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God’s Cure for Prejudice is the Church,
A House of Prayer for all Nations

Based on Isaiah 56:3-8


This is a brief topical study, which considers the Bible’s teachings on racism, segregation, and other un-Biblical manifestations of prejudice.  Sunday morning church services have often been referred to as the most segregated hour in America.  Is the segregation found in many American churches in our day based on the teachings of the Bible, or does this evidence a sinful corruption of the Bible’s teachings?  Our study will show that the racial prejudice and other forms of segregation found in far too many churches in our day is based on human pride and self-love, not on the teachings of the Bible.  Of course, the world has a similar tendency to perpetuate divisions among different groups of peoples.  The point is that the Bible and Biblical Christianity are not the cause of such prejudice, but rather the root of such prejudice is the sinful nature of human beings.  The Bible actually expresses that God's will is for His true people to be one body.  So the reality of the segregation of professing Christians in America is yet another evidence of the corrupt state of Christianity in our day and the great need for true reformation. 

Our text is Isaiah 56:3-8: “3 Do not let the son of the foreigner Who has joined himself to the LORD Speak, saying, "The LORD has utterly separated me from His people"; Nor let the eunuch say, "Here I am, a dry tree." 4 For thus says the LORD: "To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, 5 Even to them I will give in My house And within My walls a place and a name Better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name That shall not be cut off. 6 " Also the sons of the foreigner Who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, And to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants -- Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And holds fast My covenant -- 7 Even them 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 nations." 8 The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, "Yet I will gather to him Others besides those who are gathered to him."” (NKJ)

In contrast to what we generally see in modern America, the Bible calls all races and ethnicities to be unified as one church.  Christians are unified by their common belief in the Bible and its teachings and in their common belief in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.  As Christians, we find our unity in Christ alone and in His Word alone, not in distinctions such as race or ethnicity or even personal preferences, which cause division.  Jesus Christ is our peace because He makes us one despite our great diversity as human beings (cf. Eph. 2:14-18).  The Old Testament book of Isaiah teaches us that the Church of Jesus Christ is distinctively "a house of prayer for all nations."

Let us begin by considering the context of Isaiah 56:3-8.  In principle, foreigners were always welcome to join the old covenant people of God.  No racial barrier existed to keep non-Jews from becoming full participants in the covenant promises of God.  We might remember the examples of those Old Testament women of faith, Rahab, the former prostitute, who hid the spies Joshua had sent to spy out Jericho, and the godly Ruth, who immigrated from the Gentile nation of Moab.  Despite these examples, few Gentiles (or non-Jews) actually came to be included in the covenant community, the congregation, of Israel.

In contrast, the prophets of the old covenant scriptures looked forward to a time in which there would be a massive ingathering of Gentiles from throughout the world.  Nowhere is this teaching more magnificently set forth than in the book of Isaiah.  The inclusion of the nations as recipients of the blessings of redemption and as a vital part of a restored Israel appears as a central theme throughout the book of Isaiah.

“The foreigner” and “the eunuch” are undoubtedly intended to be representative of all people who under the old covenant ceremonial laws were excluded from the privileges of the covenant people of God.  Isaiah looks forward to a day in which such distinctions will be obliterated.  Since Christ came, God’s kingdom includes those “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). 

In the new covenant scriptures, the apostle Peter’s sermon to Cornelius’s household confirms the fulfillment of this prophecy: “. . . God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35).  And the apostle Paul adds in Romans 10:12-13 that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.  For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved."”

In Isaiah 56:7, the Prophet assures his readers that the LORD will sovereignly act to redeem the Gentiles, the foreign nations of the world.  He will bring them to His holy mountain.  Isaiah 2:2-3 likewise teaches: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the LORD's house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. 3 Many people shall come and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.”

God’s “house of prayer” is the same “house” referred to in verse 5.  Under the old covenant, the temple was God’s house of prayer, but now, under the new covenant, the Church—the assembly of believers—is God’s temple and house. 

The LORD promises that He will accept the “burnt offerings” and “sacrifices” that the Gentiles offer up on His altar.  By the word sacrifices he means true worship.  The prophet Isaiah spoke in accordance with the customary language of his time when the worship of God was wrapped up in a variety of ceremonies.  But now, instead of sacrifices of animals and grain, we offer to God praises, thanksgivings, good works, and finally ourselves.  Indeed, the apostle Paul exhorts us to “present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is [our] reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).  And the apostle Peter explains that in the new covenant Church, all believers are “being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9).   

