Isaiah 58:1-12

God speaks clear words of condemnation to people who really believe they are being very righteous. In verses 1-5 the followers of false religion are described as those who outwardly seek God, who delight to know the ways of God, and who delight to draw near to God. Their false piety can be seen in their very public practice of fasting. But though they worship God so all can see, though they may appear to be righteous, in fact, they quarrel and fight with one another, mistreat those who work for them, and all the time they are simply serving their own interests.

Religion really does not come off well in the Bible. Over and over again the Old Testament prophets attack those who appear outwardly to be very religious. Throughout the gospels we see Jesus in conflict with the religious leaders of his day. At this Lenten season we remember it was in part, religion that killed Jesus Christ. That is the word of judgment.

Next come the words of hope and salvation. In a marvelous litany of sacrificial service, described in verses 6-10, Isaiah records a true faith that is acceptable unto the Lord: “loose the bonds of injustice, let the oppressed go free, share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into your house, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted…” If we do that, Isaiah says, “then the gloom of our lives will become as noonday” and when we cry aloud to God, He will answer, “Here I am.”

During Lent we can appear so religious as we write and read our daily devotionals. But the words of God in Isaiah remind us, a faith that seems so outwardly pious, if it is not accompanied with a lifestyle of self-giving and sacrificial care for others, is nothing but a false religion and a sham. True faith is seen, not just when we get on our knees in prayer, but after we get off our knees and work to establish God’s justice here on earth.

Prayer: Dear God, lead us to a faithfulness that goes beyond words and that goes beyond mere show. Lead us to seek your kingdom on earth as we share your love with those in need. Amen.

Tom Graves