Mike Cope tells the story of how Don Jackson, an elder in the church, served part of his career in government as senior U.S. liaison officer to the Court of Saint James. Listen to his personal description of being invited into the presence of the queen of England:
“I was aware of a commotion outside of my office window at the American Embassy in London. I looked out the window and saw a royal carriage painted red and gold and drawn by four magnificent , matched, dapple-gray horses, and accompanied by a troop of Royal Grenadiers. I returned to my desk, and shortly my secretary appeared at the door and said, "You have a guest." She stepped back to reveal a gentleman dressed in red and gold, highly bemetaled, bewigged, and carrying a mace which he pounded on the floor three times. Then he unfurled a scroll and began to read: Elizabeth, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and her other realms and territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith…commands the Lord Chamberlain to invite Dr. and Mrs. Don Jackson to an evening reception at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, 26ffi November 1980, at 7:30 p.m. Evening dress with decorations. Again he pounded the floor three times and stepped back. Then another gentleman, also in royal uniform, appeared in the doorway and identified himself as the Royal Marshall of the Diplomatic Corps and may he please have some of my time, he asked. We sat down, and he instructed me for over an hour on how to be presented to Her Majesty, the queen.”
That would be an exciting "invitation" to receive! It's one that you would never forget that's for sure!
Some invitations are exciting. Others are meaningful, like, “Will you marry me?” Some we never tire of hearing, "Play ball!" At other times, though, there are invitations that we become so accustomed to, we tune them out and it's time to get out the song book at the conclusion of a sermon...time for making plans about lunch.
"Come, all you who are thirsty…come buy wine and milk without money…”—v.1
God, as King, invites Israel to "come" to the banquet that He alone is able to provide. Historically, the pre-exilic period, often the king would sponsor a yearly feast to which all (even the poor and marginalized, would be invited as guests).
- Recall, the beginning of David's reign when the ark of the covenant was brought into Jerusalem, David danced before the Lord, and shared bounty and food with all, small and great, in celebration of the blessings of God (2 Samuel 6).
- Solomon, as well, at the dedication of the temple, had a great feast for all the people for two weeks (1 Kings 8:65-66).
- The key for us is to hear the nature of the invitation. Our problem is our skepticism, our suspicion and we are tempted to ask, "What's the catch?...after all, there ain't no free lunch!” But this is God's invitation. In exile, Israel seemingly has no king, but God is renewing the feast!
The Uniqueness of the Invitation:
It's "free", yeah, but what's on the menu? And who are the others invited? "We want to be in control of the company we keep! As someone has said, “to live above with those I love, that will be glory. To live below, with those we know, well, that's another story!" Just ask the elder brother in the story of the Prodigal Son. He wouldn’t even go in the house! His father had to leave the party, and entreat him to come inside, saying, “We had to celebrate!”
But, the point here is that God will be there.
What is promised is an intimate relationship with God, as their King and Provider. Being in exile, "they were now paying tribute and performing service in Babylon without receiving anything in return.”
God's invitation is more than just "water and bread" or "wine and milk", which does not truly satisfy, but the "richest fare" of divine blessing that only He provides. This echoes the bounty of the Promised Land!
“I will make you like David”—v.3
The big question in the minds of the exiles was: have we gone so far away from God that he would never take us back? After all, things look pretty bad here in Babylon!
When things are going badly, you might be wondering about the promises of old, such as that special relationship to establish and maintain rule through Davidic promise, like in 2 Samuel 7. This brings up questions of theodicy, God’s presence/absence even when you can’t see/know His purpose. When God uses wicked Babylon to punish Israel, then using the Persians to punish the Babylonians and save Israel. This prompts Jim Roberts to say, “God does not work the way we expect, so get used to it.”
Here is an invitation that is not to be ignored for any reason. But, will He in spite of their terrible guilt, take them back? The answer is in verse seven. Israel might not have forgiven, but they are not like God, verses 8-9. What God promises, he fulfills. As surely as the rain and snow falls and returns back to the heavens, so also the plans and purposes of God will not fail to be accomplished.
The promises here are three:
- A New Covenant: This is not just a royal picnic. Here is a call to become "royal people." Though Israel has not been faithful, this invitation comes because their God is faithful. It is His (chesed or faithful love) that it is being accomplished. Here the invitation is extended beyond the privileged elite to embrace the entire community of those obedient to God's word.
- A New Exodus: "You will go out in joy and be led in peace" (v. 12). God is again calling "slaves" out of captivity.
