The Great Invitation: Break Forth in Song!
The first thing I want to do this morning is show you that this text has to do with you and your future. If I can't do that, there is no good reason for you to pay any attention. Your life has so many pressures and stresses, the last thing you need is some irrelevant bit of religious information from 2,700 years ago. So let me try to win your hearing by showing you that this text is God's word for you this morning, and that it has tremendous relevance for your future.
Who Is the "You"?
First of all let's take the "you" in verse 12. "For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace." Who is this "you"? It's the same people that have been spoken to all along.
To All Who Respond to God's Great Invitation
In verse 6 it's the person who seeks the Lord while he may be found and calls upon him while he is near. In verse 7 it's the wicked person who forsakes his way and the unrighteous person who forsakes his thoughts—the people who return to the Lord for mercy and pardon.
In verse 1 it's the people who come to the water because they are thirsty. And even though they have no money, they "buy" wine and milk without money and without price.
In other words, the "you" of verse 12 is a person who feels need in his soul, hears the voice of God offering refreshment and nourishment and exhilaration, seeks the Lord while he may be found, calls upon him while he is near, drinks from the fountain of life, receives mercy and pardon for all sins, and trusts in the triumphant promises of God described in verse 11—"my word . . . shall accomplish that which I purpose and prosper in the thing for which I sent it."
Is that you this morning? In other words, have you been responding to what God offers in this Great Invitation of Isaiah 55? If so, you are the one being talked about in verse 12.
Didn't Isaiah Write to the Jews of His Day?
But someone might say, "Are you sure? Isn't this book written for Jews? Isn't it part of the Hebrew Bible? Can I be sure that I, a Gentile, 2,700 years later, can lay any claim to this promise? Let me answer in two ways.
One is to remind you that all Gentiles who trust in Jesus, the Messiah, become true Jews. We are united to THE seed of Abraham, and become heirs with him of all the promises (Romans 2:29; Galatians 3:29).
The other answer is to look at how the Bible closes in Revelation 22. When the Bible is coming to a close and throwing out the Great Invitation as widely as it possibly can to all men and women and children everywhere, the language that it uses is taken straight out of Isaiah 55. Consider Revelation 22:17,
The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.
That's the same Great Invitation as Isaiah 55:1. But Revelation is clearly meant for everyone. It is not just for Jews or Greeks or Americans or whites or blacks or Asians or Hispanics or Indians. It's for everyone.
So I say to you with great confidence, that you have been included all the way along in this chapter and if you have called on the Lord and turned from your sin and drunk from the water of life, this final promise is yours. It has to do with your future.
When Will All This Take Place?
But when is it referring to? When will we go out in joy? When will the mountains and hills break forth into singing?
I think verse 13 gives us the clue to answer that question. It says, "Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle."
When Adam's Curse Is Lifted from the World
When Adam sinned back in Genesis 3, a curse came on the whole creation. Part of that curse was that man's labor would be made hard and frustrating by thorns and briers. Genesis 3:17–18 says, "Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field."
So I think what Isaiah 55:13 is saying is that the curse will be lifted. Thorns and briers will be done away with. And in their place will come things of beauty and strength and usefulness, the cypress and the myrtle. The last line of verse 13 shows that this promise has to do with more than just a brief change in agriculture. This change is "for an everlasting sign which shall not be cut off."
So what is being promised here is a major world change when the curse is lifted and all creation supports human life rather than making life hard. This is the kingdom of God established on the earth.
A Beautiful and Radical Change
It's described beautifully in Isaiah 11:6–9—a promise that comes right after the promise of Christ, the shoot from the stump of Jesse, the Son of David (remember Isaiah 55:4).
Note: Is it a coincidence that when Jesus suffered to bear the curse of sin and remove it from us, he wore a crown of thorns? Was this not a graphic way of saying, he is carrying the curse for you, even the curse of the ground, so that one day you could sit under cypresses on soft green grass with no thorns anymore?
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Concerning the Whole World
In other words this radical change has to do with the whole world—"the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." Therefore it has to do with all the inhabitants of the earth including you. When Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," he was simply saying that the last part of Isaiah 55 belongs to the people who are described in the first part of Isaiah 55—the promise of a new earth belongs to the thirsty, the hungry, the sinners who seek the Lord and call on his name and turn away from the broken cisterns of sin to drink their fill at God's fountain of life.
There is coming a day when all of pain and bloodshed and hostility and tragedy will be over. Revelation 21:4 describes it like this: "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."
No more massacres in Burundi, no more bloodshed in Burma, no more earthquakes in Nepal. "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:4).
One day—and perhaps very soon—at the last trumpet this age will close, the Son of man will descend with power and great glory (Mark 13:26). The dead in Christ will be raised with glorious new bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Philippians 3:21). And the Lord "will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:41–43).
So my answer is that this promise in the last two verses of Isaiah 55 has to do with you and has tremendous relevance for your future.
