By Tim Frank
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Carthage
Focal Passage: Isaiah 58:3-11
The life of Jesus gives the perfect example of One who was used to help others in their suffering. He is our model in all things, especially in care and concern for the hurting. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus explains that He did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be concerned and give our lives in serving others, especially those in need.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah shares God’s direct word to a religious yet disobedient nation. There was no lack of sacrifices, rituals, and religious acts among the people. In the minds of the people, one of the most valued of the righteous acts was the discipline of fasting. There was a sense of pride in their denial of food to the body and an anticipation of the applause and blessing of God for their devotion.
Isaiah 58:3-11 speaks to their false understanding of fasting. It was not, as they assumed, the denial of food that would get God’s attention. Instead, it was to be a heart of compassion that led to action. Fasting which pleases the Lord involves loosing bonds of wickedness, lifting burdens, setting free the oppressed, sharing food with the hungry, showing hospitality to the poor, and clothing the naked. The Lord’s blessing and light are promised to those who express care and compassion for those in need.
Jesus shared a similar teaching in Matthew 25:31-40. He commends those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked and visited the sick and imprisoned.
They receive the blessed “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:41-46, on the other hand, speaks the curse of the Lord upon those who fail to show the before mentioned compassion.
This lesson serves as the focus of our Bible study on the sanctity of human life. Churches across this country set aside the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the Roe vs Wade Supreme Court decision to focus on the value of every human life, from the moment of conception to natural death. Every human life is a sacred gift from God, and every human being is a precious gift from God.
The value of human life is emphasized throughout Scripture. The call for justice and the defense of the “least of these” is unmistakable. Cain’s question in Genesis 4:9, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” receives a resounding, implied “Yes” from God. Micah 6:8 reminds us that God expects His children to “do justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Isaiah had earlier written in 1:16-17 to “seek justice.” James 1:27 gives the basics of pure and undefiled religion as concern for widows and orphans.
Believers in Jesus can easily be caught up in religious activity and feel that God is pleased with our piety. Isaiah reminds us that God desires His children to have a heart of compassion, hands of generosity, and zeal for justice among the oppressed in our communities. Human lives matter to God. Jesus gave His life on the cross for each person.
Christians are to have hearts filled with that same concern and compassion and allow those feelings to be transformed into actions that will meet the needs of the hurting, oppressed, and suffering. The blessings of God are promised in response to our actions on behalf of those in need. Be God’s hands. Be God’s heart. Be God’s voice. B&R — Frank is pastor of First Baptist Church, Carthage.