The Great Invitation

The Great Invitation

March 9th, 1975 @ 10:50 AM

Isaiah 1:18

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
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THE GREAT INVITATION

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Isaiah 1:18

3-9-75    10:50 a.m.

  

On the radio as on television, you share with us the service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Great Invitation.  This will be the fourth message from the Book of Isaiah.  The text is Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." 

When I open this Book, I open a Bible that is filled with marvelous invitations.  In the Book of Exodus, Moses stood in the midst of the camp and cried, saying, "Who is on the Lord’s side?  let him come and stand by me" [Exodus 32:26].  In the Book of Isaiah, the same prophet wrote from God, "Ho, every one that thirsteth. . . and he that hath no money; let him come, and buy, without money and without price,incline your ear, and come unto Me; hear, and your soul shall live" [Isaiah 55:1, 3].  As I turn the page of the Book to the thirty-third chapter of Ezekiel, "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his evil way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?" [Ezekiel 33:11].  "When the crimson cross is so nearby, why, oh, why will you die?"  ["The Sheltering Rock," William E. Penn]  When I turn the pages of the Book, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Matthew, the picture of the pleading Christ, "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" [Matthew 11:28].

 

I heard the voice of Jesus say,

"Come unto Me and rest;

Lay down, thou weary one, lay down

thy head upon My breast."

I came to Jesus as I was,

Weary, and worn, and sad;

I found in Him a resting place,

And He hath made me glad.

["I heard the Voice of Jesus Say"; Horatio Bonar]

 

I turn the pages of the Book and come to the first chapter of John.  And Philip said to Nathaniel, "We have found Him the Messiah, of whom Moses and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth."  And Nathaniel replied, "Can anything come good out of that robber-infested town of Nazareth?"  And, Philip replied, "Come.  Come and see" [John 1: 45, 46].

"O taste and see that the Lord is good" [Psalm 34:8]. I turn the pages of the Book and come to the fifth chapter of the second Corinthian letter.  And the apostle Paul writes "For we are ambassadors for God, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God" [2 Corinthians 5:20].  I turn the pages of the Book and come to the last, and the climactic chapter and the Apocalypse ends with the invitation we read together today, "The Spirit and the bride say, Come.  And let him that heareth say, Come.  And let him that is athirst come.  And whosoever will, let him drink of the water of life freely" [Revelation 22:17].  But the greatest of all invitations in its magnitude and in its marvelous appointments and delineations is the one of my text:

 

Come now, come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

[Isaiah 1:18]

 

What is the magnificent thing about that text?  It is this: that God should condescend, should deign to argue, with a man; that God should reason with a man that He made.  "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord" [Isaiah 1:18].  For you see, religion and revelation are not illogical and irrational.  They are not stupid or magical.  But the religion of God, the faith of Jesus Christ, the revelation of the Book is of all things rational, and reasonable, and right.  "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord" [Isaiah 1:18].  There is not anything more cogent or powerful than the moral foundation upon which God has spoken to man in His Word, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord" [Isaiah 1:18]. 

 There was, in ancient Roman history, a man by the name of Felix.  He married an adulteress by the name of Drusilla.  And in the strange providences of God, in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul, God’s preacher, is brought before Felix.  By one of those strange quirks of time and tide, he was made procurator of the Judean country that belonged as a province to the Roman senate. 

Tacitus, the Roman historian, describes Felix as being greedy, and vicious, and vile, and evil, and lustful.  So when he invited Paul to stand before him, I would suppose that he thought he’d be entertained for an hour: some esoteric, strange, far-out Oriental religion.  But the Bible says that when Paul stood before him, that Paul reasoned of righteousness, and temperance, and judgment to come.  And the Scripture makes the comment: "And as Paul spoke – of this reasonable, rational, right, morally founded Word of God – that Felix trembled" [Acts 24:25]. Of all things that are right, and rational, and reasonable, the religion of God is most so. 

