Building the Home of God
God’s home is the description of God’s family. Here in Isaiah 56, God begins to share the future of God’s people after the work of Christ is completed upon the Cross. Isaiah is considered a miniature version of the Bible. If that is the case, then Isaiah 54 begins the “church age” of Isaiah.
God is building a home and He wants it built upon prayer. I realize that you may think that God is building a house. A house is just a building. But a home is a place for family. When you think about a house, you immediately think of the outside, about how the building looks. Yet, when you think about a home, you think about relationships. You remember the sights and smells that remind you of the people who live there. First, let’s look at the WHAT of God’s family.
The WHAT of God’s family
Isaiah 56:1-2 describes the qualities of people who live in God’s home
“This is what the Lord says: Preserve justice and do what is right, for my salvation is coming soon, and my righteousness will be revealed. Happy is the person who does this, the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” (Isaiah 56:1–2, CSB)
Here, we see five characteristics of the people in God’s family. You will see that the characteristics form a pattern. They move inward to a central point and then outward. They reveal a love for others as well as a love for God. Yet, the central characteristic is that they trust Christ. Let’s see these five characteristics:
FIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PEOPLE IN GOD’S FAMILY
1. Acts for the common good
A person in God’s family acts for the common good of others. They care about people. In Christian circles, we call this social justice. We care about how other people are treated. Churches should care about acting for the common good of other people.
2. Does what is right
A person in God’s family cares about the common good of others, and also lives like God wants them to.
Social justice and personal righteousness go hand in hand as universal virtues that God expects of His children. Throughout the ages, however, the two have become divided in the preaching and witness of the Church. In our day, for instance, liberal Christians tend to be identified with their work for social justice while conservative Christians emphasize the priority of personal righteousness. The fact that Isaiah reverses the terms from an earlier prophecy and puts “justice” ahead of “righteousness” reinforces the inseparability of the two essentials. John Wesley said, “There is no personal holiness without social holiness” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Christianity is the most worldly of all religions.” Whether justice or righteousness comes first in the listing is incidental to the fact that they are inseparable.1
The point is that we are to participate in social justice as well as personal holiness.
3. Trusts Jesus
A person in God’s family trusts in Jesus. But this is not a “works” salvation. A person in God’s family does not do good works to get saved. They do good works because they are secure in their faith. In the Old Testament, that meant that trusted God in what He would do through His Son Jesus. The work of Jesus is in the future. But today, that salvation is a past event, a fact of history.
4. Honors time with God
A public library in Savannah, Missouri, decided to open on Sunday. As a result, Connie Rehm, a librarian for twelve years, found herself squeezed between honoring the Sabbath and keeping a job she considered to be “a gift from God.” Rehm chose to worship on Sundays and was terminated by the library. Rehm decided to file a lawsuit against the library, claiming religious discrimination. When it became clear that the ex-employee had a strong case, the library offered a financial settlement. According to Rehm’s attorney, David Gibbs, the library wanted “to deal with it as a financial matter, attempting to simply pay to make Rehm and her claim go away.” He added, “One of the unique elements of this case is that Connie wasn’t interested in money; she wanted her job back. That’s an uncommon situation.”
Three years after her initial termination in 2003, a Missouri jury ordered the library to reinstate Connie Rehm to her job. It also awarded her $53,712 in damages as compensation for lost wages.
“A middle-American, mild-mannered, small-town library person—I attribute to the Lord a great sense of humor for having picked me for this test,” Rehm said. “What price is my religious freedom? What is it worth? It’s not a matter of displaying the Ten Commandments. It’s being able to live the Ten Commandments, and that’s what my employer was asking me not to do.”2
I realize that this is an extreme case. But the point is that time is precious, and it matters. Where, when, and with whom you spend your time reveals the commitments in your life. For the Christian, that means that one should learn to spend time with God to honor Him. The Sabbath was designed as a reminder that I should honor God with my time. I should spend time with Him on a regular basis and for an extended period of time. Today, many think that the Sabbath is just Sunday morning worship. The rest of the day is designed to do with as I personally please. Yet, if we are to take practice of the Sabbath as God intended, then as a Christian I should devote an extended period of time, an entire day out of seven, for God. As a pastor told me one time, I can honor my time with God in three different time-spans: devote a portion daily, withdraw weekly, and retreat regularly.
5. Doesn’t do what is wrong
We come from the presence of God in Sabbath worship into a world where moral warfare is being waged. Temptations to do evil are ever-present in our daily walk. Yet, in obedience to God’s command and in gratitude for His grace, we discipline ourselves against the subtle and obvious temptations to sin. Keeping the ritual of the Sabbath and avoiding the temptation to do evil are also inseparable. The Sabbath is frontline protection against sin.
An executive who traveled frequently overseas told of walking down the street in a German city when feelings of homesickness and loneliness came over him. Precisely at that moment, a beautiful woman walked up to him and asked if he needed a friend. Although she betrayed none of the hard looks and brash demeanor of a streetwalker, the executive knew the implications of her question. Momentarily, an image flashed in his mind that bridged the time gap between Germany and the United States. At home—at that very moment—he saw his family seated in church as worship began. Knowing that he could not betray them, he quickened his pace and spoke back over his shoulder to the temptress, “No, thank you.”3
We move from the WHAT of God’s family to the WHO of God’s family.
