The Great Invitation (Isaiah 55:1-13)
Stage set with two tables: a small one with stale bread and junk food, and a second table set with clean, clear water, wine, milk, cheese, bread, and grapes
I’d like to give you an invitation today, one that is 2,700 years old. Despite being so old, it’s not a stale one. It’s an invitation that was given to a small group of discouraged people on the other end of the earth. We have almost nothing in common with this group, but the invitation is as relevant to us today as it was to them then. As best, I can, I want to offer you the same choice that they were given back then.
On one hand, I want to offer you the best of what this world has to offer. I mean everything. Take it all in, suck the marrow out of life, live as fully as you can. Enjoy the best food, make as much money as you can, build relationships that satisfy your soul, and do all that you can to be happy. This is one choice that was offered to the people 2,700 years ago, and it’s a choice that’s still before us today.
To be fair, I need to give you the fine print. It seems that people who make this choice are not satisfied. This is surprising, because you’d think that living this way would be satisfying. Halle Berry says of beauty, “Beauty is essentially meaningless, and it is always transitory.” Brad Pitt, movie star and not a bad-looking guy, says:
Man, I know all these things are supposed to seem important to us-the car, the condo, our version of success-but if that’s the case, why is the general feeling out there reflecting more impotence and isolation and desperation and loneliness?…I’m telling you, once you’ve got everything, then you’re just left with yourself. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it doesn’t help you sleep any better, and you don’t wake up any better because of it.
It’s not just the movie stars either. It’s estimated that we, who live in North America, enjoy a higher standard of living than 99.4 percent of the 80 billion human beings who’ve ever lived. Yet we’re not content. “Our lives are characterized by too much of a good thing,” someone has said, “excess at every turn.” We’re surrounded by so much food that obesity has become a national crisis, are tempted by so much entertainment and information and stuff to buy that we sleep three hours a day less than our grandparents. In the words of a 1987 song, despite having so much, we “still haven’t found what we’re looking for.”
The passage we’re looking at today describes this first choice this way:
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen, and I will tell you where to get food that is good for the soul! (Isaiah 55:2)
Another way to ask this is, “Does this really satisfy you?” The people who received this message were spending their labor – their very lives – for things that are needless, that really didn’t satisfy. It’s like spending money on stale bread or junk food when you really need something to satisfy way down deep – for a lifetime of Happy Meals with plastic toys that provide a temporary thrill but provide nothing of lasting value.
The second choice that’s offered is so surprising that I need to give you a bit of background before I give you the invitation. The invitation is found in the book of Isaiah. The prophet was looking forward to a time when the nation would be in exile. The people would be in defeat, their spirit broken. They would feel like God’s promises to them had been irreparably broken and forgotten. They would tempted to settle for Babylon and all that it offered. They would not be satisfied, but they could hope for no more. To these people, and to us today, the invitation comes:
Hey there! All who are thirsty,
come to the water!
Are you penniless?
Come anyway-buy and eat!
Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk.
Buy without money-everything’s free!
Why do you spend your money on junk food,
your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?
Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best,
fill yourself with only the finest. (Isaiah 55:1-2 The Message)
I told you that this is an invitation. That was putting it a little mildly. There are twelve imperatives in the first three verses. To put it in plain English, this is not just an invitation. It’s pretty close to an order. All throughout this passage, you see that the invitation is given with a strong sense of urgency. To people who are almost going to settle with what they’ve got, God invites them into a completely new way of living.
This wasn’t a blip in God’s purposes for his people. Jesus Christ, the one we believe to be the Son of God, said, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). The invitation that God offers is to the fullest possible life, to satisfaction and nourishment, to living the life that was intended for us. I’d like to unpack this invitation a little and simply present it to you for you to choose for yourself.
I want to describe the invitation in three ways this morning.
1. It’s an invitation for your desires to be satisfied
The invitation that is set before you today is for your deepest desires to be satisfied. It almost sounds wrong to say that God is interested in satisfying our desires. God would like to satisfy our deepest desires. C.S. Lewis said:
Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
God’s invitation in verse 1 is:
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. (NIV)
We’re offered three things: water, wine, and milk. We’re offered more later – the “richest of fare” – but I want to think about these three beverages. These three beverages correspond to three of the deepest needs that every one of us has.
Water is what we need for refreshment. Have you ever been absolutely parched? You’re dehydrated, thirsty, desperate. Water is what you want and nothing else. God invites us to receive refreshment, restoration, reviving, a new beginning. “He leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul” (Psalm 23:2-3 NIV).
Water is fine for refreshment, but we need more than water. When we need nourishment, we turn to milk. When you want a baby to grow, you give her milk again and again. “God is not just for emergencies and mountain peaks. He is for health in the long haul. He invites you not only to come alive with water, but to be stable and strong with milk” (John Piper).
And God offers wine. Wine is more than we need. It is not for our survival; it is a luxury. There is something inside of us that doesn’t want to just live. God has created us with a desire for exhilaration, to dance, shout, sing, and laugh. God wants to revive us with his water, nourish us with his milk, and give us endless exhilaration with his wine. It’s offered freely and plentifully. He calls us not just to drink but to enjoy.
What do these drinks represent? Ultimately, they are an invitation to enjoy God himself. He is the one who can bring satisfaction to your soul. The psalmist wrote:
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26 NIV)
C. S. Lewis compared us to a car that runs on gasoline:
A car is made to run on petrol [gasoline], and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
God’s invitation is for you to give this up – junk food and stale bread – to enjoy Himself, the one who can satisfy your soul.
