When I was growing up my family subscribed to Reader’s Digest magazine, both the English version (to help my parents learn English) and the Spanish version, their native language. Even when I went off to college and then seminary, my father insisted on sending me a subscription that I might enjoy the variety of articles and humor selections arriving in the mail each month—I suspect he knew I could use a light break from such heavy studies! I no longer subscribe to Reader’s Digest but I’m surprised at how often these little anecdotes come to mind. I was reminded of one in particular as I was preparing this week’s passage. It tells of two friends who were talking about books and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace came up. Upon learning that his friend had never read it, the first man urged him to do so. The friend replied, “Yes, I’ve often heard War and Peace is one of the great books you should read before you die. So I’ve been waiting to read it that I might put off that final day!”

Though we can appreciate the humor of this anecdote, in many ways it expresses well the folly of how we humans sometimes think. Despite being endowed with reason, at times we reason no better than a sweet dog I once owned who I’m pretty sure was guilty of magical thinking. The minute I left him with a friend whose home I shared, he would run upstairs and lie on my bed until I returned. I’m almost certain that from his perspective waiting for me on my bed would guarantee that I would return home. Since this practice had never failed him, it’s one he continued throughout the entire time I had him. And though we can smile at this and also recognize the tongue-in-cheek nature of the Tolstoy anecdote, nonetheless I think that far too often we are lulled into believing that how we see things is the way they really are. Further we’re confident that the way we were raised and the way we do things is the “right” and only way.

This is true not only about mundane matters—how do you hang a roll of toilet paper? Do you hang it with the end facing the back along the wall or do you hang it the right way with the end hanging over the front?!—but this is also true in more important matters of the spirit, and eternity, and of God himself. So we tell ourselves: “It doesn’t matter how we live so long as we’re happy and don’t harm others since surely the only thing God desires of us is that we be happy. He can’t possibly care how we live so long as we’re happy and don’t harm others.” And so we assume that since being happy and not harming others is our primary goal in life, then surely all who follow this basic instruction will be accepted by God. Yet this is a very human-centered perspective and understanding of life that essentially leaves God out of the picture. Measured by what Scripture teaches, it’s a minimalist and ultimately faulty—albeit well-intended—way of viewing our lives. For the God who has disclosed himself by his spoken Word—and his written Word—and his Incarnate Word—and his Risen Word has made clear to us by his Son, prophets, apostles, and Holy Spirit that what he desires for us is not that we be happy as this is usually understood; what he desires for us is that we be holy as he is.

Therefore measured by God’s Word, our definition of happiness is far too limited and self-centered for God wants us to find a happiness that only he is able to provide. This is a happiness that is inextricably tied to whether or not we know him and with how we love and live with him and how we love and live with others. Therefore this type of happiness requires far more than simply pursuing our whims, interests, and desires to the extent that they don’t harm or impinge upon others. It requires acknowledging that we aren’t always the best judge of what will make us happy; we aren’t always the best judge of what is good for us; we aren’t always the best judge of what is best for us. This type of happiness requires intentionally living before God and believing that he who made us in his image and gave us his written and risen Word knows best what it takes to make us happy; that he knows best what it takes to make us holy.

This is why in our passage we have an invitation from the LORD to come to him—and quench our thirst in him—and be fed by him—and listen to him—and seek him while he may be found[1]—and forsake our wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts—and, again, acknowledge that the God who made us knows best how he made us to live and that, in comparison to him, we know nothing. This point is driven home in how the LORD calls us to himself that we might eat and drink, the two most fundamental activities needed to sustain life. So I’ll be focusing my comments this morning on eating and drinking.

Now this first invitation calling all who are thirsty is unusual because on the one hand, the invitation is for “you who have no money.” But on the other, how can those who have no money, “come, buy and eat!”??? This impossible offer of purchasing drink without money is underscored a second time as verse 1 beckons those “without money and without cost” to nonetheless “Come, buy wine and milk.” Well, as we’ll see the water, wine, and milk being offered isn’t earthly water, wine, and milk; no, this water, wine, and milk is the supernatural living water of life that God himself promises and provides for all who come to him.

So, too, is the case with the bread being offered as verse 2 poses a practical question, “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.” As was the case with the drink spoken of in verse 1, the bread being offered here is better than that which any human could ever make. Once again, this spiritual bread points to finding life and sustenance and provision in the LORD rather than in things that, at the end of the day, won’t satisfy us. We see that because of God’s great desire to communicate with us, throughout Scripture he often uses analogies to help us better understand what he is trying to say to us and bread and drink are two of the most common ones used in Scripture.

