During a sermon one Sunday a few years ago, I opened my Bible to the middle, hoping to find Psalms. I knew from hours of “Sword Drill” practiced on Sunday evenings while growing up in a Southern Baptist Church that it would be in the middle, but when the pages fell open, I had turned to Isaiah, chapter 58. I was close, but before I could flip the pages my eyes fell on these words in verse eight: “the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”
God has my back? Really? MY rear guard!
“Rear guard” is a military term for watching your back to protect against a surprise attack from the back. Maybe the greatest “rear guard” action in history was the Crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites during their flight from Egypt. God parted the waters for the people to cross then closed the waters on the pursuing Egyptians. A true “rear guard” protection by God.
What a thought. The glory of the Lord shall be my rear guard. But how? What was God saying through Isaiah? What was God saying to me?
I’m sure I had read that chapter before. After all, I had won a pin for reading the Bible through years earlier — but why didn’t this phrase sound familiar, why didn’t this promise register with me?
I read on.
The chapter recounts God calling the people to account for false fasting. In this context, “fasting” referred to a type of offering the people thought (or pretended to think) would please God. They offered pious words that were not reflected in their deeds. God scolded them in verses 1 – 5 for saying one thing but doing another. Then, in verses 3 – 5 He says:
In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed, you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Isaiah 58:3 – 5
But then God lets them know what kind of fast or offering He does expect. He seeks from us lives of service and justice toward others as described in verses 6 – 7.
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?
Isaiah 58:6 – 7
But not just “any others” — later Jesus would call these others “the least of these” — those who are oppressed, hungry, naked, forgotten. And God doesn’t stop there. He promises to honor that kind of life of service.
In this paraphrase by the author of these promises in verses 8 & 9, listen for the joy of the Lord in those who serve the most vulnerable in society.
By fasting with your lives as I said, you will please me.
And when I am pleased, my smile of pleasure will warm your face.
And when I am pleased, my joy will heal the broken places in your soul.
And when I am pleased, I will have your back in any alley, valley, or cave.
And when I am pleased, I will answer your calls for help – you will know that “I am near.”
So why did Isaiah 58 impact me so? I think it hit me that this type of caring for “the other(s)” wasn’t something that Christians did when they got around to it, or that we did on Sunday mornings when the missionary told a story of need and we made a love offering contribution.
No, what hit me was that serving “the other,” or as Jesus referred to them, “the least of these,” was not just one of the expectations God has for our lives, it is the main thing He wants His kingdom here on earth (me, you, us) to do.
Yet, the local church, my home church, did not make this the main thing. Not from the pulpit. Not from the Bible studies. Not in the budget. Not during worship services. Not through community outreach.
Since that Sunday I have been on a path to include the kingdom of God on earth Gospel shown by the life and teachings Jesus, especially “the least of these,” as one of God’s “main things” that local churches do, teach, train, expect, and exhibit.
Jesus spoke of God’s “main thing” in His first recorded public statement. In His hometown synagogue He proclaimed His purpose to fulfill God’s promise. Luke 4:16 – 21 reads:
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Luke 4: 16 – 21
Again, Jesus speaks of these two “main things” in Matthew 22:36 – 40 when asked to name the greatest commandment:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 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.”
Matthew 22: 36 – 40
In 2005, Christianity Today published an article about Rick Warren and his awakening to the plight of the world’s poor following a trip to Rwanda. The article stated:
Around this time, Warren says he was driven to reexamine Scripture with “new eyes.” What he found humbled him. “I found those 2,000 verses on the poor. How did I miss that? I went to Bible college, two seminaries, and I got a doctorate. How did I miss God's compassion for the poor? I was not seeing all the purposes of God.
“The church is the body of Christ. The hands and feet have been amputated and we're just a big mouth, known more for what we're against.” Warren found himself praying, “God, would you use me to reattach the hands and the feet to the body of Christ, so that the whole church cares about the whole gospel in a whole new way - through the local church?”
“How did I miss God’s compassion for the poor?” A remarkable statement coming from Rick Warren one of the most recognized religious leaders in the world. It was remarkable not just for his revelation, but also for his courage to make such a statement.
This is My Prayer
God, please use me to encourage church leaders to embrace the Complete Gospel of Jesus, the Christ, reminding them that it is the unique role of the church to usher in the kingdom of God on earth by our actions, with our resources, through our love and lives of compassion, until the whole church cares about the whole Gospel in a whole new way, through the local church.
Charlie is founder of Making Faith Matter, a movement to help the local church return to the Complete Gospel of Jesus, the Christ. This is expressed best by Jesus when He taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Charlie's new book “Reclaiming the Forgotten Gospel of Jesus” explores what could happen when churches adopt establishing the “Kingdom of God on earth” as their primary purpose. Learn more...
Reclaiming the Forgotten Gospel of Jesus
For decades, evangelical protestant churches in America have preached a salvation-centric Gospel of Christ. Today, a majority of protestants believe this is the complete gospel, and their churches have aligned their teachings to “seek and save the lost” only. In doing so, they relegated the life, words, and works of Jesus to secondary, non-gospel status.
But, what if the story of Jesus, passed down to us in the New Testament (especially Mark, Matthew, and Luke), describing His life, actions, death, and resurrection, is true? What if it accurately portrays the whole story of Jesus, the Son of God, as He lived among us? What if He still lives with us, showing us how to live out the kingdom of God on earth?
What if Jesus’s life was a living gospel, as He said it was, yet it has been forgotten by the evangelical protestant churches in America? And if this forgotten gospel has been ignored, what should the church do about it?
The purpose of this book is to explore how the life, words, and works of Jesus can bring churches, pastors, denominations, and members back to the Complete Gospel of Jesus, the Christ.