Sermon Outline (Adult)
Isaiah observed that the people of Israel were fasting in vain. The spiritual discipline God desires should draw us together and encourage our hunger to be united in his peace and answer the call to love mercy and do justice.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
— Isaiah 58:6-12
Introduction: Hunger Creates Unity
If you ever want to create instant unity in a group of people, wait until mealtime and say out loud, “Who’s ready for lunch?” Instant unity! It’s amazing how God set the rhythms of our hunger in sync. Almost all of us wake up hungry. By midday, we anticipate lunch. And how about the community that formed when families and friends gather for dinner? You see, God designed us so that our hunger brings us together and creates unity.
*Your story here: Think of a story that’s appropriate for your church context where hunger drew people together. You can open with a reflection on one of your favorite places to eat lunch during the week. (“It’s always packed with hungry business people/students.”) Or a favorite breakfast place on a Saturday morning. (“Whole families and friends will wait for like an hour to get in.”) Or a favorite holiday moment when everyone is hungry together.
Fasting, or spiritual hunger, creates unity with what God desires
Today we will consider the idea of spiritual fasting—uniting in our spiritual hunger for what God is hungry for. Maybe this is a discipline you’ve practiced before. Others of you may be unfamiliar with this practice.
Fasting is sometimes understood as abstaining from something good for the sake of becoming more aware of God and his purposes. Fasting was a special time of focus on the Lord and prayer instituted among Israel on the Day of Atonement.
This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you—because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.
(Leviticus 16:29–31, TNIV)
In my life I have practiced fasting—normally for a day at a time from sun up to sundown. For that day I would fast from food and spend more time in prayer and reading Scripture. It’s a time of seeking the Lord and his will. Throughout the day, whenever my stomach growls or I find myself having to resist the urge to eat, I pray, “Lord, let me be hungry for you.”
As church we too have used fasting and prayer to pursue unity with God’s purpose and seek his blessing for any challenges or decisions we may be facing. Together we pray the same prayer: “Lord, let us be hungry for you.”
*Your story here: If you have made use of the spiritual discipline of fasting in your personal walk or ministry, reflect the nature and impact fasting has had. The point is that fasting is a time of enhanced focus on the Lord and seeking his will.
Lord, let me be hungry for you.
“Jesus takes it for granted that his disciples will observe the pious custom of fasting. Strict exercise of self-control is an essential feature of the Christian’s life. Such customs have only one purpose—to make the disciples more ready and cheerful to accomplish those things which God would have done.”
In this passage from Isaiah, God clarifies the impact fasting should have on his people. He recognizes that they have been faithful to keep the disciplines, but they are missing the point. The Lord desires that his people would grow in unity in their spiritual hunger; which would also unite us to what he is hungry for—that his people would love mercy and do justice.
Main introduction point: Our physical hunger creates unity. Likewise, our spiritual hunger—our fasting—should unite us to what God is hungry for, that we would love mercy and do justice.
Summary: The people of Judah and Jerusalem were participating ritual fasting, but their worship wasn’t connecting them to what God is hungry for. Isaiah gives them the inspiration of what fasting as a people should do: unite them toward acts of mercy (feeding the hungry, clothing the poor and helping the homeless) and doing justice (setting free captives from oppression). The Lord offers profound blessing over the people, including protection, healing, good favor and respected legacy, when and if they would enter into his kingdom work.
Outline of Isaiah 58:6-12
- The Lord speaks of the kind of spiritual discipline he desires—one that encourages unity in compassion and mercy (v. 6).
- The bonds of oppression are broken with the strength of God’s justice in the hands of his people (vv. 6-7).
- Hunger, homeless, and poverty are met with sacrificial compassion and genuine friendship (vv. 7 and 10).
- We are called to be aware of prejudices and the tendency to judge the conditions of the poor and oppressed rather than serve them (vv. 7 and 9).
- We recognize our common humanity; all are cast in God’s image and thereby deserving of mercy and justice (v. 7).
- When God’s people unite for what God desires, he is quick to bless (vv. 8-9, 10-11).
- Blessing includes protection, favor, and longevity (v. 12).
- Mercy and justice aren’t new commands. God’s people have always been called to his work. The restoration is of his kingdom which is always been open to all.
Detailed textual notes on Isaiah 58:6-12
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen” (v. 6)
God clarifies for his covenant people that fruitful spiritual discipline will be shown by a renewed heart of compassion and acts of mercy and justice. The comparison (“Is not this the kind of fasting that I have chosen”) suggests that other kinds of ineffective spiritual discipline are possible.
“To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (v. 6)
Injustice and oppression bind. In one sense, the impact of these conditions is inescapable without intervention. These actions are the heart of doing justice. Notice the force of the verbs: “set loose,” “untie,” and “break.” Jesus had the same force when he declared his intention to set free the captives.
“Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them” (v. 7)
This is an interesting contrast on the subject of fasting with the call to share of food. Fasting should encourage our appreciation of the hungry poor around us. Also, notice how sacrificial these actions are—sharing your food and providing shelter and clothing. This reminds us of the Good Samaritan who gave his wine, made bandages, and brought the injured man to lodging, for which he paid out of his own resources.
“And not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (v. 7)
Though the Lord is working through his covenant nation, his love is for all humanity. We share a common identity.
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.” (v. 8)
Isaiah turns now to demonstrate the benefits that will come when God’s people unite in what he desires. Notice how the light breaks and healing comes quickly. This shows God’s eagerness to bless his people when they join him. The early morning setting also suggests that the work of mercy and justice ought to be like first fruits action. Great faithfulness is often shown in the morning. Abraham (Genesis 22:3), Moses (Exodus 8:20 and 24:4), and Jesus (Luke 24:22) all demonstrated faithfulness in the early morning.
“Then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” (v. 8)
One of the hesitations people sometimes have about ministry of compassion, mercy, and justice is the risk they feel regarding their own safety or comfort. Here the Lord dispels insecurity with assurance of his covering (“the Lord will be your rear guard”) and proximity to any unforeseen needs (“Here I am”). God is always near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), so if his people want to experience more of his presence, just go among those in need!
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression” (v. 9)
Here is a condensed repetition to demonstrate assurance. The “yoke of oppression” implies heavy burdens laid upon the people by immoral systems or corruption.
“With the pointing finger and malicious talk” (v. 9)
The pointing finger and malicious talk echo James’s warning against partiality or favoritism. The poor and oppressed should never be exposed to earthly judgment or condemnation.
“And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.” (v. 10)
The final section restates and amplifies the assurance of blessing. The strength of God’s people is found when sharing in his work (Ephesians 2:10). With the Christ as the chief cornerstone and each of us serving the needs of the oppressed, a house is built with such integrity that no blow shall beat against it, nor gates of hell shall prevail against it.
“You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (v. 11)
The image of the well-watered garden reminds us of the garden of Eden with its spring that went forth watering not only the garden itself but spilling over into the world beyond (Genesis 2:10).
“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (v. 12)
The Lord brought his covenant so that through his people all the world would be blessed. The nation of Israel began with a spiritual hunger to extend God’s mercy to all the world. In renewing their passion and coming together in unity with his purposes, the ancient ruins of grace and the foundation of his desire for mercy are restored.
Often our spiritual discipline ends up being mostly about ourselves. We pray in gratitude for what we have. We ask God for what we need. We spend time in Scripture for our comfort. We gather in worship so that we are encouraged.
But there’s an “others” focus to spiritual discipline that the Lord does not want us to overlook. “Is this not the kind of fasting that I have chosen,” says the Lord. Is this not the spiritual hunger that I desire—that we would be in united in peace, for the world, and answer the call to love mercy and do justice?
So what kind of spiritual hunger do we choose?
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Are we willing today to choose what God desires for us? Are we willing to pray and fast together, seeking the Lord’s will that we would unite in our spiritual hunger for what he desires? Are we willing to seek the Lord’s will and accept the peace given to us in Christ, to love mercy and do the work of justice? To break the yokes that bind? To share our food with those who have nothing to eat? To clothe the poor and to make room for those who have no place of their own?
*Your story here: you can use this moment to cast a vision that’s consistent with this renewed call to mission. You may choose to call for a time of intensive prayer and fasting in your community, to seek new initiatives to reach out into the community you serve. Perhaps you will choose to share part of your church’s origin story that demonstrated spiritual hunger to bless others. Share from your own heart what you see are opportunities to engage oppression, injustice, or ministries of compassion that the Lord has given to you.
Perhaps right now you are aware of your physical hunger. The Lord sets these physical rhythms within our flesh to remind us that just as our hunger creates unity, our spiritual hunger should unify us with what God desires.
Let us go out into the world in peace, to love and serve the Lord.
Lord, raise up in us a renewed spiritual hunger.
Bring us in unity through the bond of peace given in Christ.
Pour out your Spirit upon us, speak your will over us.
May our young ones see the vision;
may our elders dream the dreams.
Let us be hungry for what you desire,
that we would love mercy and do justice.
In your name, we pray. Amen.
Hungry for You (Isaiah 58:6–12)
Has fasting ever been a part of your spiritual discipline? What have you gained from the experience?
Verse 6 talks about the kind of fasting God has chosen. That assumes there would be a kind of fasting that he wouldn’t choose. How can spiritual disciplines miss the mark in connecting us to what God desires?
How should the assurance of God’s blessings and protection (Isaiah 58:8-9, 10-11) encourage our mission of justice and mercy?
How can we encourage unity in seeking after what God desires for us?