Will you present your body to God as a living sacrifice? 
Will you surrender your time, your talents, your gifts to the service of King Jesus? 
Will you seek to be holy, even as God is holy? 
Are you willing to die to yourself and live for Christ and His kingdom? 

Jesus told His disciples, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

God says that His house “will be called a house of prayer for all nations” or for all “people groups.”  John Calvin comments, 

Formerly the temple was appointed for the Jews alone . . . .  But now the distinction has been removed, and all men, to whatsoever nation or place they belong, are freely admitted into the temple, that is, into the house of God.  This temple has been enlarged to such a degree, that it extends to every part of the whole world; for all nations have been called to the worship of God.  

In the new covenant scriptures, the promises of Isaiah 56 find their fulfillment.  In Acts, chapter 8, we read of the Ethiopian man, who was both an eunuch and a foreigner.  And this eunuch was reading the scroll of Isaiah the prophet, including the teachings regarding Jesus, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.  Philip the evangelist preached Christ to him, and, perhaps, he also explained God’s promise to eunuchs and foreigners given in our text, Isaiah, chapter 56. 

Let us read Acts, chapter 8, beginning at verse 26: “26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot." 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. 33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth." 34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" 37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.”

From this day forward, the Gospel of Christ spread across the vast African continent, as it continues to do so today.  Similarly, the word of the Lord sounded forth from the Thessalonian church, “not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place” (1 Thess. 1:8). 

This is God’s vision for our church—to be a house of prayer for all nations!

Isaiah teaches us that God’s house is a house of prayer for all the nations.  First, note that the Church is a house of prayer
Pastors and elders are called to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).  God calls us to pray without ceasing, at all times in the Spirit.  John Calvin comments, “[We] are called into the Church, in order that we may call on God . . . .  In whatever place we are, therefore, let us not neglect this exercise of faith; for . . . this is the highest and most excellent sacrifice which God demands . . .”

Are you a member of God’s house?  Are you faithfully praying for God’s kingdom—its growth, its prosperity, its purity, its unity?

Jesus said, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (Matt. 9:37-38).  We must continue to pray that the Lord will raise up more pastors, teachers, and missionaries.  We must continue to pray.

Second, note that the Church is a house of prayer for all the nations.
 

The Bible does call Christians to be separate--to be set apart from sin and set apart as holy unto God (1 Cor. 5:9-6:11; 2 Cor. 6:14-17).  However, the Bible never justifies un-Biblical prejudices and segregation.  Biblical Christianity is indeed revolutionary; it has the power to transform individual lives and to transform societies for the better.  The Bible teaches that Jewish and Gentile believers are “fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household” (Eph. 2:19).  In Christ Jesus, “there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11, NAS).  This means that the Church of Jesus Christ is to be composed of all nations or people groups—blacks and whites, Hispanics and Asians, male and female, rich and poor, young and old—Christ has gathered us all together to be one church.  There is only one Lord and one faith (Eph. 4:5).  Therefore, those who seek to establish a church that is only for one race, or one ethnicity, or one socioeconomic group, or one age group, or one gender; those who desire to be part of a segregated church—all such people are acting in rebellion against God.  We should not lay the blame on any one group, for all human beings have a sinful propensity toward segregation; they feel most comfortable around those who are just like them.  By nature, we take pride in ourselves and in those who are just like us.  If we are honest, we must all admit that we have been guilty of this sin in one way or another.  Despite the corrupt state of our world and of professing Christianity, God’s Word remains true.  As the Bible declares, “let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Rom. 3:4, NAS). 

As Christians we do not boast in ourselves; we boast in Christ alone.  The apostle Paul declared, "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14).  Contrary to popular opinion, it is humility, not pride, that provides reconciliation and an end to prejudice.  The Bible teaches that the resurrected Christ has gathered us—in all our diversity—He has gathered us together to be His church, His covenant people, His bride, His one body.  He has freed us from bondage to sin; He has delivered us from the power of the devil.  He has united us as His people.  At the Cross of Jesus Christ, we humble ourselves before the presence of God and crucify our sinful prejudices, so that we may say honestly with the apostle Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  God calls us to lay aside our own selfishness and to work to reach out to and serve those who are different than us.  We are called to be agents of reconciliation--reconciling the world to God and to one another through Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Isa. 9:6).

So let us draw near to God “with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22).  Through Him, “let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15).  Let us be joyful in His house of prayer.  For God’s house is a house of prayer for all nations! 


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