When Isaiah wrote his letter to the Israelites, they were in the midst of rebellion against The Lord. Interestingly enough, however, even in rebellion against The Lord they continued to offer Him sacrifice and religious rituals. The Lord's reaction to this type of service is recorded in verses ten through thirteen of the first chapter. "Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah. "The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. "What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?" Says the LORD. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? "When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. "Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly."
David Guzik, bible commentator and pastor, says of this passage, "What a sobering thought! We can offer God all kinds of religious rituals and ceremonies, all kinds of religious service, and He may hate it and consider it an abomination! Perhaps, in the midst of all their calamity (described in Isaiah 1:5-9), Judah thought the answer was in religious ceremonies, in their ancient version of "church attendance" and a few dollars in the offering. But if their heart wasn't changed, and humbled, and surrendered to the LORD, it made no difference. Without the right heart, God hated their religious ceremony and service!"
Do you ever find yourself falling into this same trap? How easy it is for us to serve The Lord in action and yet serve ourselves in spirit. Like the Israelites, we can see outward service and religious rituals as being that which pleases The Lord. We would do well in those times to remember the words of Hosea 6, which were later quoted by Christ in Matthew 9 that our Heavenly Father desires mercy, not sacrifice. However, even knowing what our Father desires, we can still seek to meet people's needs without actually serving them and personally showing them the mercy of Christ, even when we are fully capable of doing so.
For example, Matthew 14:15-16 tells of an interesting conversation between Jesus and His disciples. We read that "As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, 'This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food. Jesus replied, 'They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat."
The disciples initial reaction to meet the needs of the crowd was to come up with some alternate plan that, in reality, would have accomplished the same objective as serving them. The only difference was that it removed the entire aspect of personally serving them and demonstrating the mercy of Christ to them. In our lives, we can know and understand what peoples needs are and devise some plan that meets those needs, and that is better than doing nothing. However, I would challenge you to have this attitude of Christ: don't tell them to go to the store, you are more than capable of giving them something to eat. When the opportunity to demonstrate the compassion and mercy of Christ to others is put before us, may we seek to personally serve rather than go through the motions of serving without having the spirit of Christ. Serving Christ in this way not only demonstrates Christ to those being served, but to the one serving as well.
Several years ago there was a coal mine collapse in West Virginia. Within the confines of the collapsed mine were trapped seven coal miners. They remained trapped for four days while multiple crews on the surface were working feverishly to reach them. Finally, on the fourth day, they were able to dig into the cavity in which the miners were trapped. The workers and crew alike were rejoicing at the salvation of these men, and there were cries of jubilation as the lights from the lanterns shone on their faces. One worker, rejoicing with his co-workers, yelled out, "Hey! Why doesn't someone turn on a light already?" It wasn't until that very moment that the other six workers realized that their friend had somehow become blinded by the accident. When everything was dark and no one could see, no one could have realized that this man was blind. It wasn't until there was a light shining upon them that the blindness of the one was made evident to all.
Matthew 13 is a series of parables told by Jesus. In each parable, Jesus tells a story to highlight a spiritual truth to His listeners. In verse sixteen He says to His disciples, "Blessed are your eyes because they see." Jesus here is referring to their ability to understand spiritual truths due to the work of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the truth of who God is to them. However, those who do not know the Lord cannot perceive and understand such principles - these principles are completely foreign to them. They have yet to allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate the truth of Scripture to them. This is the reason Jesus gives for teaching the crowds by means of parables: "Though seeing, they do not see." Jesus then goes on to quote from Isaiah 6 and says that they "will keep on seeing but will not perceive." This is always the case with those who do not know the Lord: spiritual truths are foreign to them without the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
My prayer is that the Lord would challenge you in the same way He has challenged me regarding this issue of being light in a dark world. How are you sharing Christ and the truth of who He is with those around you? Do you share it in such a way that it is foreign to them, even incomprehensible and indigestible? Jesus, in this chapter, was talking to a group of farmers and fishermen. Thus, each of these parables was in the context of farming and fishing - concepts and terminology very familiar to them.
It is always and only the ministry of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the work of conviction and illumination in the life of the unbeliever, but it is the biblically mandated role of the Christ-follower to share that Gospel with those around them. Take notes today from Jesus in sharing His message with others: share it creatively and speak to people where they are in life, always pairing biblical truth alongside a story to convey that truth to those who do not know Jesus.
My prayer is that the Lord would make us effective at being light to those around us. As we love and serve the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, may He use each one of those to make us effective witnesses for Him. There is no greater testimony a human being can have than to be used by the Lord to help bring others into a relationship with their Savior.
I recently read a blog post in which Perry Noble, pastor of Newspring Church in Anderson, SC, wrote an article about Chick-Fil-A. He said that he was completely through with them - he was never returning there again. Do you know why? He loved everything about Chick-Fil-A, with the exception of their recent switch from grapes to blueberries in their fruit cup. He HATES blueberries, he says. Who would switch from grapes, the best fruit in the world, in his opinion, to blueberries? What an awful idea, he says. Of course, he was joking. His point was very clear though: while we laugh at this example in the context of a restaurant, we see it all too often in the Body of Christ. Two people who both love the Lord end up becoming divided over issues that are simply minor.