There is a very famous atheist and infidel who goes up and down this land purporting to be the spokesman of the free-thinkers of America.  Her name is Madeleine Murray O’Hair.  I quote from her verbatim, exactly as she said it.  "I will go to bed with any consenting male anywhere, any time I damn well please."  That is atheism!

Contrariwise, the religion of God and the faith of Jesus Christ is morally conditioned and reasonably, and righteously, and rightly defended.  God says, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" [Exodus 20:14], and God gives the rationale behind it.  It is a sin that dissolves the home – breaks the marriage, orphans the children – it is a sin beyond any other that dissipates, and destroys, and dissolves the human soul and the personal life.  That is the religion of God; not illogical, not stupid, not magical, but rational and reasonable.  And God calls as witness to His reasonable faith the heavens and the earth, not the indentures, and breaches, and contracts of the law; not even the ecclesiastical conventions of congregational and denominational legislative bodies.  But God calls, to witness to the faith, the heavens and the earth: that is, the great moral foundations of the universe. 

In the passage here, out of which I am preaching, God says that it is stupid for a man to leave God out of his life.  He gives an illustration: it is sheer stupidity beyond that of an ox or of an ass: 

 

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord has spoken, I have brought up and nourished children, and they rebelled against Me. 

The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider – they do not think.

[Isaiah 1:2, 3]

 

In the fifth chapter of this same prophecy, the prophet Isaiah, speaking for the Lord, says: "Therefore My people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge [Isaiah 5:13] – let me translate that a little, "because they do not think."

When a man reads God out of his life, and dismisses God out of his business, and forgets God in his dreams and in his visions, that man God said, is stupider than an ox and stupider than an ass.  You see, God confronts the man, whether he likes it or not and God intrudes into a man’s life, whether he wants it or not.  It is as impossible for a man’s mind to keep from the idea of God any more than it is for the tides of the sea to keep from washing up on the shore.  Somehow the idea of God is irresistible in a man’s mind.  As God upheaves the oceans, He upheaves a man’s soul. 

This last week, after speaking at our Western Baptist Seminary in Denver, Colorado – Dr. Williams, the professor here with his students for our School of Prophets – I went from there to preach to the Presbyterian churches of Tacoma and Seattle, Washington.  Upon a day last week, the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Seattle took me in his car to show me the beauty of the city.  And after we had looked at the glorious beauty of the Olympic Mountains, rising sheer out of the blue waters of the Pacific, covered with snow; then we turned east and came across to the beautiful Lake Washington, and the Cascades, and the Mount Baker, and Rainer beyond. 

It was such a breathtaking sight that I burst into an exclamation of glory to God.  There, a scene that is breathtaking to me; one hundred and thirty miles to the north, Mount Baker on the Canadian line, high and white in pure snow.  And seventy miles to the south, Mount Rainer, like a great, vast, white snow cone.  And for the two hundred miles in between – see it all – the beautiful Cascade range covered with snow, and with the blue waters of Lake Washington before me, and that glorious heavenly panorama beyond me. I could not help but cry aloud, "O God, the glory of Thy hands, the wonder of Thy work.  Look!" [Psalm 92:4-5]. 

I suppose the pastor of the church, living there, seeing it all the time, thought I must have lost my mind.  But to a flat-lander who lives in Texas – in these dry, flat prairies – such a sight as that simply overwhelmed me!  So I guess, unconsciously maybe – in defense of my outburst of praise to God, looking upon His handiwork – I told the pastor a story that I had heard as a boy. 

