The Lord is moving among us at Bethlehem to stir up a heart for people without Christ. For many of us, new ventures in evangelism are in the offing. New power and new boldness are coming to many.
As I returned from vacation, I was eager to stoke this fire with the word. I was eager to get into the Old Testament for a while. And I was eager to do some continuous exposition of a longer passage of Scripture. I believe the Lord led me to Isaiah 55 to satisfy all these goals.
I’m calling the series, “The Great Invitation.”
God Is a Very Inviting God
And what I want us to see in this first message based on Isaiah 55:1–3 is that God is a very inviting God.
The word “inviting” has two meanings, doesn’t it? You can say, “This spot is inviting.” And you mean that it is pleasant and attractive and that you feel drawn to come here.
Or, you can say, “Tom is inviting us to come to his house on Thursday.” And you mean that something special is happening, and he says he wants us to come.
The great and wonderful thing about God is that he is inviting in both these ways. No text in the Bible shows this more vividly than Isaiah 55:1–3.
The Work of Redemption Foreseen in Isaiah
Let me put it in context for you. Back in chapter 53, Isaiah described in amazing detail 700 years ahead of time how Christ would come and suffer and bear the sins of God’s people and die in our place and rise again. Look at Isaiah 53:4–6:
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned — every one — to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
There is the great substitution: Christ in our place, taking our sins on himself.
Now, look at his death in verse 8:
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation,
who considered that he was cut off
out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
So, he died not for his own sin, but for the sin of his people — the people who trust him and follow him.
Then, look at his resurrection in verse 12:
Therefore I [God the Father] will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
Death was not the end of Christ. He bore the sins of many. But God then honored him with the spoils of victory over death and sin. He is now alive and reigning in heaven till he comes again.
So, in chapter 53, we can say that the prophet Isaiah sees the work of redemption as accomplished in the death and resurrection of Christ 700 years in the future.
Great Blessings as a Result of Redemption
Then in chapter 54, Isaiah foresees some of the great blessings that will come to God’s people because the Messiah has overcome the problem of their guilt and sin (described in chapter 53). Let me just show you one of these that will lead us to our Great Invitation in Isaiah 55.
On Wednesday, May 31, 1792, William Carey, about to become the father of modern missions, preached a sermon to his fellow Baptist pastors from Isaiah 54:2–3. He argued that this text is a great missionary text and that the point of it is that God wills for his people to expand until all the peoples of the world are included.
“Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; hold not back, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.”
In other words, one of the great blessings that would come to the people of God because of Christ’s death and resurrection is that all the nations would be touched. Christ’s redemption is not just for Jews. It’s not just for us. It is for all the nations.
And this leads us then to The Great Invitation in Isaiah 55. If redemption is accomplished, and God’s will is that the blessings of this redemption spread to all the nations, then it does not surprise that God comes forward with a Great Invitation not just for a few, and not just for those who can pay their way, but for everyone.
Three Questions About Isaiah 55:1–3
Let’s look at Isaiah 55:1–3 and ask three questions:
- Who are invited?
- What are they offered?
- What are they told to do in order to get it?
1. Who Are Invited?
The answer is, two kinds of people. The first kind is described in verse 1, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
The Thirsty and Broke
The first kind of person that God invites to come to him is thirsty people who can’t pay for what they need. Two things: thirsty, and can’t pay.
So, let me say a word to those of you in this category. You have come this morning with thirst in your heart. Your heart feels like the brown grass in my backyard. It hasn’t rained for a long time. A lot of old hopes have dried up. Dreams have waited and almost died. Dead-end streets again and again. Empty. Unfulfilled. Dissatisfied. Knowing there has to be something more to life.
But now everything that looks good is out of reach. No money. No strength. No motivation. But at least a longing. A thirst.
And the Lord says, You’re just the candidate I am after: Come, everyone who thirsts and has no money — no resources, no bargaining position, no track record, no power, no prestige, no pull. God is inviting you this morning to enjoy the banquet of salvation.
But there is a second kind of person whom God invites. And I’m glad because I think that the rest of you who don’t feel like you are in that category will fit into this one, if you are honest. This kind of person is described in verse 2.
“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”
In verse 1, God said, “He who has no money, come!” In verse 2, he talks to someone who has money, who has the strength to labor. The first kind of person is spiritually bankrupt and knows it. They are thirsty and broke. But the second kind of person isn’t there yet. He’s got money and he is spending it. He’s got strength and he is laboring.
But what’s the result? Frustration. He’s not like the other guy — burnt out, at the end of his rope. He is still spending and still working, dreaming, chasing, searching, experimenting — different job, different city, different car, different house, different wife, new computer, new boat, new books, new bike, new grill, new season tickets, new diet, new looks — there’s still a lot of looking around left in this person. But still no pot at the end of the rainbow. No fountain of youth. And every triumph peters out. The applause fades. The boat is boring. The style passes. Everything new gets old, and the options get fewer and fewer.
