Sermon preached on Isaiah 55:1-3 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/4/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Without Money and Without Price”
It is said that everyone hungers for something. This passage would seem to agree. Certainly our own life experiences confirm this. In life, people are looking to fill their life with different things. They can hunger and thirst for so many different things. And yet this passage calls us to consider what we are actually striving after. Will those things we’ve been running after, truly fulfill? Maybe you even have achieved those things and think you have found fulfillment. And yet this passage challenges us to consider that even too – have we found real fulfillment, even if we think we have? Sometimes people believe they have found fulfillment, and yet what they found has only given them the temporary illusion of fulfillment.
Rather this passage starts out with a call. A call to everyone who thirsts and to those who hunger. Are you one who thirsts? Do you hunger? If you have not come to know God through Jesus Christ, then you are thirsting and hungry. This is true, even if you don’t realize it. This is a passage that challenges us to consider what we really need in life. To see that true fulfillment in life comes through being in a relationship with God. That what we need is what only God can provide. And so if you are here today and have not found this, then this message is for you. But this is also a message for the church today. As Christians, we can find ourselves getting sidetracked by the things of this world. We live in a world hostile to God. The things of this world are constantly there to try to supplant the things of God in your life. We can find ourselves buying into this in different parts of our life. Don’t fall into the trap thinking that you know it all and have no need for light from above in these areas. That’s the problem we see of the Pharisee in John 9 who thought his spiritual sight was fine and Jesus then said that just showed his blindness all the more. Rather as Christians we should find our hunger and thirst fulfilled in Christ. But that should be a need we find ourselves constantly coming back to. This passage then is for us too – to reexamine our lives again today with this vision of God’s Word. To make course corrections and look for heart adjustments where needed.
So this morning we’ll consider first the unsatisfying attempts for fulfillment addressed in this passage. Then secondly we’ll see how this passage calls us to be truly satisfied. Lastly, we’ll think about how all this passage finds it fulfillment in Jesus Christ and what that means for us. Let’s begin then by looking at these unsatisfying attempts for fulfillment.
Let’s begin in verse 2. We see right away that there is something you “buy” that’s not bread. There’s something you can spend your wages on that is not going to satisfy. That’s the admonition of verse 2. You are supposed to recognize that there are things you can waste your money on. Things that won’t give you what you need. Things that aren’t going to meet your requirements of sustenance. We’re not told if this is from deception or foolish spending – surely it could be either. Deception would be that someone sold you something and tricked you into thinking it would satisfy you, but it ends up not doing so. Foolish spending would be that you should have known it wasn’t going to really give you what you need, but you bought it anywhere. Like if you came into some money, and you finally had the opportunity to pay off your crippling debt or put food on the table for your family, but instead you go out and buy a toy of some sort with it instead. That would probably be an example of foolish spending. It’s not what you really needed at the moment, but you bought it anyways.
This chapter is Hebrew poetry, and so the idea is repeated twice here in verse 2. The second half talks about using your wages for things that do not satisfy. Literally, it’s talking there about your toil. The work that you do that results in some wage that you’ve earned. But the nuance there is on your hard work. What will you get for your blood, sweat, and tears? Will it be what you need? Or will someone trick you into getting something that doesn’t really meet your needs? Or will you foolishly buy something that you don’t need, overlooking what you do need? But the point of this spending in verse 2 is that this spending is wasted. It’s not real sustenance – nothing that will sustain you. And it doesn’t fulfill or satisfy you. You are left empty after all. You see, that’s what it says you get for your money: nothing.
Now realize there’s a bit of figurative imagery going on here. This surely is not ultimately talking about the bread on your table. There’s a spiritual dimension to all of this. Isaiah has been talking about the people’s spiritual need. This chapter came initially to a people in Babylonian exile because of their sin. The book had been prophesying that God was going to redeem them from that suffering. Two chapters back it talked of that coming through the Suffering Servant – Isaiah 53. The chapter right before this talks of how great their redemption will be. Now in this chapter it turns to call the people to find that redemption. To find what will truly satisfy and fulfill. But it does that by challenging them and us. That we would not be deceived or foolish in what we seek. There are things that won’t fulfill. Things that won’t meet our real needs. Needs that are ultimately of a spiritual nature.
