The book of Isaiah is very interesting. It is written in sections over a 40 year period. It is both historical and theological. Historically, it tells of events taking place in the life of Isaiah. There are accounts of the interaction of kings in the northern and southern kingdom and surrounding nations. The book prophecies of kings not yet born, such as Cyrus the Great.
The style of writing includes historical narrative and Hebrew poetry. Even non-believers read and admire the literary beauty of the book of Isaiah.
For the most part, the book is a prophetic, foretelling of the coming Messiah. The Servant of God. And, because it speaks of the Messiah, Isaiah is a book of theology. It reveals the nature of God and the ministry of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is as theologically important as the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).
Put your selves in the shoes of the first century believers. The church grew for twenty years before they had the first book, James (ca. 50 ad). It is not hard to imagine that the first Christians used Isaiah as the primary book of Christian growth.
Theological Context of Isaiah Chapters 56-66
Theologically, Isaiah is divided into three major sections.
The first section, reveals the guilt of all people. The Israelites are guilty of not obeying the covenant with God. They fall away. They do not please God. Along with the Israelites, all the nations (chapter 13-23) are guilty of not being righteous and face God’s judgment.
The section is unpleasant because God reveals to us our guilt and condemnation. We also find hope, because, throughout the section, God continually offers opportunity to repent. He invites us to put our faith in the Messiah who will bring us into God’s kingdom and make atonement in our relationship with God.
The second section is the prophetic declaration of salvation by grace. The climax of the section, and the book, is the Servant Song of chapters 52 and 53. It prophecies Jesus being a guilt offering for sin. God is pleased with the guilt offering. All who put their faith in the Servant enjoy the blessings of God. Salvation is underserved, but is based on God’s glorious compassion and mercy.
In the last section, chapters 56-66, Isaiah prophecies how those who respond to God’s grace must live. It is from this section that the New Testament writers may confidently say that the evidence of God’s work of grace in the life of the believer manifests in a changed heart of worship and a life of godliness. New Testament writers, find justification to say, “faith without works is not saving faith, but faith without works is a dead faith.”
Main Idea: Evidence of Grace
The main idea of Isaiah 56:1-8 is that we need to respond to God’s saving faith with godliness, which is to demonstrate the character of God toward others. It is to show good works before people. Examples of godliness include justice, love, compassion, and mercy. Godliness is loving our neighbor. Godliness, in a believer, comes from a heart filled with worship and adoration of God. A worship-filled heart loves God and desires to please Him.
A thankful heart produces worship. We love and adore God because He is our treasure. When we encounter a worshipful believer, there is no question that they love God. We see it visibly in their life, and we hear it spoken in their words.
Nobody responds to God’s saving grace perfectly. The general aim and motivation is to “practice” righteousness.
The underlying work of godliness and worship comes from the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit transforms the believer. They are no longer creatures living in the flesh, but they are new creatures living by the Spirit of Christ. When someone has God’s Spirit, they don’t make believe they are a new creature. Godliness and worship come naturally.
Good works and worship
In these eight verses, Isaiah prophecies that good works accompany a heart of worship. The first two verses present the principle that salvation results in good works and a heart of worship. Verses three to seven give examples of the principal in the life of someone who embraces salvation. Verse eight speaks of how those who evidence the work of God’s grace are those who receive the blessings of heaven.
Evidence Salvation with works and worship (Isaiah 56:1-2)
The first point is that we are to have evidence of salvation with works of worship. The principle is given in the form of a command.
Thus says the Lord, “Preserve justice and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed.” (Isaiah 56:1)
To preserve justice is to ensure everyone is treated fairly. Preserving justice is to be reasonable and impartial with the way we deal with people. Preserving justice is to give an honest day of labor for our wages. It means that we are not deceitful. We are found innocent in the way we interact with others. To preserve justice is to seek good, and to hate evil.
We are also to do righteousness. That means we are filled with doing what is right in the eyes of God. We live moral, decent, pure, and good lives. We are compassionate and forgiving. To do righteousness is to do love. Righteousness goes beyond living with justice, it is to be loving and kind as we are just.
We are to obey these commands because God’s salvation is about to come. What God is talking about is the completion of our salvation, when Christ appears in all His glory, our salvation is revealed in its fullness.
The reason we are to obey this command is that God promises that we will receive His blessings.
“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.” (Isaiah 56:2)
Blessed is the person who takes hold of doing good works and worships God rightly. Those who worship rightly, do not profane the sabbath, and do good works, by keeping their hand from evil, are those who God blesses eternally.
