Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Are You Finding Joy in His House of Prayer?

Reading: Matthew 21, Isaiah 56  
I don't think it is merely a passing comment that, “When [Jesus] entered Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken, saying, "Who is this?" (Mat 21:10 CSB) The city will be shaken when Jesus hangs on the cross, and the guards will shake with fear when Jesus is going to be resurrected (Matthew 27:51; 28:4). But now, Jesus, the King Who comes bringing salvation, the Son of David Who comes in the name of Yahweh (Matthew 21:5, 9) enters the city. It is shaken, and their understanding of who God's people are is about to be shaken as well—in the very next verses.
Jesus walks into the temple and begins to drive out those in charge who were selling doves for sacrifice. This is a familiar scene to us. It is here that Jesus quotes from Isaiah and Jeremiah saying,
It is written,” he said to them, “'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'” (Matthew 21:13)
The first part of this quote is from Isaiah 56:7. In the first part of Isaiah we see that Israel will not trust in the Lord and will therefore be led into captivity (chapters 1–39); they will be delivered from Babylonian captivity (chapters 40–48); they will be delivered from spiritual captivity (chapters 49–55); and now, when we might expect the book to end, Isaiah 56 shakes up our expectations of who these regathered people of God are.
3Let no foreigner who is bound to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” 4For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— 5to 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 endure forever. 6And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— 7these 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.” 8The Sovereign LORD declares—he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:3-8)
According to Deuteronomy 23:1-3, eunuchs and foreigners were excluded from the assembly of the Lord. Eunuchs were people who had had mutilated the image of God in which they were created. They were excluded; and they had no heritage. Nothing he could do could change a eunuch's condition. Foreigners were not part of the chosen people. Only those with some relationship to the people of God were to be allowed in. Like us, formerly Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised," formerly separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world, these eunuchs and foreigner were excluded, “but now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11-13) We are those eunuchs and foreigners!
Have you ever felt excluded, either because you felt there was no way God would choose you, or because you had done so much damage to God's image in which you were created that you were too far gone? When Jesus came as King, the whole city of God was shaken because He came to bring people like you right into the very temple of God—the holy place where the Most High dwells. And Jesus wants to give you joy in His house of prayer! It is because of Jesus that we can get to Acts 8:36-38 and discover that nothing prevents the eunuch from being baptized when he believes! He is not kept out!
Immediately following this scene in Matthew 21, “the blind and the lame come to Jesus in the temple,” we see children shouting praises to Jesus in the temple (Matthew 21:14-15), then Jesus rebukes the chief priests and elders of the Jews for their refusal to repent when they saw tax collectors and prostitutes believe John's message about Jesus (Matthew 21:23, 32), Jesus tells a parable about how the vineyard (always a description of Israel in the past) would be taken away from the Jewish leaders and given to foreigners (Matthew 21:43), a parable about a wedding banquet opened up for every imaginable candidate since the first invited guests refused to come (Matthew 22:1-14).
As we read these accounts, we should be convinced that we too have been invited in, not because of who we are, but purely because of God's mercy. We are the eunuchs and foreigners. And we should realize that it is vital for us to come—come to the house of prayer and find joy in God's presence. Have you responded to His invitation? Do you spend time in His presence? Your sacrifices are accepted on His altar! But if you don't ever make them, it matters not. We are invited to live our lives in His presence. We must begin to live there by His mercy! You are no longer excluded!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
For more on Isaiah 56, listen to this sermon, Upside Down Expectations.