In Isaiah 51, the Lord God calls to us three times and beckons us to listen to what He has to say. Verse one, “Listen to Me.” Verse 4, “Pay attention to Me.” Verse 7, “Listen to Me.” God desires to tell us about righteousness. Righteousness is the topic of these verses. But, before we start looking at what God has to say, it is helpful for us to know and understand what it means to be righteous.
There are words we use in Christianity that we need to think about more deeply, and more frequently. Righteousness is one of those words.
Righteousness is defined as “the quality of being morally correct and justifiable.” Some words that come to mind when we think of righteousness include uprightness, justice, worthiness, goodness, and virtue.
The best way to think of righteousness is to think of it as “rightness.” It is having everything as right. Everything is how it should be. The opposite of right is wrong. When things are not righteous, they are wrong.
We have a desire for righteousness. Think of how often we explain a situation to people, with the hopes they will say, “that is not right.” If I say, “A man hit a helpless child,” people will say, “that is not right.” It is said the man is not righteous and that he lacks righteousness.
Our world screams for righteousness. People hope the exploits of criminals comes to an end. Journalists work to expose the unrighteousness of government. Everyone is sick and tired of things not being right. We are weary of the death and destruction the absence of righteousness brings about.
The problem we have as people is that none of us are righteous. The Bible says, “The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalms 14:2-3; 53:1-3; Romans 3:10).
The fact that we are not righteous is the number one problem facing all people. God is righteous, and He expects righteousness in people. God does not allow immorality in His kingdom. We, who are unrighteous, put locks on our doors to keep unrighteous people out. God, who is perfectly righteous, has a sign over the gate to the entrance to His kingdom which reads, “no unrighteousness allowed.” Our unrighteousness separates us from God.
Not one of us is filled with righteousness. None of us can say, “I have done everything right in my life. I am the picture of the truth. I am perfection. I am morally good. I think, speak, and act rightly.” We can’t write a perfect book with a broken typewriter. We can’t live a perfect life with a corrupt heart and mind.
None of us are righteous. We don’t think right things, We will never agree as to what is right. We are people who are not right, trying to live lives that are right, and we expect everyone around us to live according to what we think is right.
The standard of righteousness changes with people. You will say one thing is right and I will say it is another. This is one of the biggest problems in our world. We cannot agree on what is righteous. For some, killing unborn babies is right. There are people who believe segregation of the races is right. Fanatic Muslims believe bombing a marketplace with women and children is righteous and pleasing to God.
Because we are unrighteous, we need righteousness. It is our biggest and greatest need. Without righteousness, we may not step one foot into the kingdom of heaven.
Without righteousness, we are forever hungry and thirsty, forever in pain and torment, and forever in darkness. All it takes is to spend one minute in hell to be convinced that our greatest need in this life is righteousness.
There is good news. God offers righteousness as a gift of His grace.
God calls out to people and says, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness.” We are given instruction on where to look so we may find and grasp hold of righteousness.
God says to look to where we came from; it is a rock quarry. Isaiah uses poetry to talk about where we need to look. We are living stones, dug from a quarry. The name of the quarry is Abraham and Sarah. They are a married couple whose story is in the book of Genesis. God says that Abraham is the father and Sarah is the mother (Isaiah 51:1-2).
Let’s look in the quarry. As we walk around this quarry, what we do not find is that Abraham and Sarah are people who live perfectly. We don’t have to look far in their lives to see that they are sinners. They are like us, they do unrighteous things.
Abraham finds righteousness, but it is not from the way he lives his life. The reason we look to Abraham to learn how to obtain righteousness is because of what Genesis 15:6 says about Abraham. Here is the backstory.
God told Abraham that he would be a great man. Abraham did not understand how this was going to happen since he was childless. God took Abraham outside and told him to count the stars. God said the number of your descendants will be as many as the stars. The next sentence in the Bible is one of the most important sentences we may read.
“Then he believed in the LORD, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
Abraham believed what God told him. God looks at Abraham’s heart, and God knows that Abraham believes what He is saying. God takes that belief, which is faith, and God sees it as being the same as righteousness.
To reckon is to calculate. God calculates the belief and counts it as being equal to being right.