For the exiled Israelite in Babylon this would mean that they need to not get too cozy with the way of life in Babylon. Surely in their time of exile they were to settle down, work hard, and live well in Babylon. But they were not to so become involved in the culture that they became like them spiritually and morally. They’d have to be on guard that the Babylonian worldview didn’t become their worldview. They’d have to be on guard that how the pagan Babylonians say how you find fulfillment in life, didn’t become their life’s dream. The pagan Babylonian pursuits and chief end in life had to be seen for what they really were. Something that would not ultimately satisfy. They must set their minds and energies on pursuing what God says to pursue. On what God says must be their chief end. The same is certainly going to be true for us as we live in a world that’s not our true home. Our citizenship is in heaven. Our life is much like the exiled Israelite in Babylon. We live away from the Promised Land, in a world that is largely opposed to God and the things of God. We must be on guard against the ways the world will tell us to find fulfillment. Don’t spend our money and our life’s energy on things that don’t satisfy. That’s foolishness, it says here.
And so instead, this passage calls us to find real satisfaction. Let’s consider that call now. Let’s consider what we are called to go after. Notice that these verses describe several things that we are to pursue. Water, wine, milk, and implied bread and food in general. I think it’s helpful to note that there are several things mentioned here. These are things of both basic sustenance and of more extended blessing. What does this refer to? What are we being called to pursue here? Some people have suggested some narrow things. The gospel. The law of God. The Word of God. The Holy Spirit. Well, which one is it? Well, all of them! Surely, that’s why the imagery of water, and wine, and milk, and bread is more than just one thing. Because this call is not just some narrow call to just one particular good thing you need. It’s a broader call. It’s a call to come to God and all of his Word. To come to the Lord and his Word and find that this is all what we need for our spiritual lives. That in coming to the Lord and to his Word you find the gospel. You find the Law. You receive the Holy Spirit. You find your union with Christ, your justification, you adoption, your reconciliation, your sanctification, your glorification, and so much more.
We see this in verses 2 and 3. The food and drink imagery gives way to the substance. Last half of verse 2 says we should, “Listen carefully to God.” Verse 3 repeats the call to hear, but then says that we should come to God. And so the imagery gives way with a call to come to God and his words. That’s a broad call. But it’s what Scripture keeps telling us to do. It’s the idea that we find in Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” This is what we really need in our life. This is what we’ll need to have to sustain us. This is why Scripture also says in Deuteronomy 8:3, that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. We need something beyond physical sustenance. And our needs are different than what the unbelieving world will want to make them. At the end of the day, we need God and his Word. We need the LORD and all the things of the LORD. We come to him and find what we truly need.
And the result of this is listed here. Verse 2 says that this sustenance is good. It says that it is something that you soul will delight in abundance, literally in the fatness. This is not just meager sustenance. This is the fine and rich food that we are left full and not in want. Satisfied. Content. That’s what you are left with when you come and take in the Lord and his Word. It’s said without imagery in verse 3. “Your soul will live.” Abundant life. That’s what we get when we answer this call. When we set our appetites on the Lord and his word.
And yet there is another contrast here between the good pursuit and the bad pursuit. We’ve said that one thing satisfies and one does not. But notice as well that the good pursuit has a difference cost. It costs nothing. No cost. What a contrast here! You could spend your efforts and your money on things that don’t satisfy. Or you can get the thing that really does satisfy at no cost! No strings attached here, folks. There’s no catch. No fine print that tells you what the real cost is. The fact that there is no cost is said twice in verse 1. So this is a very clear assertion. What this is saying is simple. There is not something you have to do to earn this. There’s not something that you would offer to God to buy this. The reality is, you couldn’t afford it. It’s beyond any price you could imagine. That strikes us as hard to imagine, because we’ve grown to know there is nothing free in life.
