1. An extraordinary invitation (55:1-4)
Last week I attended my first ever Chinese Wedding Banquet. Because I had never actually been to one before, I was told there would be quite a bit of food. So right from the start I had fairly high expectations. I’m quite a big fan of food as some of you might know, particularly if it is pork or high quality seafood. We turn up at ten past 8, 5 minutes later, the first dish is out on the table - it’s suckling pig - that’s not a bad entrée. 2nd dish, prawns in some fancy sauce, third dish crab, fourth dish, lobster in chili sauce, 5th dish perch, 6th - another crab, and on and on for 11 dishes! Like I said, I am quite partial to a bit of pig and seafood so you can imagine I quite enjoyed myself! It was an amazing meal - I was satisfied with the first 3 dishes alone but the more I got into each dish, the better and better the whole experience became. And just when I thought it couldn’t get better - here, have a bit of lobster! It was no ordinary meal.
Today’s passage that was read to us before is all about an invitation. An extraordinary invitation that just gets better and better the closer you look at it. In order to appreciate this invitation, we must first look at the historical context. Isaiah 54: 7-8: for a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer.
The people of God have been all but destroyed. Wiped out, over a period of about 150 years. There is almost nothing left to them - just a small rabble who are actually slaves to a much more impressive nation. They are desperate, helpless and without hope. And it is in this situation, where that the words of chapter 55 verse 1 fill the page. Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. To those in captivity and in deep need - what an invitation! An invitation to drink, to come to the waters – it doesn’t matter if you’ve got money or not – just come! It’s not a bad offer is it? And yet straight away, you notice something a little strange about the second half of the offer. They’re offered water; It doesn’t deliver on that promise of water. Instead of water, there is wine, there is milk. Is this deception on God’s part?
Well, It’s like someone comes up to me after the service this morning and asks me round to their place for a few sandwiches for lunch. I’m happy enough with the sandwiches, it’s a free lunch but then when I get there - there’s this 11 course banquet before me! God promises water, but exceeds their expectations by delivering wine as celebration and milk…well the people of God probably haven’t seen that since they were living in the Promised Land –a land flowing with milk and honey. And did you notice that although the invitation is to those who are without money, they are invited to buy….Seems a strange choice of words to deliberately invite those without money to buy food.
Yet this is a tough audience that God is extending the invitation to….they need convincing! So in verse two and three we get a real contrast between what these people already have and what God is offering. You see they hunger for that which is not bread, they chase after, they live for, they desire that which does not satisfy, which cannot satisfy! (pause) These are people who have turned their backs on God, who have shut their ears and sold out for a meal which they think is worth the world, yet they have forfeited their soul. So God pleads with them half way thru v2: Listen, listen to me and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me (did you catch this invitation to once again come to God) hear me; that your soul may live. Throughout the OT, but particularly during this exile there are moments where God’s people were in such torment, such agony because they could not hear God’s word. Amos 8:11 describes it as God sending a famine – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. They will stagger about, desperate, pleading to hear a syllable from the mouth of God – but encounter only silence. Yet here in Isaiah, those days are over. Now, there is an avalanche of words – God himself is pleading that they listen to his words. God is offering his people a chance to have their hearing restored, that they may listen to his word again. Words which offer life, more than that, life in abundance.
As I said earlier though, this is a tough crowd. So far, it’s not a bad offer – water, food, God’s word and life. But words are cheap – where’s the real sweetener in this deal? He reminds them of an old promise…half way thru v3: I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David”. The promise to David was to love him, never forsake him and to be faithful and merciful to him. It was an old promise, hundreds of years have passed since it was first made. And God says that although some may have forgotten about it, the promise still stands. It is an everlasting covenant, one that was not ended through the exile – one that is still on offer to his people. David was the man that the nations looked up to, whom the nations trembled before in verse 4. And just as God poured his steadfast love on David, God will once again pour his love on the people. It is an extraordinary invitation – to share in the covenant of David, arguably the man most blest by God.
2. The extraordinary recipient (v5-9)
I went to the movies the other night and saw a film called V for Vendetta. Good film, all about this girl played by Natalie Portman. And the film goes along normally enough for the first 2/3rds of it then suddenly Natalie is captured, imprisoned, gets her head shaved and is tortured in the name of interrogation. Then suddenly there is quite a significant twist in the movie and in the theatre that I saw it in, there was utter silence….cos not many people saw it coming. And then there is this realisation that although this is a twist that changes quite a lot of the film, there were clues all along the way for those who had been watching carefully. And I just sat back in utter amazement at the magnitude of this twist.
So it is with Isaiah 55, verse 5. The invitation here is NOT to God’s people. The invitation to drink, buy and live is NOT to the Israelites. Have a look at verse 5: Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy one of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendour”. The Israelites are not the only ones being invited here – every nation is invited. Specifically, nations who don’t know God. And the twist that really blows you away is what you may well have missed in verse 1. Come, all you who are thirsty. You see, the invitation is not conditional based on nationality or geography. There is only one criteria. It is an invitation to those who thirst. It’s an invitation to everyone. Jews, Gentiles, Australians, black, white, and everything in between – if you are thirsty, you are invited to come to the waters. What an extraordinary twist! Entire nations that don’t know God, who have turned their backs on him, who have been running from him, will now hasten, will now run towards him! People who have never heard of God before can suddenly find him; can call on him with confidence for the first time ever. And how are these nations described? Have they suddenly changed, so as to have earned God’s favour? Well in verse 7, they are described as wicked, they are characterised by evil.
