Isaiah 56:7 Why “a House of Prayer for all nations”?

Last week we talked about the welcoming salvation of God.  God has been in the process of building a family from all of the nations. He wants the outcast, pictured in the eunuch and foreigner, to understand his ultimate heart and desire to incorporate them completely into the family of God, accepting their worship and blessing their life.  The conditions for such an incorporation into the family of God were simple: 1) Keep the Sabbath, i.e. trust in God’s manner of Sanctifying you; 2) Choose what pleases God, i.e. worshipping and serving him and; 3) Holding fast to the covenant, i.e. Believing that God’s promises are for you.  All of these are centered upon and fulfilled in Jesus Christ – He is our Sabbath rest, believing in his name is pleasing to God and trusting in all the promises of God being yes in Christ is our hope and what it means to be faithful to the covenant.

Consider these scriptures: (Luke 6:5) Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Not only does he welcome you and call to the tired and weary to come and give them rest, but he is the ruler over the Sabbath.  He not only gives rest, he is rest.  (John 6:29) Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  This passage informs us of the one thing God most desires in the universe, everything he is about and focused upon is bringing people to faith in his Son.  (2Cor. 1:20) For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Jesus is the end of all God’s covenant promises, and he invites you to remain in him and so enjoy all of these promises throughout eternity.  I briefly mention all of this in order to remind us that God is welcoming people into his presence, not just to save them from sin, but in order to commune with them, which is another way of saying, we are saved to pray.  Prayer is communion and relationship with the Father, through the Son by the Holy Spirit.  So today, I would like us to ask the question, “Why is God intent on creating a House of Prayer for All Nations?”In order to do this, let us imagine a [img] construction site where a home is to be built.  The land is cleared and ready.  The [img] foundation is in place, sturdy, level, solid and the lumber package is on site.  Hundreds, if not thousands of individual boards stands ready to be joined together in order to create a structure that neither time nor the elements can damage.  As this [img] home is erected, each piece is indispensable, but not alone.  Each piece relies on all the others in order to increase its strength and protect those who will dwell within her walls.

 

So it is in the [img] house of prayer that God is establishing.  Like the home constructed of many boards upon a sure foundation, the House, which God is building, is made up of many individuals each grounded upon Jesus Christ.  In God’s House, we are each like a board – individual and unique, with strong and weak parts, knots and straight grain.  Furthermore, we each stand in a unique relationship with the Foundation, Jesus Christ.  None of us is built upon a second floor; we are all directly in connection with the firm foundation, like a wise man building a giant Rancher, if you will.  We each approach God individually, crying out for mercy, expressing thanks, exercising our faith, trusting that the Lord Almighty does in fact hear us, see us and answer us.

 

But a house of individual boards is not a house at all.  Imagine a concrete [img] foundation with a bunch of 2×4’s or 2×6’s sticking out perpendicular to the slab.  Nothing joining them together.  Nothing uniting them.  Nothing but a wooden skeleton.  This sounds more like abstract art doesn’t it, and generally abstract art is fairly worthless for daily life, isn’t it?  For this site to become a house, something must unite the boards together.  Each of these disparate pieces of wood must be [img] connected one to another into a larger group and a larger purpose.  They need cross braces, sills, ties, rafters, and the like.  Suddenly the boards in the ground begin looking like the structure of a home in which something living and active can take up residence.

 

The Christian life is no different.  We are all boards, in need of connecting pieces that tie us to God and one another, that give us a skin if you will so that not only can we be built into a holy dwelling for others, but we ourselves can dwell within the walls of Christ’s church.  Those cross pieces and connecting points for the Christian come in a variety of manners.  In fact, Acts 2:42 outlines four of them, though there are probably more: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

 

When God’s people are devoted to the [img] Gospel message in the four ways articulated in Acts, they are effectively being bound together into a structure that nothing can prevail against.  When God’s people are devoted to the preaching of Christ, they are bound together and encouraged to remain faithful in the midst of persecution.  When God’s people are devoted to [img] fellowshipping one with another, they are establishing cross braces to sustain one another from the times of trouble and trial that will come.  When God’s people are devoted to the [img] breaking of bread, the celebration of the Communion meal, they are joined together in a common anticipation of Christ’s return and the renewal that brings.  It is a bond of hope that cannot be broken easily.  And the when God’s people are devoted to [img] prayer, they are joined together in a way which binds hearts and minds, hopes and anticipations, gospel understanding and missionary impetus so that the Power of God is released into the world.  Prayer is the living glue that changes the world, alters the course of nations, convicts people of sin and allows us to meet with and hear from our loving savior.  It is no wonder that God wanted his house to be called a house of prayer for all nations (Isa 56:7b).