Think of it this way. God has a storehouse and on the shelf is righteousness. If you pull out your wallet and you have “I believe God” currency, you may have the righteousness. It is the only currency God takes. But, don’t try to fool God with counterfeit belief. He knows all the tricks. He knows if our belief is counterfeit or if it is real. He looks at our heart. If it is real, God gives us His righteousness.
In other words, the way we go from being unrighteous, imperfect, and wrong is to believe what God says, and God counts that as being right. To God, the most important and right thing we may do is believe what He says.
In Isaiah 51, God is telling the people of Israel, people who are direct descendants of Abraham, that they need to look to Abraham to find righteousness. All of Abraham’s descendants know this story. They know that they are one of the stars in the sky that Abraham counts on that fateful evening. If the descendants of Abraham believe God, like Abraham believes God, their belief is reckoned to them as righteousness.
God tells Abraham that he will be a blessing to all the nations. God’s righteousness is for all people of every nation. What this means is that the children of Abraham are not those who are blood descendants. The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Romans that not all the children of Abraham are found righteous. Isaac is found to be righteous, but Ishmael is not. Abraham’s grandson Jacob is righteous, but Esau is not. Isaac has faith, Ishmael does not. Jacob has faith, Esau does not.
Most of us sitting here are not descendants of Abraham. Here is the good news. All people who believe God, those who are of faith, are counted as the children of Abraham (Galatians 3:6-7). The children of Abraham are those who believe God. Every person who believes every word of the Bible, God’s word, is righteous in God’s eyes.
Remember, righteousness is to make things that are wrong, right. The righteousness of God brings joy and gladness.
“Indeed, the Lord will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and sound of a melody. (Isaiah 51:3)
God’s righteousness is transformative. God’s righteousness will transform Israel’s waste places, wilderness, and deserts. They will become like the Garden of Eden. Blossoms will spring forth; waters and springs will cover the thirsty, parched, dusty ground. The abundance of harvest brings about rejoicing and shouts of joy.
Planting crops and having no harvest is not right. Being thirsty and having no place to get a drink is not right. Hunger and thirst bring pain and everything that brings us pain is not right. God pours forth His righteousness and makes everything right. He transforms the sorrow and sadness into joy and gladness.
How do we know God will transform the land so that it will bring about an abundant harvest? The proof God offers of His transformative power is the work He does with Abraham and Sarah. They are beyond child-bearing years, having bodies that are as good as dead. They believe God, and God’s gift of righteousness makes them fruitful. God takes the old barren womb of Sarah and makes her fruitful so that she and Abraham have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. God can make the most barren of lands yield abundant fruit by pouring out His righteousness.
The righteousness God makes available is not far off. God’s righteousness is near.
“Pay attention to Me, O My people, and give ear to Me, O My nation; for a law will go forth from Me, and I will set My justice for a light of the peoples. My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth, and My arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands will wait for Me, and for My arm, they will wait expectantly.” (Isaiah 51:4-5)
God’s is sending forth a law. The word in Hebrew is Torah. God is sending forth another Torah. He already sent one through Moses. The Torah He sends forth is also a light of justice. We know from the Bible what Isaiah is describing is Jesus, the Messiah. He is Truth, a Torah. And, Jesus is the light of the world.
People who desire what is right wait expectantly for a powerful work of God. Those who pursue and desire righteousness are waiting for light in this world of darkness. Everyone is waiting for Law and Justice.
God says His righteousness is near. In Deuteronomy, God says, “the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it” (Deuteronomy 30:14).
The Apostle Paul comments on the truth of Deuteronomy 30:14 and says:
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9-10)
Righteousness is very near. To all who hear the gospel, the righteousness of God is near. All who hear the gospel need to believe it is true and confess their belief. Believe in your heart, and it results in righteousness. Confess Jesus is Lord with your mouth, and the result is salvation.
God tells us to lift up our eyes to the sky and to look at the earth. Both of these will vanish. Heaven and earth will pass away and so will all the inhabitants of the earth. But, God’s salvation and righteousness will not pass away. God’s salvation is forever, and His righteousness will not wane. (Isaiah 51:6)
If we look to the sky for lasting righteousness, we will not find it. If we look for righteousness in the things of this world, we will not find it. We often think we are going to find what we are looking for in this world. We try to set the world right. We try to increase education to make the world right. We explore new places to find what is right. We elect government officials and hope politicians will make things right (how is that working out for you?).
