Isaiah 56: 1-12
I believe all of us know what it means to be obedient, even when at times we choose not to be.
But when it comes to a soft heart, it becomes harder to define what softness of heart is really all about.
Some people think they have a soft heart if they truly love and care for their family; yet they may not love anyone or anything beyond their family.
Is that the kind of softness of heart that God is seeking?
I donít believe it is.
What if we say we love everyone in the church, too; does that make any difference?
Not really, for these people still have put limits upon their love.
The problem is that unless we love way beyond these immediate limits, we never really come to know what it means to love God; for to love God also means to love all of His creation.
As God is infinite, so must we learn to extend our love infinitely.
And, to the extent that we love God, we also find that we are being naturally obedient to His desires.
Our good works follow our love.
And at the center of all of this is Godís grace, for we are saved by His grace, not that we deserve to be saved; but because we returned Godís love, through our faith in Him, He considers us equal to the righteousness of heaven.
Let me give you an example from the Hebrew Testament.
In the Law, which expresses little or no grace, but mainly works, we are told in Leviticus 21:16-20, and Deuteronomy 23:1 about people with physical defects not being able to serve before the Lord. In particular, we are going to focus on those who are eunuchs.
Leviticus 21:16. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
17. "Speak to Aaron, saying, ĎNo man of your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the bread of his God.
18. ĎFor no one who has a defect shall approach: a blind man, or a lame man, or he who has a disfigured face, or any deformed limb,
19. or a man who has a broken foot or broken hand,
20. or a hunchback or a dwarf, or one who has a defect in his eye or eczema or scabs or crushed testicles.
Deuteronomy 23:1. "No one who is emasculated, or has his male organ cut off, shall enter the assembly of the Lord.
This appears to be very hard of heart, for it seems to leave no room for a truly loving and compassionate person.
But its real intent is to show that we cannot live by the Law, but must rely upon Godís grace; for only Godís grace could make such a person acceptable.
Now, in contrast to the Law, Isaiah speaks of the grace of God, but he still shows the separation of people, this time not by physical defect, but by defects of the heart.
Note what we are told in Isaiah 56:1-12:
1. Thus says the Lord,
"Preserve justice, and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come
And My righteousness to be revealed.
2. "How blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who takes hold of it;
Who keeps from profaning the sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil."
Note carefully, that Isaiah isnít eliminating the Law, but he is including it.
3. Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
"The Lord will surely separate me from His people."
Neither let the eunuch say, "Behold, I am a dry tree."
4. For thus says the Lord,
"To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
5. To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial,
And a name better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
Not only are we saved by grace, and not only are our sins covered, but from what Isaiah is saying for the Lord, our physical defects are covered as well.
Isaiah totally counters the interpretation of the Law that people with physical defects are unacceptable before the Lord.
They are not only acceptable, they have a special place of honor.
To show those who considered them inferior the true intent of God.
And those who are non-Jewish are being accepted as being Jewish, for their foreign attributes are also being covered, or being accepted as equals.
It is in this context, that I believe that the animals will be there in places of honor, too.
And the unbelieving among the Jewish people are being rejected; and so will the unloving and unbelieving be rejected from the Church.
6. "Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath,
And holds fast My covenant;
And here we have the key to why this happens.
It is because a person truly loves God.
And when a person truly comes to love God, that person also comes to love doing the things the Lord desires him or her to do.
First comes faith, then love, and lastly the works.
Itís as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-10:
8. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9. not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
10. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We make a huge mistake with evangelism.
We try to force Jesus Christ down other peopleís throats before we bring them into the sphere of Godís love, that they might come to love Him, naturally.
The only way Jesus Christ comes into someoneís life is when He enters through the heart.
Letís continue with what Isaiah is telling us:
7. Even those I will bring to My holy mountain,
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;
For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples."
If we bring this passage up to date, we are being told that God is making room for peoples of all faiths: whether Hindu, or Moslem, or whatever.
This is not a condoning of animal sacrifice, but a matter of God's grace accepting a truly repentant heart in the manner of worship of that day.
With Jesus Christ, our final and perfect sacrifice, there is no longer any "need" for another sacrifice, for repentance and forgiveness has now become a personal heart and soul relationship between us and the Lord.
8. The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,
"Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered."
9. All you beasts of the field,
All you beasts in the forest,
Come to eat.
This is another specific Bible verse where God shows us that He has a place for the animals.
And remember that in the context of this passage, we are talking about salvation.
None of His beloved creatures are excluded.
Unconditional love could have it no other way.
~ ~ ~
Because of our hardness of heart, our lack of perfect and unconditional love, we have made ourselves exclusionary in the Church.
And by being this way, we are not only going against Godís will, but also doing it in the name of Christ, which is a form of blasphemy.
Listen to what the Lord says about these kinds of Church and Temple leaders:
10. His watchmen are blind,
All of them know nothing.
All of them are dumb [mute] dogs unable to bark,
Dreamers lying down, who love to slumber;
11. And the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied.
And they are shepherds who have no understanding;
They have all turned to their own way,
Each one to his unjust gain, to the last one.
12. "Come," they say, "let us get wine, and let us drink heavily of strong drink;
And tomorrow will be like today, only more so."
If people believe differently than we do, donít worry about it.
Let them see the love of God in our lives, first, so that they will want to love God, too.
And if they already love God, then show them how much we really have in common.
For if we love, truly love, unconditionally, then the only thing that really separates us is belief in Jesus Christ; and the Holy Spirit is more than capable of introducing the Son to them.
Remember what Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7-8:
7. "Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.
8. "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.
When we see and hear the presence of love, we are to open to it, that they might see the kingdom of heaven.
Help them find what they are seeking in their own way.
Do you remember how Jesus explained this to the church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:19-21)?
19. ĎThose whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.
20. ĎBehold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.
21. ĎHe who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
God has a way of leading people to Himself, if we donít get in the way.
We all have loved ones who donít have a personal relationship with Jesus, and perhaps we have been trying too hard to make them open the door for Jesus to come into their lives.
Perhaps all we have to do to make them want to open the door, is to give them a taste of the love that awaits them on the other side.
It took me many years to want to open the door, and I hope and pray that the change that took place in my life has, and will continue, to make others want to open the door, too.
But only you, and others who have met me, really know whether my prayer is being answered.
Our first job is to grow in love, that we come to love unconditionally.
This is the main sign of a true believer.
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