 

As I was studying the word used for prayer in Isaiah 56:7, I came to realize that this same word is used in a variety of ways.  In Psalm 106:30, we are being told about the idolatry among the Israelites and the passage says, “But Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was checked.” The word [img] intervened, is the same word translated as prayer in our passage. Isn’t this a fascinating bit of word trivia.  Prayer and intervention are related to one another.  When we pray together we are intervening together, intervening in the physical and spiritual world in order to see the righteousness and holiness of God restored to this broken earth.  Corporate interventions are powerful things, that bind people together, ask a drug or alcohol or sex addict about those who intervened in their lives and then ask the interveners and you will learn that the process drew all of them closer together.  When God’s people gather to pray for the nations we are intervening into a bad situation.

 

But more than just intervening we are also [img] arbitrating.  In 1Sam 2:25, the word translated as prayer in our passage is translated as both mediate and intercedesIf a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him?”  The point of mediation, arbitration or intercession is to restore a broken relationship.  When we gather together in prayer for the nations we are seeking to bring about a renewed and restored relationship between God and his people in the world who do not yet know him.  We are intervening in order to see life restored to people.  Ask those parents and grandparents who have prayed together for the faith of their progeny about the bonding that takes place when they see their loved ones come to faith and you will begin to understand how it is that corporate prayer can unite a people together.

 

But there is one other aspect of prayer that this word carries and that is [img] expectation.  In Genesis 48:11 we read, Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”  Prayer is related to expectation.  Jesus instructed us to pray for the kingdom of God to come on earth, in fact that whole prayer is a corporate prayer and not an individual prayer, just look at the pronouns, Our Father…give us this day our daily bread, forgive us, as we forgive…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us… (Mt 6:9-11).  When God’s people pray together, their expectations grow.  We hear the expectations of one another as the Spirit of God has been leading and directing each person in their private studies, and we get to learn from and glean from that time in prayer, joining in joyful anticipation for the renewal of all things, intervening in the world for the salvation of many souls, thanking God for the answers to many prayers.

 

As a house of prayer there are different ways we can be joined together just as in the construction of a modern home there are different ways to join one board to the next.  Sometimes we [img] sister a joist in place, other times we may use those fancy and expensive little clip [img] Simpson makes called hurricane clips.  Other times, we may lay braces and [img] toenail boards together.  Each connection serves a different purpose, and all of them are important and needed for a strong house.  The same is true of the different ways we can be joined in prayer.

 

At times, we may find ourselves praying [img] individually for a specific brother or sister.  Lifting up their needs and carrying them before God.  We find many such prayers in the Scripture.  Paul asked for the members of his churches to pray for him. (1Th. 5:25) Brothers, pray for us,Paul asks the Thessalonians and we get the idea Paul wants people to remember him in their daily times of prayer.  But there are other ways of being bound together in prayer.

 

Sometimes people share such a common experience that though they aren’t physically meeting together to pray, their prayers are unified and share a common theme and desire.  As Moses speaks to the King of Edom, requesting passage for the Israelites across his land, he says, The Egyptians mistreated us and our fathers, but when we cried out to the Lord, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt (Num 20:15b-16a).  Or again as the conquest of the Promised Land is retold in 1Chronicles 5:20 we are told The [Reubenites] were helped in fighting [the inhabitants of the land], and God handed the Hagrites and all their allies over to them, because they cried out to him during the battle.  He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him.

 

Now I highly doubt in either of these circumstances that the people of God stopped and had a corporate prayer meeting.  In Egypt, they wouldn’t have had time to stop and gather together, they were oppressed and mistreated.  To allow a few million folks to gather together would have been troublesome and dangerous to their overlords, yet they cried out to God with a common voice from a common need.  Similarly, during the heat of battle how often do you find people stopping from the fight and gathering to pray?  It doesn’t happen, but again a common need, experience and desire united these Reubenites together.  Though not together corporately, they were of one heart and one mind, praying a unified desire to the One God.

 

Most of us, in the western world are familiar with these two types of prayer.  That is we feel comfortable praying for others at home, or even taking a common theme, like pray for the election this week and praying it knowing that others are doing the same.  And that is good but there is more to corporate prayer than simply these individual expressions of corporate needs. But there are other types of bonds, which can unite our disparate lives together and strengthen the House God is building.  I am speaking about corporate prayer where the people of God are gathered together and the gathered body is guided into a common declaration, with each member declaring something built upon or congruent with the proclamations of the other members.  This is praying where the prayers of others dynamically affect our prayers because the Holy Spirit is using them to lead us into deeper communion with the Father and his heart for the world.  I am talking about Worship fed, Scripture led, Spirit guided corporate prayer.

 

There are a number of examples of this in the Word.  In Ezra 8:23, we find Ezra recording the events that occurred surrounding the return of the Jews to Jerusalem.  The people were ashamed to ask King Artaxerxes for protection on their journey and Ezra tells us, “So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.”  It would be easy to assume these were individual prayers, but given the nature of the journey about to be undertaken, and the leadership that Ezra provides at other places in the book where he constantly gathers people together, it is easy to surmise that Ezra provided leadership to this time of prayer and fasting and that the people returning to Jerusalem would have gathered and prayed together for their safety.

