Sunday, January 02, 2011

Isaiah 56-57 - A House of Prayer for All Nations

Tiepolo's The Calling of Isaiah
Contextual Notes:
Since chapter 40, Isaiah has offered comfort to his people and the nations. In Isaiah 53, we reached a peak in the prophecy where Isaiah identifies the Suffering Servant as the Branch (4:2), the Seed (6:13), the Royal Child (7:14), and Root of Jesse (11:1), and the Servant who is a divine-human king (42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). Now the work of the Servant who suffered our rejection (52:13-53:3), died for our salvation (53:4-9), and arose for our justification (53:10-12) is complete. It is done. It is finished.

Now Isaiah bursts into praise (chapter 54) that the future is secure because this Servant is a Covenant-Keeper. He fulfills God’s covenant with Abraham (54:3), with Noah (54:9-10), and with David (55:3). Isaiah invites whoever will to come and be satisfied (55:1-5), but that choice involves submission to his Word (55:6-13).

Bible scholars have noted that there is a transition in Isaiah’s prophecy at chapters 40 and 56, so much so that more liberal theologians call them Second Isaiah and Third Isaiah, as if, because of the incredible accuracy of the prophecies, they could not all have been written by an 8th century B.C. prophet. In our study of Isaiah, we have seen transitions, too, but noted that the ingenious textual connections point instead to a Perfect Divine Man who is to come, a Divine Priest-King descended from David who will Suffer rejection and death as a Servant in order to fulfill all his covenants. Our satisfaction in Him requires only one thing: We must submit to Him.

Now we arrive at chapter 56, the last major transition in Isaiah’s prophecy. From here on out we will see the effects of the work of this Servant-Messiah, what changes he requires and what changes he brings to everything. We will see the nature and establishment of his kingdom. Isaiah shows us that this Servant-Messiah as an end-time King. You will notice Isaiah looking forward to the blessings of the Messiah and then around him to the sorry state of affairs of God’s people. First we see that salvation has been opened to everyone (56:1-8), but the sad situation among his people Israel appalls Isaiah (56:9-57:13). Nevertheless, the High and Holy One (6:1) will now dwell with the lowly and humble, bringing peace and healing (57:14-21).

Key Truth: Isaiah wrote Isaiah 56-57 to teach Israel the Messiah's Kingdom is open to all though no one deserves it, and His incarnation gives access to the kingdom.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about access to His Kingdom.
Key Verse: Isaiah 56:7
Pray and Read:  Isaiah 56-57

Sermon Points:
1.   Everybody is welcome in His Kingdom (Isaiah 56:1-8)
2.   Nobody is worthy of His Kingdom (Isaiah 56:9-57:13)
3.   His Body is the way into His Kingdom (Isaiah 57:14-21)

