Life is full of offers and invitations. Most are mundane: “Come to my kid’s birthday party;” “Attend the new Bond movie;” “Switch to Geico;” “Be a fan of my page on Facebook.” Others are monumental: “Accept this job promotion;” “Let’s get married!”
No matter how big the decisions, though, most of us treat all solicitations in basically the same way: we ask a few questions. What exactly is being offered? Who is it for? What are the benefits of accepting? Is that something I need or want? If so, is it going to cost anything? Can I afford it? And what are the consequences if I say no?
By running through this checklist we can discern whether or not to accept the offer. For example, on the basis of the answers to these questions I always ignore emails advertising yoga classes, time shares, and piercing services but I always accept the offer of a $20 Amazon.com gift card for $10. Some deals are too good to refuse.
In this biblical reflection, we’ll evaluate an offer in that should fall into that “no-brainer” category. It is so obviously a great opportunity that everyone should accept it. It also happens to be the most important invitation any of us will ever receive. It comes from God and is found in Isaiah 55.
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 labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. (Isa. 55:1-3)
Who is This Offer For?
This invitation is for the thirsty and broke. Here God is not primarily speaking of being physically and financially needy. Rather, he is clearly referring to spiritual poverty and desire. He is talking to people who are unsatisfied in the deepest recesses of their soul (thirsty) and are powerless to do anything to quench that desire (broke). He is talking to those who work hard to find fulfillment, but are never satisfied.
In other words, he is talking to everyone.
People are simply not content. No matter how much money, power, prestige, fame, or scholarship we acquire, it never satisfies. We always want something more. No matter how many wonderful relationships we have or how many great adventures we embark upon, we continue to search for that next big thing – something that will finally make us fulfilled and happy. And when we gain the next thing, it too fails to satisfy and we have to set our sights on something bigger and better. It goes on and on. We never find what we truly desire and never satisfy our thirst.
Eventually, most of us end up spending a lot of time and money just trying to keep ourselves distracted from our failed quest by losing ourselves in T.V. movies, alcohol, or whatever else will numb the pain. In the midst of plenty of material food and drink, we are a spiritually broke and thirsty people.
Why are we so unsatisfied? Here are two reasons (there are many others):
1. Everything we strive after in this world is finite and temporal. Death and destruction is inevitable. Think about it - the new house they are building down the street? It will be eventually be a pile of rubble. All of your worldly accomplishments? In a century or two (and probably far less) no will remember them. Working for the kids or other loved ones? As sad as it is to say, they will all die and be forgotten as well. Scientists tell us the universe itself is winding down. Ultimately, no matter what you or anyone else does, we are all going to end up in exactly the same predicament. All your labor will have been in vain. Because we are finite and we work for things that are finite, they can never be truly fulfilling. The fact of death renders everything meaningless.
2. Evil happens to everyone. No matter how much you strive to have things under control, bad things happen. How can we be content and totally happy in a world filled with cancer and murder and car accidents? No matter what we do, no one is immune to tragedy and evil. Even the most “successful” among us is brought down by the daily troubles of life.
So here is one way to read the invitation: “To all you who are one day going to die and who have bad things happen to you.”
What is Being Offered?
In the passage God offers water, wine, and milk.
Water is symbolic of eternal life. Those who accept this offer get to live forever. Death is defeated.
However, we need more than just eternal existence to find fulfillment. We also need to get rid of heartache and pain.. Thankfully, God offers not just life, but good and abundant life. He brings more than water; he offers wine and milk as well. He wants us to live forever with him in Heaven, where sorrow will be no more.
In other words, God comes to those who are going to die and who are sick of the evil all around them and offers them a pain-free joy filled life with him for eternity.
This invitation is fulfilled in Jesus. If you want eternal, abundant life, you have to come to him. There is a nice illustration of this truth in Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. After Jesus asked her for a drink, she replied, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans)
Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
"Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"
Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:10-14)
Here Jesus makes reiterates the point from Isaiah 55: we should not be bogged down by the temporal and perishable - the meaningless - when he offers you the spiritual and eternal. He echoes this teaching again in John 6:27 “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
What Does it Cost?
On one hand, this offer doesn’t cost anything. “Buy without money and without cost,” God says. There is nothing we have that can purchase the abundant life god is offering. Nothing on earth can merit God’s salvation; there is no fair trade possible that would pay for God’s salvation.
On the other hand, this offer costs us everything. We need to give up our current sinful lives to gain new life in God wants to give us. In the following verses, God implores:
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isa. 55:6-7)
God doesn’t force eternal life on anyone. It is an offer, an invitation, not a command. God implores us to accept his gracious gift, but we won’t get it unless we respond to his grace appropriately; by turning to him.
There is an example of this turning in Numbers 21. The Israelites were on their way across the wilderness when they grew impatient and spoke against God and Moses.
Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.
The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
The Israelites did not purchase the life that God gave them. They didn’t earn it. But in order to receive the gift they had to look at the pole. They had to respond properly to God’s offer. As John explains, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man (Jesus) must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Believing in Jesus is about turning to him and following him, but it is not earning salvation. There is no equal trade involved as if there was something you can do to deserve eternal life. You are buying without money and eating for free, but the gift is only available to those who take it. The Isaiah 55 passage that we are considering is full of calls to action: come, buy and eat, listen, give ear, come to me, seek the Lord, forsake, turn. Eternal life does not come to the passive. It is taken by those who are willing to accept it.
What are the stakes? How important is it that I get this right?
Some decisions are more important than others. The greater the ramifications of our decision regarding an offer, the more careful thought we should put into it. It is one thing to accept a date, for example; it is another to accept a marriage proposal. One decision has far greater consequences than the other. You probably would accept a promotion at your present job with less thought than you would a new position with a company that would require you to relocate across the country. You ponder longer over which college to attend or which house to buy than you do over which shampoo to use.If you make a mistake about a small decision, it’s not as big as deal as screwing up over a big one. If you choose the wrong shampoo it might cost a few bucks to replace it and a few minutes to drive to the store. However, if you make the wrong decision about whether or not to join the military, you’ve given up every minute of every day for several years. In some decisions, the stakes are very high.
Well, they don’t get any higher than this. Eternal life is at stake. As Jeremiah explained, “This is what the LORD says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.” (Jer. 21:8). Those are the only two options. As such, it is not a decision to take lightly or to get wrong.
The stark contrast in outcomes is explained clearly in John 3. We already quoted John 3:14-15. The passage continues:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. …Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. (John 3:16-18, 36)
God wants to give everyone life, but those who reject his offer will remain in the throes of death. This is not at all what God desires, but it is reality.
I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I. All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations - a people who continually provoke me to my very face, ...
...Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day.
But as for you who forsake the LORD...and fill bowls of mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you for the sword, and you will all bend down for the slaughter; for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me."(Isaiah 65:1-3, 11-12)
Throughout scripture God begs and pleads with us to make the right choice. “The LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! (Isa 30:18)
As such, we must “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.” This is a limited time offer. We have until death or Christ’s return, whichever comes first.
Have you accepted God’s gracious invitation? If not, I encourage you to do so today. 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” (Rev. 22: 17)