The WHO of God’s family
Isaiah 56:3-6 shows us who makes up God’s household
“No foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord should say, “The Lord will exclude me from his people,” and the eunuch should not say, “Look, I am a dried-up tree.” For the Lord says this: “For the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, and choose what pleases me, and hold firmly to my covenant, I will give them, in my house and within my walls, a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give each of them an everlasting name that will never be cut off. As for the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to become his servants— all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold firmly to my covenant—” (Isaiah 56:3–6, CSB)
WHO MAKES UP THE FAMILY OF GOD1. Foreigner (Immigrant)
2. Free (Single)
3. Fraternal (Married)
Three groups are described here. When one thinks of a family, one typically sees a husband and wife, along with children. The idea here is that the basic unity of a certain society or household is a family. Wife and husband and a set of kids. However, God expands this idea. His house is made up of more people.
The passage from Isaiah (56:1–8) is a powerful picture of the inclusivity of the temple in a future day: eunuchs and Gentiles will be welcomed into God’s temple (a reversal of Deuteronomy 23:1).4
““No man whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off may enter the Lord’s assembly.” (Deuteronomy 23:1, CSB)
The point here is that God wants to include all kinds of people into His home. People who were typically cast out of society would be welcome in the home of God. It doesn’t matter one’s marital status, or citizenship status. A person is part of God’s home because they love God and love one another. You are welcome into God’s home because of your heart.
We now move from the WHO of God’s family to the HOW.
The HOW of God’s family
Isaiah 56:7 shows us how God’s household connects to God – it’s called prayer
“I will bring them to my holy mountain and let them rejoice in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”” (Isaiah 56:7, CSB)
How does the family of God operate? Just like a regular group of people have to communicate to get things done, as God’s people, we have to communicate to get things done. The primary person with whom we communicate is God.
As Dr. Tony Evan recalls, talking to God is like going to the 7-Eleven.
GOD is like 7-Eleven used to be. 7-Eleven used to be open 24/7. If you ran out of milk, you could run up to 7-Eleven. If you ran out of bread, you could go to 7-Eleven. The idea would be that when everyone else is closed, a convenience store would be open to meet your needs. When the normal suppliers had gone home to go to bed, you could always go to the convenience store. They were going to be open 24/7.
The reason why we’ve lost sight God as our provider is we’ve gotten too used to the Wal-Marts in our lives. We’ve gotten too used to the big chains. We’ve gotten too used to the big boys. But the goodness of God is that He is the convenient one. He’s there when everybody else shuts down. He’s open when everybody else has closed down or run out. He’s got more than enough and He’ll be available, whether you show up or not. He is your convenience center and He is there to meet your needs. We can go to Him in prayer at anytime.5
Notice that prayer precedes the mission of God. When we try to accomplish the mission of God without communicating with God, we won’t be very successful.
My house and your house should take joy in being a house of prayer. Prayer can be a joy that we teach to others. When we learn how to take joy in prayer, God can do many things. Just as God has gathered the dispersed of Israel, He can keep your family together through prayer.6
This most us from the HOW of God’s family to the WHY of God’s family.
The WHY of God’s family
Isaiah 56:8 shows us the reason why God’s house exists.
“This is the declaration of the Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel: “I will gather to them still others besides those already gathered.”” (Isaiah 56:8, CSB)
There is a purpose to God’s home, to God’s family. This is the mission of God’s family. The mission in Isaiah is same as the Great Commission in Matthew 28:
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:19–20, CSB)
Chuck Smith was pastoring a little church in Costa Mesa, California, in the late 1960s, not far from the beach. God began to pour out his Spirit. Teenage kids started getting saved and coming to church. But there was a problem. The oil deposits off the coast of California bubble up little globs of oil that land on the beach now and then, about the size of a quarter. If you step on one, it sticks to the bottom of your foot and you mess up the carpet when you get home. So these young people began coming into church right off the beach. They didn’t know they were supposed to wear shoes. All they knew was, Jesus is outta sight and church is cool. God was gathering in outsiders, and it was beautifully authentic. But the new carpets and the new pews at Pastor Smith’s church were getting stained. One Sunday morning Chuck arrived at church to find a sign posted outside: “Shirts and shoes please.” He took it down. After the service he met with the church officers. They talked it through. They agreed that they would remove the new carpet and pews before they would hinder one kid from coming to Christ. And that wise decision cleared the way for God to visit Calvary Chapel with revival. The breakthrough came when they chose to care about what God cares about, and nothing else. That’s authenticity—a house of prayer gathering in everyone who will enjoy Christ with us as our Sabbath rest.7
God’s family moves from a time of prayer together to be prepared to reach out to those around us in society – to reach the nations. God is in the gathering business. He will help us gather people.
1 David McKenna and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Isaiah 40–66, vol. 18, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1994), 182.
2 Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008), 224–225. Dana Fields, “Woman Wins Religious Discrimination Case,” Houston Chronicle (November 16, 2006)
3 David McKenna and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Isaiah 40–66, vol. 18, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1994), 184.
4 Jeannine K. Brown, Matthew, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015), 246.
5 Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes from More than 30 Years of Preaching and Public Speaking (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 234.
6 Jim Erwin, “My House of Prayer”, Isaiah 56:1-8, 1 June 2016, Year C, Lectionary Reflections (2015-2016)Year C, Notes, Logos Bible Software, Internet, Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2016/06/01/my-house-of-prayer/, accessed on 27 October 2017.
7 Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. and R. Kent Hughes, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 379.