The world is corrupt by sin. We will not find righteousness in Creation. The only place we may find righteousness is God. His righteousness is perfect and eternal. It does not fade away. It is pure and incorruptible. God’s righteousness comes with a lifetime warranty. It will not wear out after use. It is not like a garment that will get holes or tear. God’s righteousness is eternal. It is like God; it never changes.
First, we hear, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness (Isaiah 51:1).” Then, “Pay attention to Me, My righteousness is near (Isaiah 51:4).”
Now, Isaiah repeats the phrase, “Listen to Me,” but this time he says, you who know righteousness.”
God has gone from talking to people who pursue righteousness, to those who know righteousness. The reason they know righteousness is because they are “a people in whose heart is God’s law” (Isaiah 51:7). He is talking about having the Law (from verse 4), the Messiah, in their heart. The people who know righteousness are those who put their faith and trust in the Law that God sends forth as a light to the nations.
God’s word says, “Find righteousness in the Messiah, Jesus.” Those who know righteousness believe God’s word.
Righteousness may be known. We know righteousness. He has a name, and His name is Jesus. Those who know the righteousness of God are like Paul who says, “For I am determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul is determined to know righteousness.
As we know righteousness (Jesus) with our mind, we are to treasure Him in our heart. When the Bible speaks of the heart, it is talking about the center of our affections. We are to love the righteousness of God, Jesus Christ, above all things.
When Jesus is the center of our affections, and He is in our heart, we seek to bring Him glory. God knows if we believe by how we live our lives. It is not difficult to look at someone’s life to know if they love Jesus. Their life will show their love. Their faith is real. We love His ways, and we obey His commands. We speak about Him in the morning and the evenings. He is in our daydreams. We can’t wait for Him to return.
The righteousness of God is not something we add to our collection on the shelf of life. The righteousness of God replaces all of our trophies. He is the Cornerstone which sets the direction for the way we align our life.
Not everybody is pleased when we embrace the righteousness of God in our mind and our heart. Many hate the righteousness of God. But, God tells us not to let go of Jesus but to hold fast in our faith.
God says, “Do not fear the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings. For the moth will eat them like a garment, and the grub will eat them like wool.” (Isaiah 51:7-8)
Ever since this world was created, there are those who are enemies of God’s righteousness. We see it every day. Some of us have family members who hate the righteousness of God. There are people in government, schools, and the marketplace who are enemies of God’s righteousness. Sometimes we suffer reproach (criticism). Other times it will be revilings (insults, scorn, abuse). Jesus tells us, “If they hate Me, they will hate you.”
Saul of Tarsus sought to put those who embraced Jesus into prisons. He approved the killing of Stephen because he dared say Jesus is the righteousness of God. But, as we know, Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul.
Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)”
The righteousness of God is unassailable. Once God makes us righteous, there is nothing that can make us unrighteous. God is the judge who decides who gains access to His kingdom. Jesus gives us access by giving us His righteousness.
The passage closes with this phrase: “But My righteousness will be forever, and My salvation to all generations. (Isaiah 51:8)”
God’s righteousness, because it does not wane, and because it is unassailable, will be forever. God is good and right in eternity past, and He is good and right in eternity future. We are people who want what is right. The things that are wrong are what cause us the greatest of heartaches and pain. God is the only answer for making all things right. His rightness is forever. Generation after generation for all eternity will enjoy the righteousness of God.
Jesus gives us words that are a picture of our pursuit of righteousness. We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Think of how our body craves water when we are thirsty and bread when we are hungry. This is the picture we are to have in our pursuit of righteousness. Our soul craves for what is right. Our Savior promises when we hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God, we will be satisfied! The righteousness of God brings blessing.
If you pursue righteousness, and desire for all things to be made right, know that Jesus Christ is the answer. If you have never put your faith in Jesus to be righteous, please, don’t hesitate. Do it today. And the Bible promises that you will be satisfied.