The Great Invitation - God's Triumphant Word - John Piper
The Great Invitation: God's Triumphant Word
By John Piper August 21, 1988
This morning's text is like a booster rocket underneath the payload in the last three messages. What has helped me most in my own fight of faith this week has been the connections that I have seen between these two verses and what has gone before in Isaiah 55. My prayer is that the same thing will be true for you.
There is no doubt what these two verses are about. They are about the Word of God. In verse 11 God says: "So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth . . . " To be faithful to this text we must talk about the Word of God.
Three Insights About the Word of God
So I want to focus our attention on three things this text teaches us about the Word of God. And all along we must be asking: why does it teach us these things right here in Isaiah 55? What is the connection between what these verses say about the Word of God and what we have seen already in this chapter?
1. The first thing I see about the Word of God in these verses is that it is a SPAN FROM HEAVEN TO EARTH.
2. Second, I see that it is a SEED OF LIFE.
3. Third, I see that it is SOVEREIGN and triumphant.
Three "S's": a SPAN, a SEED, and SOVEREIGN.
Let me try to guide you into these three insights from the text. And if you are a believer, I ask you to pray that in these next 25 minutes this very message would span heaven and earth for some that are cut off from heaven in this room, and that it would be the seed of life for some that are spiritually dead, and that it would overcome every obstacle to faith by its sovereign power.
1. A Span from Heaven to Earth
The Word of God is a SPAN FROM HEAVEN TO EARTH.
Let's go back to verse 7 to get the flow of thought here and see the connection between the Word of God and our predicament.
In verse 7 God says that the wicked person should forsake his ways and that the unrighteous man should forsake his thoughts. So our predicament is that our ways and our thoughts are getting us in trouble. Why are they? Why do they need to be forsaken?
The answer is given in verse 8. God says that the reason we need to forsake our thoughts and our ways is that they fall so far short of his thoughts and ways. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord." This is why our thoughts and ways are getting us in trouble. They are not God's. God's thoughts are pure and ours are impure. God's ways are righteous and ours are unrighteous.
But are we really that bad off? Isn't there some truth in Shirley MacLaine and Scorsese's Jesus when they say, "Everything is part of God." If everything is part of God, then we are part of God and a little unrighteousness or a little impurity doesn't separate us from him very much.
That may be the vision of Shirley MacLaine, the New Age, and Martin Scorsese, but it is not the vision of God recorded in verse 9. If our ways are unrighteous and our thoughts are impure, as verse 7 says; and if they are therefore not God's ways and God's thoughts, as verse 8 says, then the conclusion is that there is a mammoth separation between us and God. Verse 9: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
The Infinite Chasm Between God and Us
Before there were telescopes if you wanted to illustrate the farthest distance imaginable, what would you say? You might look down and say, "Between here and the depth of the sea." Because no one had ever been to the bottom of the sea, and who knows how far it may go on down there beneath the surface of the water. Or you might look out and say, "As far as the East is from the West." Because you could go forever in opposite directions. Or you might look up and say, "Between the earth and the heavens." The utterly inaccessible heavens, where the sun and moon and stars move outside the reach of man.
When God says that his holy thoughts are that far above our unholy thoughts and his righteous ways are that far above our selfish ways, he means that there is an infinite chasm between him in his holiness and us in our sin. Every time you hear the vague, pantheistic talk of New Age thinking, ask this question: Is there in this talk a clear conviction that man in his sin and God in his holiness are separated and alienated from each other as far as the earth is from the heavens? This is one of the biblical tuning rods to test whether the tones of the New Age are in harmony with God.
The biblical doctrine is that God is high and holy and unimpeachable in his purity, but that man—every man and woman and child—has sinned and fallen short of this high God. There is alienation between us. We are estranged from God. And there is no hope of reconciliation from our side because we love our sin too much and we could never make up for all the wrongs we have done even if we could change ourselves.
That is where we are when verse 9 ends. He is in a holy heaven and we are on a sinful earth and the chasm between is infinite.
God Spans the Infinite Chasm Through His Word
Now notice very carefully what words from verse 9 are picked up in verse 10 as God begins to tell us about his Word. "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth . . . " Stop right there. Do you see where God is heading in these words?
In verse 9 he was stressing the distance between heaven and earth to show us how hopeless our separation is from God. But now in verse 10 he opens a door of hope. Even though the heavens are high above the earth, there is a coming down from heaven to the earth. The rain and the snow come down. The heaven does not always stand off from the earth with brilliant, distant, unattainable glory. Sometimes it grows soft with clouds, it draws near, it covers the blinding glory of the sun, and stoops to water the earth.
And then verse 11 says, that's the way God is. He does not stand aloof, in his distance. His heart grows warm and tender. He puts a veil over his consuming glory. He draws near with clouds full of compassion for sinners; and He spans the infinite separation between heaven and earth.
