Are You Jesus?
Dr. Jim Denison
A friend recently sent me this wonderful story. It seems that a group of salesmen were attending a regional sales convention in Chicago, and were rushing to their airport gate when one accidentally kicked over a display of apples in a basket. Apples flew everywhere. Without stopping or looking back, they managed to reach the plane just before takeoff. All but one. He paused, told his buddies to go on, told one to call his wife when they arrived home to explain his late arrival. Then he returned to the terminal where the apples were lying all over the floor.
He was glad he did. The 16-year-old girl whose apple stand had been overturned was totally blind. She was crying softly, helplessly groping for her spilled produce. The crowd swirled around her, no one stopping. The salesman knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them into the basket, and helped set up the display. He then pulled out his wallet and said to the girl, “Please take this $20 for the damage we did. Are you okay?”
She nodded through her tears. As the salesman started to walk away, the bewildered girl called out to him. “Mister….” He paused and turned to look back into her blind eyes. She continued, “Are you Jesus?”
Do people mistake you for Jesus? Here’s how they can.
Don’t confuse religion with faith (vs. 1-5)
The people of Judah have been imprisoned in the pagan wasteland of Babylon. But in Isaiah 56 the scene changes. The last eleven chapters of this book prophesy the nation’s return from exile to their home in the Promised Land. But all is not well: “Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins” (v. 1).
They think their religion guarantees their relationship with God:
They “seek me out” and “seem eager to know my ways” (v. 2).
They “ask me for just decisions,” praying for his guidance.
They have “fasted” and “humbled” themselves (v. 3). Their religion is in order, their worship attendance exemplary, their church involvement outstanding.
But their lives give the lie to their religion:
“You do as you please” (v. 3b). Sunday has no effect on Monday.
They “exploit all your workers” and engage in “quarreling and strife” (v. 4).
Their religion is for show, “bowing one’s head like a reed” and “lying on sackcloth and ashes” (v. 5). They look religious, and act the part. But God knows better.
I’m glad you’re here this morning. My friend, Frank Herrington, longtime pastor of Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, used to say that his first thought at the start of every Sunday sermon was, “I’m glad someone came to hear me preach.” I feel the same way.
But we will do well to remember from our text that religion does not guarantee faith. Being right with the church doesn’t mean we’re right with the Christ. There’s more to faith than religion.
Turn obstacles into opportunities
So what do we do to be the “body of Christ,” to show him to our community this week? First, act with justice: “loose the chains of injustice” (v. 6). Act with justice in your business dealings, your finances, your personal ethics: “Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge” (Deuteronomy 24:17); “The righteous detest the dishonest; the wicked detest the upright” (Proverbs 29:27).
Will someone see your moral example this week and ask if you are Jesus?
Second, care for the impoverished: “to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter” (v. 7); “when you see the naked, to clothe him” (v. 7b).
More than one tenth of Dallas County lives below the poverty level. One out of five Texans lives in poverty. One in ten children in our state is hungry today. By the time I finish this sentence, two people will have died from hunger-related causes worldwide, 24,000 by the end of this day. The number of homeless people in our city has nearly doubled in two years.
Scripture is clear on our subject: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13); “‘He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 22:16); “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done” (Proverbs 19:17); “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).
Will someone receive your gift of compassion this week and ask if you are Jesus?
Third, speak the truth in love: “do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk” (v. 9).
The Bible is crystal clear in its condemnation of gossip, slander, and lies: “Do not go about spreading slander among your people” (Leviticus 19:16); “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret” (Proverbs 11.13); “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends” (Proverbs 17:9); “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8); “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife” (Proverbs 26:20-21); “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies” (Psalm 34:13); “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3); “Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure” (Psalm 101:5).
Will someone hear your words this week and ask if you are Jesus?