When the paralytic was lowered through the roof of a crowded house, and set down on a gurney before Jesus, He declares that the greater miracle and the greater need was not in making the man walk, but in forgiving his sins, and that He alone had the authority to do both. That’s mercy ministries — curing the body in a way that sets up curing of the soul.
1. Religiosity Can Cover Selfishness, v. 1-5; cover = mask
The error God identifies here is like what He says in v.13, that His people have been “doing [their] pleasure on my holy day… going [their] own ways… seeking [their] own pleasure”. Even their apparent faithfulness to God was motivated by a desire to be blessed by Him, and so they didn’t understand why God wasn’t doing that.
The question is not, “What do I feel like doing?” but, “Who is He?” Is He worth my songs, gifts, money, time, love, and sacrifice for His people? Or do we go our own way?
Do you see how dangerous this is? You and I can use God. Outwardly, you can look like you’re holy, giving time and money, serving as a member, praying, and even fasting — you could do all of that, and still be trying to get what you want, prioritizing your own happiness, and seeking your own glory. Religiosity can cover selfishness. This should frighten us all, knowing that we can be fake and completely deceived.
The measure of that is how treat the vulnerable. Do you care about those around you who are hurting? And if you’re not aware of them, you should probably answer in the negative.
Another question is: Do you serve those in need? Do you use your plenty for the relief of need and pain?
2. Repentance is Caring for the Hurting, v.6-7
Fasting was an expression of contrition — but God’s people were doing that to try to get ahead, to try to get something from Him. They were manipulating Yahweh with their show of humility — but that’s the very wickedness that God wants His children to turn away from, the selfishness that is always looking for a benefit from both God and others. Those are the chains that enslave, and that God wants to shatter among His people.
Your life is going to revolve around serving, worshiping, and sacrifice, and it’s either going to be for yourself, with you at the center — or as intended, and appropriate, you will bow to and live for the glory of the true, sovereign, worthy King — which will manifest in loving your neighbor.
One orientation is inward, the other is outward and upward.
Brief caveat: We cannot help but have mixed motives, as we’ve seen recently in messages from Romans 7. The spirit and the flesh are at war. But sometimes we do well, which is good, and which is actually a miracle! And which is increasingly so as we cooperate with the Spirit in sanctification. So please know that this is a process.
[Bob discusses how this appears in his relationship with Lori, his wife.]
a) Our care and charity must begin with the inner circle of our family.
1 Tim. 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
b) From there, our mercy extends to our spiritual family.
1 John 3:17, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
Mercy ministries are primarily to be directed toward the Church, as we see with (i) the widows in Acts 6 and 1 Tim. 5, or (ii) offerings that the Macedonian Christians took for the church in Jerusalem in 2 Cor. 8, and (iii) the many references like this one in Is. 58 that is about the nation of Israel caring for its own as God’s covenant people.
But this is important: our liberation from self, our freedom to serve the Lord and His people, is meant to overflow to “Samaritans” whom Jesus also said is your neighbor. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the Israelites were called to care for foreigners — those within the nation, and who are being drawn to Yahweh by the light of the world that His children are called to be.
So please let v.6 affect you. This is true religion, this is what we are to fast over, to lament over — that our selfishness is imprisoning others, enslaving them. And repenting of that, turning away from self leads to freedom, the freedom for us to serve.
That means that I can hold so loosely to my property and possessions, to my time and talents, I can be so liberated from materialism, that it’s my delight to feed, to house, to clothe those in need. And not just my family, but my brothers and sisters in Christ, and anyone of my own flesh, fellow human beings made in God’s likeness that He may be drawing to Himself, and using my caring for the hurting to do so.
The only way to so lavishly release what we have for the benefit of the needy is to know that God has done that — and will continue to do that — for us.
3. Reward is God Caring for Us, v.8-14
God’s provision for and protection of us us is the foundation of all mercy ministry.
Note the promises in v.8 & 10. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily… if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”
I think the reason that mental illness and depression, which “darkness” here can allude to, is so rampant in our prosperous country is because we are so focused on ourselves, and on our every feeling. Nothing will drive you crazier than to try to make yourself perfect. But if would look away from self, and look upward and outward to serving others, light would dawn. The sadness of self-centeredness would dissipate, and we would become the kind of happy servants we were meant to be.
v.12, “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”
If we want to see society transformed, and blessing spread to those around us, we must repent of making ourselves the center, and put Him above, below, around, and in the middle of our lives by prioritizing the family of God. This is what we see in Acts 2 — the church selling their property, sharing meals, caring for orphans and widows, generously distributing their goods to brothers and sisters as any had need because of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit. They rightly believed that they possessed all things. The wealth of the gospel was so abundant to them that they had need of nothing. They could donate everything. Then Acts 2:27 says, “and they found favor with all the people.” This was their evangelism strategy! The world noticed and wondered, “What causes people to care about somebody else more than they care about themselves?” [Yet, critics could have said,] “That’s fiscally irresponsible! You’ve just sold your house because somebody else didn’t have one? What if they need another house? Are you going to try to get another house for them? You’re empowering their problem.” [The early Church] didn’t think that way. They thought, “I have so much in Jesus Christ. He has become poor to make me rich. And if I can reflect that in the smallest way, my life is complete.”
Church, let’s choose the fast that doesn’t try to get something from God. Let’s repent of self-absorption and obsession. Let’s live by the gospel freely so we can free others. Let’s give what we’ve been given so that this church will overflow with the generosity, sacrifice, and love to one another that has been so graciously poured out on us. And in doing that, let’s rebuild the ruins, raise up the foundations, repair the breach, so our little church might be a city on a hill shining as a beacon to draw the lost and lowly and lonely home, just like He did for us.