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Lowell Brueckner

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Sin, Fasting, and the Lord’s Day


53. An expository study of Isaiah, chapter 58

 Cry aloud against sin!

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins” (v.1). This is a forthright command, emphatic and clear, that God gives to anyone, who can be considered His mouthpiece. I can only see two possible reasons why someone would choose to disobey, to soft-pedal, or undermine the importance of God’s command. 1) He chooses to ignore it, succumbing to popularity, a feigned compassion and good standing with people. Such a person is not worthy to be called a servant of God. 2) He might argue that this is an Old Testament command, directed solely towards Israel. A little scrutiny of the New Testament will destroy that argument.

My study of the gospels has shown me that Jesus was more than a gentle, kind shepherd, mingling with sinners and enjoying their company. Consider the Lord’s statement to His disciples concerning a major part of His ministry: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin” (Jn.15:22). He uncovered their sin and guilt and called it by its name.

Some may speculate that this was directed particularly to the religious leaders, but the context gives us no indication that this was anything less than a word to the general population of sinners. His instruction to both the lame man and the adulterous woman was “Sin no more” (Jn.5:14; 8:11). All the examples of His dealing with sin during the 3 ½ years of public speaking are too numerous to list.

He also revealed the consequences of sin, referring more to hell, than He did to heaven. “Fear him,” He warned, “who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt.10:28, see other examples, solely in Matthew…Mt.5:22,29,30; 18:9; 23:15). Paul spoke eloquently against sin and taught his young followers to do the same. Speaking especially of leaders in the church, he commanded Timothy, “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear(1 Ti.5:20). This is a command often ignored today, when sin and error are swept under the rug or, at best, discussed by a few behind closed doors. The general body of believers must be informed of the sin of leadership, in order to rightly assess their influence upon all.  

He instructed Titus, “The grace of God has appeared… training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions… waiting for… our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people… Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Tit.2:11-15).  As the New Testament draws to a close, more than ever, the apostles Peter, John, and Jude warn against the increasing deception of sin and its punishment, terminating explosively in the book of Revelation.

There is a very apparent hypocrisy in Israel that seems all too much like situations that we observe in these days. Because it is so, we must give this subject its worthy space and attention: “They seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God” (v.2).

Remember… this is a condemnation of hypocrisy, not of spiritual hunger or time taken in order to know God and walk in His ways. However, we must surely see this as an attendance to all kinds of Bible teaching and conferences with biblical themes, but without an indication of a transformation of heart. I, for one, am not satisfied that people come away with simply a positive reaction. Is there something in our learning experiences that goes beyond instruction concerning certain principles related to Scripture?  Where is the fruit of Holy Spirit-penetration that pierces to the core of human existence? Where is the awesome silence that follows a confrontation with eternal truth? We know so little of it in these times.

A true fast

“Why have we fasted and you see it not?” Again, this is not a condemnation of fasting, but of an improper attitude involving any kind of religious activity. Perhaps an abuse of fasting is not a particular subject that needs to be addressed in most Western Christian circles in our times. Too little fasting is done by too few people, so apply this to any effort that you will, in which Christians arrive at the same false conclusions, as the Jews did in Isaiah’s day.

We must clarify also that Isaiah is not attacking genuine humility, when he quotes the people’s question, “Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”  He is referring to certain practices, which were done to give the impression of humility, such as keeping a downward gaze and wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes.

We must apply this to other outward actions done in our times for the same purpose of flaunting our spirituality. Why is God not impressed with our radical commitment and devotion? Doesn’t God see our apparent humility? The real question is, has our pride been broken and do we have a contrite heart? Notice the evidence of egocentric carnality: “You seek your own pleasure and oppress all your workers… you fast only to quarrel.” Where is the evidence that we have gotten God’s attention and where is the proof that God has accepted our effort? “Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high… Will you call this… a day acceptable to the Lord?” (v.3,4)

Some have tried to imply that Isaiah is bringing an end to literal fasting and is teaching that humanitarian activities take its place. That is simply taking a single portion of Scripture and making it become a general doctrine, which is always a clear indication of false interpretation. Their conclusion cannot be justified in the New Testament.

Jesus did not eliminate fasting as a literal Christian practice. He taught, When you fast…” (Mt.6:16). “When the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days” (Mt.9:15). The  same ones, who claim that fasting is not to be a general activity in the church, will try to say that Christ’s absence is spiritual and as long as we “sense” His presence, there is no need for fasting.

That is a very far-fetched conclusion, almost too ridiculous to even be considered, were it not that some believe it. Whenever Jesus referred to leaving His disciples, it was meant in a literal sense and that He was going to be with the Father. As long as that is the case, Christians will fast. Please see Acts 10:30 and 14:23. (In Mark 9:29, only the Vatican manuscript omits the word fasting… all others include it.) Besides all this, it is poor doctrine indeed that claims that Christ will in any way abandon His church in a spiritual sense.

