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Isaiah 58


            Have you ever seen the sign on a semi “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you?” There are certain areas around a large truck where you can’t see what is there from the drivers seat. They are called blind spots.

            Blind spots occur in other areas of life as well. When we moved into our house, we saw a lot of things that we wanted to change and we wrote them down because we knew that after living there for a while we would learn to live with them and after a time we wouldn’t even see them anymore. They would become blind spots.

            Blind spots can also occur in our personality. All of us have certain habits which we are not even aware of. Sometimes they very annoying to other people and we don’t even know we are doing them.

            Being aware of blind spots can be very important. Certainly when driving it is critical that we know what is in our blind spot. Once in a while when I am driving, I want to make a quick lane change and I actually begin to do it but just before I do, I quickly shoulder check to see what is in my blind spot. Sometimes, I am surprised to see a car there and have to steer back quickly in order to avoid an accident.

            Is it possible that sometimes we have blind spots in our relationship with God? How important is it to be aware of our spiritual blind spots?

            This morning, we are continuing our study of Isaiah and will be looking at Isaiah 58. I mentioned last week that today and for the next two weeks we will be looking at some of the words God said to Israel about their sin. The first thing we will examine today is the spiritual blind spots which Israel had. But this is by no means a study of history. As we examine their spiritual blind spots, let us be open to the work of the Spirit of God and allow Him to reveal our spiritual blind spots.

            Pray for openness to the Spirit of God.

I. As If…

A. Supposed Religiosity

In the second verse Isaiah talks about all kinds of good things that look like the marks of a faithful follower of God. The passage draws us in because the things it talks about are things that we long for.

1. Wanting to Know God

            He says, “they seek me out.” They want to know God. They were glad that the temple of God was in their midst where they could go to seek God. They would have recalled the great stories of how Moses met God face to face and communicated the law to the people. They knew the story of Samuel who was called by God three times at night until he listened and spoke with him in an audible voice. They would have identified with and affirmed these stories.

This phrase draws me in because I want to know God. We sing lots of songs about seeking God, songs like “I want to know you.” I just finished reading a book by John Piper with the title, “Desiring God.”

2. Wanting To Know God’s Will

            We also find that they are “eager to know my ways.” They wanted to know the will of God. They had heard the stories of Gideon who was guided by God through the use of the fleece and they would have desired to have such clear direction from God.           As we read this, we affirm it also in our own lives. We also want to know what God’s will is. This is a question that I have been asked many times. Young people come and ask, “How can I know God’s will for my life.” It is the topic of a lot of sermons. A number of years ago, I read a book with the title, “Decision Making and the Will of God.”

            It is a good thing, a sign of faithfulness to want to know the will of God.

3. Wanting Evidence Of God’s Presence

            A further evidence of faithful desires is that they “seem eager for God to come near them.” One day Moses asked to see the face of God, but was not permitted to do so. Instead, he saw the glory of God. Israel would have been warmed in the memory of that story because they would have wanted the same experience.

            How often we have similar desires! We express them in the songs we sing like the song with the line, “more power.” We read books like “Fresh Power” and we are thrilled to see how God is at work and we long for that nearness and for the power which the presence of God would bring to us. I want to experience God near. I have often prayed for this for myself and for others.

4. Engaging In Religious Activity

            The people of Israel were also engaged in religious activities which were intended to develop their relationship with God. The interesting thing is that the religious activity which the prophet mentions is not making a sacrifice or bringing an offering or wearing the right garment or eating the right food; it is the activity of fasting, which seems to me of all the possible religious activities to be most purely for the purpose of wanting to know God.

            What are the religious activities which we engage in which are for the purpose of drawing near to God. We have devotions, we pray, worship and attend church. All of these are good things, things which we would promote. Perhaps we even fast so that God will come near.

            This is a very interesting passage because, as one writer says, “they are hyper correct in their religious observances and delighted to exhibit their piety.” They think that spiritually they are on the right track. Do these things not also express our desires? Do we not also think that we are on the right track spiritually?

B. Blatant Failures

But…something was wrong and they had a sense that something was wrong. For some reason or other, there was something about their relationship with God that was not working. In verse 3 we see the intimation of this problem. They were fasting, but there was a sense that God was not listening. They humbled themselves before God, but it seemed that God did not notice.