Jesus Christ: The All-Sufficient Span
"So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth." The Word of God is a SPAN FROM HEAVEN TO EARTH. This was true every time a prophet spoke of old. And it became true in the most wonderful form in Jesus Christ.
In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. (Hebrews 1:1–2)
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:1, 14)
Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is the all-sufficient span between heaven and earth. The rain and the snow have come down from heaven.
A Saving Span
And O how gently they have come. Not with thunder and lightning. Not with hailstones or sleet that breaks bruised reeds and quenches smoldering wicks (Matthew 12:20).
Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)
God is not a standoffish God. And though his Word can be a hammer that crushes and a fire that consumes (Jeremiah 23:29), it is not first or primarily a word of judgment. "God sent not the Son [the Word!] into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17). The Word of God is a span—a saving span—between heaven and earth.
How God Comes Near (Verse 6)
Look at the light this sheds on verse 6. "Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near."
How is it that God comes near? He comes near in his Word! Like the rain comes down from heaven and brings the blessings of heaven earth, so does the Word of God come down of heaven and bring the blessings of God near to you.
When you read the Bible, or when you sit under the preaching of God's Word, God is crossing a chasm to meet you. So when Isaiah says, "Seek the Lord while he may be found," he does not mean that God is playing hide-and-go-seek, and trying to stay out of your way. He means that when you hear the Word of God, God himself is as near as the rain on your head or the snow on your sleeve. And to seek him means to open your eyes and welcome his presence and spend time with him and live with him and walk with him and trust what he says and follow where he leads.
The word of God (the written Word and the living Word) is the saving span of that God sends from heaven to earth so that his thoughts can begin to become our thoughts and his ways our ways.
2. A Seed of Life
The Word of God is a SEED OF LIFE.
Let's read the rest of verse 10: "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater . . . " Notice, God mentions five things that the rain does after it comes down:
1. it waters the earth,
2. it makes it bring forth,
3. it makes it sprout,
4. it gives seed to the sower, and
5. it gives bread to the eater.
Now why does God draw out this comparison in such detail before he says (in verse 11), "So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth"? Surely he draws out the comparison to know and feel the real reason why he spans heaven and earth with his Word.
God Wants His Word to Be Eaten with Joy and Hope
In other words God wants you this morning when you read these two verses to believe with all your heart that his Word is a SEED OF LIFE. When he draws near to you in his Word, he wants you to feel the way your brown backyard would feel when the rain starts to fall on it. He wants you to feel the way a Minnesota cornstalk would feel when the moisture starts coursing up through the stem and pushing out plump, yellow kernels of corn, or the way the farmer would feel when there is plenty of corn for feed and for planting next year's crop. And he wants you to remember those cool, fall mornings at the breakfast table with the smell of fresh toast whetting your appetite.
In other words God wants his Word to be eaten with joy and hope and satisfaction. Jesus defeated the devil with this conviction: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). And when people started to pull back from him because his teaching was too hard, he asked his disciples, "Will you also go away?" To which Peter answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Eating the Word and Gaining Life
I think verse 10 is supposed to make us think again of verses 2 and 3. Notice the relationship between HEARING (God's Word!) and eating what satisfies and gaining LIFE.
Why do spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.
So the second point about the Word of God is it is a SEED OF LIFE. So incline your ear! Come to the Lord while he is near! Hear, that your soul may live. And keep on listening and eating as long as you live. This is the only way to overcome the mouth-watering poisonous allurements of sin.
3. Sovereign and Triumphant
The Word of God is SOVEREIGN and triumphant.
Verse 11: "So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it."
This is the booster rocket under everything else we have said. The promise that God's Word is sovereign guarantees everything else in this chapter. It guarantees that the span between heaven and earth will not collapse when we are halfway there. It guarantees that the seed of life will never die. It guarantees that the covenant of verse 3 will be an everlasting covenant. The nations of verse 5 will come when missionaries call. The people of God will be glorified. The pardon in verse 7 will be abundant and overflowing.
My word shall accomplish that which I purpose and prosper in the thing for which I send it!
When history comes to an end and the trumpet of God has sounded and the dead in Christ have been raised and the elect have been gathered from the four corners of the earth and all the unbelieving tares have been cast into the fire, God will spend an eternity showing us how not one jot or tittle fell to the ground of all that he purposed through his omnipotent word. He will take each one of his children and show us personally how every sentence we ever spoke from his Word, in witness or exhortation, accomplished things we never dreamed of even when we thought they were spoken in vain.
How do I know this? That is what verse 11 says!
This is a call for reason and faith. I ask you, what else could God say if he is truly God? Listen to the reasoning of Isaiah 46:9–10,
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, "My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose."
The Word of God is sovereign because God is God and there is no other. Do you believe this?
For those who believe, this is our answer to every kind of discouragement. It's our answer to the so-called closed doors to the gospel. And this is our final answer to the movie The Last Temptation of Christ.
In the words of Isaiah 40:8,
The grass withers and the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
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