I was once in a church where one member simply could not bring himself to continue to listen to the pastor because of their difference in opinion about the timing of the events surrounding Jesus' return. Now, the truth is that no one knows for sure the timing of these events! And yet, this good brother, who truly loved the Lord, allowed himself to bring a measure of division into the church over what is a minor issue, and one which will never be settled among men. These men were good men who served well together. Their giftings were different, and complimented one another, but it was their differences - even over small matters - that lead to this division.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes to the church in Corinth about what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. This church was riddled with division, immorality, and fighting. Paul says to them, "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ."
Imagine, using this same analogy of the human body, if we were all gifted and wired exactly the same. How ridiculous would it look to see one giant big toe walking down the street? You certainly wouldn't call that a "body" because it was only one part, even if the size were comparable. A big toe serves an important function within the body, and, apart from the body, serves no function at all. So it is with us: God has gifted us certain ways, and He has called us to use those giftings within the context of the body of Christ at large. Now, does this mean that we will be working with people that are gifted differently than we are? Sure! This is exactly how a body is designed to function! The Body requires all the parts to work together to create the necessary function. If one part is damaged, then the entire body suffers as a result. Other parts have to overcompensate when that happens, and that wears them out more quickly than if all the parts were working together as they were designed.
As a member of the body of Christ, we are called to work together. The admonition that Paul gives to the church in Corinth is rather severe. Do not give the devil a stronghold by focusing on how someone is different than you, and using that as a means of division. Serve the Lord as He designed you to by serving within the Body. Every part is necessary, and every person is important and valuable.
My great-great grandfather built a house outside of Gonzales, Texas in the late 1800's that is still standing and still in my family today. It is in a very rural area of southeast Texas and is in the heart of cattle country. I love visiting this house as often as I can because it is like stepping back in time - no cell service, no modern electricity, no heating and air, and no modern plumbing. It is, for me, an incredibly refreshing place to go. My father and I were there last summer and wanted to do some hunting. "Shoot the hogs" was the word we got from people. Texas has an incredible problem with feral hogs. They destroy property, livestock, and cause millions of dollars worth of damage all over the state. As a result, it is always open season on hogs in Texas! So, before we went out hunting these hogs, we did what even the most amateur of hunters (of which I would classify myself) know to do: we made sure our rifle scopes were sighted properly.
Before you do any type of shooting, it is an absolute necessity that you ensure your rifle is zeroed in. The reason is simple: if it is not, you may be looking through your scope at your intended target and think you are hitting the mark. But, if your scope is off, then what you are intending to aim at will never be hit. In other words, if your focus is off-target, then your shot will be also.
So it is with us and Jesus Christ. We can spend so much time as Christians aiming at the wrong target if we are not focused on Christ alone. For example, in Matthew 12:31-32 Jesus mentions "the unpardonable sin". There, He says to the Pharisees who are questioning Him, "...blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven...whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or the age to come." These can be pretty frightening words, and our uncertainty at whether we have committed the unpardonable sin can genuinely concern us and cause great fear and anxiety. It is important to note the context in which Jesus gave this warning.
The Pharisees were not simply questioning God out of doubt before He issued this warning, as John the Baptist had done a chapter before, they went far beyond that. They were actually attributing His ministry of healing and restoration to being a work of Satan! They were focused so intently on the letter of the law that because Jesus was performing these acts on the Sabbath, which was for them a "no-no", they were blinding themselves to the fact that this was their Messiah. Their focus was so much on the technicalities within the law that they missed the entire purpose of the law, which was to drive people to a relationship with God.
Earlier in the chapter, Jesus used a parable of a sheep falling into a pit to illustrate His point. The Jews had a rule about that exact situation: if a sheep fell into a pit and broke its leg on the Sabbath, it was permissible to help it out. But, if it was uninjured, you had to leave it in the pit until the Sabbath had passed, because that would constitute "work". What would often happen is the shepherd would say, "Well, that sheep probably has a broken leg. I'll just go pull him up and check him out." This was the type of focus that Jesus was hinting at with these Pharisees when He issued this stern warning of the unpardonable sin. "You guys are so focused on whether or not someone is breaking the law about the Sabbath that you completely miss the hurting, the hungry, and the broken around you that the law was designed to protect and help! Your Messiah is right here and you refuse to acknowledge Him because you are so blinded by your religious system and traditions!" May we never push away the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives because of our own willful spiritual blindness.
R.C. Sproul said of the unpardonable sin, "As for those who are not sure they are saved and are worried they may have committed the unpardonable sin, I would say that worrying about it is one of the clearest evidences that they have not committed this sin, for those who commit it are so hardened in their hearts they do not care that they commit it. Thanks be to God that the sin that is unpardonable is not a sin He allows His people to commit."
The point of all this is simple: keep your focus on Jesus Christ and Him alone. The law, theology, Christian education, church - all of that is designed to point to Christ and bring people into a relationship with Him as their personal Lord and Savior. Make sure you "keep the main thing the main thing" and you will not have to worry about missing the mark. There will be no need to fret over whether or not you have committed the unpardonable sin, because those who are focused on Jesus are safe and secure in His arms. Keep adjusting your sights, and zeroing yourself in to Jesus and He will work mightily and powerfully in you and through you.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.