(This is an edited version of the sermon on Isaiah 55 at the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge on Sunday June 9th)
To get the force of the invitation which the living Lord God gives to people through his prophet Isaiah we need to exercise a bit of imagination.
It is difficult to imagine why anybody would want to go on a safari through the Sahara Desert but imagine you were on one. And you’re in a convoy of Land Rovers and you get lost. The Land Rovers run out of petrol, you’re stranded, your water runs out, your food runs out. It’s getting desperate.
But then a cheery chap in a British embassy bus turns up. He looks a bit like the quintessential British comic actor of the 1950s, Terry-Thomas, with his handlebar moustache and toothy grin. ‘Hop in,’ he says. ‘We’d heard you were lost. It’s been all over the news. It’s actually not that far to a 5-star hotel a few sand dunes away where there are water fountains and plenty of nosh and champagne on ice. All on the HM revenue. Glad we’ve managed to track you down. We’ve going to have a bit of a party.’
It may be the stuff of fantasy but what would be your emotion at that point? How would you feel to get an invitation like that under those circumstances?
‘Oh. whatever. I might get round to thinking about it.’ ‘I might come if there’s nothing better to do.’ ‘No, actually I’m not coming because I’m building a new patio.’ Or, ‘Go away – I’m going to get out of this myself.’ Such reactions to such an invitation would be inconceivable, surely, under such desperate circumstances.
The people to whom the living God issues his wonderful invitation in Isaiah 55 are in desperate need – they are thirsty, hungry and broke. Please look at verses 1&2: ‘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. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare’ (NIV).
This invitation to desperate people is an invitation to receive the salvation which the Lord’s Suffering Servant, God’s Messiah, has achieved for sinful people facing the judgement of God. We heard about that last week in Isaiah 53 – all we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way and the Lord has laid on him, on his Suffering Servant, on his Messiah, the iniquity, the deliberate wilful wrongdoing, of us all.
We’ve heard in this sermon series how Isaiah’s original hearers in Jerusalem 700 years or so before Christ were disinclined to listen to God. Their hearts were hardened and the longer they rejected Isaiah’s message the harder their hearts became. But in God’s goodness, this wonderful invitation to desperate people was preserved in the book of Isaiah and people more inclined to listen would be able to have access to it, to hear the Lord’s invitation to his party celebrating the salvation from sin and death and judgement which his suffering Servant has achieved.
By God’s grace that is us Christian people here this morning. We are here this morning because we have accepted God’s invitation and so we are here receiving the rich nourishment of the Word of God and about to gather around the Lord’s Table to celebrate the eternal salvation our Lord Jesus Christ has achieved through his sin-bearing death on the Cross for us. By God’s grace we Christian people have accepted God’s gracious invitation to receive his wonderful salvation.
But as we conclude this sermon series in the book of Isaiah, let’s this morning look closely at the wording of God’s invitation in v1&2 of Isaiah chpt 55, so that we can encourage and warm our minds and hearts with the truth of God’s gracious invitation.
Please look at v1: ‘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.’
As Christian people we have come to realise that in and of ourselves we are spiritual bankrupts before God. We have no spiritual and moral resources with which to buy favour from God. Nothing we can do can achieve the forgiveness of sins we so desperately need. We have come to realise in our case, to quote from the great hymn Rock of Ages, a hymn to Christ: ‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy Cross I cling.’ So we’ve realised our own spiritual and moral bankruptcy before God – we who had no money have come to the party of salvation.
Secondly, from the wording of God’s invitation, we’ve realised that this salvation which we desperately need is entirely God’s gracious gift to us. We have received the wine and the milk of God’s salvation without money and without cost to resources that we don’t have. It’s entirely God’s gift.
Thirdly, from the wording of the invitation – we are convinced of God’s reasoning, God’s argument, for accepting his invitation. Please look at v2: ‘Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.’
What is the religion, the spiritual path, that most people around here are committed to and following? We might be inclined to say, No religion. People round here aren’t religious, generally speaking. That may be true in terms of a census return but it’s not true spiritually because people made in the image of God, which is everybody, will worship, and if they’re not worshipping the true and living God, they will worship something else.
What is it most people around here are worshipping? Is it not the self? Are not most people in our society today worshipping the cult of the self? My rights, my happiness, my career, my pleasure, my way.
But what an unfulfilling empty religion that is. How can people made in the image of God, created to worship God and to enjoy him for ever, possibly find fulfilment in turning in on themselves? No wonder, there is so much anger, and resentment and frustration and despair in our society at the moment.
God’s question in v2 is absolutely bang up to date, isn’t it? Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?
All the effort, all the energy, all the time, all the money spent on worshipping ourselves does not satisfy our souls. But the living God does.
By God’s grace as Christian people we have been won over by God’s argument for accepting his invitation. We have been convinced by God’s reasoning. We’ve realised that the Lord’s Suffering Servant, the Lord’s Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ and only our Lord Jesus Christ can satisfy our souls – nothing else can. We have come to realise that he is the bread of life. When we come to him in dependent faith and thankful trust our spiritual needs are met and our souls are satisfied with the richest of fare.