- A New Destiny: Here we see God's word accomplishing what it always sets out to do, as has always been the case in the history of Israel. The purpose of God of which the fulfillment is promised in v.11 is a purpose that encompasses the whole earth and has in it blessings for all humankind. With this in mind, all nature bursts into a song of praise (vs. 12-13). The redemption of man is the redemption of God's creation. The mountains and the hills sing with thankfulness, and the trees clap their hands ... the image is that of a joyous festival in celebration of a victory. Nature as well as humankind is transformed and it would forever be a sign to all of the power of the living God. Here, there is a reversal of the curse, and the land judged along with the people, returns to goodness and beauty, instead of thorn and brier, there is pine and myrtle.
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The Universality of the Invitation:
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near…” (v. 6-9)
To all the dispossessed: "faithful and unfaithful," Jew and Gentile! This raises the issue of fairness. We are reminded of the inclusion of those whom the “insiders” might not consider worthy of such an invitation:
- The Pharisee and the Publican—"Lord, I thank you that I am not like others..." (Luke 18).
- Jesus and Samaritan woman (John 4), "surprised to find him talking with a woman" (John 4:27).
- The elder son (Luke 15:28) was "angry and refused to go in." The father's response to an apparent inequity, "But we had to celebrate and be glad..." (v.32). (Challenges conventions of who’s in and who’s out?)
There is only one thing stands in the way of God’s “free” invitation…The appeal to join the feast that Yahweh provides is possible only through “seeking” and “returning” to Him. (v. 6-7) where there is found “mercy” and “pardon.”
God's response to Israel---"my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways." That's the way grace is. It is grace that receives a sinful, but repentant Israel back. It's grace that extends the invitation to the whole world (John 3:16)
New Testament Invitations:
- Jesus' invitation- "Come to me aIl you who are weary and burdened..." (Matthew 11:28 -30). Everyone will not come, but only those who meet the prerequisites. It must be those who are "hungering and thirsting" after God and what He has to offer, says Matthew 5:6. Only in Him will people be "satisfied."
- Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24). God gives invitation to his own people first. Refusing His invitation, they are rebuked by, “not one of those men who were invited will get to taste of my banquet." Nothing must get in the way of God's invitation! Possessions, “I’ve bought a field…,” (v.18), nor Business, “I’ve bought five yoke of oxen…,” (v.19), nor Family, “I just got married, so I can’t come,” (v.20) should keep us from a relationship with God. But, here in Luke, the invitation is extended not only in the urban "streets and alleys," but also to "roads and country lanes." His invitation goes out everywhere to bring in the "poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame."
- Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard: (Matthew 20:1-16) God's grace of salvation is extended to all, early or late and is "fair." I once baptized a man who was 80 years old. He had more joy than ever before imagined. His family rejoiced in his faith. Some may wonder, "but he lived his whole life away from God!" His family ... the angels... God would never say that!
- Our call is to be "a holy nation ... a people of God's own possession." (1 Peter 2:9-10). We are called to "declare his praises." There is a "call," but along with the call a "promise" to become "the people of God."
- Revelation 21:-6- "to him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life." This echoes Isaiah’s invitation. It is a return to Edenic glory as a community that has perfect fellowship with God and perfect provision from God.
What do we take away from this text?
- Both God’s grace and His goodness are free! It is only in admitting that we are totally dependent upon God for all that we have and all that we are that we are able to accept His invitation of salvation.
- The trustworthiness of God’s promises. We, as humans, do not produce rain and snow. It descends without any human effort. So also will God’s word and purposes be fulfilled. Whether it is in preaching and teaching, or coming along side someone who is experiencing tragedy or serious illness, it is liberating to know that there is much that you cannot control and much of positive coping comes with hope in God and in reliance on the promises of His word which are unfailing.
- The sovereignty of God. Whether we are students or faculty, we are all human. Sooner or later, we will find ourselves in a time of wilderness, a time of exile where we will question God’s “chesed,” his faithful love toward us. This text reminds us that we, like Job, will not always understand, but we are called to trust that he is in control over the Universe and over our lives as well, even when circumstances seem to indicate otherwise.
It may be the most important invitation that we ever hear! How shall we respond?
"The Spirit and the bride say, "Come?" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life."—Revelation 22:17
The Scripture: Isaiah 55
“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.
2 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, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 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.
4 Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
6 “Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
7 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.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12 “For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
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