Recall how long before the time of Isaiah, the LORD daily provided his people Israel manna for the forty years they spent in the wilderness thereby demonstrating his love and care over them that, as recorded in Deuteronomy, they might learn “that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”[2]—we recently[3] saw how Jesus referred to this verse when the devil tempted him to turn stones into bread after Jesus had been fasting forty days. For the Israelites, the provision of physical bread was to serve as a reminder of God’s daily provision and of his people’s need for him. And so the LORD ever desires to provide daily bread for all who are his. We, too, remind ourselves of this truth each week when we pray together the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, as we ask the LORD to “give us this day our daily bread.”[4] We, too, need this regular reminder that all that we have and all that we are is made possible because of God’s gracious provision.

And when we think of God providing our daily bread, we who are living in the time after which these promises from Scripture have begun to be fulfilled are naturally reminded not only of Jesus’ prayer but also of how he taught that he himself is the bread of life. The sixth chapter of John’s Gospel is where Jesus teaches this and he does so not coincidentally after he had fed five thousand with but two small loaves of bread and two small fish.[5] When the crowd he had fed with literal bread later came looking for him, Jesus, who was ever the fisher of men, said to them, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”[6] And so they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”[7] In other words to believe in Jesus for he is the one who is able to provide this eternal food. Next in this account we’re provided a clear tie-in with the LORD feeding his people in the Old Testament as the crowd asked Jesus, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?” And I just have to interrupt for a moment to point out that they had already witnessed an extraordinary sign when Jesus fed five-thousand with but a few fish and loaves! Yet apparently not making this connection, the crowd continued, “31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” So the crowd was aware of their own history and how God had provided manna for forty years in the wilderness. And Jesus, knowing he had their complete attention, reminded them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” And so they asked of Jesus, “Sir,… always give us this bread.”[8] And dear Jesus connected the dots for them by declaring,

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.[9]

Did you catch what Jesus said? The will of our heavenly Father is that everyone who looks to his Son would believe in him and thereby be granted eternal life. Jesus is the commander and ruler who fulfills God’s promise to David of an everlasting covenant to whom nations would come running in verses 3 through 5 of our passage in Isaiah. For in Christ alone does God provide bread and water that will fill and complete our every longing, need, and desire;[10] in Christ alone are we able to find eternal life; in Christ alone are we able to find true happiness; in Christ alone are we able to find true holiness. He is our bread. He is our sustenance. And he invites us to come and dine with him now and forever.

But in this account Jesus not only referred to himself as the bread of life promising that any who come to him would never go hungry, but he also added, “and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” And so we’re brought to the second key analogy introduced by Isaiah and found throughout Scripture in order that we might turn to and come to know and love our God, our Maker and Redeemer, and trust and follow and depend upon him.

Scripture speaks of water in a number of distinct albeit related ways. First, water is life-giving, which is, again, a way of speaking of God’s provision. We’re all familiar, of course, with the opening of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” Elsewhere in Isaiah we read: “11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”[11] And at least twice in Jeremiah, the LORD is referred to as “the spring of living water.”[12] Finally, Jesus, explaining to Nicodemus the need we all have to be born again or from above, pointed to the life-giving Holy Spirit he would send saying, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”[13] Earthly water, then, reminds us of God, the living water who provides us with life and sustenance in himself; who quenches our thirst and refreshes our soul.

Second, and related to this, water is connected to salvation. In Isaiah 12 we’re told of a time when God’s people will be reconciled with their God: “1 In that day you will say: ‘I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.’ With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.[14] Now given our sinful nature, salvation, quite naturally, is tied to water’s cleansing nature. As the LORD states in Ezekiel, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.”[15] So, too, we read this promise in Zechariah, “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”[16] Later the apostle Paul ties this cleansing to Christ’s relationship with the church, his bride: “…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”[17] So, too, the author of Hebrews calls all who are Christ’s to “draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”[18] The water God provides not only gives life but it cleanses us from death by removing all of our sin and guilt.

Third, water is associated with the coming of both Christ and, as already noted, the Holy Spirit. As to the Holy Spirit, Isaiah tells of the Lord’s promise: “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.”[19] And we see how John the Baptist built upon this teaching in proclaiming, “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”[20] Indeed, at the Pentecost celebration when God fulfilled his promise through the prophet Joel to send his Spirit, Peter ended his sermon with an exhortation to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”[21] Peter tied the cleansing nature of baptismal water with the living water of the Holy Spirit given to all who repent from their sins and turn to the eternal Christ. And indeed our baptism in Christ is what unites us as one for we are all in need of the cleansing God provides. As Paul declares, “…we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”[22]

Now Jesus, of course, connects the Old Testament LORD, the Holy One of God, with himself. We saw last week how even devils he cast out of people called him by this title.[23] But as Jesus declared himself to be the bread of life, in two key passages he also declared himself to be living water. The first is when John records how “37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”[24] Again, we see a connection here between the living water of the Holy Spirit who comes through believing in and receiving Jesus Christ.

