the old testament story of Moses which tells of a God of justice who hears the cry of his people and saves and redeems them as a result black people are presented with the redemption of all things creation people and places however the majority of white churches come to Jesus through the apostle Paul in the new testament here there is a heavy focus on the grace of God for the sinner and the importance of the family of Christ representing the church the result is that there is an emphasis on personal salvation and community renewal is in the shadows if your theology and teaching are more appalling than mosaic then it becomes really hard to see how the word of God applies to social justice issues whereas the mosaic starting point allows freedom to articulate why God cares about personal salvation economics business education etc I found that a really startling and helpful perspective on it possibly pushed a little bit far after all Paul does say in Colossians that that God is redeeming all things and reconciling all things to himself through Christ and so it’s probably pushed a little bit far there he’s obviously trying to make a point but I wonder if that’s part of it that in quite majority churches we can be very individual focused and we maybe do form a large part of our theology exclusively through the new testament and I struggle with the old testament whereas because black majority churches and black Christians and Christians of other ethnic groups have faced slavery have faced conditions that would more naturally help them feel a sense of a unity with the Israelites and Egypt and et cetera it’s natural that they would maybe then go to the old testament scriptures and so through that journey to our theology that is more about community and about the renewal of much more than just the individual not that they would deny the individual it’s just that they maybe try and hold it in greater tension than we do at times and I think part of the influence of our upbringing then is that with regard to the old testament we have maybe a tendency to over spiritualize it and we gloss over things that are about the physical and about the community and about creation and we make a much more spiritual focus on it or we just disregard the old testament and so much of it as irrelevant we don’t maybe preach on it as much when we don’t talk about it or study about it as much when was the last time that you really looked at Leviticus in depth for example so tonight we’re going to dig into a couple of old testament passages and see a little bit of this at work and I’m also going to quote a couple of sections from the mission of God by Christopher wright which I find a really helpful book in helping us to get this other kind of perspective on mission and maybe challenges a little bit to equate where we’re at but first I want us to turn to 2 Timothy Chapter 3 verse 16 and 17 which verses many of you will be familiar with Paul says to Timothy all scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching rebuking correcting and training and righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work all scripture is God breathed and is useful all scripture and of course at the time he Paul was talking about the old testament so there’s stuff in the old testament that is useful and we know it’s of God but we often don’t really think it’s very useful we often just as I say I think over spiritualize it or disregard it now clearly how we relate to the old testament is different from Jews particularly because as we see in the book of Hebrews we have Jesus who is presented as the perfect sacrifice and the perfect high priest so we no longer no longer need the sacrificial system we no longer need a high priest to offer our sacrifices on our behalf that is provided for by Jesus so that deals away with a great swathe of the old testament then there’s laws in the old testament that are about the distinction between who is in the people of God and who’s not in the people of God and about purity in that sense and again because of Jesus because there is neither Greek a gentile nor Jew that distinction is not kept for us in the same manner that it was in the old testament about food laws and some of the other laws and kind of ceremony on purity laws and such things so there’s something quite different there for us now but I think from what I’ve been reading and thinking about this issue of mission and justice I think somehow we need to hold better the old and new testament together so as to reveal a fuller understanding of the mission of God so that we don’t just treat the old testament as some nice old stories that laid simply a foundation for Jesus or are nicely sentimental words of encouragement that we actually see that that God began his mission in the old testament carried it through the old testament and yes there is a new covenant but it builds upon what was there previously and I’ve tried to touch on some of this in my time here already with talking about the kingdom of God uh of the blessing that that was promised uh to and through Abraham but there is more which is something that’s wonderful about scripture and so we’re going to turn now to some of those old testament passages one in particular that I have no idea if you’ve ever looked at it really and we’re going to turn to Leviticus chapter 25 Leviticus chapter 25 and read a number of verses from here so Leviticus chapter 25 and at verse 1 the lord said to Moses at mount Sinai speak to the Israelites and say to them when you enter the land I am going to give you the land itself must observe a sabbath to the lord for six years sow your fields and for six years prune your vineyards and gather your crops but in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest the sabbath to the lord do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines the land is to have a year of rest whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you for yourself your male and female servants and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land whatever the land produces may be eaten count seven sabbath years seven times seven years so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of 49 years then sound the trumpet everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month on the day of atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land consecrate the 50th year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants it shall be a jubilee for you each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan the fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the intended vines for it is at jubilee and is to be holy for you it’s only what is taken directly from the fields in this year of jubilee everyone is to return to their own property jumping on a little bit to verse 25

