Isaiah 55:1–13

Seek the LORD!

Laura Miguélez Quay

Linebrook Church

February 28, 2016

 

Introduction

This morning we return to the book of the prophet Isaiah. As mentioned before, Isaiah lived from around 740–681 BC. The general theme of his writing is “Yahweh Saves!” which is also what Isaiah’s name means—“The LORD saves.” And, again, whereas the first 39 chapters of his book are an address to Isaiah’s contemporaries declaring God’s judgment due to their ongoing disobedience, in chapters 40–66 Isaiah addresses the Jews who will be living two hundred years later. Chapter 55, our morning’s focus, is the final chapter in a section known as The Book of Comfort which extends from chapters 40 to 55. And, as we saw when we studied chapter 43 of Isaiah back in January, chapter 55, too, is clearly intended as a word of comfort and encouragement. Isaiah 55 is a message of joy for those who respond to God’s call—and of warning for those who don’t. And it continues to speak a word of comfort to us who are living over 2500 years after they were first declared!

The chapter begins with an invitation from God who is the speaker. The LORD is requesting that we enter his presence. This is a universal call. The word “come” is repeated four times in the opening verse. Specifically, God calls upon “all you who are thirsty” and “you who have no money.” All who are thirsty should come to the waters and satiate their thirst; all who have no money should come, buy and eat, and so relieve their hunger. As we’ve seen before, we have here a parallel structure in which the same thought is being conveyed in two different ways and we’ll continue to see this throughout this chapter. So those who are thirsty and without money are one and the same group and they are being exhorted to the same end—that of allowing God to meet their need.

The thirsty and penniless are then beckoned, again, to “Come, buy wine and milk without money or cost.” And with this we get our first hint that we’re not talking about the kind of wine or milk that we might purchase at the market. The LORD isn’t pointing out that he knows of a food mart that is going out of business and disposing of its wares before they spoil. Instead in verse 2 God entices his audience by asking what the point is of spending money on what isn’t bread and—another parallelism—of laboring for what ultimately won’t satisfy. Rather than seek fulfillment and filling in things that fundamentally won’t satisfy, they should listen to him and eat what is good that they might delight in the richest of fare.

In verse 3 the LORD again sends out a call—to “give ear and come to” him—to listen that they might live. In God and God alone are we able to find our life for he is life and offers his life to any and all who respond to his call and come to him. Here the LORD is extending the same offer to his people that he extended to David, that of an “everlasting covenant” with them. He is promising them, making a commitment to them that if they turn to him, he will be their God and will never leave them. He is telling them—disclosing to them—his faithful love—his everlasting love which he also promised to David. Acts 13:34 even quotes from this verse and applies it to Jesus stating: “34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’” As verses 4–5 go on to say, as the LORD did with David, whom he made a witness to and a ruler and commander of the peoples, so too, through Jesus, his Son, he will similarly “summon nations” that will come running to him “because of the LORD,” the “Holy One of Israel” who endowed him with splendor. And, as we saw last week, each time nations do turn to the LORD, the promise he made to Abraham of one day blessing all nations and peoples through him, is fulfilled. So it isn’t the case that whatever God we worship is fine. The LORD calls us to worship him, the One, True God. And the means of our doing so is through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Next in verse 6 all are exhorted to “Seek the LORD while he may be found” and to “call on him while he is near.” This isn’t a decision that we can put off or ignore. In fact this decision is the most important decision we can ever make. So those who are wicked—who are living in ways that go against what God has disclosed by his word and prophets—should forsake their ways. And, because God desires us to be holy even as he is holy, the unrighteous should forsake even their thoughts for wicked thoughts can lead to wicked deeds. If we’re honest, wouldn’t we all admit that at some point we’ve all experienced this? If we first ponder—and then consider—and then dwell upon—and perhaps rationalize—doing something we know is wrong, chances are pretty good that we will end up doing it. The good news, however, is that this process works the other way as well for if we have an idea of doing something kind for someone and ponder it, chances are that we will end up acting on that good thought as well. And God who has given us his Scriptures by his prophets and apostles knows this. As Paul reminds us in his closing admonitions in the final (fourth) chapter of the book of Philippians: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Orthodoxy—right thoughts—should lead to orthopraxy—right living.

But Isaiah is reminding us that wrong thoughts, similarly, lead to wrong practice and we should be aware of this. So in verse 7, after stating that the wicked must forsake not only their wicked ways but even their wicked thoughts, he then encourages all who are living according to their ways rather than God’s ways to “turn to the LORD.” Why? Because God, being God, it is part and parcel of his nature to receive all who seek and turn to him. And when they do, he “will have mercy on” and “freely pardon” them.

We misunderstand repentance, don’t we? We may at times think that God is some kind of spoilsport who sets out strict instructions about what we should or should not do in order to ruin our fun. But the reality is so very different. The God who has made us knows best what it will take to bring us fulfillment and joy. He knows best what will bring meaning to our lives. As a loving Father, he not only knows what is best but he wants what is best for us, his children. Isaiah is reminding the wicked of the LORD’s true character. God doesn’t desire to punish his children. No, he is merciful—he is kind even to the ungrateful. Jesus says as much in Luke 6:35 which states: “35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” The LORD God, our heavenly Father, pities all who are in misery. He is ever ready to relieve our distress. Yes, we need to come to him and confess our need and sins before him but, when we do, he will freely pardon. As we’re told in I John 1:8–10: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

In verse 8 of Isaiah where we are reminded of why we need to heed God and his ways over our own. The LORD reminds us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” We may think we are clever and know what is best for us but even the most well-read and thoughtful among us pales in comparison with what the God who made us knows. These verses are a reminder of our great need to know and learn God’s ways. As a child needs the guidance, care, and protection of his or her parents, so it is with we who are children of our Father in heaven whose wisdom and knowledge are immeasurably greater than our own. Verse 9 underscores this point: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” So no matter how much we think we know, it doesn’t even begin to come close to how much God, who is omniscient—who knows all things—knows. And the means we have of learning and living according to God’s will and ways is by heeding his Word as it’s been recorded for us in the Old and New Testaments.