In the city of Seattle there was an atheist lawyer, a Christ-rejecting attorney.  He was successful in his legal practice and had built a palatial home on the eastern side of the city, overlooking Lake Washington and the beautiful Cascades beyond.  Upon a night, asleep in the early dawn of the morning, he sensed his little girl standing by his bed looking quietly, intently, down into his face.  She was just a little thing, in her white nightie and her black curly hair falling over her shoulders.  He pretended to remain asleep.  So, after she looked at her father intently for a while, she quietly, stealthily, turned around and stood before the picture window, facing the Cascades and the dawn of the eastern sun.  And as the little child stood there, watching the sun rise over those beautiful mountains, she began to bow back and forth, and to say sweetly, in childlike humility and innocence, "Good morning, God.  Good morning, God.  Good morning, God!" 

And the lawyer bowed his face, and hid his face in the pillow of the bed, and cried, "O God, O God, that I could see Thee, that I could know Thee, and that I could find Thee."  And through the quiet, humble, childlike innocent simplicity of that little girl, he found the Lord.  He came to Christ.  God intrudes in a man’s life.  He cannot escape it.  A long time ago a man, just looking up into the heavens cried, "They declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His lacework, the dainty work of His hands" [Psalm 19:1].

"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord" [Isaiah 1:18].  I haven’t time to go into it.  The whole first chapter of Isaiah is a court scene.  It is a crown case.  The Lord brings an arraignment against His people.  He says, "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me" [Isaiah 1:2].  Instead of worshipping God and giving glory to God, they give their lives, and their hearts, and their possessions, and the love of their souls to everything else in the world, and leave God out.  That is God’s arraignment; and He calls them to trial, and what I have in my text is just the end of the case. 

Could I translate it in another way?  "Come now, and let us conclude the reasoning, saith the Lord."  And the Lord’s reproach turns into pardon, and His hurt and disappointment turn into love and forgiveness: "Yea . . . saith the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" [Isaiah 1:18]. 

You see, a man and the faith – a man and religion – is not a man facing a Mosaic legislation.  He is not a man facing a church, or an organization, or a denomination.  But you see, in religion and in the revelation, it is between a man and God!  All of these others are accouterments; they may be instruments, they may be mediations, but the great heart of the faith is a man’s personal confrontation with God.  And the Lord says, "I am their Father.  I have nourished and brought up children" [Isaiah 1:2].  And the Lord’s attitude toward us is in the loving, precious, tender manner of someone who has sired us, and borne us, and supports us. 

 It is the same spirit as we read in the story of the prodigal son, when the father waits and hopes and prays [Luke 15:11-32].  Isn’t that an amazing thing: that God should plead with a man, should reason with a man? [Isaiah 1:2-3, 18].  And our religion is that personal confrontation with God. 

It is like the apostle Paul, like Saul of Tarsus: all of those things that he writes in the thirteen epistles that follow after – all of that intricate theology that he presents about reconciliation and atonement and all of the things that go into making us right with God – all of that is an overflow out of the scene on the road to Damascus, when Jesus stopped him in the way [Acts 9:1-4].  And falling at His feet, Saul said, "Lord, who art Thou?"  And Jesus replied, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest" [Acts 9:5].  That is, before there is prayer, and before there is worship, and before there is theology, and before there are any of the services of God, there must first be this confrontation, this reasoning with the Lord, this getting right with the Almighty. 

Now, what’s the matter with a man and his God?  "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord" [Isaiah 1:18].  What’s the matter?  The matter is that our sins separate between us and God.  Later on in the prophecy, Isaiah, quoting the Lord, would say:

 

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your sins have separated between you and your God, and your iniquities have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.

[Isaiah 59:1-2]

 

Before a man can serve God, or worship God, or pray to God, he must get right with God and that’s the invitation.  How does a man get right with God?  How does a man find himself unashamed, accepted in the presence of the Lord?  "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool" [Isaiah 1:18].  Who can do that?  What can wash away my sins?  Who can forgive a man’s iniquity?  Who can place his life in the land of "beginning again" – make him clean, and pure, and white; put a new leaf unspoiled, unstained in the Book; open a door for him of glory, and of beauty, and of purity, and of wonder – who can forgive a man’s sins? [Luke 5:21-25].  That’s something God does [1 John 1:9]. 