If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold if however there is no one to redeem it for them but later on they’re on they prosper and acquire sufficient means to redeem it for themselves they are to determine the value for the years since they sold it and refund the balance to the one to whom they sold it they can go back to their own property but if they do not acquire the means to repay what was sold this well what was sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the year of jubilee it will be returned in the jubilee and they can then go back to their property and then at verse 39

If any of your fellow Israelites became become poor and sell themselves to you do not make them work as slaves to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you they are to work for you until the year of jubilee then they are they and their children are to be released and they will go back to their own clans into the property of their ancestors because the Israelites are my servants whom I brought out of Egypt they must not be sold as slaves do not rule over them ruthlessly but fear your God amen so the year of jubilee is where I want to start this section the original as we see was meant to be the 49th year seven sets of seven years and then there would be this year of jubilee and we’re unsure actually if it ever did happen in the life of Israel sadly but in that 50th year they were meant to free people from their debts free people from slavery that if they had sold land to others because of financial hardship that they were to get that land back and it would rebalance how things were set up when they first came in to the promised land and we see both that in the later portions that I read there but you can go on and read the full chapter and Leviticus 25. Jubilee had two main thrusts it had release and liberty and return or restoration so you were released from your debts you were released from slavery and you were able then to be returned to your wider clan or your family unit and you were able to you were free from slavery and also if you had sold land that would be released that would be returned to you and your property your financial position your your honor would be restored so release return liberty and restoration

And when we read of failures to keep the sabbath it’s potentially also including this idea of jubilee not just the Sunday the Saturday that they didn’t keep or the sabbath years but also potentially the jubilee years

And in the course of Israel’s history this developed into a much wider hope a longing within the people and it was picked up and articulated by the prophets so let’s jump on to Isaiah chapter 61. Okay Isaiah 61 at verse 1.

Isaiah 61 at verse 1

The spirit of the sovereign lord is on me because the lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor he sent me to bind up the brokenhearted to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion does this bestow in them a crown of beauty instead of ashes of all the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead a spirit of despair they were called oaks of righteousness a planting of the lord for the display of his splendor they will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations strangers will shepherd your flocks foreigners will work your fields and vineyards and you will be called priests of the lord you will name ministers of our God you will feed on the wealth of nations and in their riches you will boast instead of your shame you will receive a double portion and instead of grace you will rejoice in your inheritance and so you will inherit a double portion in the land and everlasting joy will be yours 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 their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples all who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the lord has blessed amen

So as I say I think we often approach the old testament solely in a very spiritual sense but reading Isaiah 61 after reading Leviticus 25 I think makes a difference because when you start to read those verses I don’t think you just think in spiritual terms I think there are spiritual nuances there but I think it’s more as well to proclaim freedom for the captives those who have sold themselves because of debts and now because jubilee should have happened because sabbath should have been recognized and honored and followed there should have been freedom for the captives to proclaim the year the year of the lord’s favor the jubilee year to comfort those who mourn to provide for those who grieve to bestow them a crown of beauty instead of ashes oil of joy instead of mourning because they’re in slavery and because they don’t have the land that they once had and they’ve had to sell it

To rebuild what has been lost that instead of disgrace verse seven you will see you will rejoice in your inheritance their inheritance was the land it was what God had given each family medium-sized clan unit to have so that they had provision for them and they’ve had to sell that and so they’re in slavery and they so they’re in disgrace and they’re lacking honor and because of jubilee that was meant to be restored to them

Because the lord loves justice he loves justice

I think it it’s leading with jubilee language that freedom of the captives good news for the poor the year of the lord’s favor inheritance instead of disgrace but we’re trying to understand well what about new testament mission

And so let’s jump on into Luke chapter 4 in the new testament where we read about Jesus okay Luke chapter 4 at verse 14.

