Rodney Gehman – December 24, 2023 – Isaiah 55:1-13
We say this from time to time but you did not choose a perfect church this afternoon. We don’t claim to be the church to end all churches, but do claim to have a great and powerful Savior whose name is Jesus, and it’s our hope that you are able to see him clearly in all that is said and done here tonight.
Speaking of our gathering here on Christmas Eve, everyone of you, directly or indirectly, got an invitation to be here this afternoon – whether it was a friend saying “Hey come to our church”, [ 002 ] or it was an online invitation, someone posted “If you need a place to go, come to River City”, or you just found our website and read the words “all are welcome.” In any case, you somehow came to the conclusion that you would not be crashing the party uninvited.
Unlike a guy I met many years ago, when I took a couple friends to a conference in Nashville TN. And we booked the cheapest motel I could find. This was in the mid-2000’s, so $40/night. But, you know how most conferences are, they are packed full of activities, sessions, speaker panels, and all that stuff, morning to evening, so you’re hardly ever in the hotel anyway, right? So we got one super cheap. We got checked in, found our rooms, and like motels do, ours had an outside facing door.
It was a beautiful day, and we were all hanging out in one room, so we had the door propped open, letting the breeze in, and since we had an hour to kill before we needed to head to the conference center, we turned on the TV to see if there were any ball games or something to watch. And it was in the middle of watching whatever was on TV, that all of a sudden, through the open door without a word, a knock, or anything, comes the motel front desk person, walks into the room, pulls open a drawer on the TV stand, rummages around for a couple seconds, and then leaves. NEVER SAID A WORD.
We all just looked at each other, like, “What just happened?” Apparently he saw the open door as his invitation to make himself at home, and he didn’t see any reason why he would have to explain himself.
Tonight we are going to open our Bibles to one of the greatest invitations you will ever read. The front door is going to be left wide open for you, and you won’t have to worry that you’re crashing the party or that the host will wonder what in the world you’re doing there.
So, if you have your Bible with you or you have a Bible app on your phone, I would love for you to open it up to the book of Isaiah.
[ 003 ] Isaiah chapter 55, and here is the opening line of this invitation: 1 Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the water; and you without silver, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without silver and without cost!
Four times, the invitation is to come! Get over here! You are wanted! But right away you see this invitation comes with a condition. And that condition is that you have to show up thirsty and hungry. And you’re like, okay, so far so good. I’ve been invited to parties like that before, where they text you to be here at 6, and you say what can we bring, and they say, just bring your appetite.
But then here’s where you might look at the invitation a little funny… come to the water; and you without silver, come, buy, and eat! So you have to be hungry and broke. The invitation is to anyone who doesn’t have what it takes to buy the food and drink yourself – you’re invited. You who are poor. Come buy wine and milk without a price tag.
And right here is where it’s helpful to know that this is a prophet speaking, and prophet us metaphors quite a bit. And in a lot of places in scripture, wine is a metaphor for joy/gladness, and in other places, milk represents abundance and provision.
That means the people coming to this party are being told, you don’t have to have money to purchase joy and gladness, abundance and life. That sounds pretty good. That’s what we’re all looking for, isn’t it? We all want a full and happy life, and if I can get it for free, that’s even better! But verse 2 [ 004 ] tells us why those who are invited don’t have any money:
2 Why do you spend silver on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy?
Ah, now you see where the money went. It was spent. It was used up on stuff that doesn’t satisfy or bring life, things that don’t bring joy. This is the dangerous part of Christmas. I’m not trying to ruin your evening here, but most of the presents that we can’t wait to unwrap will either be replaced, forgotten, broken, or in a landfill within a few years. They will bring a smile for a short time, and that’s not a bad thing, but it will not be the kind of food that sustains you for the long haul. It is more like a pack of Smarties, or a Snickers bar that gives you a short delight and then leaves you hungry and thirsty again.
And so Isaiah says, look, stop investing your life in things that can’t actually sustain your life. Stop investing your resources in things that won’t [ 005 ] actually satisfy: Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods. This meal that you are being invited to here in Isaiah has the best food there is on the table. A full spread of the choicest foods – the literal translation of this word is, eat what is good and you will enjoy fatness. Come to this table, and eat and drink until you can’t move.
So where do we find this delicious meal that is going to bring life and joy and abundance to poor and thirsty people? [ 006 ] Verse 3: 3 Pay attention and come to me; listen, so that you will live. He says “come to me and listen… so that you will live.”
The last verse of chapter 54 tells us who is speaking here. Isaiah the prophet is writing this down, but it’s none other than God himself who is speaking. The Lord of heaven and earth. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One, Exodus 34 says, who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, and also punishes the wicked. The God that Jesus invited us to pray to as “our Father in heaven, whose name is hallowed… the one who has the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.” That’s the God who is sending the invitation, come to Me and listen.
