"Seek God for Satisfaction, Splendour, and Significance"
March 11, 2007 Isaiah 55:1-13
Hunting for Help
Help is a great thing - when you need it. This past Monday & Tuesday I was at Stayner (about 2 hours north) for a training course put on for pastors by our denomination. I was thankful to have arrived safely on Monday, despite vehicles in the ditch and in accidents I passed en route, and roads that closed behind me in the high winds and driven snow. The return home Tuesday posed a different challenge: visibility was fine, but the temperature had dropped drastically. The Toyota complained when I turned it over, but started. However my joy at hitting the highway for home turned to anxiety when, about 5 miles out of town, the engine began 'missing' or 'hunting' - it wouldn't accelerate beyond a certain point; something seemed wrong with the fuel supply. I wondered if the frosty conditions meant there was ice in the gas line, and I'd stall out somewhere in the middle of nowhere and have to walk to find help in wind chill of -30. I poured in the half-bottle of gasline antifreeze I had left; it seemed to help, but the engine was still unsteady. At a small village called Mansfield about halfway to Highway 89 I spied gas pumps; the sign projecting from the front of the building said 'open'. I pulled in and turned off the car. But when I got to the door, there was a sign just inside the glass that said, 'closed'. Humph!
I continued on my way. At the junction with Hwy 89, there was an Esso station on the south side of the road. Hurray! But as I took a closer look at it across the intersection, it appeared unploughed; there were no signs of life. So I turned the corner and continued on the way to Shelbourne, where at last there was an OPEN service station where I could fill my tank after adding more anti-freeze.
Can churches be like those gas stations? Are we 'open for business'? Sin interferes with the smooth running of people's lives; they start 'missing' something. The Gospel of Jesus is like gas-line antifreeze that can save them from miserable breakdown and catastrophe eternally. It's vital that we keep rehearsed on salvation basics, so we can quickly and caringly explain the Good News to those who are hurting, that God may help them. We're not here to be a social club or feel-good association, patting ourselves on the backs for living (for the most part) virtuous lives.
Today's lesson from Isaiah 55 contains a surprisingly gospel-like passage from the Old Testament, written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. In it, God reveals to the prophet how much human lives need God; the blessings that come from getting right with Him; and how repentance, trust, and aligning our ways with Him are essential to get His help pouring into our inner tank.
Hankering but Left Hollow
We have been groomed to think of ourselves as consumers. That's good for the economy. But in the field of macro-economics, it's not wise for a nation to rack up a huge trade deficit. That means the consumers are buying a lot of offshore goods into the country, while that country's money is leaving; the imports aren't balanced by the exports. Meanwhile, the goods are consumed, and the money's gone. You're left with a net deficit.
God points out in Isaiah 55 that, on a personal level, as long as we see ourselves as just consumers on this material plane, we're going to encounter a net soul-deficit. We may chase after and spend a lot on things that promise to satisfy our personal appetites, but we'll come up bankrupt. At our core, our deepest level, as long as we follow this world's piper, we'll come up empty, unsatisfied; left with a deficit. V2: "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?"
This world's fare is ultimately fake: it may give pleasure momentarily, but soon we're wanting a re-fill; it may even take a greater amount to provide the same thrill. It is in the nature of advertising to promise more than the product can deliver. Think of the car commercials, for example. I have yet to see one that can park on the side of a building! (For several years my world-awareness has been deficient because we relied on DVD rentals for our media entertainment. Having acquired Cable TV recently, we've started to see commercials again. At first they were interesting; but when you see the same one for the third time in an hour, they seem insulting to your intelligence! If these companies are going to spend mega-bucks on advertising, can't they be a little more creative so at least there's some variety?!)
So, materially the consumer lifestyle leaves us disappointed or sated or jaded. The 'bang' never seems quite as much as we'd hoped. There's a fraudulence that leaves us unfulfilled. The same thing can be experienced in relationships. Advertising can be deceptive! We're trained to put our best foot forward when making a first impression. We hide our darker side (perhaps our 'oafier' side, if you're like Dagwood and enjoy the sofa) - we hide it until we're feeling more secure in the relationship, then we start to let our less-appealing habits slip out. We feel like we can 'let ourselves go' - perhaps to the other person's dismay.
