It is very instructive to compare what the apostle Paul prayed about with what Christians today typically pray about, both privately and collectively. The prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the first temple is significant in that it provided for Gentile blessing: “and as to the stranger also, who is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy names sake (for they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy mighty hand, and of thy stretched-out arm); when he shall come and pray toward this house, hear thou in the heavens thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for; in order that all peoples of the earth may know thy name, [and] that they may fear thee as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by thy name” (1 Kings 8: 41-43). The Bible records at least three such journeys to Jerusalem by Gentiles.
The first Gentile to make the journey was the queen of Sheba and the record of it follows closely on the record of Solomon’s prayer (see 1 Kings 10: 1-13). She was a stranger. She had heard of the glory of Israel’s king and Israel’s God. She came up out of a far country and when she had seen it all “there was no more spirit in her” (v 5). She declared to Solomon that “it was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thine affairs, and of thy wisdom; but I gave no credit to the words, until I came and mine eyes had seen; and behold, the half was not told me” (vs. 6, 7). How much more this will be when the glory shall again shine forth from Zion and the rightful king “shall reign in righteousness” (Is. 32: 1). Then shall all confess in the words of the queen of the south, “blessed be Jehovah thy God, who delighteth in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel! Because Jehovah loves Israel for ever, therefore did he make thee king, to do judgment and justice” (1 Kings 10: 9). Thus this first Gentile visitor returned from Jerusalem blessed and satisfied, glorifying the God of Israel.
A thousand years passed away. Solomon’s temple had been burned with fire. Herod’s temple had taken its place, but God was not in it. This shows us that buildings are nothing in themselves, however magnificent. That temple of old was nothing apart from Jehovah manifesting Himself there in the midst of His people. If He was not there, the building was desolate. So it was proved in the second Gentile journey when wise men or “magi from the east arrived at Jerusalem, saying, Where is the king of the Jews that has been born?” (Matt. 2: 1, 2). It was a person whom they sought not a building. It was the king and not an empty throne. Hence under divine guidance their backs were soon turned upon the great city and its temple and their faces directed towards little Bethlehem instead where they found the One whom they looked for. Apart from Him their hearts could not be satisfied and until they had found Him their journey was not ended: “and they having heard the king went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went before them until it came and stood over the place where the little child was. And when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And having come into the house they saw the little child with Mary his mother, and falling down did him homage” (vs. 9-11).
Sadly, He whom the wise men found was rejected by the rulers and people of Israel. Both city and temple were indeed desolate when the Lord was crucified without the gate. Eventually another seeker came from a far country. He had “come to worship at Jerusalem, was returning and sitting in his chariot: and he was reading the prophet Esaias” (Acts 8: 27, 28). He was evidently still searching for what he had not found in Jerusalem. He was returning unsatisfied and looking for Him of whom he had heard. He left his far country with a divinely implanted sense of need of something which the gods of Ethiopia did not give him. The Scripture record about him does not direct our thoughts to the joy with which he went to Jerusalem but rather to the disappointment with which he was going back. Nothing is said of his journey there or what he did in the city, but all is told of his returning and of his journey home. We are shown how he found the object of his search in the desert (see v 35), and “went on his way rejoicing” (v39). He could not find Him in Jerusalem. Like the wise men he had to turn his back on Jerusalem in order to find Him whom his heart sought.
It is significant that when the Lord Jesus was leaving Jerusalem for the last time He uttered that solemn proclamation to His earthly people: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matt. 23: 38). Yes, it was indeed desolate without Him. To our readers we would say, have you also learned this solemn lesson? Have you learned by a painful but blessed experience that every place is desolate if Christ is not there? The queen of Sheba returned to her own country satisfied with the goodness of God and her lips filled with praise. The wise men from the east returned rejoicing with exceeding great joy. The eunuch returned to Ethiopia and went on his way rejoicing. But their backs were to Jerusalem and their faces towards the living God in heaven. Do you and I feel the desolation of today in the same way? We are living in a time when the professing Church has reared places of worship attractive to the eye, and filled them with a form of worship appealing to the senses. Christ is outside of all this. Are we outside with Him?