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   56:1-2 – Isaiah urges these Jews (possibly poor Jews left behind in Canaan during the Exile) to “do what is right” and uses Sabbath-keeping as an example of walking in obedience, a law set before the Torah. It was set at Creation. But we don’t ‘do justice’ to merit salvation. We commit to do what is right because we have been saved and we believe God’s Word that ultimate salvation is at hand. The NT prophetic writers saw this every time they write about the end times, they conclude by saying that we should therefore be vigilant and obedient to our callings.
b.   56:1-2 – Isaiah had already proclaimed salvation for those who seek God and his righteousness (51:1, 5). Here he makes clear for whom it is destined. Chapter 51:2 could leave you thinking salvation is only for ethnic Jews, descendants of Abraham, as if there were an elect group that was, by God’s sovereign and fickle economy, exclusive, but here redemption is offered to every human being (literally, “son of Adam”) who will respect the Lord’s commands (56:1-2, see also 49:6; 50:4-9; 52:15). Perhaps this is why Isaiah emphasizes the Sabbath (56:2, 4, 6; 58:13).
c.   56:2 – But there is more here. The words “blessed is the man” (ashre anosh) reminds us of Psalm 1:1 (ashre ha ish) and the Beatitudes Matthew 5:3-12. That blessing is extended to all the “sons of Adam” (ben adam), including foreigners and eunuchs. This is revolutionary, the opening of the good news . Also we find here the pairing of the mishpat (justice) and tzedek (righteousness). Up to this point in Isaiah, every time we find that pairing we find a reference to the Messiah. The last time we saw these words was in the first Servant song (42:4-6; also
d.   56:2 – The Sabbath: The Sabbath was the 7th day of the week, our Saturday, the day God rested from his Creation (Genesis 2:2; Exodus 20:8-11), a very long way from the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. The Sabbath applies to all humanity and is an example of obedience of all humanity to the God of Israel. During the Babylonian Exile, when there was no Temple for them, they began to meet for worship and study of the Bible on this day. The day was a sign of the covenant relationship that existed between Israel and God (Exodus 31:12-17; Jeremiah 17:19-27; Nehemiah 13:15-22). And most importantly for the context (chapters 54-55), Sabbath served as a reminder of God’s covenant faithfulness, in delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). The issue with the Sabbath is not that we should all start keeping the Jewish Saturday observance again, though some have come to that conclusion. Hebrews 4:1-11 explains the Sabbath to us. It is the Sabbath of rest which the sons of Israel refused to enter because of what? Because of unbelief. “Since the promise of entering his rest still stand, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, . . . .There remains, then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God,” (Hebrews 4:1-3, 9)
e.   56:4-7 – Foreigners and eunuchs: Eunuchs and foreigners were banned from participating in Israel’s worship (Exodus 12:43; Deuteronomy 23:1-8). Eunuchs were dry trees, with no descendants, a sure sign of being in the covenant (Genesis 17:6-11), with no name and forgotten. But now they will have an everlasting name (56:4-5). The Apostle Paul recognized this spiritual descent from Abraham and emphasized it (Romans 2:29; Galatians 3:6-14).
f.    ILLUSTRATION: This is why the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch is so amazing in Acts chapter 8. He is both a foreigner and a eunuch, and he is immediately baptized. And guess what book of the Bible he was reading when Philip the evangelist got to him – Isaiah. Do you think that the author Luke was making a point that Christ’s church is to be a house of prayer for all nations?
g.   APPLICATION: Here Isaiah uses them as a symbol of all those who feel insecure in their relationship with God, as if they are not good enough for God to love them. Anyone who holds fast to God’s covenant (i.e., his Covenant-Keeper the Servant – see Isaiah 53-55), will be accepted and blessed by God (Romans 10:13).
h.   56:7-8 – A House of Prayer for All Nations: Jesus himself quoted 56:7 when he cleansed the Temple (Mark 11:17). He saw what Isaiah did: The opening of the Temple to all nations and the fact that it should be a place of prayer. The Lord gathers Israel and all the people (56:8) Here is the Good Shepherd (40:11; 44:28; Psalm 28:9; John 10:11-18). Here is the two (Israel & the nations) becoming one as part of God’s missionary plan (Ephesians 2:11-22).
i.    APPLICATION: Our God is a missionary God. This is why any person, regardless of ethnic background, life experiences, personal appearance, is welcome in the Christian church. We are called to welcome them. There are not churches for “my kind” and “your kind.” The church is made of “all kinds.”

2.   NOBODY IS WORTHY OF HIS KINGDOM (Isaiah 56:9-57:13)
a.   56:9-12 – Sorry spiritual leadership: Despite all this grace, Israel acts like beasts, like blind watchmen, like shepherds concerned for their own stomachs and not for their sheep. The image of this Perfect Shepherd for all nations brings to contrast the failings of those who claim to be shepherds (56:11), leaving their people exposed to dangers (56:9). These leaders are blind and mute (56:10), the same terms used for unfaithful idolaters (42:16-20; 43:8). They are like the objects they worship (44:9, 18). They cannot get a vision of God’s direction and they have nothing to say. These religious leaders should be watchmen, but instead are deceiving themselves and losing the people. Their main occupations are dreaming and drinking (56:10, 12; 29:8-10). There is no commitment to justice and doing right (56:1-2). Instead they are interested in themselves (56:11). They are an echo of the disastrous situation of the people (53:6).

b.   57:1-2 – Death of the righteous: Death is our enemy. It is not to be embraced. Greedy and self-centered political and religious leaders sacrifice the righteous on the altar of ambition and power (57:1).