An example of relational disappointment: one of the pastors at the training seminar shared it had been a difficult weekend. His family had taken in a teenage foster child, but this boy had been acting out and making it hard on the rest of the family. Finally that weekend the boy had simply taken off, and they had no idea where he was. Our closest relationships can disappoint, our deepest emotional investments come up empty.
So, we can be victims of fraud in the material or the relational worlds. Garbage trucks and wreckage strewn along the relational highway are testimonials to the fact we're consumers more than maintainers. We spend our money on what's not bread, our labour on what doesn't satisfy. Our hankerings leave us feeling hollow. As a result, our engines run rough, we're missing something, not firing on all cylinders. But there's hope: in the Bible, God invites us to sample and enjoy "what is good" (v2): "Your soul will delight in the richest of fare" if we come to Him. He's the One who can help our soul truly be alive (v3).
Bargain of God's Blessing
God's offer comes at the only price that we, with our vast deficit, can afford to pay. This good deal is absolutely FREE. V1, "buy wine and milk without money and without cost." New Living Translation puts it, "It's all free!" Jesus paid the penalty for us sinners out of His vast love for us. Mk 10:45, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
We can pick out several things in these verses which show the content of God's offer is of great value. First, in v3, "I will make an everlasting covenant with you..." Everlasting - that never stops, it's for all time. Covenant - that's the most secure type of promise or commitment, more binding than a contract. Here God's offering us eternal security, no matter what may come - if we trust in Him. For Christians, God offers us an eternal covenant by bringing back from the dead our Lord Jesus (Heb 13:20).
Also in v3 God offers His 'faithful love' promised to David (NLT: mercies and unfailing love). In the context, this is spoken to the exiled nation of Israel: God wasn't going to leave them scattered about Babylon, but would draw them together and appoint a shepherd over them, as He appointed King David in the past. The New Testament sees Jesus as the fulfilment of this promise, for Jesus was of David's line, in a technical sense. "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son..." (Jn 3:16)
V5 of Is.55 says that YHWH "has endowed you with splendour"; NLT, "I...have made you GLORIOUS". When the exiles were brought back to the land, it would bloom and be fertile again, in contrast to their abject poverty in captivity. In the New Testament, God promises to transform our lowly bodies in the resurrection "so that they will be like [Jesus'] glorious body." (Php 3:20) Bring out your sunglasses - you're going to shine brighter than the whitest snow on a sunny winter's day!
V7 says that for a person who turns to the Lord, "He will have mercy on him, and...will freely pardon." [NLT abundantly pardon] What a deal - you're off the hook! The New Testament talks of Jesus Christ the Righteous One who is our Advocate before the Father, speaking in our defense; He's the atoning sacrifice for our sins - and not only ours, but also those of the whole world (1Jn 2:1f). It's Is 43:25 come true: "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." God has a bad memory - on purpose - when it comes to remembering our sins. (Do I hear a 'Hallelujah'?)
Everlasting covenant; faithful love; mercy; other blessings God offers are found in v12, "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace..." The Jews were jubilant when they were freed from Babylon and could finally go home to Israel after their 70-year captivity. Similarly for Christians, we can "Rejoice in the Lord always" (Php 4:4). Joy is inner irrepressible exultation at all God has done for you. Peace or shalom means a wholeness, things are falling into place in a harmonious fashion, all is working together for good (Rom 8:28). Paul links both peace and joy in the opening verses of Romans 5: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God."
All these blessings rolled together constitute a banquet that delights, as v2 puts it: "eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare." Knowing Jesus as Lord and Saviour satisfies deep-down in the hungers of our heart. Nothing can dislodge that because no one can snatch us out of the hand of God, the Father Almighty (Jn 10:29). He's our loving heavenly Father who enjoys showing grace upon those who are His; as He said in Jeremiah 31(14), "'I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty,' declares the LORD."
What's Required to Receive
Now, a listener might respond, "So what's the catch?" There really isn't a 'catch' as such, just conditions or a procedure to obtain what God's freely offering. First, we must REPENT. Action is required; listen to how often God invites us to 'come' in vv1-3: "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...Listen, listen to me...Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live." 'Come' is used 5X; 'listen' a couple of times, and 'hear'. That's action required on our part to receive God's invitation.
