The Lord builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. This powerful promise saw a generations of persecuted and beleaguered children of God through many dark and dangerous days. Scattered, but not forgotten. Cast into a foreign lands, but not homeless. Removed from the Tabernacle, Temple, or Church, but still loved by a God who would not turn His back on them, no matter what.
They are much needed words for so many Christians struggling in this dark and dangerous world of ours. We need only look to the systematic decimation of the Christian population throughout the middle east. They are a hunted people. Marked. Scattered. Shamed. Subjected to the most startling of cruelties and atrocities. And there seems to be no end to the horrors in sight. It is not easy being a follower of the Lord. It never has been. But God’s promise remains. His salvation is coming! Even for – especially for – them.
These same words were especially poignant for the faithless Israelites staggering under the weight of Isaiah’s prophecies of their coming judgment. Even though they had abandoned Him so long ago, God would not abandon them. The promise was there to sustain them, even in their darkest hours. His salvation would come for them. Yet that is not the most remarkable part of God’s promise. This promised salvation was not just for them! It never had been. His salvation was coming for all people.
God’s word in Isaiah assured the ancient Israelites … just as it should assure you … that as God’s chosen people you are not left out. He does not discriminate or exclude anyone, regardless of race, (previous) creed, or ethnic background. To prove that point Isaiah singles out the fact that God seeks and rescues even foreigners and outcasts. The very ones who, by God’s Law should be cut off from God’s people – should be excluded from His Holy Temple. Yet, salvation is for all.
1Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. 6“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, … 7these 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.”
God brings salvation. It is what He did for His chosen people. From the time He called Abram out of Ur, Joseph’s family out of drought and disaster, Israel out of slavery in Egypt. The enemies and the dangers may change places and faces, but through the hands of Judges, Prophets, and Kings God and His deliverance remained. God brings salvation.
And not just for the Israelites. God’s promise to Abram was for all the nations. Joseph was a blessing to all of Egypt, not just his own family. Many Egyptians left for the promised land with his family centuries later. Rahab, Namaan, Ruth, and countless other foreigners found God’s grace and mercy and a place in God’s chosen people. Solomon’s Temple was built to be a house of prayer for all nations. God brings salvation even to the Gentiles.
But then, how could it be anything different? For the very Hebrew word “salvation” in this passage is “Yeshua” Salvation is that very thing God accomplished in Jesus for all nations. 8The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” Just as Jesus gathered to himself the Canaanite woman who wasn’t afraid to be called a dog, or the Samaritan woman at the well, the demoniac in the region of the Decapolis, the three wise men at His manger. Just like He gathered you and me, in our Baptisms. In Jesus Salvation is for all people.
And this is a most comforting and consoling Good News to live under, and a most troubling truth to live by. Though we like the Israelites, deserve nothing but God’s condemnation and punishment, we have in Christ been gathered and forgiven, and saved. We who once were God’s enemies in our sin, are now His family in Jesus. Salvation has come! But that promise isn’t finished with us or with our brothers and sisters in the faith around the world.
Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness,” Justice and righteousness are the goal of God’s commandments – the perfect behaviour He seeks in His people. Even, when they are persecuted. Even when we are marginalized. Even when we are targeted, and bullied, and scattered and hunted and decimated. Marked and shamed and generally mistreated by this unforgiving world around us. Yes even then. It would be so easy to draw up the lines and label everyone in this world as for or against. Friend or enemy. But God’s salvation comes! And it is there for all people.
I am not trying to say that all those who are actively seeking the lives of our dear brothers and sisters around the globe will be saved. I am not saying that enemies of life and liberty shouldn’t be stopped. Or that we should consider those who persecute us as our friends. But what I am saying, is that if you hold scripture to be true … and we do … then you know as well as I do, that not everyone who is right now “on the other side” needs to remain God’s enemy forever. Some of them, even the worst of them, can and will find their salvation in Jesus. The apostle Paul did. You did. So did I. It is not up to us to judge each and every person we meet. It is up to us, living in the salvation that is ours in Jesus, to do justice, and righteousness … no matter the cost to ourselves.
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— 7these 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.”
Our response to God’s Mercy and Grace is to do what’s right toward our fellow man and toward God. Even when (especially when) they do wrong to us. God calls upon us to be long-suffering heroes, not whining victims. To serve God, not ourselves. To love the Lord’s name. Even when – especially when – it means hating our own name. To seek the glory of God alone. To keep the Sabbath (hear God’s word) no matter what the cost. To hold fast to the covenant, that is to trust His promises, even when the world and our hearts scream out otherwise. To submit to God where and when He reveals Himself.
The more we labour under the Law the more we are made eager for God’s divine righteousness to come! But remember, that’s the Good News! God gathers the scattered. The church is God’s assembly and God Himself is the assembler. He does not stop gathering because we do not stop being scattered. satan does not stop scattering, how less could God ever stop gathering sinners to himself in Christ?
Salvation by grace through faith is for all people. And so we come to this House of prayer and pray for our persecuted family. We pray for those who have no time for God’s mercy. We pray for those who want nothing more than to stamp Christ out of this world. We pray because we once were just like them, and without His grace we could be like them again. We pray because we seek God’s Justice and righteousness for one and all, especially for those who don’t deserve it. We remember that God’s salvation … God’s Yeshua … is coming. We pray because those whom the Lord has bound to Himself through the waters of baptism, serve Him and love the name that is above every name—Jesus Christ. By faith, we hold to His covenant and receive the joy of our salvation in Jesus.