This week we are starting a multi-week series [img] on corporate prayer. In fact, you are all invited to attend our monthly prayer meeting this Wednesday from 6-7 p.m. as we bask in the glory of God. As a church we applied for and received a grant from the Sustaining Congregational Excellence program with the denomination in order to explore and implement corporate prayer in our body. Over the coming months we will read and dialogue about corporate prayer, we will hear sermons, our worship teams and planners will be trained by a great man in Scripture-based, Worship-led, Spirit-fed, corporate prayer and each team will then take the opportunity to lead us in a Sunday morning of corporate prayer once a month for 4 months and finally we will participate in 2 congregational retreats aimed at helping us to learn to discern God’s voice through the corporate body.
That sounds like a lot of teaching, training and practical participation in prayer doesn’t it? It is, and as I hope you will see this morning, the [img praying church] church and its membership was saved in order to pray. I want to say that again, the church and its membership are saved by God in order to pray to God. That is one of the main reasons God has called us out of darkness and into light, in order that we might have communion and fellowship as individuals and as collected groups with our God. Prayer is nothing more than an expression of our relationship with the Lord. I hope that over the coming year we will find that the [img] feast, which has been prepared for us, is filling, tasty and ever more inviting as each of us finds new delicacies, old favorites and an ever-deepening love for the wonder of our God and his salvation.
If you have been around the church for very long, you have probably heard the story of Jesus driving the merchants from the temple and declaring “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves” (Mt 21:13). It is a great one-liner, but did you know that statement had its origins in the prophet Isaiah nearly 7 centuries before Christ. It was first recorded in the 56th chapter of the Book of Isaiah and in order to understand the statement, we need to understand something about the time when Isaiah was written.
Isaiah was a prophet towards the [img timeline] end of Israel’s/Judah’s national sovereignty. During his ministry, the ten northern tribes went into captivity by the Assyrians and in the southern tribes, more and more apostate kings were increasingly ruling and leading the people into idolatry and judgment. As a prophet, Isaiah was there to point out these sins of the nation but also to speak some wonderful words of peace and comfort to the faithful. In fact some of the most beautiful and poetic descriptions of the Messiah are found in the book of Isaiah. He prophesied about the virgin to give birth to a son, who will be called Immanuel (Isa 7:14). He writes, [img] “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this” (Isa 9:6-7). He even proclaimed the [img cross] suffering of the Messiah in graphic detail in the 52nd and 53rd chapters of the book.
But today, in our passage, Isaiah proclaims hope to 2 groups of people. Both of these groups had been excluded from temple worship and full inclusion into the covenant people. Both were treated shamefully and despised. When a foreigner or Eunuch would enter a room, the whispering would start and the crowd would withdraw. But Isaiah proclaimed some wonderful news to these outcasts. These 7 verses are more than just an [img] invitation to 2 excluded groups of people. They are the declaration of [img] hope to any outcast person wanting to be one of God’s people. They proclaim not just a possibility, but also a reality of the heart of God for all the nations. These verses tell the outcast what God requires in order to be a member of his temple family.
How can I say that? I can say it because of verses 1 and 2. These opening words aren’t often paid much attention: This is what the Lord says (Is 56:1a). They sound so simple and unfantastic, because we have been trained to think the important stuff is in what follows, and there is some truth in that. But these introductory phrases shouldn’t be skipped over so quickly, in these opening words, one learns that God speaks.
It isn’t just that God has spoken in the past, but the Hebrew grammar, tells us that [img ringing bell] God spoke and has continued speaking the same thing from the time he gave the Torah until the time of Isaiah. God says something and continues to say it. His words reverberate throughout time like a bell whose sound continues to be heard long after it has been struck. In the words of a country song, “That’s my story and I am sticking to it.” God is not in the business of changing his instructions to humanity. From the time of Moses until the time of Isaiah the twin commands to [img justice/right] Maintain justice and do what is right (Is 56:1b) have been clearly declared by God through his faithful messengers. And if God was willing to continue to declare the same thing for hundreds of years, it is probably wise to sit up and take notice, for our God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Num. 23:19).
These words are words of instruction spoken to every human being on the planet, not only because God doesn’t change, but also because he promises a blessing upon the one who fulfills them. So what is it that God wants of humanity? God wants us to maintain something. The first time in the Scriptures we encounter this word “Maintain” is in Genesis 2:15, where we are told, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Later on in the life of David, as he sneaks in and cuts a portion off Saul’s cloak in the middle of the night, we encounter this word again as David chastens Saul’s body guards, saying, “What you have done is not good. As surely as the Lord lives, you and your men deserve to die, because you did not guard your master, the LORD’s anointed…” (1Sam. 26:16). In fact, in the Scriptures, the command translated maintain in this passage means something closer to [img] Guard, protect, or watch over.