Pay attention to this invitation. Don’t just stick it on the fridge and forget about it. Put it on your calendar. [ 007 ] Mark it down. 6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call to him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked one abandon his way and the sinful one his thoughts; Change all of your other plans, leave behind the way you look for life in something other than God’s purposes in the world, abandon all the things you thought would give you life that are not God’s thoughts, and respond to this invitation.…and return to the Lord, because this invitation will not last forever.
“While he may be found” implies that there is a time coming when you will look for the Lord and you won’t be able to find him. “While he is near” implies there is a time coming when you will call to him in repentance or sorrow, and he will not be near.
The day is coming when it will be too late, and you won’t be able to show up to the door pointing to verse one and saying, look, you told me to come to you! So here I am! You don’t me I don’t need silver, so I didn’t bring any! You told me I could come, and so here I am and I’m thirsty for you! I’m looking for the Lord! And the reply you’ll get is, he can’t be found anymore. You had your chance and you missed it. You waited too long to respond and now the door is shut.
So there is an urgency to this invitation. There isn’t time to waste.
Now, I know no one in this room thinks verse 7 applies to you when it talks about the wicked one or the sinful one. Oh, I’m not perfect, but wicked? No, wicked is Hamas, not me. Sinful? No, that’s the guy at work who is cheating on his wife. But me? Nah. I’m a good person, I try to do what’s right.
But for verse 7 to say the wicked and sinful should “return” to the Lord, that implies that anyone who is living life on their own terms, where their ways (their behaviors, their habits, their routines, their schedule) could be described as “away from the Lord”, or their thoughts (their mindset, their motives, the way they process life) could be described as “away from the Lord,” those people are wicked or sinful in the Lord’s eyes. You and I don’t think of ourselves as wicked or sinful because we’re comparing ourselves to the wrong people. We compare ourselves to people who have done really horrible things. But scripture doesn’t hold us up to other people and say just try to be better than them. Scripture holds us up against God himself, and says “be holy, like I am holy.”
So, compared to God, are you wicked and sinful? If you don’t think so, you have a twisted view of God, and I would be happy to talk with you about that.
But here’s what blows my mind about God. Right after calling us wicked and sinful people, he invites us to come to his place for dinner for a massive spread where you can eat and drink until you are stuffed. And finally in the rest of verse 7 we find out what food is being served when sinful and wicked people return to the Lord [ 008 ] – return to the Lord so he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will freely forgive.
You are being invited to eat compassion and drink forgiveness, for free, until you are too stuffed to move! Compassion and forgiveness are the wine and milk that you are invited to purchase without money! It’s free!
You’ve heard people say, maybe even this weekend, I’d better not go to church – even the pastor knows if I walk in the door, the whole place will burn down, or lightning will strike. Verse 7 is your promise that will never happen. If you come to Jesus, he won’t burn you down – he’ll forgive you! The Bible is full of liars, cheaters, manipulators, prostitutes, rapists, swindlers, murderers and deceivers who all found the Lord to be compassionate, gracious, merciful, and patient to those who seek him. If you feel like you don’t have your act together, and you’re pretty sure you never will – you’re in good company!
Or if you say, I not going to church – it’s full of hypocrites. I would say you are spot on! But verse 7 is why we keep showing up week after week to sing the same songs and hear the same gospel preached over and over… we know there is a grace we can’t get enough of.
All you need to bring is an appetite. And what’s mindblowing to us, is how in the world can a holy and perfect God allow sinners and wicked people like me to come to him for compassion and forgiveness? Shouldn’t they find wrath? Shouldn’t this be a bait and switch, where he tricks sinners into coming for dinner and then poisons the food because it’s what they deserve? You’re telling me someone who has committed horrible acts – someone who has done horrible things in their life can be forgiven and that’s it? That just doesn’t seem right!?
God knew we would think that, and so he answers that question in verse 8 [ 009-1 ]:
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration.
God is not just a bigger, better version of us. He’s not the Man upstairs. He is holy, which means he is set apart. He is in a category all his own, perfect in every single way and thought and action. He thinks very differently than we do. In fact, he even tells you how different he is than we are:[ 009-2 ] 9 “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The moon is 250,000 miles away, and the sun is 93 million miles away, and God would say, that’s how different we are. His thoughts are so much higher than ours. Higher in regards to what is true. Higher in regards to what is right. Higher in regard to what is perfect and holy. Higher in regard to what is a want and what we really need. Higher in terms of how thirsty and hungry and desperate our sin has made us.
And his ways are so much higher than ours in terms of what is necessary to save us. You and I never would have for a second considered that the way to save the world is to make yourself low. We’re all about power. Strength. Victory. Bigger. Stronger. Faster. Smarter. Prettier. Funnier. And yet God’s plan included a baby born to poor teenage parents from a backwater town that no one respected.
