Dear people held captive,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed that a remnant of the people taken away into exile to Babylon would return to Jerusalem and Judea and the nation would be restored through that remnant of the people. The LORD declared, “My Word... 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” (Isaiah 55:11).
Jesus spoke a parable about a sower who scattered seed just about everywhere (Matthew 13:1-9). It seems He didn’t pay too much attention to the boundary lines of the field. Some seed fell on the path, some on rocks, some among the thorns, as well as in the fertile soil. Jesus’ explained that this was about people hearing the word of the kingdom (Matthew 13:19). Of all the seed that was scattered, some of it sprouted and produced in varying degrees.
Isaiah preached to a whole nation the Word of God that accomplishes His purpose, and only a remnant of the people returned. Jesus spoke His Word to all kinds of people and, like He illustrated in the parable, only some understood and took it to heart producing the fruits of faith. Yet the LORD declares, “My Word... 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.” If God’s Word accomplishes His purpose, why then didn’t everyone return from exile in Babylon? Why are not all people saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4)? Why doesn’t everyone who hears His Word of the kingdom understand it and bear fruit?
The whole of Isaiah chapter 55 is a great big invitation from the LORD to His people, beckoning them to come to Him and find their salvation, their joy, and their peace. “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 with price” (55:1). Come, come, come, come. “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” (55:3). Come that you may have everlasting life under the gracious rule of an everlasting King.
The Word of God invites you to come and it will accomplish His purpose, that you are saved from sin, death, and hell and that you have forgiveness, life, and peace forevermore. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The Word of God accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it. He sends it for your salvation.
Yet the Gospel remains an invitation. I know that there are not many invitations going out right now, but you still remember the concept. I had received a wedding invitation that had to be taken back. We were all looking forward to the happy occasion and eager to celebrate with joy and blessing. The invitation had to be withdrawn, but we are waiting for an opportunity when another invitation can be extended and the postponed celebration can take place. And it will be all the more meaningful to us when this viral outbreak recedes enough for us to offer and accept invitations once again.
But you know how they go: Come to the celebration. There will be music and dancing. There will be cake and ice-cream. Family and friends will be there rejoicing together. And the one who issues the invitation makes all the necessary arrangements so that all of the expectations are fulfilled and there is indeed a time of joy and celebration. Their word comes to pass and all who come have a good time.
But not everyone comes. Not everyone heeds the invitation, as you well know, and they miss out. That is the way it is with the Word of the LORD also. It does indeed accomplish its purpose. The invitation goes out and there is joy and peace and celebration to come. He keeps His Word. “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” everyone who believes that God will make good on the promises in His invitation. Everyone who takes it to heart.
Everyone except those who have it snatched away by the evil one; everyone except those who have no root but fall away when tribulation or persecution arise on account of the Word; everyone except those who live among the thorny cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches (Matthew 13:19-22).
While the invitation goes out to all, the promises are proclaimed, and everyone is bidden to come, Isaiah describes what it means to come: “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” (Isaiah 55:7). Well, lots of people are not willing to do that, either under the influence of the evil one, or because of the threats of a persecuting world, or because of the love of riches. That is why only a remnant returned from Babylon. That is why only some of the sower’s seed produces fruit.
The people taken away into exile in Babylon made their homes there. They lived in houses and established businesses. They married and had children. And when the decree came that all could return to Judah and Jerusalem, to rebuild the temple and have communion with the LORD who had promised that there would be a return from exile, they didn’t all go. Like the children of Israel who had been set free from Egypt kept saying it would have been better if they had stayed, so many of the exiles in Babylon did indeed stay in the land of their captivity. And many of our own friends and family do the same. In fact, if we are honest, we can see in our own lives that we are always sorely tempted to remain in the captivity of our sins.
Under the great freedoms that we have, which allow us to own homes and establish businesses and marry whoever we want, we sometimes don’t recognize that we are living in the land of our captivity. The evil one is active here, snatching away the powerful Word of God which is the power of God for salvation. We should want to escape from the hard path where the devil snatches the promises of grace and forgiveness away, but we often choose to stay behind living a life hardened to the holy Word of God. We live in a rocky place where our shallowness prevents the Word of God from taking deep root, and as soon as some opposition arises from this world hostile to the Gospel, we abandon God’s Word and prefer to blend in rather than to take our leave. Ours is a thorny existence where we have just enough freedom of movement and wealth not to want to risk losing it.
We think we are free, but we are slaves to the lust of sin. The invitation has been sent out to come to the LORD for forgiveness and salvation, but we don’t want to leave the comfort of our captivity. We want to continue to be free to barter over our sin and guilt, rather than accept an invitation for what the LORD freely gives. For to come to the LORD who so graciously invites means that we would have to forsake our wicked ways and our unrighteous thoughts, and return to the LORD who has compassion and promises pardon.
This is not a “Godfather” offer that you cannot refuse, that will eventually back you into a corner and require that you make some payment for the favour granted to you today. This is simply the Word of the LORD, His promise, His grace, His mercy, His call to you without price. For His Word came down from heaven like rain, when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). It accomplished the purpose for which He was sent. He gave His innocent, holy, divine life for sinners. He fell to the earth and death soaked Him up into the grave just like the dry cracked earth thirstily received the rain that fell yesterday.
And as the rain and the snow which water the earth cause it to sprout with life, so not only did Jesus rise from the dead, but He became the first-fruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20). As the rain will bring out beans on the stalk and peas in the pod, so there will be new life sprouting out everywhere when the Lord Jesus comes again to call forth His people from the graves and bid them return from death which held them captive.
Even now we see the brown lawns turn again to green, and our dry and dead hearts held captive to sin receive new hope in the Word of the LORD going out from His mouth. The Word made flesh has accomplished His purpose. He has died for our sins and risen from the dead to give us life everlasting. Our hearts are made new to sprout and bud with the fruits of faith as creation itself testifies and rejoices to the powerful, mighty, divine Word of God accomplishing its purpose in our lives and in the world.
Therefore Isaiah prophesied, “You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace” (55:12). This is the fruit that the Word of the LORD produces. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). For some it produces more than others, but it doesn’t germinate from our own power or works. It is the work of God, His Word accomplishing His purpose. It is to give you the gift of salvation and to let you live in joy and peace, confident of His saving grace toward you.
Even the works of creation rejoice at this. Isaiah declared, “the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (55:10). St. Paul wrote that the whole of creation groans, longing for the day when our redemption will be revealed (Romans 8:22). For our freedom from the captivity of sin does not mean joy and peace for us alone, but for all of creation.
It was all of creation that has borne the curse of sin since Adam and Eve first placed themselves under captivity and did not heed God’s call to come to Him (Genesis 3:8). The LORD said, “Cursed is the ground because of you... thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” (3:17-18). Isaiah’s prophesy announces the glad and happy reversal, and the freedom of creation from the curse of this captivity, “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 will not be cut off” (55:13).
Creation will be made new for us to live in peace and joy and harmony forever, forgiven and free from the captivity of our sins. And even now, praise and glory are given to God’s name in such a simple way as rain falling from heaven to do its thing. “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, 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” (55:10-11). The Word has come for your salvation. You have seed to sow, and bread to eat: Jesus Christ crucified for your redemption.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.