There is a hollowness within every person that's designed to be filled or completed only by a relationship with God. St Augustine wrote in the first chapter of the Confessions, "Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee." Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician, philosopher and physicist who lived in the 1600s. He's an expert to talk about vacuums, because when you looked at the barometer way over on its side last weekend, that pressure is measured now in 'kilo-Pascals'. He wrote, "There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus." When we come to God, responding to His clear invitation in Scripture, we're asking Him to fill that vacuum with Himself by His Holy Spirit, and calm that restlessness of our hearts.
Jesus often voiced this same appeal to come and find satisfaction of our deepest thirsts and hungers. He said to the Samaritan woman at the well, "but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (Joh 4:14) He declared to the crowds, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." (Joh 6:35) He stood up in the middle of a celebration at the Temple and called out in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (Joh 7:37-38) The closing verses of the Bible echo this invitation, in Revelation 22(17): "The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life."
God promises He'll come through when you call on Him, when you seek Him sincerely. Through Jeremiah 29(13f) God promised, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD..."
Coming to God in a true sense involves repentance, turning our back on sin and Satan so we can follow Jesus. Back to Isaiah 55, verse 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..." Forsake that wickedness - leave it behind. Whatever it is. See its vileness as God sees it. New Living Translation puts it: "Let them banish from their minds the very thought of doing wrong." Banish it, put it away, refuse to have anything to do with it.
But don't leave a void, swept and clean, that evil spirits would be only too keen to come and fill later. With REPENT comes READ: replace the former evil thoughts with God's Word. The Lord's thoughts and ways are unfathomably higher than ours; but - wonderfully - He has communicated those thoughts and attitudes to us through the prophets and apostles. In vv10-11 you have this beautiful word-picture of the effectiveness and power of God's word: "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, 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."
Meditate on that. It would be inconceivable with all this snow around to imagine it just vanishing without watering the fields, filling the ditches, and raising the water-table so plants and livestock and humans benefit. Just so sure is God's word at achieving His purpose. He sends it out, and it always produces fruit [NLT]. Take it into your life so it becomes your default mode of operation. Meditate on it day and night, as the Lord told Joshua, so you may do it and prosper and succeed in His purposes (Josh 1:8). Thinking God's thoughts doesn't cause emptiness but creates a sense of purpose, accomplishment in us, having a significant part in His plan. We find ourself and our future in relation to God's over-arching will. Allow His word to penetrate your heart and soul; only He can address those deep unspoken questions within, and tell you who you are (Heb 4:12).
So we have, then, to receive God's gift - Repent; Read; and, last, UPROOT AND RIPEN. V13 speaks of the transformation that follows when the Lord's given free reign in our lives: "Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow." In other words, prickly weeds will give way to productive trees (the myrtle is a fragrant tree with dark shining leaves and white flowers). The Lord will unleash your true fruitfulness. Paul says, "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph 2:10) He'll engage us in the fruitful, redemptive activity of His Kingdom.
Jesus Floods Joy in the Worst Circumstances
Rufus McDaniel, born in rural Ohio in 1850, was licensed to preach when he was only nineteen. He was soon afterward ordained and married. His blessings were tripled by the births of Clarence, Minnie, and Herschel. Clarence, the firstborn, followed in his father's footsteps and became a pastor. The daughter, Minnie, married an Ohio boy and lived nearby in Dayton. It was Herschel who broke his dad's heart by his untimely death in 1913.
After Rufus had buried his son, he realized anew that joy and contentment cannot be based on human affection or external gift. They flow from an endless relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Out of that experience, he wrote, 'Since Jesus Came into My Heart.' Listen for the note of undefeatable joy and peace as we sing it together...
What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
Since Jesus came into my heart!
I have light in my soul, for which long I have sought,
Since Jesus came into my heart.
Since Jesus came into my heart,
Since Jesus came into my heart,
Floods of joy o'er my soul like the sea billows roll,
Since Jesus came into my heart.
I have ceased from my wandering and going astray
Since Jesus came into my heart;
And my sins which were many are all washed away,
Since Jesus came into my heart.
I shall go there to dwell in that city I know,
Since Jesus came into my heart;
And I'm happy, so happy, as onward I go,
Since Jesus came into my heart.