For some reason, I feel like I am seeing more marketing and promotion around the celebration of Easter than I have ever seen before. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been so busy in past seasons, or maybe stores really are trying to make up for a dip in Christmas sales. Either way, it’s something I’ve definitely been noticing over the past couple of months.
On Easter Sunday, everyone shows up to church looking their best. They get up a little earlier, put on their nicest clothes, and show up a few minutes sooner than normal to get a good seat. We proclaim “He is risen indeed!” Amidst pastel colors, spring flowers, and plenty of chocolate. For some, Easter is almost as big of a “food holiday” as Thanksgiving and Christmas, with elaborate decorations, dishes, and desserts.
All these things are well and good; we should give our very best to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection! However, what I find to be ironic about it all is that God doesn’t care about the frills and the ceremony, he cares about our righteousness and holiness.
This morning, I noticed something about Isaiah 56 that I hadn’t ever paid attention to before now:
“Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness will be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil. Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people:” and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord god, who gathers the outcasts of Israel declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:1-8)
I was so stricken by the grace of our good God when I read this passage. Foreigners and eunuchs were the outcasts of society during Isaiah’s time, and they knew it. You see this depiction of their own lack of self-worth; they say “surely the Lord won’t call me his own.” But, we see the Lord answer these outcasts with an outstretched hand of grace and mercy! All God requires of us is to follow him and to be righteous. In this passage, we see God explaining righteousness in accordance with the old covenant (keeping the sabbath, offering sacrifices).
“But wait…” you might be saying. “Doesn’t Romans 3 remind us that “there are none righteous; no, not one?” How then are we to receive this gift of God explained in Isaiah 56 as part of the new covenant?
Praise God that Paul brings us the same promise in Romans that Isaiah spoke of. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and prophets bear witness to it–the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because his divine forbearance had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26)
Once again, we have a clear picture that, no matter what our past sins are or what culture we’re coming from, we become sons and daughters of God because we become righteous. We become righteous, not at all by our own merit, but because Jesus died and rose again. Jesus took the place of the means in this covenant of righteousness in Isaiah, but the end becomes the same: we are partakers in God’s covenant and have “within [God’s] walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters.”
Praise God for the incredible gift of his death and resurrection during this Holy Week. Through him we are given the gift of righteousness! Dress up, decorate, and eat delicious food, celebrating the most precious gift you’ve ever been given or will ever get. But yet, also rejoice in the fact that it is indeed a gift. We don’t have to come to God with any sort of facade of goodness or righteousness. Because of Easter, the promises of God as a result of righteousness are given as a free gift to those in every tribe, tongue, and nation; to those who are outcasts and hated by their society, to those who have failed in every capacity, to those who are forsaken by their families, to those who have been mistreated and abused; our Lord God promises in Isaiah 56 to “gather the outcasts of Israel,” and “gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” Praise God that this is what we get to celebrate this week!