21 days of prayer and fasting - Isa 56
Living righteously matters to God. It is His nature to be righteous and He is the definition of what is right and just.
The description of righteousness is significant - keeping the Sabbath and avoiding evil. Avoiding evil is easy to understand but why the Sabbath? In a New Testament context, we are not talking about the Law (Friday evening to Saturday afternoon) or a “Christian” version on a Sunday, but a sensible approach to work that allows time to “pray and play!” God Himself rested on the seventh day of creation so there is something important about taking time to rest, reflect, build relationships (especially with God) and recharge the batteries by doing things that fun and worthwhile to us.
Isaiah paints a wonderful picture of righteous living being open not just to ethnic Jews but to all people.
Foreigners and eunuchs (verse 3) were excluded from some of the sacrifices and feasts under the Law. This is an indication that God requires His people to be pure and to live righteously.
The good news, however, is that because of Jesus it is now possible for any person to live righteously, not by keeping the Law but by responding to God’s invitation and being transformed by the power of the Spirit.
Purity, righteousness, sabbath … these all still matter greatly. But they never were achieved by keeping the Law. And now in Jesus we are dead to the Law and the Law is dead to us (Romans 7). We are free to live righteously and to enjoy the peace of true sabbath.
But we do not selfishly keep this to ourselves. We are called to offer this freedom to others around us (“foreigners” because they are not yet included in the covenant God offers us).
Some people think that God’s call to us to mission and evangelism is just a New Testament instruction (particularly in Matthew 28:18-20).
In fact it is in the Old Testament too. The original commission in creation is worldwide. Abraham was to be a blessing to all the nations (Gen 22:18). Isaiah is clear in this and other passages that God’s heart is to include foreigners into His people. There are many indications in the Old Testament that the people, Israel, were intended to be a model and example, so that others could also experience grace and be joined to God’s people.
The chapter ends with a serious warning to bad leaders. So often the watchmen fail to warn of disaster and the shepherds fail to rescue the sheep. This is clearly directed to leaders who should know better but are obsessed with their own comforts.
But it is wider. We are all watch-men and women, called to watch and pray, particularly for those who do not yet know God. And we are all capable of being shepherds, helping people come to Jesus and discipling them when they respond to Him.
So let’s enjoy freedom but let’s also help others to do the same!