Old Testament: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 (Pentecost 12: Series A)

Reading Time: 5 mins

Through the waters of baptism, you are born again into a new life, no longer defined by your past. The good news in Isaiah 56 is for you too!

Isaiah 56-66 is about strangers and foreigners. They become servants who work on the same land as the Israelites as a part of the covenant community. Chapters 56-59 are the first major component of this larger unit. Our text from Isaiah 56:1-8 uses “foreigners and eunuch’s” to represent the nations who had been excluded from full participation in Temple life. Through Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant Messiah” (Isaiah 53), these outsiders are now able “to join themselves to the Lord” (56:6). The gathering of all people from every nation in Isaiah (19:25; 49:6-7; 51:5; 55:5) has been a consistent theme. As far as whether we should limit our text to verses 1 and 6–8, this seems unwise because it cuts off some real gospel potential. At first, limiting the reading does not seem so strange since it only seems to exclude the concern for eunuchs. Eunuchs may appear to be a redundant idea since we are already talking about all Gentiles, but chopping up the text like this misses a key point of gospel preach-ability as it connects to the scene of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch from Acts 8:26-40.

A sermon structure which can help us accomplish the task of magnifying this gospel connection between Isaiah 56:1-8 and Acts 8:26-40 through Isaiah 53 is Paul Scott Wilson’s “Four Pages Structure.” (cf. Law/Gospel Structure) In this arrangement, there are “four rhetorical units in the sermon, two of them based upon law and two based upon gospel: (1) Trouble in the text, (2) Trouble in the world, (3) Grace in the text, and (4) Grace in the world. During the course of the sermon, the preacher will take his hearers through these four experiences.” 

 1. Trouble in the World

In Isaiah’s day there were people who would have heard this word from God, and they would have seen themselves as those who were cut off from God’s world. Professor David Maxwell describes them this way:

“—Exiles from Babylon and beyond who had returned to their cities and towns, only to find others living in their homes, a disaster economy, a mix of cultures and religions, and a lack of the order they had known in exile. However bad it was in Babylon, there was stability and plenty of bread and water there.

—Those Jews left behind who were not considered important or wealthy enough to have been exiled. After scavenging a living for decades, watching other people come and rule their land, they now experienced the uppity exiles coming back, whining about the disarray while showing off the gadgets they had obtained in fancy Babylon.

—Other powerless non-Jews and foreigners who had landed in this politically unstable country and were now unsure of their own future as the Jews figured out how to reorganize both as a religion and as a society.” 

Philip knew what it was like to live in exile and to be an outsider from the community of the faithful. Here you can unpack the context of Acts 6-8 and the gentile situation, which leads to Philip suffering persecution from the arrogant Jews in Jerusalem who were whining about the gentile believers that were causing disarray for their way of life. This context forced Philip into being exiled from the Jerusalem community because, as a gentile himself, he was considered a foreigner. He was left behind while the Jerusalem church thrived. Philip knew the deep riches of the churches fellowship which he could not be a part of as he wandered the desert in search of God’s plan for his life.

2. Trouble in the Text

Philip is led by the Holy Spirit to the Ethiopian eunuch who cannot understand Isaiah 53:7-8 as he is reading this scroll on his way back home from Jerusalem. Here, we have two outsiders coming from Jerusalem who receive comfort from the prophet Isaiah as he points them clearly to Christ. The eunuch needs the Holy Spirit to understand, so the Holy Spirit sends Philip to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who is the “Suffering Servant Messiah” Isaiah prophesied. However, the eunuch still has a problem and an embarrassing one at that. He is a “God-fearer” and a eunuch, so he has no hope of full inclusion because, according to the Law, he is unclean. The Law has clearly cut him off (Deuteronomy 23:1). There is nothing the eunuch can do. The Law is clear about his situation. What hope is there for an outsider like him?

Here, we have two outsiders coming from Jerusalem who receive comfort from the prophet Isaiah as he points them clearly to Christ.

3. Grace in the Text

But now, in Christ there is a way for Him to come into the full body of believers and enjoy worship in the true temple of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:12; John 2:21). Whereas the Law would keep the eunuch away (Romans 3:20), now he receives the Gospel through Word and Sacrament (Galatians 2:19). Through the Word which was fulfilled in Isaiah 53 in Jesus and through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, the eunuch is born again as God’s child (John 3:3-6; 1 Peter 1:3, 23). The great theologian, Mark Brighton, once made an astute observation in a Greek Readings class at Concordia University in Irvine California (2003). His observation was how the eunuch, more than likely, kept reading the scroll of Isaiah as he continued down the road. After all, they did not have radios or television in their vehicles back then. Since he had a long trip back to Ethiopia, he would have had plenty of time to keep reading, especially in light of the new way of seeing the prophet’s message through the lens of Christ. So, imagine what it was like when, just three chapters later, he read:

              Thus says the LORD: “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 (Hebrews 4:8-16), 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 (Hebrews 4:8-16), 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                       (Hebrews 10:10-12); 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 56:3-8).

What amazing hope and grace given through the Word and Sacrament of Holy Baptism. The Word continued to reveal grace upon grace (John 1:14-18) to this former outsider brought into the people of God through Christ the Messiah.

4. Grace in the World

This full inclusion of the gentiles includes you and me (Romans 11:11-15). We were once cut off because of sin. The Law held us away from God. We could only fear God because of the Law, but Jesus fulfilled the Law for us. He is the Messiah who has come to save all peoples and nations, and that includes you. Through the waters of baptism, you are born again into a new life, no longer defined by your past. The good news in Isaiah 56 is for you too! This good news only happened because of the one who was “cut off from the living” (Isaiah 53:8) for you. Jesus died on the cross and was laid dead in the grave.

Nevertheless, by Jesus’ resurrection He is alive forever, and that new life defines our new life with God. It is a life where sin is gone because of the cross, and a new life is here because of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). The resurrection defines a new way of living... baptismal living.
Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Isaiah 56:1, 6-8.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 56:1, 6-8. 

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah 56:1, 6-8.