Once again, we are drawn into this text because we also sometimes wonder what is wrong. We long for God, but he doesn’t always seem near. We pray for God to act, but don’t see His power the way we think we should. Where is the evidence of God’s power? Where are the changes, where is the healing, the miracles, the excitement. We have a sense that something isn’t going as it should.

In verse 2, Isaiah uses the phrase “as if.” I have heard that used by young people to express doubt and that is the exact sense in which Isaiah uses it here. He identifies two basic problems in their life of faith. As he spoke these words, it was a day of revelation - eyes were opened and blind spots were revealed. Is it possible that we have the same blind spots? The prophet warns that you can’t say you are in a good relationship with God if any of these things are true in your life.

1. Self Love Instead of Love For Others

In verse 3, God accuses, “you do as you please.” The problem was that they loved themselves.

Self centeredness is not a sin that lives in isolation, it always has an impact on other people. In the case of Israel, it had an impact on their workers whom they were exploiting. This must have been a great problem in Israel because many of the other prophets speak about this sin. In Jeremiah 34:8-11 there is a story in which the people freed their slaves under the threat of an enemy, but as soon as the threat was removed, they once again took their slaves back. Malachi 3:5 talks about defrauding the workers of their wages. Throughout Isaiah 58, there is a great emphasis on the sin of injustice. God cares about the poor, about the down-trodden, about those without power and whenever his people join with injustice something is wrong.

            Self centeredness was also revealed in broken relationships with the people around them. Isaiah reveals their lack of love in verse 4 when he observes that they quarrel and have strife and even strike each other with fists. James says in James 4:1, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” This obviously is a recurring problem.

            What is the evidence of self-centeredness in our lives? Is it evidenced in our consumerism? We quickly run out and purchase whatever we want while at the same time thousands are starving? Is it obvious in our unwillingness to help the stranger? Do we show it in our obsession with entertainment so that we don’t have time for devotions or church meetings, while at the same time we always have time for recreation. Is this the blind spot which is preventing us from growing in our relationship with God? Is our self centeredness demonstrated in poor relationships with others? Is there someone whom we just can’t get along with? Are we in an adversarial relationship with anyone? Do our words of gossip and criticism reveal our self love?

            We may think that we are doing just great spiritually, but if we have broken relationships, if we are party to injustice, then our blind spot is revealed and it is evident that what we really love is ourselves.

2. Focus On Ritual Instead Of Love For God

            The other accusation which God makes against them is that they did not love God. They were more concerned about appropriate ritual than about being in a loving relationship with God. Verse 5 talks about fasting and I like the imagery he uses to describe the problem with their fasting. He speaks about “bowing one’s head like a reed.” Have you ever seen reeds in the water when there is a wind? They bow their head again and again. They are very humble and religious, and never fail to bow down, but what kind of bowing is that?

            The problem with Israel was that their worship of God was a mere ritual. There was no relationship with God, they simply thought that if they did the right things and went through the right motions, God would be near and God would answer.

Although we would say that we are saved by grace, yet it is very easy for us to fall into the same trap. We too can participate in religious activities simply in order to go through the motions. We come to church, but we do so because we feel we should, not because we would not want to be anywhere else and not because we just have to express our deep love for God. We give our offerings, but only because we feel obligated to support the church, not because we are so incredibly aware of God’s great gifts to us that we gladly give back something to him. Is that not the same kind of ritual as Isaiah describes as “bowing one’s head like a reed?”

II. True Religion

            What a frightening thing this is! We think we are doing OK, but God’s judgement is that we are not and the evidence in our life backs up what God is saying. Thankfully this is written to invite change and in the rest of the passage, the acts of true religion answer to the failures.

A. Acts Of True Religion

1. Love For Others Instead Of Love For Self

            He has accused, “you do as you please.” Now he invites in verse 10, “spend yourself in behalf of the poor.” We will never do that if we are self centred and the place to begin is with confession that we are self centred. But let that confession be genuine and as God asks us to give and be generous, let us actually do it.

He has accused them of exploitation and now he invites them to acts of justice and compassion. Notice the words of loving action which occur in verse 6 - they are words of freedom - loose, untie, set free, break yokes. Also notice the words of positive loving action in verse 7 - share, provide, clothe, do not turn away. May God open our eyes to the injustice around us and give us the courage to act on behalf of others.