God sent his Son, born poor and weak at the bottom of the ladder. He was the kind of person most of us would have ignored or turned away from. Jesus left his throne in heaven to become the lowest of the low here on earth…humbling himself to the place of a servant, never playing the God-card or demanding that he be treated like he deserved.
Jesus served us in that he lived the life you and I were designed to live, perfectly obedient to God the Father and his ways, something none of us have done. And then he was crushed for us and died the death that you and I deserved – not that we all deserved to be crucified on a Roman cross, but he experienced the full weight of God’s wrath toward those of us who have refused to honor him with our lives.
If you back up two chapters in Isaiah, back to chapter 53, that’s where we learn how this meal of compassion and forgiveness is free to us! They are free because Jesus paid for our salvation with his own life, dying in our place for sins he never committed. He has paid the bill for people who are spiritually broke and starving for mercy, thirsty for hope, and offers you an invitation to come and eat the meal that only he can provide – forgiveness and grace.
And you might say, how can I be so sure that what you’re saying is true? How can I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will welcome me? How can I know that it’s not too late already for me? Three reasons [ 010-1 ] :
- Resurrection: God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day to prove that the cross worked for everyone who responds to the invitation and comes to the Father. Payment for sin. Done. Forgiveness for sinners. Done. Compassion for the poor and the outcast. No condemnation for those who come to Christ. Done. His resurrection sealed the deal, God welcomed him back to heaven saying, good job Son! And right now Jesus is alive, on his throne, still working grace and mercy in order to redeem sinners.
- [ 010-2 ] God’s word is trustworthy: Verse 10-11 – God says in the same way that rain falls from the sky and gives life to plants, trees, flowers, etc before it evaporates, that his word that comes from heaven will also give life and cause things to happen. If God said that sinners are welcome to the table because Jesus’ death covers the payment for our sin, then you can take him at his word. Raindrops are never wasted, and neither is God’s word.
- [ 010-3 ] God’s glory is the goal: Verse 12-13 says that those who respond to this meal, those who trust in his word, will go out with joy and be peacefully guided. Even the landscape around you is going to be happier because you have responded to the invitation of Christ. And verse 13 says instead of your life looking like a thornbush or a brier, it will be like a tree. A cypress. A myrtle. With roots that go deep, tall and unmovable in the face of a storm, not as a testimony to your awesomeness or to how strong you are on the inside, or how much you accomplished in this life, but as a monument for the LORD for all eternity… that a sinner, a rebel, a thornbush has now been transformed into a child of God – a giant tree that is unmovable. God is deeply interested in the world seeing him as glorious, because that’s what keeps us coming to him for life. So you can be sure he will never leave you hanging, because he will never do anything that makes him less glorious.
So, I want to give you a chance to respond to this invitation right here, right now. The invitation of Isaiah 55 is for you to come to Jesus.
Maybe you’re hearing this invitation for the first time and you have more questions. Before you leave, find someone with a lanyard and just ask them to pray for you. We won’t try to argue you into heaven. But think it over. Following Jesus means leaving behind your old way of life, your old way of thinking, and letting Jesus transform you into a new person. So let someone pray with you before you leave. We are ready and willing to do that.
Secondly, maybe you know in your heart that you have not been walking with Jesus. You know that you’ve been an enemy of God, and you know that he would have every reason in the world to send you to hell because you have refused him for so long. I want to point you one more time to verse 7 that says there is compassion and forgiveness when you come to him, and the entry fee has been paid in full. You can keep refusing the invitation, and suffer for it, or you can come to Jesus and find life. Today is the day of salvation. Don’t put it off any longer. If that’s you, call out to Jesus in prayer – Lord, save me from my sin! I’ve been a rebel to your will, and yet you have invited me to be forgiven and to know you. Take out my cold dead heart, and give me a new heart that is alive to you and your son Jesus. Before you leave, please tell someone with a lanyard or come find me, and let me know.
Others of you have already received this invitation. You’ve been to the table of grace. You’ve tasted forgiveness. You’ve known the compassion and mercy of God. You’ve trusted Christ, and found him to be the source of joy, gladness, abundance and life that he promises to be. My encouragement to you is to not hold back in telling your story, don’t hold back inviting others to the table, and I encourage you to endure patiently through all kinds of hardship and sorrow, walking in the gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus has sent to you. [ 011 ] 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says the God of peace himself will keep you blameless until Jesus returns – that he who calls you is faithful, and he will not let you go.
PRAYER: [ 012 ]
- Confess – God we have sought things that we shouldn’t have. We’ve turned away from you in our attitudes, our thoughts, our actions.
- Believe – Your word invites us to return to you and find forgiveness, you offer us grace and mercy that will never run out.
- Receive – Jesus, I’m hungry for life. I’m starving for grace. Please fill me with your Spirit so that I can live this week in your power not my own, standing on your promises not my own, living in your truth and not my own.