Isaiah 55 is a wonderful chapter of Scripture in which God invites us to come and feast on the blessings he has for his people; to satisfy the thirst of our souls by drinking deeply of the water of life that he alone can supply.
I want to begin by setting this chapter in its context in the prophecy of Isaiah.
In the first half of the book of Isaiah, the prophet warned Jerusalem and Judah that their idolatry and lack of concern for the needy was inviting God's judgment. That judgment has now fallen. The city of Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Babylonians and many of its people have been taken off into captivity.
From chapter 40 onwards the scene has changed as God addresses those who have been exiled from the Promised Land with words of encouragement. God tells his messenger to "speak tenderly" to Jerusalem, assuring them that their sin has been paid for and they will soon once more enjoy the inheritance God has promised his people.
But it's not until we get to Isaiah 53 that we discover how the sins of God's people have been paid for. Isaiah 53 introduces us to the Suffering Servant who has borne the iniquity of God's people. His sufferings has paid the price for their sin and set them free. And although this Servant was cut off from the land of the living (53:8) yet he will see his offspring and be satisfied (53:10-11).
The theme of offspring is then taken up in chapter 54 where we read that the previously barren city of Jerusalem will be restored and so filled with people that it will have to expand and fill all the land. In 1792, William Carey, often called "the father of modern missions", preached his great sermon to ministerial colleagues from Isaiah 54:2-3
‘Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.
He argued that they needed to enlarge their vision for the Lord's work and to see that God's purpose in Christ, the Suffering Servant, was for people of all nations to come to faith in the Lord Jesus, the Saviour of the world. He urged his colleagues to "Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God." His sermon led to the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society and to Carey going out as a missionary to India.
It is against the background of Isaiah chapters 53 & 54 that we must read Isaiah 55 and its opening invitation to "Come". It is a call for Israel to leave behind their captivity and to come to the feast God has prepared for them (55:1-2). They are invited to come and enjoy all the blessings of the everlasting covenant God made with his people in David (53:3). God's king is then spoken of as summoning the nations to come to enjoy the feast of God's blessings along with Israel (vv. 4-5).
What are we to make of these verses? The close connection between the work of the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah 53 and this chapter requires us to read these words as a promise that the Lord Jesus, David's greater Son, will be the one who calls the whole world to enter freely into the blessings that God has for his people. In him, all nations will be blessed.
And Isaiah 55 summons all who have ears to hear to "Come":
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. (vv. 6-7)
We have had a lot of rain lately; too much, many would say. Have you noticed that the rain always falls downwards? The ground does not rain upwards to the clouds. Isaiah assures us that God's promise of pardon and acceptance is as sure as the rain falls down from heaven rather than travelling upwards (vv. 8-11)! Not only will the Lord God restore his people, not only will he call the world's peoples to come and feast on the blessings of his salvation, all of creation shall also be transformed by his saving power (vv. 12-13).
So, to summarise what we have said: This chapter finds its fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Suffering Servant who has paid the price for our sin. He is the one through whom and in whom we are forgiven. He is the one who invites us to come and feast freely on the blessings which he has secured for us. And this invitation is not for us alone; he invites all peoples and indeed the entire creation, to enjoy the blessings he has won for us.
Jesus himself picks up this picture from Isaiah 55. He began his earthly ministry by proclaiming that the Kingdom of God had arrived with him. And in his parables, he often pictured the kingdom in terms of a great feast. And in Jesus' parables, the provider of the feast is angry when many of those who were invited to come to the feast refused to come. The Lord of the feast wants his hall to be filled and so he urges that invitations be sent to all and sundry, urging them to come to the feast.
Such parables reflect the responses to Jesus' ministry. The Jewish leaders opposed Jesus and refused to come to the feast but the common people heard him gladly.
Think for a moment of the story that Jesus told that we know of as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The rebellious son who had squandered all that his father had given him came home shamefaced and expecting to be accepted only as a menial servant. But his father had been longing for his return and had a celebration feast laid on for him. But the self-righteous elder brother refused to come to the feast; he refused to acknowledge his brother. Jesus told this parable because he had been accused of welcoming sinners and eating with them. He wanted his accusers to know that in this he reflects the heart of his heavenly Father: God welcomes sinners and feasts with them!
So Jesus calls all who will listen to come to him:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11:28-29
Jesus calls all who will listen to come to the feast: to find in him the bread of life and the water of life and the joy-giving wine of the kingdom. He invites them to feast freely on him just as he fed freely the 5,000 on a Galilean hillside.
And, on the eve of his death, at that last Passover feast with his disciples, Jesus took bread and wine and used them as symbols of his approaching death, telling his disciples to eat and to drink in remembrance of him. It is Jesus, the Suffering Servant, who calls us to feast on the riches of his kingdom, the feast of good things which he has secured for us – and this is what we shall do shortly as we take the bread and wine of Communion in remembrance of him.
I like to watch MasterChef. I don't know whether that's one of your favourite TV programs. During the competition there comes a time when the contestants have to provide a meal for some very discerning professional food critics. Before they bring in their food, the critics are provided with a copy of the menu and they talk together about what they are hoping to enjoy in the meal ahead of them. As I listen to their conversation I often wish that I were able to sit with them and to taste the food that they are going to have served to them!
