“Waging Love,” Or, Getting Past Phony: On Isaiah 55 and 58

If Sabbath is a day of remembrance, Sabbath School must transport us, not into dry cognition of religious fact, but into transformative telling and re-telling of the stories that make us who we are. The point is to imagine ourselves into fresh encounter with God, and thereby to submit our own arrested selfhood—our own flawed hearts—to examination and possible renewal. This is the gift that accompanies shared Bible study.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/11116

I agree that the lesson author fell into the typical trap of how Isaiah speaks about the Sabbath in Thursday’s lesson. But I have to admit I almost fell off my chair when I read the two middle paragraphs in Wednesday’s lesson.

“Anyone can be religious; anyone can go through religious rituals, even the right rituals, at the right time, with all the right formulas. But that alone is not what the Lord wants…The Lord seeks a church, a people who will preach truth to the world. But what will better attract people to the truth as it is in Jesus: strict adherence to dietary laws or a willingness to help the hungry? Strict rest on the Sabbath or a willingness to spend your own time and energy helping those who are in need?”

Such a departure from our usual SDA works orientation!! Will wonders never cease?

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When Jesus was at the beginning of his ministry, he must have known these chapters of Isaiah by heart.

Isaiah 55:10.11(NIV) “As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

To me this is one of the paradigmatic biblical texts that tells us how God works: through natural processes. The big temptation to change a heart of stone into a heart of bread in an instant, by exercising sheer supernatural power (Luke 3:6) is unmasked by Jesus’ reference to Deut 8:3 “…to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Which is like a twin text to Isaiah 55:11! God changes our hearts through words, through his stories. They take time to reach their goal, but in the end they will accomplish what God sent them for, “as the rain and the snow from heaven”. This is true miraculous power.

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In my view these chapters( Isaiah 55- 58 should challenge all of us to what true Christianity is all about and more importantly what God requires of us. I am inclined to believe that we have many things wrong in our church which ought to be put right by the Holy Spirit and careful reading and understanding of God’s words.
There is too much religiosity within the SDA Church. There is a multiplication of forms- very many prayers, a superabundance of sermonizing, an excessive amount of quotations from EGW on this and on that, many fasts, countless rules on diet and health and so many other things tat sometimes I wonder whether is the Holy Spirit really leading us, or are we leading ourselves.
If we were to follow Jesus as we should, our concern for others would be far more significant and for more meaningful. We would nor only cater to their needs but we would point them to the Saviour far more easier than we normally do, because the Holy Spirit who prompts us to be like Jesus who also prompt them to respond to Jesus. These chapters for me ,cause me to have a radical reorganization and reconsideration in my life: It is not about the observance of a day, as it is the observation of Jesus movements on the day, it is not about the abstinence from eating meat or fasting, and choosing a vegan or vegetarian diet, it is me offering my own food to others, or even buying the things they need. It is not about me fasting and praying, it is about sharing God’s love tangibly, it is not about me hounding some one about the Sabbath or making someone feel guilty because they do not agree with my views on the Sabbath, it is about me pointing them to the Lord of the Sabbath- Jesus who died to save all people and who will save all by faith, not by Sabbath observance. This is why I think these chapters are significant in that they challenge us to show the love of God meaningfully and tangibly.

I think we as Seventh Day Adventists who are well known for our insistence on the law of God and especially the Sabbath, can and should take note of the following We are to uplift Christ not the Sabbath or the law, we are to worship on the Sabbath and see the law as pointing to Christ, as pointing out sin, but never as ends in and of themselves. If we exalt anything above Christ, that thing can become our’ god’ and that itself is ironic… If I exalt the Sabbath above Christ, I make the Sabbath my idol and I commit idolatry. The same holds true with any doctrine, precept, person, belief or practice. My point:is that we should be following Jesus, following His teachings in His words and allowing the Holy Spirit to direct us in all things. Let us see how he related to all these things and in the fear of God allow the Holy Spirit to help us do the same.

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Sabbath in the commandments was called a sabbath, not the sabbath. It was part of a larger sabbatical complex, sabbatical years, jubilee, that pointed the Israelites beyond itself, to the need to practice justice, mercy, and compassion for those in need. To bring liberation, in the way they had been liberated.

It is telling that in Luke, Jesus, on the sabbath, quotes Isaiah concerning the jubilee, the release from bondage, and proclaimed that he has come to fulfill this. This points beyond any holy time observance, to the centrality of Jesus and God’s liberating work for human beings. It is why Paul ends up calling yearly, monthly and weekly holy time observance a shadow of things to come, but the reality is Christ.

The care for others and love of neighbor that Jesus showed, and we are called to show, is not limited to a day. The day and the Torah as a whole are decentered in light of Jesus. Following him in his restorative work is a way of life, every day… whether one observes the literal, twenty four hour seventh day or not… latitude that the NT gives.

Thanks…

Frank

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