A Great Invitation
Have you ever received through your door a letter that tells you that you've "won" a wonderful gift in a competition that you never knew you'd even entered? You may have thought for a while that it was genuine and so you started to read through the smaller and smaller print until you discovered that you hadn't really "won" anything at all! In those complicated terms and conditions you're told what you have to do to claim your "prize" and it usually involves some expense on your part with no guarantee of you actually receiving anything at all at the end of the day.
It was a scam. It may have kept within the bounds of legality (just) but it was nothing like it was cracked up to be when you looked at the headlines.
With such things so common in our own day we become sceptical and as soon as a special offer comes our way we look for the catch. After all, we think, there's no such thing as a free lunch…
We have something of an inbuild tendency to imagine that we are different from past generations – we are more sophisticated, more savvy, and less likely to be taken in. But people were not stupid in the past either – they knew that when they went down to the market that they would have to pay for what they wanted: perhaps they would pay in money perhaps they would barter what they had for what they wanted. They didn't expect to get something for nothing.
For many of us the matter of human pride creeps in too – we don't like to receive something for nothing as it smacks of charity and we like to think that we can pay our own way.
Here in the opening verses of Is.55 the LORD makes an offer that must have seemed extraordinary at the time. Similarly the breadth of the invitation is wide indeed. We need to put our scepticism about free gifts to one side and listen seriously to what is genuinely on offer!
The opening verse of the chapter contains three commands:
come to the waters…
come, buy and eat…
come, buy wine and milk…
We understand these commands as invitations. Then, after a certain amount of explanation, the Lord issues another command/invitation in v.3
come to me…
This is how we are going to proceed this evening:
Who is concerned?
What is on offer?
Terms and conditions?
Rewards when responding
Who is concerned?
"Ho, everyone who thirsts" v.1
The chapter opens with this cry which is designed to catch our attention "Ho!" "Hey, there!" – this is not an invitation to be kept hidden away secretively, it is an invitation to be broadcast loudly so that anyone might hear it.
"come to the waters" v.1
It is an invitation that is addressed to whoever it might be who is thirsty – thirsty, that is, for spiritual reality. The cry of the invitation assumes that there are such people out there and the invitation immediately addresses the need of which they are all too conscious.
Thirst is a normal reaction of the body to the need of water – imagine a hot day and you've been out walking in the sun and your body needs re-
Sometimes however, if you've been busy and absorbed by what you're doing you might not realise just how much you need to drink something – other things have made you forget your thirst and it is possible to go on for quite some time before you realise just how thirsty you are – it might take someone offering you a drink to bring it to your attention.
So the invitation goes out – it speaks to those who are already thirsty and at the same time it is designed to make people aware of their thirst that perhaps they have been ignoring consciously or unconsciously.
But the invitation specifically addresses those who have no means to pay:
"he who has no money" v.1
Imagine the same scenario – it's a hot day and you're been walking and as you turn the corner there is that appealing tea-
But this wonderful offer, this wonderful invitation, isn't limited to those who have something with which to pay. No, those with nothing at all can benefit. A two-
The invitation is put like this to emphasise just how broad the offer really is – you don't have to belong to a particular race, and you don't have to be able to offer anything in exchange for the refreshment you so desperately need – in short whosoever will may come! Do you want to come? Then you can.
But perhaps you want to understand a little more before coming – you want to know what it is that the LORD is holding out to us. Well in short it is this -
And this is important because men and women have been made in the image of God and designed for a relationship with him. As long as we're not properly related to God we are not living our lives as they were intended to be lived. The upshot of that is a lack of satisfaction however that may express itself.
God's offer meets our deepest needs:
A thirsty soul longs to assuage his thirst – so come to the waters where you can drink!
A hungry soul wants sustenance – so come buy and eat!
A dead soul needs reviving and to be given life – so come and live!
This offer of God goes well beyond the bare minimum – we're not talking survival rations here. A man dying of thirst will not be overly worried about what he receives if only it will sustain life. Now Jesus does use the picture language of bread and water in the NT where the emphasis is upon satisfaction of real need but here in Isaiah the is a slightly different emphasis. Not only is satisfaction generated but it is brought about in a rich and valuable manner. Water alone would be sufficient to sustain life but much more is on offer:
"Come, buy wine and milk" v.1
Our God is not niggardly. He doesn't make his offers reluctantly and he doesn't offer the bare essentials but gives us so much more. Do you understand that?
This idea of generosity and of rich fare on offer is repeated in v.2b where we hear:
"eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food."