As to the second incident, I’m sure you’re already thinking about the woman at the well and rightly so for when this Samaritan woman of questionable repute was asked by Jesus to provide him a drink from the water she had come to draw, when she wondered at a Jew speaking to a half-Jew, a Samaritan, someone most “true” Jews despised, Jesus turned the tables and reached out by offering her water, saying, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” When she then asked him where he would get living water, he responded, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Their conversation ended with Jesus disclosing to her that he was the Messiah, called Christ.[25] Again we see how throughout Scripture water is used to point us to the life-giving God; and the salvation he provides; and the cleansing we all need from our sin and our guilt; and the source of living water that is found uniquely in Christ by the Holy Spirit he sends all who turn to, love, and follow him.

For it is only those who receive the living water God so freely offers and provides who will be with him for all eternity. As recorded in the book of Revelation, John testifies to the risen, glorified, and ruling Christ who:

…said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”[26]

This is in keeping with the message that Isaiah, starting in verse 6 of our text, taught: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Though we don’t like to think about it, the price of rejecting God is severe and of great consequence; but what we must always keep in mind is that this is a consequence that no one need undergo for, as we’ve seen, God invites all who are thirsty to come; all who have no money to buy and eat wine and milk without cost. We can feel the urgency of this beginning in verse 2 as he calls us to “listen, listen to me, and eat what is good” and “delight in the richest of fare.” God calls us to “give ear and come to” him; to listen that we may live, not only now but for all eternity.

And the only thing keeping us from such an invitation is choosing to believe that God’s ways aren’t true; that the Scripture he’s left us isn’t true; that the Son he sent us isn’t the only way to himself; that we don’t need the life-giving Spirit he so freely bestows. The perspective of those who choose to follow their own ways will always be limited to this earthly kind of reasoning. As the LORD declares in the final two verses of our passage, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,….As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” God’s ways and thoughts call us to receive the living water he so freely bestows in himself; God’s ways and thoughts call us to receive the eternal bread he provides in himself.

Dear sisters and brothers, we can buy without money by turning to God in Christ who by his life has paid all of our debts; who has given his life that we might have the eternal bread and water he so freely offers. But we shouldn’t put off turning to and living for him and living with him and his people the way we might put off reading War and Peace for we don’t know when Christ will return. We shouldn’t presume on his goodness and patience and longsuffering. He wants us to turn to and live with him not in the future but now. Now is when he is extending his mercy and his pardon. And the only cost for receiving these is that we forsake our self-destructive behavior—any wicked way and unrighteous thought—and instead choose his life over death, his pardon over judgment, delight in him over suffering without him.

Again, we can buy this living water and eternal bread not with money or deeds of our own but only by accepting the offer God so richly provides in his Son, Jesus Christ, who by suffering and dying in our place and then rising and ascending to heaven has paid the debt for our sin and indifference towards him, for our guilt and shortcomings, that we could never pay. God in Christ is the one who paid for the eternal food and drink that will never be exhausted; God in Christ is the one who calls us to Come and eat! And Come and drink! And come and delight in him! And when we do, he seals and indwells us by the Holy Spirit he sends and so unites us to himself and our Father in heaven and each other now and forevermore. As we’re told in the closing chapters of the book of Revelation,

16 I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” 17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”[27]

Let us pray.

[1] See sermon preached on Isaiah 55:1–13 on 02/28/16, Seek the LORD!

[2] Deuteronomy 8:1–3: 1 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” See also Exodus 16:31–32, 35: 31 The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt….’” 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.; Looking back on the suffering of their ancestors in Egypt, Nehemiah states in Nehemiah 9:15, 20–21: 15 In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them…. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. 21 For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.

[3] Sermon preached on 03/10/19, Called to Live by God’s Work on Luke 4:1–13.

[4] The prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray may be found in Matthew 6:9–13:This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’”; Luke 11:1–4: 11 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”

[5] John 6:9, 11–13: “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. 12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

[6] John 6:26–27.

[7] John 6:28, 29 (respectively).

[8] John 6:30–32.

[9] John 6:35–40. The remainder of this account may be found in John 6:41–59: 41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” 43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” 52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

[10] See Revelation 2:17: Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna.

[11] Isaiah 58:11.

[12] Jeremiah 2:13: My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.; Jeremiah 17:13: Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.

[13] John 3:6.

[14] Isaiah 12:1–3.

[15] Ezekiel 36:25.

[16] Zechariah 13:1.

[17] Ephesians 5:25b–27.

[18] Hebrews 10:22.

[19] Isaiah 44:3. See also Joel 2:28–28 (fulfilled in Acts 2 referred to below): 28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

[20] Matthew 3:11.

[21] Acts 2:38.

[22] 1 Corinthians 12:13. See also Galatians 3:26–28: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

[23] E.g., Luke 4:33–34: 33 In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, 34 “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

[24] John 7:37–39.

[25] John 4:10, 13, 26.

[26] Revelation 21:6–8. See also Zechariah 14:8–9:On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.; Revelation 22:1–2, 17: 1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations….. 17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

[27] Revelation 22:16–17.