In what follows we learn that God’s Word is never without effect. We may not see the outcome of sharing it, but it will bear fruit—not because of our eloquence but because it is God’s Word. As even the Paul, inspired apostle of Jesus Christ, notes in I Corinthians 3:5–7: “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

Notice how pointedly and clearly this point is made in verses 10–11 of Isaiah: “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.” This is why it’s so important for us to spend time in God’s Word—that we read it; dwell upon it; meditate upon it; seek to follow its precepts. God’s Word is his self-disclosure to us about who he is and what he desires for us. And when we read and share it with others, he is able by his Holy Spirit, to use his Word to change us and those around us, creating within us the desire and the will to know, love, follow, and become more like him. And the beauty and wonder is that even if we come across less than perfect representations of God’s Word—and even if we don’t share it perfectly with others—God’s Word will not return empty. Because of God’s greatness, he’ll be able to use it to achieve the purpose for which he sent it.

The passage ends with a truth so wonderful that it should cause us to “disbelieve for joy” even as Jesus’ disciples did after he appeared to two of them on the Road to Emmaus after he had died and risen from the dead.[1] Isaiah states in vv. 12–13 that one day “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 juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” It’s passages like this that help us to persevere in this life. These verses provide a glorious vision of the ultimate end of our lives and of all creation and this vision should anchor us for our gracious LORD not only makes wonderful promises but he keeps those promises. Whatever we may be going through in our lives, one day it will be better. If we are struggling, one day those struggles will end. And if we are experiencing joy, one day even that joy will be multiplied.

At the Fall, our first parents, Adam and Eve, turned from the God in whose image they had been made and listened not to him but to the serpent, a rebellious creature within God’s creation. And when they turned from God to the serpent, they changed everything for all who follow. Their fellowship with their Maker was broken so that rather than enjoying his presence they turned and hid from him; their fellowship with each other was broken so that they blamed one another for their own poor decisions; their fellowship with the earth over which they had been appointed stewards was broken so that now it would produce thorns and thistles as they labored to care for it. But in these closing verses of Isaiah we have a clear indication that even the Fall didn’t thwart God’s plans for he will one day restore the order he had ever intended. Rather than strife and anger and misunderstanding and miscommunication, one day there will be joy and peace. One day there will be God’s shalom and he will bring about the order and peace he had planned from the beginning.

In that day, even the world of nature will be restored as mountains and hills burst out in song and trees of the field clap their hands—what beautiful, evocative language this is! And the effects of the Fall upon nature will be overturned. There will no longer be thorns but instead the juniper will grow; there will no longer be briers, but instead the myrtle will grow. So we see that one day all relationships will be stored as joy and peace are recovered; the harmony of nature will be restored with joyous song and fragrant juniper and myrtle; and, best of all, this will all be for the LORD’s renown as it all results from a restored relationship with him who loves so well those who are his.

I hope that as we’ve been working through this passage from Isaiah that your thoughts have leapt ahead to Jesus Christ in whom all of these promises have come to fruition. Isaiah 55 begins with a call to all who are thirsty. And Jesus Christ—Jesus the Messiah who is not only fully human but also fully God—tells us that he is the living water. In speaking to the woman at the well, who was seeking water to sate her thirst, Jesus say in John 4:13: “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.” And later in John 7:37–39 he extends this offer of water to all as we read: “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.”

So, too, Isaiah 55 speaks about spending money on what is not bread and we know that Jesus is not only the living water but the true bread of life. John 6:35–40 tells us: “35 Then Jesus declared, ‘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.’”

Isaiah 55 also has God extending his invitation for all to come and listen that they may live and be part of his everlasting covenant—his eternal promise. And so, as we just saw in John 6, Jesus—who is God has entered history in the flesh—tells us that he is the resurrection and life. Before raising Lazarus from the dead, he says to Martha as well in John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

This is what we ask each month when we celebrate communion and are reminded that Jesus is the bread of life as we remember his words at the Last Supper with his disciples. As we read in I Corinthians 11, “on the night he was betrayed, [Jesus] took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Brothers and sisters, Isaiah’s words provide us with an opportunity this morning to stop and consider: For what are we laboring? On what do we spend our money? Do we really know what will bring us joy? Isaiah reminds us that it’s possible to labor for things that don’t satisfy and to spend money on things that leave us thirsty and hungry.

Isaiah reminds us that where our treasure is, there will our hearts also be.[2] If we spend our lives seeking to have more and own more, at the end of our lives, at best, we’ll find that we’ve simply accumulated many things. But if we spend our lives seeking to know and love God, believing his Word and seeking to do his will, we will find that this is the purpose for which we have been made—to love the LORD with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength and our neighbor as ourselves.

As Jesus tells us, to all who come to him, he gives his Holy Spirit who now indwells us and allows us to know and call upon our Father in heaven and so know Jesus as our Savior and Lord and each other as brothers and sisters. Whether we are aware of it or not, we belong to God and we belong to each other. And all who seek him will one day know the restoration of all nature promised in Isaiah 55 and affirmed by the apostle Paul with whose words I want to close this morning. Let us listen to these words from Romans 8:18–23 and allow them to reassure us and provide us with hope and strength to persevere: “18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

Amen & amen. Let us pray.

 

[1] Luke 24:41: 36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

[2] Matthew 6:19–21: 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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