God is telling all people, it is their job to ensure that justice is protected and watched out for. And justice, also translated judgment, belongs to the Lord “Do not be afraid of any man, for judgment belongs to God” (Deut. 1:17). [img god colored glasses] Justice is found in God and his way of living and seeing life. Justice is another way of saying, “one is to correctly understand and apply the Law of God to all of the situations of life.” We are to apply [img] God’s way of seeing and living life to economics, education, politics, friendship, marriage, work and play, to name a few.
And this concern with justice is complemented by the second command to do what is right (Is 56:1b). Do the things that conform to the character and will of God. In fact the phrase, Maintain justice and do what is right
“[does] not mean to enforce some abstract law code or to ensure the inherent rights of [people, as some contemporary Christians would have us believe]; rather, it meant to be so [img tuning radio] in tune with the Author of the universe, [with] his character and his wishes, that his “rightness” and his order for life would be made to prevail in the nation [and the world].”
We are to dial in our receiver to God’s receiver, the same way we tune a radio to the right frequency in order to eliminate the static and hear the voice of God, recognizing his commands. And as we will see in the coming weeks, prayer is one of the means we use to tune into God.
This is God’s command and he commands it to all people. He wants all people to live and pursue his heart for the creation. Why? Because he is coming and his salvation is near to appearing. For the nation after the time of Isaiah and before the coming of Jesus, this meant the advent of Persian Kings, Cyrus and Darius who would rebuild the temple, restore Jerusalem and give the land back to the exiled Jews, but for the Christian, this is nothing other than the appearing of Christ himself, in the flesh. It is Jesus who truly rebuilds the temple in 3 days. It is Jesus who restores to Jerusalem, the city of God, her people worshipping and serving. It is Jesus who gives the chosen people the promised land of heaven, where nothing impure or unrighteous will ever enter. Therefore, Jesus is our salvation and God’s righteousness. All people are summoned to maintain Justice and do what is rightbecause Jesus is coming and God’s righteousness will be revealed in him.
Now that should motivate people for a number of reasons. The first reason we should be motivated to do this work of justice and righteousness is because it reveals the [img] heart of God to us. If our Lord has taken the time to say the same things over and over and over again, it must reflect his heart for the world, so why not pursue those things that God has a heart for and see if he brings success to our labors and transforms our hearts more in the process.
The second reason we should be motivated to do this work of God is because those found [img man holding back beast, wall from falling] working against God and his plans, stand to loose a lot. Imagine the wrath and anger one faces for failing to know God and pursue his plans and actually working against those plans consciously or unconsciously. Over and over the Scriptures speak of the place of suffering and torment. We will just quote one of them: “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matt. 25:45-46)
The third reason is this: if God is coming, wouldn’t we want to be [img] found busy at the things God instructed us to be busy with? How many business owners like coming in and finding their employees or contractors doing something other than what they are being paid to do? Is God any different? For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:10). God is coming and he will be checking on the work of his people. And those found ‘in his will’ will be rewarded and those not doing it will suffer great loss. Matthew 23-25 is all about this.
Now I am not talking about the random act of kindness that is done here or there. I am not talking about the employee who hears the boss’ footsteps coming down the hallway and so he hurries up to look busy. No, this isn’t Godly living, God himself says, Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast…(Is 56:2a). To hold something fast is a [img] wrestling term, when two men are grasping on to one another refusing to let go – that is something held fast. It is the man [img] clutching onto something so tight that even when he dies you can’t remove it from his grip. Blessed is the one who never lets God’s justice and righteousness ever get out of his sight and his life, who keeps the Sabbath, or rests in God’s ways and God’s truths and keeps his hand from doing any evil.
That is blessing, that is security; that is God’s heart for the world. And Hebrews 4 talks about this Sabbath Rest we were created to enjoy. (Heb. 4:9-10) There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. And the beauty of that passage is that in the following Chapters of Hebrews, Jesus is clearly portrayed as the Sabbath rest, as the one who perfected the human work and all who are found in him are saved.
And isn’t that what Isaiah 56:3-7 goes on to so eloquently echo. In these verses the command of God and the blessing of God is [img world wrapped in arrows] extended to the Foreigner and the Eunuch. It is extended to people who formerly couldn’t go beyond the outer courtyard and so they would naturally assume themselves to be outsiders and less valuable or less welcomed in God’s people. But God assures them that they are in fact welcomed and fully included. Listen to these promises: To them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial, and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off…these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations (Is 56:5,7).
Did you notice the imagery? It’s all about [img] inclusion and being inside the very space where the Levitical code excluded them. Inside the temple, on the mountain, prayers answered, better names, joy. God is welcoming even the excluded based upon these requirements and these requirements alone: They keep the Sabbath; they choose what pleases God (i.e. worshipping him, loving his name and serving him) and they hold fast to the Covenant. In short, they Maintain justice and do what is right!
Remembering that justice and rightness have to do with God’s way of living and God’s desires for goodness, we must ask. What does Sabbath, pleasing God and covenant all have to do with justice and righteousness? One of my favorite passages on the Sabbath comes from Ex. 31:13 “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.
