You've been to the supermarket and at the cash till they gave you a voucher that promises you 10p off a litre of petrol – it's a great offer. The offer is genuine too and will work -
Now in order to get that sort of voucher you normally have to spend a certain sum of money – easy enough if you can afford a big shop, not so easy if you're a pensioner living on your own.
We're all used to this sort of special offer I guess though I imagine that there have been times when we've all tried to present a voucher or a coupon only to be told it's out of date – how disappointing and how annoying that can be!
Here in Isaiah ch.55 we are confronted with some very similar only what is at stake is infinitely more important. Not to save 10p a litre might be a disappointment to us but not to respond to God's offer of salvation in Jesus Christ will prove devastating. As there were conditions attached to the supermarket's genuine offer of a price reduction so there are conditions attached to God's genuine offer of salvation.
We looked in detail at this last week so just a brief reminder will suffice now before we move on to take a closer look at the conditions and how we are to set about meeting them.
The LORD urges all who are spiritually hungry and thirsty to come to him in order to receive a complete and rich satisfaction for their needs. And what he offers won't cost us anything – it is a free gift that has been paid for already by someone else. All we need to do is to respond and to go to him. We don't have to pay our "spiritual supermarket bill" in order to receive what is on offer because the Saviour has done his work. Just a couple of chapters earlier Isaiah explained this as he wrote the fourth of his Servant Songs describing the sufferings of the Messiah who was to come.
Our needs, however great they might be because of our rebellious independence and the offence that our sin has caused God, can be fully met because Jesus died for sin and rose again that we might be put right with God.
But now it is urgent that men and women, boys and girls, take note of this offer that God holds out to us – we must respond! The invitations are wonderfully generous; we must take them seriously, very seriously indeed.
The Conditions that make this so urgent
Look with me for a moment at vv.6+7:
"Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 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."
Before we consider the advice that is urged upon us in these verses we must take a step back and understand why such advice needs to be given in the first place. The advice is only given because of the condition that men and women, boys and girls, find themselves in – and that condition is clearly implied by the words that are used:
"Seek the LORD" – we must do this because we are not naturally on good terms with God, if we were we wouldn't need to seek him! The truth of the matter is that we are estranged from him and the reason is that we have preferred to go our own way and in doing so we have fallen short of God's purpose for our lives. This is what the Bible means when it talks about sin. Our sin has brought about a breakdown in relationships – do you remember what Adam and Eve did in the garden? They did wrong by taking the forbidden fruit but then when God came into the garden in the evening they tried to hide from him – they were conscious of their rebellion. The upshot was that they were put out of the garden, that place of intimate fellowship with God. God their greatest friend had become opposed to them!
"Call upon him" – this addresses again the whole matter of separation from God and the breakdown of communication with him because of sin. We recognise such breakdown in human relationships – two friends fall out and they stop speaking to each other; tensions in a family develop and members refuse to speak to each other. It is the same with men and women in their relationship with God – they stop speaking to him or refuse to speak to him in the right way.
"Forsake and return" – the why of separation is suggested by these words. Men and women have turned away from God by their wrong behaviour and by their adoption of wrong ways of thinking and they need to turn back to him which means renouncing their old ways and recognising he was right all along.
"Compassion or mercy" – suggests that the condition into which men and women have brought themselves is pitiable, they're in a sorry state spiritually and although they need help they certainly don't deserve it.
"Pardon" – you only need pardon when you've done something amiss and are guilty in some way of wrong-
All of these words point to the fact that mankind has got itself into a right mess – things may go well for a time as regards health and economic prosperity and in other domains too but as far as spiritual life and vitality things are very bleak.
It is into such a calamitous situation that God bursts with his wonderfully generous invitations. They must be taken seriously because of the nature of man's problem and they must also be taken seriously because of the conditions that are attached to them. The offer is genuine but you must come on God's terms!
Look again at these verses:
"Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near"
In an absolute sense the offer is limited in time – there will come a time when it will no longer be possible to find that LORD for salvation.
When Jesus returns the day of grace will end and the judgment of God will begin – if you have not sought and found the LORD by then on that day it will be too late.
But the opportunity of seeking the LORD passes in other ways too. When you die and pass out of this world there are no further opportunities – if you have not sought and found the LORD it will be too late then.