God does not separate how we live from salvation. Doing good works in life comes from a saved heart that worships God. When salvation by grace comes upon an individual, the heart worships God and avoids doing evil. We love God and desire to please Him. We love what He loves.
The covenant of grace is universal (Isaiah 56:3-7)
The Covenant of grace through Christ is universal. God reveals that the New Covenant is radically different than the Old Covenant. All who embrace His salvation will receive all the blessings of heaven.
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from His people.” Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” (Isaiah 56:3)
God’s introduction to the universality of the New Covenant is radical. The Jews cannot imagine the obsolescence of the of the Old Covenant. This passage declares it obsolete.
In the Mosaic Covenant, worship is restricted to the Jews. Deuteronomy 23:1-8 explicitly states that neither foreigners or eunuchs are to have any place in the congregation. This verse contradicts the Law of Moses. Not only are the foreigner and eunuch present in the congregation, but they receive the blessings from God. It’s no wonder that the Jews in Isaiah’s time martyr him.
In the New Covenant, those excluded in the Old, enjoy the rights and privileges equally with others who join themselves to the Lord. Those formally considered outcasts, are not without fruit or lifeless. They are blessed.
It is from this principle, that Paul may say, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).” The condemnation of foreigners and eunuchs is removed with the New Covenant of grace by faith. The New Covenant gives all people, regardless of their background, dignity and worth.
Put yourselves in Phillip's shoes in Acts chapter eight. At the beginning of the chapter, he takes the gospel to Samaria, and foreigners get saved. Later in the chapter, a eunuch, forbidden to congregate with Jews by the Law of Moses, hears about Jesus from Isaiah 52-53 and is saved. Philip baptizes him, and brings him into the congregation. It is believed that the church in Ethiopia is formed by this man. Very early in the formation of the church, the prophecy of Isaiah 56:3 comes to life!
Isaiah expands on the two examples (I am not sure why he chooses to reverse the order).
First example: The eunuch evidences salvation with worship and works
For thus says the Lord, “To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, 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. (Isaiah 56:4-5)
Thus says the Lord, leaving no doubt behind the authority of the text. If a eunuch, such as the one in chapter eight of Acts, demonstrates evidence of salvation with worship and works, they are blessed. The eunuch in Acts 8 does not hesitate. He asks to be baptized. He worships God with obedience and gives testimony to His faith. His immediate desire to obey reveals a work of salvation in his heart. He holds fast the covenant by doing good works and worshipping God.
Isaiah shows the magnificence of the New Covenant. Take an extreme example of someone flawed and outcast by the Law, who is unfit to be in the congregation, join that person together with Christ, and that person is seen anew by God. No longer are they an outcast, but they are blessed. Christ makes them whole and complete!
God looks at the heart and sees worship. God looks at their life and sees the transformation into the image of His Son become manifest.
The repetition of the personal pronouns speaks of having a relationship with God. They keep My sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant. They love doing what God wants. They love God. They do good works, not because they fear being destroyed for disobedience, but out of genuine love for God.
The faith of a eunuch is a greater treasure than the blessings of children. Even a eunuch is memorialized when he is in union with Christ. The eunuch's identity is not having his name carried out by his sons. His identity is his faith in Jesus Christ. His faith is remembered far longer. It is the greatest of all, legacies. They may not have sons to carry on their name on earth, but their name is memorialized in God’s kingdom. Today, we still speak of the eunuch in Acts 8!
Second example: The foreigner evidences salvation with worship and works
God gives the second example of the foreigner.
“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; 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.” (Isaiah 56:6-7)
Again, we see the repetition of the relationship with God. Those who are saved by grace through faith have a desire to please God. They love God. Their worship shows in the desire to minister to God. Their concern is God’s will, and not their agenda. They are careful to worship God as they should. They have no desire to worship or live in a way which brings shame to God.
God looks on their life. He sees their worship and their works. He declares that their acts of religion are acceptable to God because they join themselves to Jesus.
Saved people are a people of prayer. To pray is to have faith in God’s sovereign hand. God makes them full of joy in His house of prayer. There is much joy for those who completely trust God and depend upon Him. There is no joy when we don’t trust God in prayer.
Like the eunuch, the foreigner receives God’s blessings. God brings them to His holy mountain. God makes them joyful. With the covenant of Jesus, God is bringing the world to Himself with no exclusions. There is no such thing as shutting out foreigners.