In verses 8 and 9, you see the chasm between man and God. Verse 9: As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. There used to be a fairly common gospel presentation, I think it’s a little old now, but it showed a situation of a man separated by a cliff from God. The point was that it was tough to get across there. As a kid I used to think, it’s pretty simple really, you just build a really big bridge – there are plenty of bridges in the world that would get us over there! There’s not a bad bridge here in Sydney, we can just build one of them, we could do it on our own! Well this verse shatters this picture! How far is it from the earth to the heavens? Millions of kms? Billions? They seem to be discovering new plants, new solar systems, new everything almost on a weekly basis. It can’t really be measured. That’s the same with people and God. We’re not talking about some pathetic little cliff here! It’s not just a case of constructing a little bridge and we will be fine! God is so holy and so righteous and we are so wicked, so wretched and so evil that the distance between the two cannot be measured! We are without hope, there is no way….
Yet have a look at verse 7 on the screen, from the ESV which is slightly different from the pew Bibles: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. It is not a case of God only just forgiving their sin, of God only just having enough forgiveness to deal with their sins till they can get through to the next week’s confessional. God has forgiveness to spare! Where there is sin, where there has been a life time of ignoring God – God will forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive.
3. A free lunch?
Is there such a thing as a free lunch? We are told in life to always read the fine print, to always be skeptical of anything that sounds too good to be true and to never, ever purchase anything that come with a free set of steak knives. Ask any businessman you like and they will tell you that no matter how good the deal is, someone always has to pay for it in other ways. Well surely God is different isn’t he? He offers us a meal without money and without cost. Well ladies and gentlemen I have bad news for you…..even in the bible there’s no such thing as a free lunch. There is a cost to this meal, this invitation that God is offering, but it is not paid by us. Last week we heard the familiar words of Isaiah 52 and 53 about the Suffering Servant, who took the punishment that bought us peace and by his wounds we are healed. The offer is free for us….costly to God.
In verse 5, we have already seen that God will summon the nations and he does it because he is God, and to bring glory to the Holy One of Israel. Who is the Holy One of Israel? Well, we are no longer talking about David here anymore. We are talking about this same servant as in Isaiah 53, the man revealed to us as Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that God summons nations to himself. It is through Jesus that the covenant of David, offered to his people, offered to the nations here can also be offered to us as well. For his is an everlasting promise! A promise to David that applied to the Israelites even after the exile and a promise, an offer to us as well – the same water, the same food, the same life is offered to us here today.
We would not be in this church if not for Is 55, verse 5. We might be a little tired of hearing this invitation, cos we have heard it so many times before. So the question really is, are you listening to God? (pause!)If you have not listened to God, this passage describes you as a wicked and evil person, doomed to chase after that which does not satisfy…He wants us to listen to him, he begs us to listen to him, yet there are some people in this building who have never opened their ears to what God has said to them.
You might be sitting there thinking I have been at this church for more years than you have been alive – I go to church each week, I go to Bible study each week, I give money each week – it’s not as if this doesn’t mean anything! I know what God says already, I will not give up what I believe, I won’t give up this grudge, I will not give in to this fight, God knows I am right, I’ve got a special deal with God…well friend, I am so pleased you came this morning cos this could be the very first time that you come to the waters, this could be the very first time that you hear what God is saying to you. The invitation to repent and turn to God is open to you today. The funny thing about invitations is that one way or another you respond….so you can respond with a yes or a no…..but even if you ignore it, you are making a response – you are saying no….God has given us this invitation….and it demands a response! So How have you responded to God’s invitation? (pause)
4. Are you sure? (10-12)
I said at the beginning that this was a tough crowd that God was inviting to the waters. We too, live in the real world. Where there is trouble and hardship and stress and bills to worry about and responsibility and we may have been going for a while….but trusting in this salvation is tough. At work I love using scales in order to determine where people are at in life and what needs to happen next. So for instance I may ask them how they are feeling about their relationship with their mum on a scale of 0 to 10 and they might say 5 out of ten. So then I will ask them what it would take for that to become a 6 out of ten. And so on and so forth. So I’m going to ask you guys a question and you can write the answer on the outlines in front of you if you want, you can think of a number in your head – this is between you and God. The question is this: how confident are you in God’s promise of salvation? On a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being not in the slightest and 10 being extraordinarily confident, How confident are you, in God’s promise of salvation? Are you maybe a 3, still looking into it, still trying to suss out this God bloke? Are you a 5, somewhere in the middle still not really sure what, if anything he has to offer. Are you a 7? Been a Christian for a while, you know it, you believe it, but gee it’s hard work.
Regardless of what your answer is – it could be 0 it could be 10, I don’t really mind. But read verses 10 to the end very carefully, cos God gives his guarantee. Just as every drop of rain from God has a purpose so every word of God has a purpose. It will do exactly what God wants it to do. So when God promises us an everlasting covenant, when God promises abundant pardon for those that turn to him we can be sure, we can be confident that God will deliver. More than that, he will transform, he will take the struggles and the hardships and transform it, so that even the hills and the trees of the field rejoice and clap with joy. And note the final punchline in v14. This invitation, this transformation is not for our sake, it’s for the Lord’s name. Though for the time being it may be difficult, we have an everlasting covenant that shall never be cut off. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for the Lord’s name, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed. Amen.