Of course that is where we realize that there was a cost. It just wasn’t paid by us. This becomes all the more clear in the New Testament. Christ paid the way so we can have what’s described here. But it’s predicted even here in Isaiah. I have already mentioned the context. The last two chapters talked of God’s redemption for his people. Specifically, Isaiah 53 had predicted the Suffering Servant. Jesus was that Suffering Servant. Isaiah 53:4, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Isaiah 53:5, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.” We can come to God freely because Jesus paid the price. Our wages had already bought us death. The wages of sin is death. That’s what we had earned. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. We can come and receive God and his benefits without cost, because Christ paid the price.
This is in view even right here in our chapter. Verse 3 references an eternal covenant that God makes with us. He connects that with King David and his sure mercies. Surely this has in mind the full realization of what God had promised King David by covenant. By covenant, God promised David that he would bring the Christ through his lineage. God’s sure mercies to David are the sure mercies offered to us by way of covenant. They are offered us in Christ and in the new covenant inaugurated with his blood. Christ, who came through the line of David, is the mediator of this new better covenant. He secured this covenant by his blood. By being the suffering servant predicated back in chapter 53. And you got to love the way that covenant is described here in verse 3. It’s an everlasting covenant. It can’t be broken. That’s because it wasn’t up to us to earn it in the first place. If we had to buy our way into the covenant through our good deeds, we could imagine how we could lose it with our bad deeds. But this covenant is free. Christ paid for it. We are but told to come. Come to God in Christ. Come in faith. Embrace him and his Word. Find that which truly satisfies.
And so this is why you see Jesus taking on in substance the same call of Isaiah 55. Remember, it was Jesus who said. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” It was Jesus who told the Samaritan woman that if she but asked of him, that he would give her water for which she would drink and never thirst again. Water that would leave her eternally satisfied and no longer thirsty. It’s Jesus that declared himself to be the bread of life. Bread that if you eat of it, you will never die. You will live, just like it’s described here in verse 3. And so Jesus, in his earthly ministry, reiterates the call of Isaiah 55. But he doesn’t just reiterate it. He says that the call is to come to him. Come to him to be satisfied in the way described in Isaiah 55.
But this makes sense. That’s because Jesus is what Isaiah has been talking about. It’s what he’s been talking about in Isaiah 55, and 54, and 53, and throughout the book. He is the promised seed of David. He comes as King and Surety of this new, better, covenant. He also comes as suffering servant. But he also stands as God come in the flesh as the one to whom we all must come. If Isaiah 55 is a call to come to the God and his Word, then it is a call to come to Christ. Come to Christ who is God come in the flesh. Come to Christ who is the Word of God and who gives the Word of Truth. Come to Christ without cost. Come and follow him. And so we come to God and his Word by coming to Christ. For it is by coming to Christ that we do know God and his Word. And all of this comes without cost, because Christ paid the cost. We come and receive all this as a gift; there’s nothing we contribute to it!
Now I thought it may be helpful here to respond to a possible objection. Some might argue whether all what we talked about is truly free. They might ask how we can say this is free. They might even point to the language that Christians sometimes even use. Language to “count the cost” of following Jesus. They might point to how Jesus also calls his disciples with the language of denying ourselves and taking up our crosses. They might point to how Jesus called the rich young ruler to give all his money the poor. They might point to the Scriptures teaching on giving tithes and financial contributions. They might point to the different sacrifices we might have to make because we are following God’s laws. How then can we say all this is free, to have this relationship with God in Christ?
Well, I’ll offer two clarifications that will hopefully help us understand not only in what sense this is free, but what it is we are talking about getting in the first place. First, the free sense is that humans have merited alienation and from God and his wrath. We are talking about coming to him and receiving a real relationship from him. A relationship to restores us in our waywardness. A relationship that justifies us, adopt us, sanctifies us, glorifies us, and ultimately satisfies us. Nothing we can do, will earn that. None of the things mentioned a moment ago under the “counting the cost” idea, does anything to contribute to these many benefits. No amount of denying ourselves or taking up our crosses, will earn any of these benefits. No amount of financial gifts to God, and no amount of obedience to his law at this point, can restore a condemned sinner and give us what we have in Christ. So none of those so-called costs, secure the satisfying benefits of knowing Christ and his Word. Those all come without cost, and nothing we do earns them for us.