When Jesus overthrows the tables of the moneychangers in the temples, He quotes Isaiah and says, “It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12-16). The moneychangers do not worship God from the heart. They are not just. They take advantage of the supply and demand of sacrificial animals for the sake of profit, and not ministering to God. Jesus knows by their actions they do not have a heart of worship.
God gathers the children of Grace (Isaiah 56:8)
God gathers the children of grace. The same God who gathers the sheep of Israel gathers the sheep of the world. God places them into the same sheep pen.
The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:8)
The beginning phrase, which reads in Hebrew, “An oracle of the Sovereign Lord,” is only used twice in the OT and both times in the book of Isaiah (1:24). Isaiah makes it abundantly clear that God is not only concerned with the gathering of the exiles and establishing the nation of Israel. God’s purpose is the establishment of the kingdom of His Son. God is the gatherer of people. God’s sheep hear His voice, and He calls them to Himself (John 10:3).
Think of the implications. As we read about the return of God’s people to Israel, we can know that the same God who gathers His people from Babylon is the same God who gathers us. Spiritually, we are gathered into the temple of God. As Paul says, we are the wild branch that is grafted into the olive tree.
The Testimony of the New Testament
The truth spoken here in Isaiah about the evidence of grace is spoken in the New Testament.
James, the first book written, tells us faith without works is not real faith. Each letter Paul writes begins with doctrine and then is preceded by instruction on how to make the doctrine evident in our lives.
Jesus says that if we keep His commandments, we will abide in His love; just as He kept His Father's commandments and abides in His love (John 15:10). In doing this, Jesus says that we prove to be His disciples (John 15:8).
And, John 4:23, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”
Romans has 11 chapters of doctrine to explain the gospel, and then, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)
Which are you? Unbeliever, make-believer, or believer?
Rick Fillian has a saying, and it is a very good one. He says that in the church, there are believers, unbelievers, and make-believers.
Let’s think of a fictitious example for each.
Billy is an unbeliever. He is in the church because he has to be. He is grumpy. We know Billy doesn’t want to be at church because we can tell by looking at him. His eyes glaze over. He speaks badly about others. He can’t wait to leave the church. Pastors don’t mind Billy being around. At least the pastor knows where Billy stands. He is not trying to make-believe. He doesn’t want God, nor does he want to be discipled, and he is not afraid of letting everyone know. The pastor, and others love Billy and pray God changes Billy’s heart
Buddy is a make-believer. Buddy is not a difficult person. He is fun to be around. But, it is difficult to know how to minister the Word of God to Buddy.
Buddy enjoys serving and being part of the community. But, when the conversation gets spiritual, Buddy is bored. He’d rather talk about hunting, fishing, politics, activities for kids, football, or anything, anything but God. Buddy doesn’t want to admit that there is no real love or worship of God in his heart. He thinks that he will be a stigma in the church and will not be liked as much (but it’s not true). It takes bravery for Buddy to admit in the company of church people that he doesn’t love God. Unfortunately, he is not being realistic. God knows his heart. God is not fooled, though we might be. He knows Buddy does not embrace Jesus. There are works, but his faith is not evidenced by worship.
Everyone hopes Buddy will stop make-believing, and let someone know what is really in his heart. They want to pray for Buddy. They want to get on their knees with Buddy and beg God to put a red-hot passion for Jesus in his heart. Everyone wants Budd to enjoy the Jesus we enjoy. We want Buddy to enter God’s house of prayer with praise and thanksgiving. The Holy Spirit is tugging at Buddy’s heart and we pray that he does not quench the Spirit of God.
Bonnie is a Believer. There are many like Bonnie in the church. Bonnie is in the church because she wants to be here. She joyfully enters the house of prayer. She desires to be fed the word of God and to feed others. She loves God and God’s people. We can see evidence of faith in Bonnie’s life. Praise God for believers. To God, be the glory.
Bonnie is joined to Christ and worships God from the heart. Her faith is evidenced with good works. There is evidence of worship and works in her life.
At the end of the age, believers like Bonnie, will who walk the highway of holiness, rejoicing in their salvation. The trees of the field clap their hands, and the mountains and the hills break forth with joy as they walk by. They are people blessed by God.
Call upon God while He is near. Ask Him to show you your heart. Ask Him to help you be sure that you are a genuine believer who gives evidence of His work of grace. Trust in God and you will not be disappointed!
And the son of man who takes hold of it;
Who keeps from profaning the sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil.” (Isaiah 56:2)