Jesus returned to galilee in the power of the spirit news about him spread through the whole countryside he was teaching in in their synagogues and everyone praised him he went to Nazareth where he had been brought up and on the sabbath day he went into the synagogue as was his custom he stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet as I was handed to him and rolling it he found the place where it is written the spirit of the lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor he sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind to set the oppressed free to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor then he rolled up the scroll gave it back to the attendant and sat down as of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him he began by saying to them today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing amen

So Jesus picks up the words of Isaiah and again we have that tendency to spiritualize every part of it don’t we but you know there how many are the commentators that would say well this person was healed the leper was healed or the blind man was made to see and that uh the paralyzed man was able to walk and these were not only healings and not only a generated faith but they would give that person back life because then they could work that that is picked up in so many commentators

So when the kingdom comes and in the ministry of Jesus it’s not just about faith it’s not excluding faith it’s not excluding spiritual dynamics but it’s not just and the gospel the good news is not just that you can be forgiven your sins when Jesus came and he started preaching he says the good news is what the gospel is what can you remember

Repent and believe the good news for the kingdom of God is near the gospel is actually about the kingdom of God not just about forgiveness of sins and so in all of this I guess the question arises how big is our your understanding of the gospel and of the cross and of the mission of God so I’d like to quote a little bit from Christopher Wright because when I was going over this uh once more I was just struck by it he writes uh so powerfully so a couple of couple of sections that we’ll just listen to just now it is a distorted and surely false reading of scripture to argue that whatever the new testament tells us about the mission of the followers of Christ cancels out what we already know about the mission of God’s people from the old testament of course the new testament focuses on the new thing that we now have to proclaim to the nations only from the new testament can we proclaim the good news that God has sent his son into the world God has kept his promise to Israel Jesus has died and has risen and is even now reigning as lord and king in the name of Jesus Christ we can know forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith and his blood shed on the cross Christ well returning glory the kingdom of God will be fully established in the new creation all of these great affirmations and much more are the content of the good news that could only be made known in the new testament through the historical events of the gospels and the witness of the apostles and of course it is our mandate duty and joy to proclaim these things to the world and the evangelistic task entrusted to us but where do we find any justification for imagining that by rightly understanding what the new testament commands us to do we are absolved from doing what the old testament commands why should we imagine that doing evangelism and obedience to the new testament excludes doing justice and obedience to the old why have we allowed what we call the great commission to obscure the twin challenge endorsed by Jesus himself of the great commandment

I just find that so powerful and hard time and really just hits me and it just makes me want to approach the old testament and new and in different ways and see that it has relevance and that God has been doing and building things for millennia and that it culminated in Christ and Jesus coming and what he’s doing and what we have to share yes there’s that evangelistic task there is calling people into that but then when we are discipling people what we are discipling them to is maybe much greater than we’ve ever imagined Christopher wright goes on to say God’s mission was that sin should be punished and sinners forgiven evil should be defeated and humanity liberated death should be destroyed and life and immortality brought to light enemies should be reconciled to one another and to God and creation itself should be restored and reconciled to its creator a huge vision of what God is doing has revealed through the scriptures he goes on to say a full biblical understanding of the work of Christ on the cross goes far beyond though of course it includes the matter of personal guilt and individual forgiveness that Jesus died in my place bearing the guilt of my sin as a voluntary substitute is the most gloriously liberating truth to which we cling in glad and grateful worship with tears of wonder that I should long for others to know this truth and be saved and forgiven by casting their sins on the crucified savior in repentance and faith is the most energizing motive for evangelism all of this must be maintained with total commitment and personal conviction so we hold on to evangelism we hold on to calling people to repentance to saying that every one of us is a messed up sinner and we need the forgiveness of God that is not in debate that is not up for dropping any time but he says but there is more in the biblical theology of the cross than individual salvation and there is more to biblical mission than evangelism the gospel is good news for the whole creation to point out these wider dimensions of God’s redemptive mission is not watering down the gospel of personal salvation rather we set that most precious personal good news for the individual firmly and affirmatively within its full biblical context of all that God has achieved and will finally complete through the cross of Christ only in the cross only in the cross is there forgiveness justification and cleansing for guilty sinners hallelujah only in the cross stands at the feet of evil powers only in the cross is the release from the fear of death and its ultimate destruction altogether only in the cross are even the most intractable and tractable of enemies reconciled only in the cross where we finally witness the healing of all creation the fact is that sin and evil constitute bad news in every area of life on this planet the redemptive work of God through the cross of Christ is good news for every area of life on earth that has been touched by sin which means every area of life bluntly we need a holistic gospel because the world is in a holistic mess and by God’s incredible grace we have a gospel big enough to redeem all that sin and evil has touched and every dimension of that good news is good news utterly and only because of the blood of Christ on the cross there is no other power no other resource no other name through which we can offer the whole gospel to the whole person and the whole world than Jesus Christ crucified and risen