Secondly, all those so-called costs, are not actually costs to know God and his Word. They are actually things that flow out of knowing God and his Word. As we come to him freely, he gives us his revealed Word to live by. His commands that come to us then, flow from that freely given new relationship. But those commands then are not given to add some secondary cost in order to keep the benefits of knowing God. No, these commands are part of the benefit. They are part of what satisfies. You see, the people who talk like these are costs are those that haven’t fully begun to appreciate what’s described in Isaiah 55:1-3. For those who have truly come to Christ, we are beginning to realize that his commands are not burdensome. We see that God’s way is the best way. That obedience is the way to find greatest fulfillment. That taking up our crosses is the way that we will find greater joy. These are not costs. These are fruits of coming to God and being filled by God. He fills us with these laws that he writes on our hearts. It’s the joy and satisfaction he’s giving us that makes us realize that his way is the best way. That it is not a “cost” to give to the poor or to the church. That is deeply fulfilling and satisfying to give. In other words, as we come to Christ, we realize how satisfying it is to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. This is not a cost to earn a relationship with God. No, it’s a fruit of that relationship. That’s what satisfies us. We’ll actually find that in coming to God, that we begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and our filled when we live it out.
Well then, Trinity Presbyterian Church, I hope that the call today is clear. Just notice the words of call here. Notice how God’s word is calling out to each of us today. It starts with “Ho!” Ho, to get your attention! Wake up all to this important call. Listen up! And then more words of calling here. Come! Buy! Eat! Listen! Incline your ear! Come to God! Hear him! The LORD beckons you to come to him and his Word and find sustenance and satisfaction in the deepest level.
Why ignore this call? This is the gospel in the Old Testament. And now so clearly we realize how to answer this call. Come to God and hear him in Christ! See how irresistible this call is! Who would ignore a call like this! How amazing this call is! How wonderful of an offer it is! It sounds too good to be true! But this is for real! Come to God in Christ. We all have that God-shaped hole in our hearts. Only God can fill it! Come to Christ! Heed the call today!
Let us not be deceived or foolish and buy into the lies of the world. Examine your life today for how that might be you. I love how verse 2 starts out. Why? Why do people go after things that don’t satisfy? Why would they do that when they can cost you everything, but don’t deliver? Why would they do that, when the alternative costs you nothing? Why? Really, why? Why do people? Why do we? Why do we people fill their lives with everything but what they need? So desperately trying to fill that God-need in their lives? Why do they try to fill it with drugs? Or sex? Or money? Or fame? Or position and prestige? Why? Why, why, why? I urge us all – cast off the foolish reasons you have for not coming to Christ. Cast off the foolish reasons you have for going somewhere else for the satisfaction that only God can provide. However you might try to answer the question of “Why” — it’s not a good answer. There is no good answer. There’s only one obvious choice. But what a wonderful choice it is!
This is a call today for Non-Christians. But it’s also a call to believers too. Maybe you’ve come to Christ. You’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good. That God satisfies. But maybe you’ve veered off course a little bit. Maybe you’ve been eating some spiritual junk-food on the side. Maybe you’ve tasted of a little of the world on the side and thought it good. Recall this passage. It’s not really bread. It won’t truly satisfy. Use this passage today to examine your hearts. Ask for wisdom from above. Look to see if there is something of the world that’s started to creep in. Something that’s taking you away from Christ and his Word. Examine this as you come even to the Lord’s Table today. This bread and wine represent what we are talking about today. That we must feed on Christ and the cross. That’s what truly satisfies. Use then this time to examine your life, and come again renewed to Christ. Come and be satisfied and have life; life abundant. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.