c.   APPLICATION: In many places across the globe, and in our own country, we have become hardened to death. The church and believers should proclaim the importance and value of every human being in the eyes of God, including the unborn, persons destroyed through embryonic stem cell use, persons destroyed through morning after pills, and those encouraged to die at the end of life. We should state it clearly and forcefully before our legislatures, government agencies, and courts, in our health care arenas.

d.   57:1-2 – But sometimes the passing of the righteous is a gift in view of the coming judgment. Death is an enemy, but beyond it the righteous find life and peace.

e.   APPLICATION: Paul understood that for the believer, death can be gain (Philippians 1:21-24). You see, Christians who have a biblical understanding of the doctrine of humanity, what the Bible teaches about human beings, are pro-life. That’s why you find evangelicals some of the biggest supporters of life and opponents of abortion, assisted suicide, etc. The Bible teaches us to treasure life and the dignity of human life. Why? Because human beings are all made in the image of God. Animals are not. We are. Animals have a body and a mind. We have a body, a mind, and a spirit, three in one, the image of God. That is why every person is valuable, no matter the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their bank balance, or their powerlessness. Sometimes when death is a relief for suffering we are grateful for our loved one’s sake. But we are called to do all we can to preserve life until life is no longer tenable. Then we concede as we wait for the resurrection, our ultimate victory.

f.    57:5-13: Idolatry: God condemns Israel for not seeing God’s gracious hand in the death of the righteous (57:1-2) but instead continue to run after pagan gods (57:3-13). Isaiah contrasts the peace of the righteous with the evil agitation of idolaters. These people do one horrible thing after another: child sacrifice (57:5), offerings to stone gods (57:6), patronize prostitutes (57:7-8), participate in secret societies’ pagan activity (57:8-9), (57:8 – Behind your doors: Religious Jews put mezuzahs, small tubes with bits of Scripture on their doorposts in obedience to Scripture. Isaiah complains that these symbols of piety are present, but behind your doors are pagan symbols. As a consequence, there is no rest, only weariness for idolaters (57:10). They should fear the Lord in his righteousness (53:11-12). Those idols will not help them escape coming judgment (57:13). The Lord, however, is a welcoming God who can provide salvation (57:13b).

g.   APPLICATION: It’s what’s inside our homes and our hearts that counts. You say, “I’m not an idolater, so I can pass over this one.” Have you been involved in any way sacrificing a child’s life in the womb to keep from hurting your family’s reputation? Look at 57:5. Have you ever poured money into a hobby or a business or a person that consumed all your thoughts and time? No difference in that and a stone god (57:6) Do you cruise the internet looking for porn? How about those deeply edifying, wholesome weekday afternoon soaps? Some of us have been involved in spiritism connected with yoga, martial arts, feng shui, or secret societies or we still have regalia from family members who were involved with it. Some of us in this congregation have traveled and brought home things, even from mission trips, which are connected with spiritism and idolatry, and we prominently display them. Deuteronomy 7 tells us that anything like that brought into our home brings a curse on our home. Not one of us is worthy. But He is worthy.

a.   57:14-21 – High and holy: God, although high and holy (6:1), stoops to be with the lowly and oppressed. We see this most clearly in the Servant who stooped to incarnation among us – Jesus Christ (Philippians 2; Hebrews 7:26). We see him stooping to Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-53), and Bartimaeus, a blind man, saw him as Isaiah did, the Son of King David (himself a friend of the weak 1 Samuel 30:11-12; 2 Samuel 6:18-19; 9:6-13).

b.   Lowly here is not a class distinction like poverty necessarily, but it is an inner attitude of humility, of simple trust in and responsiveness to God. If this is our attitude, God will always stoop to be with us.

c.   57:16-21 – The mourners: The Lord knows that we are all sinners (Romans 3:22-23). Punishment for sin takes all of us out (existentially!) without the Servant-Messiah. Only he can heal us. Only he can give us peace. It is those who mourn in repentance who will see the kingdom (57:19). But those who are stubborn will see no mercy (57:20-21). The last time these words were said was when God condemned the cruelty of Babylon (48:22)

d.   APPLICATION: The Lord can only work in us if we are repentant. I’m talking about a life-style of repentance.