I’ll probably put up uh scans of just a few of those pages so that you can go back and and look at them more easily and if you want a copy of the book then or alone of my copy then just let me know

I just did not know how to summarize some of that and so forgive me for quoting so lengthy sections but sometimes we need some meaty stuff to chew on and to hear and so that’s what I’ve chosen to do tonight I hope you can see where I am coming from I hope you can see what is nurtured in my thinking and in my heart – this understanding that the mission of God the Gospel of Jesus Christ is huge and relevant for every area of life.

And thus why justice is part of the mission of God and so the mission of the church and why I’ve felt called to preach about this these past number of weeks

Friends I hope tonight has provided some food for thought maybe a wider biblical foundation than just what we saw in Isaiah and begins to not just convict us maybe even if that’s needed affirm that that call that some of us have because I was talking to someone I just through the this series and the church has never affirmed her occupation I won’t go into what it is but the church is never from not Brightons parish church not any church because I think we probably downplay issues of justice and we elevate evangelism and maybe we do that because we think one is eternal and so we do the eternal over the temporal and in Brightons we do that with the kirk session in the deacons court where they cover the eternal matters and the temporal matters but that’s another story in another conversation

But this individual had never been affirmed by the church never once in decades of work but by talking about justice by seeing that justice is crucial and important because it is at the heart of God and it’s at the heart of God because it’s part of the mission of God or vice versa that it’s part of the mission of God because of the heart of God that brought a measure of affirmation for her she could see that in her work she is bringing the light of Jesus she is bringing good news for the poor

And hopefully freedom for the captives and that is more than just spiritual that it includes a spiritual but it is more than just a spiritual so friends uh I will be interested to hear what you have to say give me some feedback give me a call arrange to go for a walk if that’s permitted in due course but let’s wrestle with this because I really do think it’s there in the scriptures it’s there in the heart of God

And some way somehow needs to become much more there are echoes of it certainly there are clear signs of it in parts of us as Brightons

But maybe we just need to have that wider biblical understanding of things to give us that nudge to bring that degree of challenge as we were looking at on Sunday I hope tonight has been helpful and that God speaks through this to equip us and call us so let us take a moment to pray let us pray:

Our God and Heavenly Father what was of you would you take it deep into our hearts and minds would you transform and renew our minds that we would follow in your ways that we would take on the character and the heart of Jesus more fully and lord what was of me what was just dross would you just blow it away that it wouldn’t take root that it wouldn’t unsettle us. May there not be any attack of the enemy that would bring a guilt that is heavy and ill-fitting but would we if we are challenged simply have the discipline receive it as a discipline of our father and no forgiveness and know his you’re enabling to lead us into life that all might have life lord lead us in your ways help us to see the injustices around us help us not to be complacent as we’ve heard not to be ‘thinking well I’m just one little person what do my choices matter’ because they do Lord each of our choices matter and when we collectively pull together then then incredible things happen and even on that individual things level credible things happen so Lord, leaders in this lead us to know how to engage with our community, our wider area, even the wider issues of the world as we seek justice and defend the oppressed .

We ask you in Jesus name, Amen

Friends, thanks for joining us tonight for our Tuesday Evening Sermon and in the description there’ll be some links so you can get a scan of the pages I read from tonight; and do join us Thursday evening for live prayer at 8:15 and in the morning there’s also the open time of prayer at 10 am if you’re able to join us – you do need to book in advance for that one. We’ll be back on Sunday. This Sunday it’s Remembrance Sunday so we’ll be starting at the earlier time of 10:45 with music and notices from 10:30 so that at 11 o’clock we can show and have our mark of Remembrance at 11 o’clock. Join us then if you’re able …….

and as you go from here the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you this night and forevermore.

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.