From the Garden to the City, Trees along the way
The Pine and the Myrtle
Isaiah 55

(c) Copyright 2007 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Do you wonder if your God is big enough? Big enough to handle you? Big enough to handle the chaos we call life? Big enough to carry you through the difficulties and the challenges you face? Big enough to carry you to eternal glory - not only you, but your children and your children’s children? Is your God big enough to be bigger than the evil that seems so powerful in this world, big enough to be security in a world that is increasingly insecure?
Isaiah knew God was big enough for all that and more. When he received his call to go and preach, that call was accompanied by a vision of the King of glory, the Holy, Holy, Holy God of Israel, the Lord JWH, the King Almighty.

He went to preach, but the people he preached to were already convinced that God was too small to really be of help to them, so they tried to make alliances with their enemies, the Assyrians - but human alliances failed them, like they fail us. Soon Israel and then Judah would face war, many would suffer and lose their lives, large parts of the population would be dragged off into exile where they would lose their identity as the people of God. And with the exception of a stump and a seed, most would become without hope and without God in this world. It was to these people in Exile that Isaiah prophesied these words from chapter 55, words filled with advent hope, words to remind them of how big their God, our God is.

Each of these prophecies in six stanzas give us a glimpse of the glory and majesty of God. Isaiah called out...

Isaiah 55

“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 send money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Like the nation of Israel, most of us are working with a subtle economic formula when it comes to our relationship with God and others. And maybe this formula is not a theological formula, maybe its an emotional formula. It goes something like this.

“If I am a good child of God, I will be accepted and loved by God.” If I give to the church faithfully - then God will give to me faithfully. If I attend regularly, God will pay attention to me regularly. If my life is free from “major” sins, you know, those sins when they are mentioned stops others in their tracks, those sins, it others knew it about us, they would look down their noses at us, well if my life is free from the majors, God will overlook the minors, those tiny sin debts that we think we can get away with. But Satan always comes around to accuse - and point out our flaws - reminding us that we are not good enough for God.
In short, we have an economic relationship with God. We feel our goodness is sufficient to buy his favour. Our religious habits are sufficient to get a return from God, spiritual wine, the milk of the word. And if we do not feel we are good enough, we try purchase things to fill the God sized hole in our hearts with other things that do not satisfy. But what if, like Israel and Judah, we know we have done wrong, God is not happy with us, and we have not resources to fill our empty lives with things?

Isaiah’s message to us is that our God is absolutely incredible, far bigger than our little economic relationship formulas. God says -

“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.

Yes if our God were small, he would insist that we pay for what he has to give. But God is infinitely bigger than we can imagine, able to do far more than we could ask or imagine, he invites us to come and buy for nothing - Isaiah’s humour for those stuck in an economic rut to come and get what’s a gift and receive from an infinite God food for their soul that is totally free, the only kind of food and drink that will truly satisfy the emptiness of our hearts. How big is your God?

3 Give ear and come to me;
hear me, that your soul may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of the peoples.
5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations that do not know you will hasten to you,
because of the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendour.”

God invites us to come and listen, listen for life. Listen to how big he really is. God is not some little god who demands that his blessing be hinged on our insignificant offerings or worship. God’s sovereign blessings have everything to do with who he is, his character, his love, his power, his joy in giving. And so his joy is to hinge his blessings on his very own promises. How many times have some of us said “God, I will be faithful, I will submit to you if you bless me.” What a small god we sometimes think we have. God says to us “I will bless you because I am faithful. That’s how he deals with us. We call it covenant because it is all about the Sovereign Lord’s faithfulness to his promises. And God is so big that those promises are everlasting and the consequence of those promises is splendour.

We live in a culture that seeks splendour - beauty, fame, money, security, the list of empty splendours go on and on. Anything to get those around us to pay attention to us. Anything to make us feel significant in community. Anything to make us feel accepted, loved and empowered. And so our definitions of beauty are defined by face paint, decorative clothing and jewellery and let’s be honest, weight: and our definitions of masculinity, those who are hot, must be well muscled, yet not too muscled, intelligent but not too intelligent, funny yet serious, tough yet sensitive, religious but of the world, not too radical, nor a religious fanatic.
God says

Give ear and come to me, hear me, that your soul may live. When you know me, nations will come to you because the Holy One of Israel has endowed you with splendour.

Knowing God beautifies. I have seen it over and over again. A person comes to faith in Christ and they become beautiful. Whereas the idols they once served drained life from them, stressed them, emptied them, when they come to our God is is the Holy majestic one of Israel, they receive life. It shows up on their faces. Their bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit. The glory of the Lord makes them attractive to others. God endows them with splendour. If you are young and listening, here the Words of God today. There will always be others more attractive than you are. There will always be others richer, more popular, more socially skilled than you are. And I understand the temptation to try climb the social ladder the hard way - because that’s the way the world works. God says - there is an easy way. A free gift kind of way - God says come to me, I the Holy One of Israel will endow you with splendour. So the Lord says to you...