No man forgives sins, but God.  All of the ceremonies in the world don’t wash away our sins.  All of the ablutions, and baptisms, and masses, and rituals in the world cannot cleanse a man from the stain of sin in his soul.  A man is saved – he’s cleansed, he’s forgiven – in the love and mercy of God.  It is something God does. 

How does God do it?  How does God forgive a man’s sin?  How does God take him when he’s like scarlet and make him as snow, when he’s like crimson and make him as pure, white wool?  How does God do that?  That is the gospel of the good news.  God does that in the sacrifice, and the atonement, and the cross, and the blood, and the suffering of Jesus Christ.  In Him, in our Lord, for Jesus’ sake, God washes our sins away; gives us right standing in His presence, and accepts us as beloved – as sons and daughters – as pure and sanctified, whole, forgiven, washed, and clean.  God does it in Jesus Christ [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]. 

I one time heard of a father and his little boy who, in London town, were watching a parade of red-coated British soldiers with their scarlet jackets.  And the father was looking through the window, watching the parade of those red-coated British soldiers pass by.  And the little boy, down there watching the same parade, exclaimed to his father, he said, "Daddy, look at their beautiful white uniforms." 

And the father said, "Son, they’re not white, they’re scarlet, they’re red." 

"No," said the little boy.  "Look!  They are white; they are pure white!" 

The father, in astonishment, looked closer and then saw: around the window out of which they were viewing the parade, there was a band of red, red glass, embellishing the window.  And the little boy, being unable to stand high enough to look through the clear pane, was watching the parade go by in that red glass.  Isn’t it strange how God’s book of nature is exactly like God’s Book of Revelation?  When you look at red through red, it is pure white.  Take a red, red rose, and look at it through a red glass.  It will look pure and virgin white. 

That, does God do with our sins in Christ.  He looks at us – we who have found refuge in Him; we who have taken our sins, and our weaknesses, and all of the things that hurt us, and destroy us, we who have taken them to Jesus – the Lord looks at us through the blood, through the blood.  And when He looks at us in the love and mercy of Jesus Christ for us, He sees us clean and pure and forgiven, "These are they who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" [Revelation 7:14].

 

What can wash away my sins?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

 

Oh, precious is the flow

That makes me white as snow.

No other fount I know

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

["Nothing but the Blood," Robert Lowry]

 

Come now, come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. 

[Isaiah 1:18]

 

This is the reasonable thing for a man to do: to take his soul to God, to dedicate his life to God, to open his heart, and home, and business, and every continuing future – to open it to God.  "Lord, welcome into my heart, into my house, into my business.  Thou shalt be my partner, and I’ll consider everything.  I’ll reason with everything in Thee."  What could a man do finer for himself than to say, "My partner is God.  And in the decision, I must talk to my Partner.  And in the way, I must talk to my Partner.  And in everything that is done, I must share with my Partner." 

Is that an unreasonable, illogical thing for a man to do?  God says the very foundation of the universe is built upon a commitment like that.  The "rightest" thing that a man can do, the most reasonable thing that a man can do, and the most righteous thing that a man can do, is to give himself to God.  "Here I am, Lord, all of me.  I place me in Thy gracious hands.  Bless, Lord, and remember for good."

Would you do that today?  "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, the whole lot of us – the whole household of us – we’re all coming today, and here I am. "  Is there a couple you who would do that today?  Is there a one somebody you to do that today?  You are seated in the back row of that highest balcony, there is room and to spare.  Down a stairway, here to the front; on this lower floor, down an aisle and here to the front, "Here I come, pastor, I make the decision today.  I’ve decided in my heart for God and I’m on the way, here I come."  In a moment when we stand to sing, on the first note of the first stanza, come. "Come, come, come," says the Lord.  Come, do it now,  make it now, while we stand and while we sing.