In my journey through the book of Isaiah, I’ve come to yet another place where I’ve paused to let the love of God soak into my heart, run over the top, and flow down the edges of my soul. This book has been a treasure, revealing God’s deep and abiding love for us, even in our most broken places.
After the beautiful pinnacle of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, I’ve glided into one of the most gracious passages I’ve ever examined for those of us who are aliens, strangers, and foreigners – in other words, non-Jews. In the Old Testament, Gentiles (non-Jews) seem to be the outsiders. Yet, all the way through we find glimmers of our inclusion.
We see it in Jesus’ lineage. We see it in laws established for the treatment of foreigners. Our inclusion is found in the Temple’s Court of the Gentiles and is seen in Jesus’ anger that this area set aside for us to worship had been turned into a marketplace. The New Testament discloses the mystery – we are united with the Jews in Christ, Jews and Gentiles together: See these passages in Ephesians, where it’s described as an essential component of living out the gospel and in Colossians. We’re part of God’s family.
Isaiah 56:1-8 has also proven itself precious beyond measure.
Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my righteousness be revealed.
2 Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
6 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
7 these 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 peoples.”
8 The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.”
Here in Isaiah, more than seven hundred years before Christ, this prophecy made it clear that Gentiles and yet other outsiders would be made members of the family of God through the work his Messiah, Jesus Christ, would accomplish on the cross. The marks of what true believers look like are listed. These show how Jesus transforms us.
- True believers want justice for all, v. 1, regardless of race, gender, age, or nationality. Do we also want this?
- Believers don’t simply sit in our redeemed state, but we DO kindness, mercy, and justice, v. 1-2. Do we? What exactly are we doing?
- Believers walk away from evil and temptation by the grace of God, v. 2. Do we rely on God’s grace to do this?
- True believers order our weeks around God, putting him at the center of our lives, gathering to worship him weekly, as the Sabbath rest symbolizes, v. 2, 4, 6. Do we live like this?
This is normal Christianity. This is true faith.
Jesus defines this in Matthew 25:31-46 in his parable of the sheep and the goats, making these into landmarks that allow us to assess our lives to discover if we truly believe. Do we?
But God doesn’t merely leave it at that. He mentions another group. He singles out eunuchs. Why?
In that day, people who were enslaved by other kingdoms were often castrated in order to serve in the royal court. This guarded royal blood lines. The Ethiopian man of Acts 8:26-40 was a eunuch in charge of the treasury of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians.
This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship God. There, he would have gotten no further into the temple than the Court of the Gentiles, for he was a foreigner and a eunuch. Both were forbidden. Doubtless, he had heard of Jesus’ anger when he cleansed that very court, making a way in for all to worship God.
As this royal official left Jerusalem and rode in his chariot, attempting to decipher the scroll of Isaiah that he had purchased at great cost, God led Philip to this man to offer instruction. He needed some help with Isaiah 53. This encounter resulted in the man’s salvation and baptism.
Imagine how this government official felt when he read on down the scroll to the words we see above. Scroll up. Pause to read Isaiah 56:3-5 again. Put yourself in the place of the Ethiopian man. How would you feel when you encountered these promises?
What has God given? He gives even more than was taken away and acknowledges the man’s deepest wound. We have a God who sees, who knows our pain in even the most private places, who suffered as we suffer, and who reaches out to those who are forgotten, so he can bring them in. Hearing those words of truth would have anchored the man’s faith.We have a God who sees, who knows our pain in even the most private places, who suffered as we suffer, and who reaches out to those who are forgotten, so he can bring them in. Click To Tweet
This man now had an everlasting name even better than sons and daughters. And this name would never be cut off. Yes, “cut off” there in the Hebrew is the same word used for the very act that had maimed the Ethiopian man’s body. God was that specific.
The official believed, went home, and evangelized. The church in Ethiopia became the oldest thriving branch of the Christian church. They spread the gospel throughout their region. Northern African Christians were later responsible for our understanding of the Trinity, for they had carefully analyzed that Isaiah scroll where we see the Triune God so clearly. They defended and explained the doctrine of the Trinity at Nicea.
Our God is kind. No one gave a second thought to eunuchs. The practice continued for centuries more, and still in some regions today. It’s appalling. Yet, God mentioned eunuchs specifically to include them in his family and his eternal purposes.
But, let’s take this wider. Clearly, God is concerned for those who feel that they, like the eunuch, are “a dry tree.” They suffer a private pain. Who might they be today?
What about single adults who experience this pain if marriage passes them by, and they’re never able to birth a family? What about those who, though married, are unable to conceive for any number of reasons? Their bodies simply won’t do what they hope and pray will happen. What about them?
What about those who are born with ambiguous genitalia, who are physically unable to determine their sexuality? What about those with both male and female sexuality combined in their bodies? This occurs in the womb where they were woven together by God. Some children are born like this.
Who else might feel as if their bodies or their sexuality make them unproductive like a “dry tree” (v. 3)? The list could broaden from here.
Do you see the kindness of God? These are things we don’t even talk about. They make us uncomfortable, but our God wades right in, brings it out into the open, and BLESSES those who are overlooked by others. He wraps up with the promise given in Isaiah 53:6-8. Scroll up. Read it again.Do you see the kindness of God? These are things we don’t even talk about. They make us uncomfortable, but our God wades right in, brings it out into the open, and BLESSES those who are overlooked by others. Click To Tweet
God promised and then Messiah Jesus carried/carries out the promise to bring in yet others, people normally left outside. Can we follow in his footsteps? Can we live like this? He’s already there waiting for us to join him.
The Lord “will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” Let’s make them welcome. Let’s help them feel at home with us. Jesus does.
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