 

In fact, throughout history, when great migrations of religious people have occurred, like the Puritans coming to New England, or the Dutch reformed coming to the New World, there were always times of corporate prayer in addition to the individual prayers that were offered.  John Calvin and many of the other great theologians and pastors of the past have urged the church to gather for corporate prayer in times of national disasters, great need or when weighty matters are being decided by the local or national church or government.  Will we take up the call this fall and pray together?

 

But you know, one of my favorite passages on the need for corporate prayer is found in a book we often skip over.  It is the book of 2nd Chronicles.  In the 5th Chapter, the Ark of the Covenant is being brought into the Temple to take up residence and in the 13th verse we are told that The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the Lord.  This was a time of worship and prayer where the people of God were being bound together in common celebration for the good things God had done.  The Chronicler is painting a picture of corporate worship as corporate prayer.  Today as we gather, we are praying together and that is exciting isn’t it?  But again, this isn’t the sum total of prayer, for very rarely does each of you get to express your own words and heart to God in a way that edifies and builds up the church and that is where the next thought comes.

 

In the temple people came and prayed individually and corporately, did you know that when Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, one of the people he took with him was Mattaniah?  Who is Mattaniah?  He was a man who had the specific job of being the director who led in thanksgiving and prayer (Neh 11:17).  His job was to facilitate corporate prayer.  In the Temple, there were men assigned to aid the gathered body of worshippers in thanking God and praying.  That is probably why the Acrostic psalms were written.  Those psalms like 119, which are based on the Hebrew Alphabet.  They would aid the nation in learning to pray together. Then their are the antiphonal psalms, those psalms written in such a way that one person leads and another person or group of people respond, like Psalm 136 with the chorus “His love endures forever”, which is recited over and over.  Or what about the fact that most of the psalms are composed of verses where half of the verse expands on what has just been said, these too would be aptly used in a corporate gathering to pray. Do you think these were all composed ahead of time, might it be that some or many of them were composed on the fly in gatherings like this where I might say: O Lord, hear my prayer,  and you would fill in based on your experience: listen to my cry for mercy; In your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief.   Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you (Psa 143:1-2).

 

Even though the psalm appears to be individual, there very structure leads to a corporate usage. Some of that usage is very liturgically defined like what I have been discussing or like the Book of Common Prayer, but other parts of corporate prayer can also be dynamic, where a leader simply points the group in a direction and waits to see what God makes of it.  We have been experimenting with this kind of prayer in our church for some time and some of you love it and some of you dislike it.  But…

 

Each of these types of prayer binds the body of Christ together in a way that strengthens the Church.  Like the old adage says, A family that prays together, stays together.  There is something that I can’t quite articulate about why prayer binds us together and why gathered corporate prayer binds us in ways that the other forms of prayer don’t, but I believe it has to do with seeing and hearing the hearts of other people beating like your own.  When we pray with others, it is really hard to hold a grudge against them, or to judge them or to condemn their ministry or hopes, because in their prayers we hear our own desires, our own hopes, and our own dreams.  Furthermore, when we hear their hearts beating in unison with our own, we are strengthened, and encouraged that there are others with similar passions and hopes.  When we pray with others, we realize that we are all on the same team and I think that has something to do with why corporate prayer is so powerful.

 

Are you willing to not just pray for others, or in common agreement with them, but to actually gather with your brothers and sisters and pray together in these services, at monthly meetings and whenever the opportunity presents itself knowing that your prayers and your vocalized words are part of what build the body together?

 

Next week we will explore a series of corporate prayers and prayer times found in the Book of Acts.  But this week, let’s remember that as we pray together, we are being built and connected together.  As we pray together we become a body capable of welcoming any who believe into our midst but also seeking God on behalf of those beyond our midst.  As we pray together, we become a people eager for one another to grow in Christ, eager for all people to know Christ, eager to anticipate the day when all rulers will show forth the wonders of God to their people and those who have been enemies will become friends because of Christ.

 

This is why God wants his Church to be called a House of Prayer for All Nations.

 

 

 

Sermon Outline

 

  1. Last week, Saved to pray, our worship is prayer, welcoming for any who bound to Lord and his ways
  2. What is a House of Prayer?
    1. House

i.     Made of Individual parts

ii.     Individual parts gathered into common purpose

  1. Acts 2:42, Isa 56:7, 1Th 5:25
  2. Sometimes, individuals all sharing common desire, Num 20:16, 1Chr 5:20
  3. Sometimes, corporate, Ezra 8:23, 2Chr 5:13,

iii.     Temple where individual and corporate are joined

  1. Neh 11:17, Ps 119, 136, 143:1-2
  2. Prayer

i.     Intervention, Ps 106:30

ii.     Arbitration, 1Sam 2:25

iii.     Expectation, Gen 48:11, Mt 6:9-11

  1. For

i.     Anyone is welcome to beseech God

ii.     Also that our interventions, arbitrations, expectations are for those beyond just ourselves

  1. All nations

i.     All people

ii.     Rulers, authorities

iii.     Enemies and friends

  1. Conclusion: God saves us to be a joyful people who individually and corporately pray for the world…Next week we will look at some of those corporate prayers in the Book of Acts

 

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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