Some imagine that they will delay and wait until they are older, they'll do something about it just before they die – but that is a very dangerous thing to do. God draws near as the word of God is proclaimed to you – you are invited now and God is near to hear and to save. But God does not wait cap in hand like some beggar until you decide you'll give him the fag ends of your attention – he is God and is not at your beck and call, if you will not respond to him now who knows whether he will grant you a further occasion? And on a purely human level – growing old is difficult, the memory fades and other matters such as failing health and physical pain crowd in – will you really have time for God then? The experience of thousands suggests quite the opposite!
How to come
We've seen that the matter is necessary and we have seen that it is urgent but being aware of that is not yet enough we need to know what it means to respond to the gracious and generous invitations of our God. And this too he spells out for us – we are not to imagine that we can come any old way we might choose, in any manner we might like to think appropriate – no, we must come his way.
If we are to come we must come with repentance: that is made clear to us by the repeated calls of v.7:
"let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD,"
You can't come to the LORD and expect simply to add him as an appendage to your life – there must be transformation. He doesn't accept and satisfy you because of changes you make or intend to make in your life. No, he accepts you because of what Jesus has done in satisfying the divine wrath provoked by our sin by his death on the cross of Calvary. But you are fooling yourself if you imagine that you can keep your lifestyle and your ungodly ways of thinking that made the death of Jesus necessary!
So you need to come, it is urgent that you come, you come with repentance and a commitment to change and you come trusting God that he will give you what he has promised. You must not try to make yourself better so that you can feel good about yourself in coming, you must come recognising that you come to buy as one who has no money – depending on another to fully pay the bill for you.
This goes against the grain of fallen humanity – how we love to try to find some reason within ourselves why God should be good to us, we don't like being totally dependent on someone else even if that someone is Almighty God himself.
But that is the way we come, that is the way we must come – by faith trusting God and his promised word.
As if to ward off complaints and grumbles the LORD explains how things are:
You must come God's way or you will not come at all!
An Effective Way vv.10-
After all he has made his offer, he has issued his invitations and declared that that is the way it is – but he doesn't stop there. Even though he has stated that human reasoning and understanding might never arrive at the same conclusions as he has – indeed could not because his thoughts are on an altogether different plane than ours – he goes further to use illustrations to urge us to accept his way of doing things and to embrace the invitations he so freely offers.
(When God says his thoughts and ways are different to ours he is not saying that his ways are illogical rather he is saying that men would never come up with such divine logic on their own – he must and has revealed what he has done. It becomes us not only to recognise his right to act as he chooses but to rejoice in the fact that what he chooses to do is so remarkably full of loving kindness to undeserving sinners!)
God's way simply works!!
The rain falls from heaven, without men and women being in control, and it causes plants to grow giving the satisfaction of good food to meet our bodily needs. God speaks and his word accomplished on the spiritual level what the rain does on a physical level – it proves to be effective! And that word invites men and women and boys and girls to repent and to put their trust in the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ
Before the chapter ends there are further encouragements to believe and to come to the LORD in response to his gracious calls: vv.12-
There is joy in believing – to replace our fears
There is peace in believing – to replace our conflicts
There is great rejoicing too!
The chapter ends with a forward look beyond the immediate political context of Isaiah's day to the consummation of all things when the LORD finally eradicates sin and its spoiling capacity from the entire created order.
Paul in his letter to the Romans would, centuries later, write of creation groaning. Sin had caused the entire created order to be subjected to futility – the creation couldn't be exactly what it was meant to be and, Paul says, it was waiting for the full redemption of the culprit, mankind. Here in Isaiah 55 that full redemption comes into glorious view for a moment – no longer is creation groaning, no longer is it portrayed as straining to see when salvation will finally come about come – now creation is rejoicing and celebrating. That final state has not yet been brought about – the end is not yet – but it is sure and certain because it is God who says so!
The end has not yet come and that means that it is yet the day of grace, the door has not yet been closed for the last time, it is the time during which men and women and boys and girls may yet call upon the name of the LORD and be saved.
You need to come, it is urgent that you do come, you don't need to prepare yourself to come – all you need to do is to come. Have you come? If not what holds you back? Will you not come too?