Summary: Isaiah addresses the demoralised people of Israel now exiled in Babylon inviting them to return to the Lord and freely receive salvation and hope.
AN INVITATION NOT TO BE REFUSED
I read of a visiting preacher who arrived at the church and read the poster announcing him as a "preacher with the unchanged message". He had a nasty moment when he thought that the news had got out that he had only one sermon to his name! Charles Spurgeon got exasperated with a number of his students whose sermons were below standard. He said of them, "10,000 thousands are their texts but all their sermons one!"
In one sense, a preacher of the gospel has an unchanged message; each sermon may have a different text, but ultimately the gospel has but one message. And that message can be summarized in one word - it’s an invitation from God - it’s the word "Come". Imagine you’re at your shopping centre one Saturday morning. Quite unexpectedly a window on the first floor of a departmental store opens and the manager rings a bell to get attention to the crowd below. He shouts out, “Everybody is invited to come shopping - and everything is free: there’s nothing to pay!”
It was this kind of announcement that Isaiah made in Babylon some 2,500 years ago. Hear the words of God spoken through the prophet, "Come, all you who are thirsty, and you, who have no money, come buy and eat!" (55:1). “Come, all you who are thirsty.” If you’ve been to the Holy Land you’ll have seen the water-seller as he walks the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem. I remember seeing this colourful figure and took his photograph and had to pay for the drink he poured out, although I didn’t fancy it and didn’t drink it! Water, especially in a hot climate, is a valuable commodity and not easy to come by.
Isaiah was addressing the people of Israel who at this time were exiled from their homeland. They had refused to obey God’s laws and now they were suffering the consequences of their actions. God had allowed the Assyrian army to be his instrument of punishment. Their land had been devastated and they had been taken into captivity in Babylon for seventy years. These are the people who sat and wept by the rivers of Babylon, mocked by their captors, surrounded on every hand by the images of the gods who had apparently defeated Jehovah, the living God of Israel.
The people were strangers in a strange land, separated from their homeland by hundreds of miles of inhospitable wilderness. They felt alienated from their God who they believed had turned his back on them. The glory of Jerusalem and its temple were but a faded memory that only brought them pain to think about it. These unfulfilled longings brought them to the edge of despair.
It was into this bleak spiritual wilderness that God’s messenger came with a word from the Lord. It wasn’t just good advice, based on human wisdom and psychology, telling them to resign themselves to their present sad condition. No, it was a proclamation of salvation and hope. It was:
A GRACIOUS INVITATION
Most people like to receive an invitation to a special function, perhaps to a wedding or a celebration dinner. But that sort of invitation is highly restrictive. Wedding invitations are given to relatives and close friends; celebration dinner invitations are restricted to top people in business or politics. But the invitation that Isaiah offers is a universal invitation. Isaiah’s words are those which would have been used in the market place. You can imagine the street traders calling out to the passers-by to try their produce - "Come..." It’s like in a carnival with the town crier ringing his bell and calling the crowds’ attention.
How typical this is of our gracious God. He doesn’t wait for people to go in search of him - he takes the initiative and comes in search of them. His love is such that he wants to be found by them, he longs to pardon them and share good things with them. Jesus said that he "came into the world to seek and save what was lost" (Luke 19:10). It’s as if God stands in the market place and implores the people to come to him to find what they really need.
God knows the human condition. Ever since the disaster of the Garden of Eden when our first parents failed to obey God’s instruction, when they tried to steal from God’s tree of knowledge, to overstep divinely-given boundaries, mankind has been trying to get satisfaction for an inner longing. Someone put it in terms of our having a "God-shaped gap" in our make-up. The famous poet, Lord Byron, described his experience vividly typical of so many of our fellow citizens: he "Drank every cup of joy, drank early, deeply drank, drank draughts which common millions might have drunk, then died of thirst because there was no more to drink." Clearly, he missed the Fount of life that only God can supply.