God offers an invitation for your desires to be satisfied. I want to describe this invitation a second way this morning:
2. It’s an invitation that will satisfy the desires of others
God continues in Isaiah 55:
Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, for the life of your soul is at stake. I am ready to make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the mercies and unfailing love that I promised to David. He displayed my power by being my witness and a leader among the nations. You also will command the nations, and they will come running to obey, because I, the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious. (Isaiah 55:3-5)
God promises in these verses to make a covenant with his people corresponding somehow to the covenant that he made with David. It’s interesting, this covenant with David. David is almost as often a negative example as he is a positive one. He does not have an unblemished record of faithfulness to God, yet is still the recipient of God’s love and his promise by an unbreakable oath.
David wasn’t a recipient of God’s promises for his own benefit. Verse 4 says that David was a “witness to the peoples, a leader and a commander of the peoples.” Verse 5 says that just as David’s life was a witness, our lives – those of us who find our satisfaction in God – will “summon nations,” that we’re endowed “with splendor.”
I love the idea here. God says that our new way of life is going to be so distinctive that the people around us will take notice and be drawn to God because of us. It’s not that we’re perfect – David wasn’t. But God says he’s going to make our lives distinctive so that those who don’t know God will be drawn to God through us.
Think about those who received this invitation. “You will summon nations you know not.” They probably said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” They were in captivity. They weren’t even on the map as a nation. When you’re conquered by another nation and not even home, it’s hard to imagine nations flocking to you. But it happened. Imperfect though we may be, as unlikely as it might seem given our current circumstances, God will draw people to Himself through us.
In the year he was elected president, Jimmy Carter was one of three men invited to speak to the 17,000 delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention. Each had a five-minute time limit.
The first of the three presenters was the eloquent evangelist, Billy Graham. The speaker following Graham was a truck driver. The man was not well educated, and seated beside the next U.S. president, the truck driver shared that he had never given a speech in his life. Nervously he confessed, “I don’t think I can live through it. I just can’t do it.”
After Billy Graham gave his powerful talk, the truck driver rose to speak and stood silently before the audience. Taking a glass of water handed to him, he mumbled into the microphone.
“I was always drunk, and didn’t have any friends. The only people I knew were men like me who hung around the bars in the town where I lived.”
The truck driver went on to describe how someone told him about Christ. Once becoming a Christian, he wanted to tell others about the Lord. Spending time in Bible study and with other Christian men prepared him for witnessing. Since he felt comfortable in barrooms, he decided to talk to people there. The bartender wasn’t sympathetic, telling the new convert he was bad for business and a nuisance.
Not discouraged, the truck driver kept on with his mission, and in time the people at the bar began asking questions. He said, “At first they treated me like a joke, but I kept up with the questions and when I couldn’t answer one, I went and got the answer and came back with it. Fourteen of my friends became Christians.”
Carter writes, “The truck driver’s speech, of course, was the highlight of the convention. I don’t believe anyone who was there will ever forget that five-minute fumbling statement-or remember what I or even Billy Graham had to say.”
God will draw others to Himself through the most unlikely people – people just like you and me.
God’s offered you an invitation for your desires to be satisfied, and for your life to be distinctive. I have one more description of this invitation.
3. It’s an invitation you can depend on
God invites the people to come to him urgently, to seek him while he may be found. He urges them to come and be pardoned. The question is raised in their minds and maybe in ours, “How can these downtrodden, wiped out, wiped off the map servants of the Lord receive such a miraculous transformation?” The answer comes to us in verses 8 to 11:
“My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
God’s ways are bigger and different than our thoughts. Any time we think we know what God is thinking, think again. God’s Word is reliable. We don’t need to doubt that God can make this type of transformation in our lives. God’s promises are reliable. His plans aren’t like ours, that change on a whim. His power isn’t limited like ours. He can pull this off. God’s Word is reliable. He will transform your life.
If you doubt that your life can be transformed, that your deepest desires can be satisfied, then you don’t have to. God’s Word is reliable. It is not your power or even the amount of your faith that will lead to this transformation. It’s not about you. It’s about God’s power and the reliability of his Word.
How do we accept this invitation?
Seek the LORD while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the people turn from their wicked deeds. Let them banish from their minds the very thought of doing wrong! Let them turn to the LORD that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)
Here is the heart of the invitation. To live, to really live, begin to seek the LORD. Go on a search for Him. Settle for nothing less. Give up all the junk food, the things that don’t satisfy. Leave them behind and refuse to settle for anything less than the One who can satisfy your soul.
Everything has been done. The table has been set. It would be disappointing if those who were invited failed to come.
The invitation has been given. God has invited you to come, to buy, to eat, to enjoy. The choice is before you. Will you come?
For those of you who are distant, come. Draw near to God. He will not reject you. Draw near. Come to Him.
It’s time to buy. It’s not time to analyze. You don’t have the money anyway, but God says, “Even you without the money, come and buy.” Accept the transaction. You may not be able to pay for it, but there is one who has paid the price. Receive what God offers freely.
Drink and eat. God is not a thing to be studied. He is a person to be experienced. He is food and drink for the soul. Come to the banquet today and experience all that God has prepared for you.
In the next weeks, we’re going to look at how to live as those who have been transformed by God’s power. Today, simply respond to his invitation to come, to buy, to eat, to enjoy.
He brought me to his banqueting table…
You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where briers grew, myrtles will sprout up. This miracle will bring great honor to the LORD’S name; it will be an everlasting sign of his power and love. (Isaiah 55:12-13)