When you are honest, you know there is a canyon of need and longing on the inside, no matter how self-sufficient you look on the outside. And God knows even better than you. He has you in mind when he says, Why do you spend your money for bread which is no-bread, and labor for dreams that do not satisfy?
So, two kinds of people are invited by the Lord: the thirsty who are broke and cannot pay, and the thirsty who think they can pay and work their way to satisfaction.
I think everybody in this room would have to admit to being in one of those two groups, if we were honest with ourselves.
2. What Are We Offered?
The answer is given in three steps:
- the benefits are pictured for us in verse 1,
- the quality and quantity of these benefits are mentioned in verse 2,
- and the reality behind the pictures is described in verse 3.
In verse 1, we are offered water, wine, and milk. “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
Don’t these three beverages correspond to deep needs that every one of us has?
Water corresponds to the need for refreshment. When you are most thirsty and most desperate, most dehydrated, it’s water that you want, and nothing else. “He leads me beside still waters. He restores [refreshes] my soul” (Psalm 23:2–3). God invites you this morning to receive refreshment, restoration, reviving, a new beginning.
Milk corresponds to the need for ongoing nourishment. When someone is gasping for life, you give them water. But when you want a little baby to grow day after day, you give him 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 also to be stable and strong with milk.
Wine corresponds to the need for exhilaration. We want to live and not die. We want to be strong and stable instead of weak and wavering. But that is not all we need in life. No matter how stoic, unemotional, phlegmatic, laid-back, or poker-faced we may seem to others, there is a child inside of every one of us that God made for exhilaration — for shouting and singing and dancing and playing and skipping and running and jumping and laughing.
So, what verse 1 says is that God is willing to revive us from the heat of Death Valley with the miracle of his water; and make us strong and healthy and stable with the miracle of his milk; and then give us endless and ever-fresh exhilaration with the miracle of his wine.
The Quality and Quantity of the Benefits
The last part of verse 2 describes the quality and quantity of these benefits of water, milk, and wine. It says, “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” The word “good” means that what God offers is top quality; it’s the best there is. And the word “rich food” (or “fatness”) means there is a lot of it (Psalm 65:11; 36:8).
The water is good and it’s plentiful. The milk is good and it’s plentiful. The wine is good and it’s plentiful. The Bible loves to talk about the riches of God’s glory and the fullness of joy at his right hand. He gives what is best and it never runs out. Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
The Reality Behind the Imagery
Then, in verse 3, God tells us what the reality is behind all this imagery. “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.”
In verse 1, he said, “Come to the waters . . . come, buy wine and milk.” In verse 3, he explains, “Come to me.” God is our living water. God is our nourishing milk. God is our exhilarating wine. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that 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; 42:1–2; 63:1–3).
But we can be even more specific. He goes on to say in verse 3 that when we come to him, he makes a covenant with us. What kind of covenant? The same kind of covenant that he made with King David in 2 Samuel 7 — a covenant of “steadfast, sure love.” This means that, when you come to God, he binds himself by an unbreakable oath to pursue you with goodness and mercy all your days right into eternity — with ever-refreshing water, and ever-strengthening milk, and ever-exhilarating wine, forever and ever!
Which brings us to a final practical question.
3. What Are We Told to Do to Get These Benefits?
There are 12 imperatives in these 3 verses — the most pleasant, most inviting 12 commandments you will ever hear. I’ll point them out as we read it together.
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters [#1]; and he who has no money, come [#2], buy [#3] and eat [#4]! Come [#5], buy wine and milk [#6] without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me [#7], and eat what is good [#8], and delight yourselves in rich food [#9]. Incline your ear [#10], and come to me [#11]; hear [#12], that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.”
When you ponder these 12 commandments for a moment, they fall into a natural pattern. First, there are three commands to listen carefully to what God is saying (one in verse 2 and two in verse 3). So, I urge you, as we close, take heed how you hear. Are you leaning into God’s word? God pleads this morning: don’t let the advertisements for the world drown out this invitation to heaven!
Then all the rest of God’s bidding fall into four steps:
And this is what the Bible means by faith.
Remember: in verse 1 he says, “Come to the waters,” but in verse 3 he says, “Come to me.” God himself is the water and the milk and the wine.
Everybody in this room is somewhere in these four steps. And I call you to take another one this morning.
If you are distant from God, you need to come, draw near.
If you have drawn near in recent days or just this morning, but hold back from any transaction analyzing and appraising, you need to buy. I admit it is a strange transaction: there is no price and you are spiritually bankrupt. But you must take this water and milk and wine, and count it yours just as much as if you had bought it, for there is one who has bought it.
If you have made the transaction and hold the water and milk and wine in your hand, you need to eat. God is not a thing to be studied. He is a person to be experienced. He is food and life and joy for the soul.
Finally, if you have eaten, delight yourself in the Lord. And say with the psalmist, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).