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

This is a simple instruction. Seek. Seek to know God. He is not small. He is not a mere human. He is the might, majestic sovereign Lord over all. All creation is held in place by his will, his word. Is there something that you feel is keeping God away - like your sin, your shame? Israel and Judah as they wept on their journey to Babylon certainly felt that. We often feel that our failures and sins, our unfaithfulness and inconsistency, they keep us from having any chance with God. Listen to these words - seek - turn away from your sin, turn to God - God gives mercy and freely pardons.

How we need to hear these words over and over again and it is the reason why we hear these words over and over again in the liturgies of our church. A small god, the kind of God we would make, would insist on some atoning sacrifice. Our God provides the sacrifice for us, once and for all in Jesus. A small god would insist on us proving over time a change in our behavior, our God accepts us on a decision to change, to turn. A small god would insist on us pulling up our bootstraps before we receive favour. And so a small god bootstrap theology feeds us the lie, God takes care of those who care for themselves. Our God endows, gifts to all who come to him, splendour, favour - that’s who he is, far bigger than our capacity to comprehend him. How big is your God?

8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Those are God’s words of himself. We with great risk and courage are dreaming about making it to the nearest planet, Mars. Scientists don’t have any comprehension how we might ever make it to the next star, or the star after that. The truth is, traveling the stars let alone the galaxies like the show Star Trek, that at best is a very distant dream. We are solar system bound creatures. We are limited in our comprehension, in our way of thinking. But God is so much bigger, so much bigger than even our capacity to think of him, so much more gracious, so much more loving, so much more powerful - as high as the heavens are above the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, my thoughts than your thoughts.

How big is your God? Do you doubt that God will keep his word, his promises? God’s answer is quick...

10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

By the very Word of God, all creation came into existence. When God speaks, it happens. And to us who doubt that God will follow through, we are reminded that what God has said, even though it make take time, it will happen. To Israel and Judah, stuck in captivity, struggling under slavery, many had given up hope in the spoken promises of God. But God’s promises do not go unfulfilled. They will not return to him empty. Like our words have the power to build up or to tear down, God’s words, infinitely more so, have the capacity to ensure that they will accomplish what they have been sent for. When God promises forgiveness, we can be so sure of that promise being fulfilled that we can count on it today.

When God promises us splendour, we can be so sure of it that we can act of that splendour, the presence of God in our lives today. When God promises us eternal life, we can be so sure of it that we can celebrate eternal life, life in abundance today. In scripture, that’s called faith - and faith has everything to do with how big our God is. Faith embraces God’s promises for us, even though they still may be far off, today. That is advent hope and it results in joy, listen to this last stanza of Isaiah 55

12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the LORD’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
which will not be destroyed.”

Finally we discover the trees along the way to the advent of our Lord. We discover these trees in the journey, growing where they should not be, the beautiful tall pine tree with its wonderful green needles growing in the dry cracked useless soil where the thornbush needles used to make our lives painful and progress difficult. There the beauty of a flowing myrtle tree along the way side of the journey where the briers that used to house predators and vermin made their hiding. God gives us a picture of our future, the future that is coming, we grasp it with faith, we grasp it in joy and with us all creation celebrates the day when our Lord will come, and come again in the glory of a clapping and dancing new creation.

How big is your God? Big enough to believe in, to trust in, to bank your future on, to depend upon even when life is hard, when times are difficult? When God tells us that the Pine and the Myrtle will be there, where we though only thorns and briers grew, they will be there. And he does this, because that’s who he is and that’s the glorious reputation he truly deserves.



From the Garden to the City - Trees Along the Way
Immanuel CRC's Theme for 2006-2007
The complete Series

  1. Acts 10:34-48, text vs. 39 FROM THE GARDEN TO THE CITY:
    TREES ALONG THE WAY: Introduction

  2. Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17, 3:1-24 There was more than one Tree in the Garden

  3. Genesis 12:1-9 The Great Tree of Moreh

  4. Genesis 13:14-18, 18:1-5 The Evolution of the Presence of God

  5. Isaiah 6:1-13 Jesse's Stump (Advent #1)

  6. Isaiah 55 The Pine and the Myrtle

  7. Isaiah 11:1-5 Jesse's Shoot (Advent #4)

  8. Galatians 3:1-14 Those who Hang on Trees (Lent)

  9. Luke 19:28-40 The Trees Bowed Before Him! (Palm Sunday)

  10. Genesis 22, Mark 15:33-37 The Ram Caught in the Thicket (Good Friday)

  11. John 20:10-18 They Met Under the Trees in the Garden (Easter Morning)

  12. Acts 2:1-4, 42-47 Pentecost - the City has Arrived

  13. Matthew 6:13 (footnote)  “For Thine is the Kingdom, Power and Glory - the New Jerusalem - Focus of Desire”

  14. Revelation 17, 18 The Great Babylon

  15. Revelation 21 The Bride has Made herself Ready

  16. Revelation 22 The Tree Stands in the City


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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