What are we to learn from these verses? (v.5-8). First of all, that the humility that should be acquired through fasting is synonymous with selflessness. It turns our attention away from selfish desires and even our own needs, in order to concentrate on those of others. It is the quality that must be present in lives that turns them in the direction of true missionary work. Beyond a simply humanitarian work, it produces faith in God, in order that we might work with Him in supernatural ways. It brings spiritual freedom: “To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.”

When the heart is sincerely turned in God’s direction, then we can expect to make connection with heaven. In verse 8, we see three blessings poured out upon His people… light, healing, and righteousness: “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you.” Darkness flees and the people of God will have clear direction and truth will be unveiled. It will be seen in their daily walk. The decrepit, halting walk in the flesh will be replaced by the healthy ways of the Spirit and righteousness will be their habitual practice. These are the fruits of a Holy Spirit-led body.

Prayer will take its proper place at the head of all activity. It will be a living, productive force, a source of power, as well as a place of intimacy with the Lord. He will be a reality and will manifest Himself: “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am’”. There must always be a removal of the works of fallen man, before the glory of God can shine through. “If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness” (v.9). The pointing of the finger was not so much an accusatory sign, as a sign of disdain and of disrespect.

All the negative traits that mark the society of fallen man disappear and are replaced with respect, compassion and a concern for one’s neighbor. It is the difference between night and day. The prophet describes the gloomiest times of a transformed society as the noonday. Divine guidance will not be an exception, but the normal rule of life, and so will there be a continual supply of blessing, which the text compares to a spring of water. The Lord will intervene in times of difficulty and turn them into days of satisfaction. The inward parts of the people will be made strong and there will be a freshness and vitality in their lives and their labors.  (v.10-11).    

Man’s control always has negative connotations. When God blesses His people, there is every evidence of life and edification. Instead of decay and ruin, there will be repair. They will build the foundations for many generations to come. They will be known for fixing things that are in disrepair, and builders who provide proper habitations (v.12).

The Lord’s Day

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord” (v.13,14). Not too far back, I promised that I would have something to say about the Christian Sabbath. I will not comment on the spiritual rest that is typified by the Sabbath, but I do want all to know that I certainly recognize that it is the doctrine, to which the writer refers in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4. Only Jesus Christ brings us into true rest, when we lean upon the work that He alone can do for us, in order that we should have peace with God. He must rest from our efforts to attain it and trust in Him, for our eternal rest, beginning here and made perfect in heaven.

There is also a point made at the end of the Gospels about the first day of the week. The seventh day of the week was the day, when the Lord rested from the work of creation, blessing that day. God commanded the Israelites to keep the Sabbath as a day set apart from the rest of the week to honor the Lord by averting manual labor. Obviously the day following the Sabbath was the first day of the week.

It was on that day that Jesus rose from the dead. On the Sabbath, the women who prepared spices for His body “rested according to the commandment, but on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb… behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel… The men said to them… ‘He is not here, but has risen…’” (Lk.23:56, 24:1,4,5,6). Then in John 20:19: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week… Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” In verse 26, “Eight days later… Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” The eighth day was again the first day of the week. John is making sure that the reader will not miss the fact that Jesus rose and appeared to His disciples on the first day of the week.

Pentecost took place 50 days after the Resurrection, therefore the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first day of the week. It was the day, when they began to assemble: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread…” (Ac.20:7) and “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up…” (1 Co.16:2).  That day came to be known among Christians as the Lord’s Day, therefore John said in Revelation, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…” (1:10).

In the early church, it became a day set apart to honor the resurrected Lord. They began the week giving Him priority in their lives, meeting, praying and reading from His word, dedicating the upcoming week to Him on the first day. This custom became very firmly established in the early church. When Paul wrote, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike” (Ro.14:5), he was referring to Jewish Christians and the Jewish holy days, which were very difficult for the Jewish believer to leave behind (so infer Jamieson Fausset Brown, Matthew Henry, Adam Clarke).

Albert Barnes adds, “The ‘Lord’s day’ was doubtless observed by ‘all’ Christians, whether converted from Jews or Gentiles. The propriety of observing ‘that day’ does not appear to have been a matter of controversy.” He reprimanded the man, who used this verse as an excuse for not honoring the Lord Jesus, as stated in verse 6. Fasting has become unpopular among “Christians” and so has the recognition of the Lord’s Day.

True Christians have honored the Lord on this day from the 1st Century to the time, when I was a youth. I have watched this day become common and unholy during my lifetime, as Barnes further said, people began “violating it and devoting it to pleasure or gain.” Our arrogance has allowed us to think that we know better than all the believers throughout the history of the church. The subject is rarely brought up these days and that is the reason that I am particularly emphasizing it.

Now go back and read what Isaiah had to say about taking delight and pleasure in honoring the Lord, “not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly.” Isaiah concludes the chapter with a promise of a superior way of life for the Jews, one into which we can be grafted, as Gentiles, under the New Covenant: “Then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”


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