He has condemned them for quarrelling and strife and striking each other. Now he invites them in verse 9 to restore authentic community by doing away with the “pointing finger and malicious talk.” God has called us to be a true community of faith in which we care for one another enough to meet each others needs, support each other and hold each other accountable. Last Sunday, Amos challenged us to sit beside someone we didn’t usually sit beside as we washed each others feet. I appreciated that invitation. What will it take for us to come gladly to the footwashing service and be willing to sit beside anyone there?

2. Worship Instead Of Ritual

            The other act of true religion has to do with worship. There may be a temptation in verses 13, 14 to think that he is talking about the law of Sabbath keeping, but that is exactly what he is not talking about. Already in the earlier part of the passage he condemned that kind of legalism when he talked about “bowing one’s head like a reed.” If our religion is only about going to church on Sunday because of obligation, then we are doing exactly what Isaiah warns us not to do. Jesus said in Mark 2:27 that “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” All of these passages agree in that Sabbath keeping is not another law which we keep ritualistically, rather it is a day in which it becomes evident in our life what is important to us. Notice the wonderful invitation in verse 13, “call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honourable,” and in verse 14, “then you will find your joy in the Lord.” All of these words move in the same direction and that is that our life must be a life of worship, a life in which loving God and expressing that love is more than something we give a few moments to, but something we put into the very beginning of our life, something we see as important and do as important.

Every once in a while I hear about people who are upset when the service goes past 12:00. When I hear that and read this passage, I think it is evident that people who think like that are not delighting in the Lord’s day and not finding their joy in the Lord.

What Isaiah was suggesting was that the Sabbath would be a day to occupy one’s mind on God and His word. For us, the Lord’s day can be the same thing, but even more important is that our whole life be one in which we worship the Lord because we find our joy there.

B. Rewards Of True Religion

            Throughout this passage, God promises that if people will do these things, God will reward them. Now we need to be careful not to see these as mechanical rewards of religious actions, but rather as the natural consequences of a relationship with God.     You see, the problem is that we are finding our delight in this world and we get excited when the rewards that this world has to offer are given to us. When we do that, we are settling for less than the best. If we could have a steak at The Keg, why would we settle for a hamburger from McDonalds? And yet that is exactly what we are doing. We are finding our delight in this world instead of in the Lord and missing the blessings that are greater than anything this world has to offer. This is the core of false religion.

            What God is saying to Israel and to us in this passage is that we can have the steak! Throughout this passage, God is telling us that if we leave our self-centeredness and delight in him and demonstrate that delight in compassionate and selfless pursuits, we will receive blessings that the world knows nothing about.

            Just look at some of the words of blessing that the prophet speaks about.

Vs. 8 - Then light will break forth

            - healing will quickly appear

            - righteousness will go before you

            - glory of the Lord will be your rear guard

vs. 11

            - will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land

            - will strengthen your frame.

            - be like a well watered garden

            - a spring whose waters never fail.

vs. 9 - the Lord will answer

vs. 10 - your light will rise in the darkness

            - night will become like the noonday sun

vs. 11 - the Lord will guide you

            Are we really willing to settle for less than the best God has for us or will we enter into a true relationship with him and receive life that is abundant?


            So, how are you doing spiritually? Are you aware of your blind spots? Do you want to keep on settling for less than the abundant life God has for you?

            I recently read the autobiography of Helen Keller. She had an illness at the age of about 19 months that left her blind and deaf. Her world was dark and silent until she was 7 years old. Then her teacher, Miss Sullivan, came into her life and began to try to open the windows of her world. She would spell words into her hand using the deaf sign language. At first it was frustrating and she could not get it, but one day she realized that each object has a name and suddenly her world opened up. Her excitement was so great that she became so hungry for knowledge of the world around her that all day long she would grasp at learning. Miss Sullivan reports about the great excitement and drive to learn once the window had been opened.

            If we could see our blind spots and realize the blessings God has for us, then we too would have a great hunger and thirst for the abundant life God has for us. Then we too would grasp for true religion. Pray that God will reveal your blind spots and let Him pour light and blessing into your soul.

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