What Sort of Future Is God Planning for You?
Now what sort of future is it? What kind of future is God planning for you?
You Will Be Happy
First, he is planning that you will be happy. Verse 12: "You shall go out in joy." We have some happiness now, with our sins forgiven, and a purpose to live for, and the hope of perfection. But there is very much grief and sorrow mixed into our joy in this age with all its sin and pain.
That's why the word "go out" is important. "You shall go out in joy." There is a lot in this world we want to GO OUT of. And God knows that. In fact he is planning that. And his plan is that we will go out IN JOY. When this age is over, the age of perfect happiness begins. God is planning that you will be happy forever.
You Will Have Peace
Second, God is planning for you to have peace. Verse 12: "You shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace." The hope of joy implies that all the inner turmoil will be taken away. The hope of peace implies that all the outer turmoil will be overcome and banished.
That's why the phrase "be led forth" is important: "You shall be led forth in peace." It implies that we have a leader and commander (v. 4) who will lead us and help us. One we can trust. One who will be victorious and bring the peace we long for. Swords to plowshares! Study war no more!
So God is planning that (inside) you will be happy forever, and he is planning that (outside) there will be peace forever. No more terrorism or war or abortion or rape or arson or fraud or slander or any discord at all.
Nature Will Be Entirely For You
There are some things in the world that we want to "go out" of—things we want to "be led forth" from. But not everything. Not the Rocky Mountains of Colorado or the Blue Ridge Hills of North Carolina; not the trees of the field, the cypress and myrtle and oak and maple and divine and ash and willow and elm and dogwood and palm and redwood and spruce and poplar and holly and hickory.
These we don't want to lose. And God makes clear in these verses that we will not lose them in the age to come. In fact what he says is not only that they will be there, but they will be there to celebrate your coming. Verse 12b:
The mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle.
In other words in the new world where the curse is overcome, nature will not only stop being against you (thorns, briers, drought, floods, earthquakes), nature will be entirely for you. That's surely what it means that trees are clapping and mountains and hills are singing before you as you come. All creation will celebrate the revealing of the children of God. (See Romans 8:19, 21.)
So God is planning for you to be happy forever. He is planning for you to live in peace forever. And he is planning that good and beautiful things in his creation be preserved for your exhilaration forever and ever.
What Is the Memorial God Makes for Himself?
Now one more point needs to be made before we close with a personal application.
The last part of verse 13 says that all this change, all this transformation of God's universe, is going intended to be a memorial (literally: a "name") to the Lord. It is going to be an everlasting sign that will not be cut off.
Now think about this for a moment. You can tell a lot about a leader by the kind of memorial he erects for himself. And you can tell a lot about your God by the kind of memorial he builds for himself. It is fitting that God seek a memorial for himself. He is GOD! He ought to be remembered. Everything, absolutely everything, ought to point to God and remind us of God in the age to come. Everything should be a kind of sign that sends our thoughts to the God and reminds us of the kind of Person he is.
This is right for God to build himself a memorial. It is right for God to make an everlasting sign of his character that shall never be cut off.
What then is it? What is the memorial (the name, the renown) that God has made for himself? Answer: the everlasting happiness of his people.
Verse 13b: "And it shall be to the Lord for a memorial." What is "it"? "It" is the getting rid of thorns and briers, the coming up of cypresses and myrtles, the clapping of trees, the singing of mountains, and the peace and joy of you and me.
Do you see what that means about our God? It means that all the omnipotent energy and zeal that engages his heart to bring glory to his name, is the very same omnipotent energy and zeal that engages his heart to bring joy to you and me. Nothing is more encouraging in all the world than to know that the way God means to memorialize his glory is by making you happy forever and ever. God's passion to glorify himself is also his passion to satisfy his people.
Summary and Personal Application
So we may sum it all up like this: the Great Invitation in this chapter is the invitation to trust in the promise that God is planning for you to be happy forever. He is planning for you to live in peace forever. He is planning that mountains and hills and trees increase your joy. And he has written his seal across these promises by saying that they are his name; your joy is God's fame. Your happiness is God's reputation. Your peace is God's memorial. And this is an everlasting sign of his love that shall not be cut off.
Does your life bear the mark of this hope? The apostle Peter said that hope like this should be visible in your life: people should see it in your life and ask you why you have it. Does your life bear the mark of this hope?
What is the mark? Hopeful people rejoice in their hope (Romans 12:12). Hopeful people are patient with each other (James 5:7–11). Hopeful people have love for all the saints (Colossians 1:4–5). Hopeful people are bold in their witness for Christ (2 Corinthians 3:12).
Do you feel the confidence that God is planning for you to be happy forever and ever and ever? And that this means as much to him as his own glory?
God has been working in these five weeks as we have listened to his voice in Isaiah 55. We want to close by inviting you to come and testify to me or to David or to David Livingston what God has done in your life or to let us pray for him to do what yet needs to be done in response to his word in this chapter.