This past weekend I had the privilege of participating in a Christmas in New York gathering for friends of Cru Inner City. We saw some of the realities of life in the inner city and heard stories of help and hope. I was especially moved by this message from John Sather, co-national director of this ministry to the poor and marginalized. This truly expresses the heart of God. You will want to watch the Brennan Manning video at the end–I believe this helps us grasp the heart of Christmas.
- Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
- Matthew 25:40 – “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
- Jeremiah 22: 16 – “He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the Lord.”
- Isaiah 61:1 – “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”
- Psalm 35:10 – “All my bones shall say,“O Lord, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?”
Pastor John Piper states, “The point of Isaiah 58 is this: Piety that does not produce a passion for God-exalting social justice and practical mercy is worthless. Or to put it positively: God promises that we will break forth like the dawn if our piety produces a passion for social justice and practical mercy.”
The core of our belief must be the gospel and especially when it comes to doing biblical justice ministry: Pastor Tim Keller states so well: “The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself or less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.”
Read Isaiah 58:1-12. In these passages there are five basic human needs that God is passionately concerned about for every person. These reflect the mission, vision and values of Cru® Inner City:
1.The need for freedom from bondage and oppression.
Four times in verse 6 and once in verse 9 the writer comments on this. Verse 6: “Loose the bonds of wickedness, undo the straps of the yoke, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke.” Verse 9b: “Take away the yoke from your midst.”
“How can the inner workings of the heart be changed from a dynamic of fear and anger and control to that of love, joy, freedom and gratitude? Here is how. We need to be moved by the sight of what it cost to bring us home. The key difference between a Pharisee and a believer in Jesus is inner-heart motivation. Pharisees are being good but out of a fear-fueled need to control God. They don’t really trust him or love him. To them God is an exacting boss, not a loving father. Christians, on the other hand, have seen something that has transformed their hearts toward God so they can finally love and rest in the Father.”— Pastor Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God
2. The need for food.
Verse 7a: “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry?”
3. The need for housing.
Verse 7b: “[Is it not] to bring the homeless poor into your house?”
4. The need for clothing.
Verse 7c: “[Is not this the fast I choose:] When you see the naked, to cover him?
5. The need for respect.
Verse 9b: “Take away . . . the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness.” In other words, stop accusing unjustly and belittling and exploiting.
The God of the Bible (found in Christ alone) is present with the poor, the hungry, the broken, the disabled, the mentally ill, the aging, the marginalized and the powerless.
When our focus is on being in control, obsessed with success, having influence at any cost, grabbing for power and angry when things don’t go our way, do we really know God? When we know Him, have been transformed by His grace, we naturally move towards those who are truly like ourselves: those experiencing brokenness, loneliness and struggling with human need. Pastor John Piper said “I love it when the church moves towards needs not comfort.”
For us to carry out God’s Great Command to love our neighbor, we need to stay close to those who are small, vulnerable and weak, caring about their needs.
Isaiah preaches biblical justice to the people of God simply and profoundly, so our piety, our love for God should produce a passion for biblical justice and practical mercy…because we WANT TO not have to...
- When we discover His grace and mercy, at the foot of the Cross, we can truly rejoice and experience the love of Jesus because we will want that for others too!
- Tim Keller says “…when justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this “pushes the button” down deep in believers’ souls, and they begin to wake up–” Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just
All the rest of this text of Isaiah is a promise about the good things that happen in our lives when we give ourselves away to others in the cause of justice and mercy. And we know from the fulfillment of this prophecy (in Jesus) that this does not mean we earn God’s blessings. God himself, through Christ, purchases them for us at the cross and empowers us to fulfill the conditions for them.
Verse 8: “If you give yourself away to bring justice and mercy in the world, instead of just living for your own comforts….
“…Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’.” [He continues in the middle of verse 10:] “then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”
Brennan Manning has produced a powerful short video on Compassion
What about you? How is God growing your heart of compassion?
John Sather is the co-national director of Cru Inner City, seeking comprehensive Biblical Justice thru the local church. He and his wife, Chris, live in Minneapolis/St. Paul. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.