The road to Moyale, a north Kenya town that boarders Ethiopia, is a sand and rock highway that stretches through the Chalbi Desert. Shepherds walk that highway with their rugged cattle and camels traveling to water sources that are scattered abroad. As we drove along, one of these shepherds hailed our van to stop, requesting that we give him water to drink. It was the dry season and months can go by without one drop of rain. We gave him some of our water and began to share the gospel,“the water that springs up into eternal life”. When our translator asked him if he knew about the gospel of Jesus Christ, he told us that he had no idea who Jesus was. After a brief time of sharing he willingly accepted to believe the gospel and we prayed with him through the van window to receive Jesus as savior. There are millions throughout Africa just like this man, comprising approximately 1,000 different unreached ethnic groups, who have never heard of Christ and they are desperate for living water. It is these tribes, and all others, that the Lord speaks of when he declares Isaiah 56:7.
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. -Is. 56:6–7
In Send56, two powerful truths from this passage guide us like steel tracks guide a train. Firstly YHWH, the God of Israel, is the God of all nations. This is the root and foundation of the great commission. The Lord is absolutely concerned that the estranged Gentiles would know him and be joined to his house and people. Secondly, his house is a house of prayer. I will address the second of these in a follow up blog post.
Isaiah 56 shows that the Lord plans to include people of all ethnic backgrounds in his worship. The God of Israel is the God of the nations. This eschatological vision is very prominent in Isaiah and is one of the core themes of his prophetic writings. All nations will be gathered to him both for judgment and salvation.
…the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, -Isaiah 66:18
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance. -Is. 45:22–23
In Isaiah 45 YHWH declares that he is the only true God. He is not just a local deity among a plethora of other divine beings, He is the sovereign Lord and creator of all the earth. He calls the nations to turn to Him, come under His leadership, and be saved. Salvation is impossible until one is in a right relationship with the God of Israel. Yet because of sin and the fall a veil lies over the hearts and minds of all people separating them from Him. What the Lord promises in Isaiah is that He is going to deal with the separation and darkness under which the nations live. He will remove the veil.
7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. -Is. 25:7-8
Particularly he is going to do this through the Servant who will be a light to the nations and sprinkle many nations with his blood.
I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, -Is. 42:6
13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. 14 As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. -Is. 52:13-15
Jesus identified himself as this Servant who would give his life as a ransom for many.
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. -Mark 10:45
Paul the Apostle was saturated in this salvific vision of Isaiah. He recognized that the Servant is Jesus and that Jesus is YHWH in the flesh.
…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. -Phil. 2:5–11
Notice how Paul alludes to Isaiah 45 and interprets it in light of Christ. In Isaiah 45 it was YHWH who said, “to me every knee will bow” in the context of declaring that He alone is the God of the nations. Here in Philippians it is to Jesus that “every knee should bow… to the glory of the Father”. Through Jesus Isaiah 45:22 is being realized. Jesus is the self disclosure of YHWH to the world and through him the nations will be restored to a relationship with their creator. Jesus has been given the name above every other name, which no doubt means that he shares the name YHWH, for it is this name alone that commands the allegiance of “every tongue”. It is through Christ that eventually every nation will bow to the universal sovereignty of YHWH, confessing “Jesus Christ is Lord”.
In 2 Corinthians Paul says that the veil over the nations is taken away in Christ, alluding again to Isaiah, this time from chapter 25:7.
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, Let light shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. -2 Cor. 4:3–6
In Jesus the veil has been rent between God and the nations. He has conquered death and the sting of death, which is sin.
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. -1 Cor. 15:54
In Romans 15 Paul says that he has made it his singular focus in life to bring the message of Christ to unreached peoples.
and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand. -Rom. 15:20–21
His obedience to the great commission is thoroughly grounded in Isaiah’s vision that “those who have never heard will understand (Isaiah 52:15). Therefore he is radically oriented toward bringing the gospel to new lands and new peoples who had never heard. Look at why he wants his ministry influence to be enlarged through the faith of the Corinthians,
We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you… (1 Cor. 10:15-16)
He knows that as the faith of the Corinthians expands and more people respond to the gospel, new doors will be opened among the unreached. Reaching the unreached with the gospel was the reason he wanted to expand his ministry influence.
Paul made the house of prayer for all nations his “ambition” and I believe so should we. What would it look like if the unreached became the aim of your life? How would it change major life decisions or directions? Like the purpose for going to college? How would it change the way you do business or the reason you do business? Would it change the location where you live? What is it that you wake up in the morning thinking about? Is it how to magnify Christ among those who have never heard the gospel in Sudan? Or maybe Chad?
Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, shares a story about a Chinese man named Mr. Ni who was a Buddhist that gave his life to Christ. He asked Hudson, “How long have you had the Glad Tidings in your country?” Hudson’s reply was, “some hundreds of years now.” To this the man had a very convicting response, “Hundreds of years and you have never come to tell us? My father sought the truth and died without finding it. Oh, why did you not come sooner?”
Oh, that we would rethink our goals beyond the American dream and embrace God’s dream; a house of prayer for all peoples.