I want us to think for a moment about what is on the menu for this wonderful feast of good things the Lord Jesus has secured for us.
Now for starters there is the forgiveness of sins. Jesus has fully paid the price of our sin and "there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." What a wonderful starter. Here is something for us to feast upon.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
No more guilt and shame. Remember the prodigal Son in Jesus' parable; he is not given the chance to plead that he be accepted back as a menial servant. His waiting Father embraces him, kisses him and owns him as his son. There is rejoicing in heaven over the returning rebel. God says that he puts our sins as far from his sight as the east is from the west; he buries them deep in the deepest ocean. We are forgiven, accepted, welcomed, loved. We are forgiven because of Jesus, the Suffering Servant:
he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)
What wonderful truths to feast on. But there is more …
And now to the main course: we are reconciled to God and have peace with God. We not only have access into God's presence but have also received the gift of his Spirit reassuring us of God's love for us. We have access to God in prayer and the ability to bring all our cares and concerns to him in the assurance that he cares for us. We have been given life, life in all its fulness. And we have been set free: freed from fear; freed from the need for the approval of others; Freed from the tyranny of self and its incessant demands for self-satisfaction; freed to be who we were created to be; free to serve God. And we know that our risen Saviour is with us and will never abandon us; we can be sure of his presence and help in whatever situations we may face today and tomorrow. We know that his grace is sufficient for us. We know that nothing in life or in death can separate us from God's love in Christ Jesus.
What a feast of good things – and there is much more besides!
But then there is desert, the sweetest dish of all. There is glory to come, for we know that the day will come, either at our death or at Christ's return, when we shall see our Saviour in all his risen glory, and we shall be made like him. We shall share his glory. That's a sweet feast beyond our imagination.
In this chapter of Isaiah, God calls us to feast on these things. To taste them, savour them and revel in them, rejoicing that this lavish feast of good things is ours to enjoy freely and without cost. We are to feast on Christ in our hearts by faith, not just as we come to the communion table, but day-by-day. Do you feast on Christ and on the riches of all that is yours in him?
I was speaking with someone a few weeks ago. He had been widowed for a few years now and he was saying that one of the things he had found most difficult was when he went out for a meal somewhere and was eating alone – there was no-one on the other side of the table to enjoy the meal with.
This banquet of good things which God calls us to feast on is one which we are not to enjoy alone. It's a communal feast. We are to feast together on the riches of God's grace towards us in the Lord Jesus. We are to encourage one another as God's people to feast on him.
Some years ago now we were visiting friends in Malaysia and they took us out to what they called a real Chinese restaurant. We sat at a round table the central section of which was able to be rotated. It was heaped high with all manner of dishes. The person sitting beside me kept saying "You must try this" and heaping more food on my plate. He did not want me to miss out on any of the wonderful dishes that had been provided for us.
Do we do that for one another? Do we often remind one another of the good things that are ours in Christ and savour them together. We are to stir up one another's appetites for Christ and for communion with him; to encourage one another to "Taste and see that the Lord is good."
We have seen that in Isaiah 55 God summons nations who do not know him to come to the feast of good things he is preparing for his people. Jesus echoes this invitation in his call for all who are weary to come and find rest in him. He calls for anyone who is thirsty to come to him and drink (John 7:37). He will not be content until his banqueting hall is full.
These chapters of Isaiah fired William Carey with a passion to tell people about the Lord Jesus Christ, people on the other side of his world. These chapters should move us not only to revel in the riches of Christ but to long that others might come to know him. And that longing should drive our prayers and empower our witness to Christ.
And at end of the Book of Revelation we have a wonderful picture of the great banquet at the marriage supper of the Lamb. And we read, "The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life." This invitation to the banquet comes from the Spirit and the bride. The Spirit of God is at work in the world turning hearts to seek after God and to find the answer to their deepest longings in the Lord Jesus Christ. But the invitation comes also from the "bride", the picture of God's people. We are a people who, having tasted the wonders of God's grace in Christ, invite others to come. We who have heard are to encourage others to come, to come and see and taste the feast of good things that are to be found in Christ.
Do you remember the story recounted in 2 Kings 7? In the days of Elisha the prophet the Arameans had besieged Jerusalem and the inhabitants of the city were running out of food; they were starving. There were four lepers who sat outside the city and who were no longer being provided with food. They talked together and decided they might as well go to the Arameans' camp. If they ended up being killed their fate was no worse than starving by the city wall. Perhaps the Arameans would take pity on them.
But when they got to the Arameans' camp they found it abandoned. The Lord had caused the Arameans to hear a sound in the night like that of an approaching army and they had all fled. The lepers had a field day, going into tent after tent and finding food, clothes and gold. But then one said to the others, "This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves." So they went back and gave told the good news to the city so that everyone could have food.
We have been feasting on the wonderful spread of good things provided for us freely in the Lord Jesus Christ. But it is not for us alone. This is a day of good news and it demands to be shared with others who are hungry and thirsty for what God alone can supply. We need to tell others the good news.
In the words of dear Charles Wesley:
O, that the world might taste and see
The riches of His grace
The arms of love that compass me
Would all the world embrace.
Or in the words of John Bunyan, our pressing invitation to a hungry world needs to be, "Come and welcome to Jesus Christ."
Quakers' Road Downend – 29/10/2023. This version, Whiteshill – 19/11/23