The Sabbath was a way of teaching people not to trust in their own works, but to [img cross] trust in God for their acceptance. Trust in his ways for fulfilling his desires. Trust in the Lord. In fact, the whole tone of the passage to do what pleases God and keep the covenant was to remind people that these actions couldn’t justify them. These rules couldn’t save them. These instructions couldn’t make the world a better place, for they were bound to break them, stumble at them and twist them. That doesn’t mean they were excused from these instruction, simply that a better way of fulfilling them must be found, a way of Resting in God’s work, a way of sabbathing to be holy.
Notice Leviticus 20:8 Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy. It doesn’t say because you keep them you are holy. It doesn’t say if you keep them you will be holy. What it does say is keep them, period, end of instruction. Start new thought. The Lord makes you holy! The Lord saves you. The Lord welcomes you into his dwelling. We have talked a lot about salvation this morning, though I said at the beginning of the sermon, we were going to talk about prayer over the coming weeks.
So in these last few moments, let me answer the question, “Why are we saved?” or “What are we saved for?” If you haven’t already picked it up from the passage, We are saved for [img] communion with God. Every person is saved in order to be welcomed into the temple of God where they can fully experience the presence, love, grace, and mercy of God himself. We are saved to be in dialogue with the Lord of Creation and that is what prayer is at its simplest.
Temple worship at its core is nothing other than communion with God and the final verse of today’s lesson ties temple worship to being a praying house for all the nations. We are saved to pray. We are saved to talk with God, individually and corporately. Formerly we were excluded from God’s presence, for we were all foreigners, at least I think we are, I don’t believe there are any people of Jewish heritage in our midst. But God called us, he bound us, he revealed his Son Jesus to us as our Sabbath rest, our salvation, our righteousness and now he welcomes us and hears us and listens to us, responds to us and dialogues and speaks with us.
We are to pray as people and groups. We are saved to be in communion and intimacy with God. In fact, more than that, we aren’t just brought to God’s mountain, to his house of prayer, we are God’s mountain, his house of prayer is a house of prayer in our flesh, for he lives in us, and whenever we gather together and ask for things corporately in his name, in communion with his Spirit in us and others, then he promises to answer our prayers. (Matt. 18:19) “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
Our calling is [img iphone prayer] to prayer. To pray for his justice, his righteousness, and his salvation to be revealed in and among the nations. We are saved to display and ask for his [your] kingdom to come, his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10).
In Conclusion, every person in the world has been instructed to what God desires: to seek after his purposes and plans and to correctly apply these plans and purposes to all the situations of life. We have been instructed in this because Christ has come and will come again and those who are found gripping the truth of God’s Word, grasping the Sabbath rest of Christ, and worshipping and communing with him will be welcomed fully and completely into the temple of the Lord, more than that they will become the very dwelling of God’s Spirit in order to deepen their life of communion with the Father through a life of prayer. Truly this is what is means to be saved to pray, becoming a house of prayer for all nations.
So how does all this relate to our celebration of communion this morning? Communion by definition is the connection of people to one another. It is relationship with Christ, our Lord gave his body and his blood very literally in order to establish this connection between God and man, and he gave us his spirit in order to sustain that connection each and every day. The bread and the cup are visible signs of the reality Christ accomplished on the cross 2000 years ago and they are seals which assure our souls that we can approach God Almighty without fear, just as Isaiah proclaimed, the foreigner and the eunuch will be brought in and they will commune with me.
As the Elders come forward, lets remember this message of welcome, inclusion and hope through the words of
During Bread: Jesus Messiah
This is Christ’s body, given for you so that you may be part of the family. Take eat, remember and believe.
During Juice: Jesus Paid it All
This too is Christ’s blood, poured out for the complete taking away of all your sins so that you may find joy in God’s House of prayer. Take drink, remember and believe.
- Introduction (Mt 21:13, Is 7:14, 9:6-7, 53)
- Call to Justice & Righteousness
- Lord says…perfect…doesn’t change… (Is 56:1, Num 23:19)
- Guarding… (Gen 2:15, 1Sam 26:16)
- Justice & righteousness (Dt. 1:17)
- Why these reasons should motivate us
- Heart of God
- Those crossing God stand to lose a lot (Mt 25:45-46)
- Blessing comes to keeper of justice and right (v.2)
i. Holds it fast
ii. Keep the Sabbath – (Heb 4:9-10)
- Call extended to even the Foreigner & Eunuch
- Parallel structures
i. Rewards: (Isa 56:5,7)
ii. Requirements for Inclusion
- Eunuch – keep Sabbath, pleases God, fast to covenant
- Foreigners – keep Sabbath, fast to covenant, serve/love/worship take place of pleases God
- In short, Rest in him, do what he does and trust in his promises! (Ex 31:13, Lev 20:8)
- Temple worship is defined by Prayer/Communion with God. (Mt 18:19, 6:10)