Is that how you understand what God is offering you? Or do you still think that God is still something of a kill-
Think again. Wine and the milk are quality items – "without money and without price" further emphasises that. And there are two different things that we should understand by this:
a. this rich fare is to be had without money – how so? For the very simple reason that the price has already been fully met by another, there is nothing at all left for us to pay which is just as well because we are all in the position of having "no money" with which to buy.
b. this rich fare is without price – in other words it is priceless and we use that expression to express enormous value, such fare is worth so much that it is impossible to set a price upon it.
But there is yet more on offer in the generosity of God!
v.3 "come to me; hear, that your soul may live"
All of this is what is offered to us freely in the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ – and how we should value such a great salvation! It is free to us but it cost him his all to secure it for us. Let's never treat the gospel as something that because it is free it must also be cheap.
Jn.7:37 "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’"
Jn.6:48, 51 "I am the bread of life… I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
Jn.10:10 "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." And Jesus wants men and women to come to him that they might receive this life and live!
Terms and Conditions
When you receive some coupons through the post or at the cash till in your favourite supermarket you have to check the terms and conditions. The large print that says £15 off a £50 shop sounds irresistible but the offer becomes less attractive when you read on and find that it applies to your first online order – it's totally useless to you if you don't have a computer and not otherwise online!
So what are the terms and conditions related to God's invitation? Is the invitation really for us?
We really ought to be amazed by the answer. This invitation, which is so remarkably rich and fulfilling, is open and free! There is no mention of our needing to have any personal worth or to work hard to produce some personal merit. Do you remember collecting those Green Shield stamps all those years ago? You had to fill an entire book before they were of any use to you so you had to save up. Well you don't have to do anything of that sort here. You can come to Jesus Christ right now just as you are. That is what is meant when we read that those who have no money can come and buy, can come and eat. Anyone can come and anyone can come straightaway!
Ah, but you will only come if you are conscious of your need. If you don't acknowledge your thirst you won't come; if you refuse to admit to having a spiritual hunger which needs satisfying you won't come. And if you are proud of what you do have and imagine that you can secure some satisfaction by your own efforts then you won't come either to receive what God offers you so freely – no, in that case you'll look somewhere else, anywhere else, everywhere else rather than come to God.
And that is just what so many do – they look at their resources and in the words of v.2a they:
"spend (their) money for that which is not bread, and (their) labour for that which does not satisfy."
Isn't that just the height of foolishness? My mother has a jam jar flower display of wildflowers. It looks so simple and so good but it's not the real thing. Sometimes the flowers here at the front of the church are a mixture of real and artificial but from where you are you'd struggle to spot them. Have you ever seen in the shops displays of plastic oranges, apples and grapes? Sometimes they only vaguely resemble the fruit they're meant to look like don't they, but sometimes they're so good you have to look twice to be sure. But if you were hungry or thirsty those plastic fruits would not do you any good at all.
There are plenty of things out there in the world that look good and seem so promising – almost as good as the real thing – and they all promise satisfaction without having to come as a pauper to God. But none of them follow through – they might offer a temporary respite but nothing lasting, certainly nothing like that water that Jesus gives, water that wells up within to produce eternal life.
And so the Lord asks us why we will go on expecting to find spiritual satisfaction in what is not true bread? Why do we work hard to secure satisfaction for ourselves when the only possible result will prove totally unsatisfying?
So we come back to our question: what is the necessary requirement for us to come to Christ? What is the absolutely essential thing? It is this – you must come!!
That's it! You mustn't wait until you think you're worthy of coming – you must just come, come as you are.
You mustn't wait to try to change yourself – you must come. You come to God, you come that is to Jesus Christ and you come because his invitation is all the warrant you need for coming.
It doesn't matter if you've delayed for ever such a long time and feel worn out he invites people just like you to come:
Come and you'll find he meant what he said. Come and find he will receive you for he has made this promise:
Jn.6:37 "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."
The Rewards of Coming
In many ways we've been dealing with this all the way through our study together so let me summarise and add just one further point:
We find a deep satisfaction for our souls
We find a rich quality of life that is real and lasting
We find life – something which we never experienced before
We find that God brings us into his eternal covenant – we are introduced into the people of God, a company of people who are destined to spread throughout the entire world witnessing to the nations of the glories and God and the wonders of Jesus Christ.
While this new life is so full of so many rich rewards there is nevertheless a cost that is involved. It is not the cost of buying what is freely offered but having received so much, changes will be inevitable and necessary in our lives. Patterns of life and ways of thinking will need to change and this will at times be difficult and painful. Such changes may well also bring us into conflict with others who remain in their darkness – but count the cost and weigh carefully the pros and the cons and you'll see the inestimable value of knowing Christ.
To whom be all the glory and the praise!