house of prayer

Looking at a meeting on the road of life between the apostle Philip and a certain man who, though excluded from the temple of God, lived his life with reverence and love for God anyway.

Acts_128

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” A few things about this eunuch. First of all, we can know that he was a man who had some wealth and power. In modern times we would call him the “Secretary of the Treasury.” It specifically says he was in charge of all the treasury of Queen Candace, queen of all Ethiopia (which was a much larger and more prominent nation than it is now). We know that this man loved God, because in spite of the fact that he was not allowed in the temple, He had come to Jerusalem to worship. Eunuchs were specifically excluded from worship in the temple (Deut 23:1), yet this man had made the trip to Jerusalem to worship. Not only that, but he had spent a large sum of money (books were very expensive in these days, because each one had to be hand written) on a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. And it is this scroll from which he is reading when Phillip, led by the Holy Spirit, boldly asks him “Do you understand what you are reading?” To which our eunuch perfectly answers “How can I, unless someone guides me?”  

philip-and-ethiopian1
I say this response was perfect, because it shows the humble heart with which this man was seeking the Lord. He was a wealthy man, probably had just about everything wealth could have given him. He was specifically excluded from actually entering the temple. Even at the most outer gate where Gentiles were allowed, this man was persona non grata. And yet, he takes his own time and own money and makes the trip to Jerusalem, spends more of his own money on a scroll which which he then has the humility to admit ha can’t even understand for himself. Perfect!!

Big-Bible
This is perfect, because despite the rugged individualism we have been scripted into in our modern age, the interpretation and understanding of scripture is not an individual project. This eunuch couldn’t do it alone, and neither can we. The church gave us the Bible. The Bible was given by the spirit to the church, and the church then gave it to us. And it is the church, with its long history of interaction with the Bible, that is able to guide us in understanding what we read to this day.

lamb_slain
And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.”
The eunuch is reading from what we now know as Isaiah 53, Isaiah’s vision and prophecy of the suffering servant, the suffering Messiah. “Just who is this man?” As it says, from this point Phillip preached the good news of Jesus Christ to a man who loved and worshipped a God who did not even allow him into his temple to pray.

new temple
But there is a new temple coming, something else Isaiah had a vision of. Isaiah did not just gives a prophecy of Messiah as the suffering servant, one who Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent. Isaiah’s vision and prophecy continues beyond that. It is during the time of Isaiah, about 586 B.C., that the temple is destroyed. King Cyrus will eventually give the order to have the temple rebuilt, and it will be rebuilt, but Isaiah has some new ideas for the temple. Not architectural ideas, Isaiah is thinking far bigger than that. Look at what Isaiah says in Isaiah 56 – 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.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 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. In Isaiah’s vision of a rebuilt temple, things would be different. Foreigners, and even the specifically extra-excluded eunuchs, will no longer be excluded, but will be included in the temple. They will no longer be outside looking in, but will be inside fully participating. Isaiah continues – “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— 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.”

Temple-Inscription-286x300
To which we yell out a loud “Amen!!” Because, of course, we know that the Temple of the Lord IS a house of prayer for all nations. Because we grow up in 21st century America, and this would be one of those truths we hold to be self evident. Unfortunately, neither Isaiah nor this Secretary of the Treasury grew up in 21st century America. Isaiah’s vision was NOT fulfilled in the temple rebuilt under the order of King Cyrus. The temple was NOT a house of prayer for all nations, foreigners and eunuchs were still excluded.

house_of_prayer
Phillip understands all if this has he sits with this man. He understands that there IS NOW a new temple, and ALL ARE INVITED!! Philip might even have been there when Jesus endorsed Isaiah’s vision at what we call the “cleansing of the temple – “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”  
This is the Good News Phillip shared with the Ethiopian eunuch. It is, in the words of Pastor Brian Zahnd, “Good News for the excluded!” And this excluded Ethiopian eunuch is immediately baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and becomes the first Gentile convert baptized into eternal life in Jesus Christ. The temple Isaiah was looking for was not fulfilled in the bricks and stones of a new temple built by human hands. The temple Isaiah was looking for was built by the life, the blood, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A temple where there is no hierarchy (even though we try every day to restore the hierarchy). There are no priests- except that we ARE ALL priests. That’s right – we are a Kingdom of priests offering spiritual sacrifices and the sacrifices of our own lives before God.

spriitual sacrifice
There are only two things Jesus asks of us.
1). Be honest about your own sins. Don’t wear a mask. Don’t pretend not to be a sinner. We are all saints in the body of christ, this is true. But we are saints-in-process. We are all sinners in the process of becoming saints.

Exclusion
2). Welcome all the other sinners. Don’t try to keep everyone else out. Salvation is not just for “us”. It is for all who would call on the name of the Lord. “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” Acts‬ ‭2:21‬ ‭ESV

‬‬whoever calls on the name of the lord
Sometimes we try to keep people away, don’t we? Maybe we see them as “other” or “enemy”, and not as our “brother.” We’ve always done this, all the way back to the time when Jesus was with his disciples. “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.” Matthew‬ ‭19:13-15‬ ‭ESV‬‬. We may try to keep people away, but Jesus just says “stop that” and ministers to them anyway.

jesus-children
Because your background, your past, and even your sin does not exclude you from the grace of Jesus Christ. Even those who thought they were excluded are welcome at the table of Christ. If you think you are excluded, Jesus tells you to “come”. All are welcome at the table of Christ, the true temple of the Lord which is the house of prayer for all peoples.  Jesus will welcome you personally.

lords_supper-1024x484

“Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.”

‭‭Acts‬ ‭8:26-35‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/act.8.26-35.esv

“Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. 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.” 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.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 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. “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— 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.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.””

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭56:1-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/isa.56.1-8.esv
“And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.””

‭‭Mark‬ ‭11:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/mrk.11.17.esv
John Lewis

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