What meaning does Isaiah 55 have for us today?
55 1 "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.
2 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 you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live."
Isaiah 55 is perhaps the most beautiful expression to be found anywhere of the divine offer of free mercy to fallen mankind.
Here, in lofty poetic imagery, Isaiah describes the fullness, freeness, and excellence of God's invitation. The lesson to be learned from Isaiah 55 is that everyone that is thirsty — men and women, young and old, sinners or backsliders, from nations great or small — is invited to come and receive the blessedness of God's mercy and abundant pardon. [ Can people "lose" their salvation? ]
It is indeed appropriate that Isaiah 55 is included in the "Classic Devotional Passages" series of the Enduring Word Bible study lessons.
Down across the centuries, Isaiah's ringing cry comes today to each and every one of the earth's more than 7 billion inhabitants. Isaiah's plea for everyone to share personally in the everlasting covenant needs to be heard today more than ever. Our world needs to hear and heed Isaiah's call: "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord."
What a thrilling thing it is to share with others who have responded to this invitation to everyone that is thirsty.
In the early part of the twentieth century, an Italian emigrated to the U.S. from his home near Naples. He dreamed of getting rich in America. Well, years passed, and he didn't become rich. But someone pointed him to where he could eat and drink without money and without price. And that Italian responded by forsaking his unrighteousness and turning to the Lord.
In a letter back to his sister, Vincenza, he wrote a glowing testimony of his conversion. It would have been natural for her to respond as do many nominal Italian Christians to that kind of testimony: "I think you're on the right track. But I was born into this religion (Roman Catholicism), and it's too late for me to change now."
Tragically, though Italy is known as the home of Christianity's largest denomination, that country is steeped in spiritual darkness. For far too many Italians, religiosity is simply part of their cultural heritage, and with that comes the feeling that the religious traditions which have been handed down in their family must not be exchanged for anything else. So, the profound message of Isaiah 55 goes either unheard or ignored.
Vincenza could easily have responded in that vein. But alone in her home, the Holy Spirit began to deal with this woman. She began to sense how thirsty she really was and, on her knees, she responded to God's invitation. When I met her at 80 years of age, Vincenza Granese was one of the spiritual pillars of the Florence Church of the Nazarene.
It happened in a different way with Piero Barbieri. While in prison in Florence, Piero began to sense this thirst while reading a gospel tract. It had been put in the mailbox of his home by a Swiss missionary who was pastoring the Florence Church of the Nazarene. Piero's wife then took the tract to him during one of her visits to the prison.
Piero sent for the pastor, Fritz Liechti, and with his help, prayed through to victory. Piero became part of the Florence Church of the Nazarene, totally "rehabilitated" at no expense to the state by the Grace of God!
Our own stories of how we responded to this great invitation may be more or less dramatic than those of Piero and Vincenza. But the infinite blessings which we have received are the same. "Listen, listen to me . . . and you will delight in the richest of fare."
-- Howard Culbertson,
"God's love for humanity, and theme of redemption can clearly be seen from Genesis to Revelation. So, we must be faithful and consistent in carrying out the Great Commission." -- Theresa Brown, Northwest Nazarene University student
I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. It was published in Standard, a Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes produced by The Foundry.