Seek the Lord

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Isaiah 55:1-3
Isaiah 55:5-9

Plenty of people are hungry and thirsty today for something that seems to be missing in their lives, but they don’t know exactly what it is they are looking for. Isaiah can help answer that need.

Invitations can be fun to receive, but a lot of it depends upon two factors. First, who they’re from, and second, what they’re for. Our excitement level will vary greatly from one invitation to another. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I received a personal “invitation” to serve on jury duty. I must admit I was less than thrilled, although I did my duty as a citizen. But imagine how you would react, let’s say, to a personal invitation to come and spend a few days in London as the guest of the queen.

Of course, that would never happen in real life, at least not to people like you and me. But I wonder if you realize that we have actually been sent a far more wonderful invitation even than that. In fact, every person on earth has received just such a message. We have been honored far more than we could imagine. We have been invited to an experience utterly beyond anything this world can offer, by One who is infinitely greater than all the earthly rulers put together. The invitation is written out for us in the 55th chapter of the book of Isaiah.

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live . . .

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:1-3, 6-9

The Address

Like all proper invitations, this one is addressed to a particular person, or perhaps I should say, to a person of a particular type. Listen again to the famous opening words of Isaiah 55: “Come, everyone who thirsts . . .” So God’s invitation is addressed to the thirsty.

What does that mean exactly? Well, I think it meant something a lot more intense in the hot and thirsty desert world of Isaiah’s first hearers than it does to us. Most of us spend our comfortable lives in a world that features water-dispensing refrigerators and air-conditioned homes. In ancient Israel thirst wasn’t just an ever-present need, it was a potential threat to one’s very life. And it couldn’t be easily satisfied with a quick iced tea or a bottle of Coca-Cola. Water was scarce and precious, and not always readily available.

Biblical scholars tell us that the call with which Isaiah 55 opens actually echoes the cries of the water sellers on the streets of ancient Jerusalem – which makes this not only an invitation but a sort of advertisement, in fact, a very remarkable kind of advertisement. “Come to the waters; come and buy even if you have no money!”

But of course Isaiah isn’t talking here about physical thirst. The powerful experience of being thirsty in a desert land becomes an equally powerful image of the longing in our life that is really a longing for God. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God,” cried the psalmist (Psalm 42:1).

Isaiah’s invitation is intended for those who experience the same kind of thirst that that writer was talking about. Though anyone and everyone is potentially addressed by God’s invitation, in practice these words are limited to those who desire God, who want God, and who know that they need God. As someone has remarked, “God is a gentleman; he won’t go where he is not wanted.” So the Lord addresses his invitation to all those who desire to know him personally and to be filled with his life, “Come all you who are thirsty.” That kind of thirst is a good thing.

We can never be completely satisfied with what we have and what we are, as long as we don’t know God. If you think you have absolutely everything you need without him, you are making a big mistake. On the other hand, maybe you do know that there’s something missing in your life but you can’t quite put your finger on what it is. People are hungry and thirsty today for something more, but they don’t know exactly what it is they are looking for. Someone has said that modern folks are like a man who wakes up in the middle of the night, goes down to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator and just stands there in the light streaming from the open door, unsure of what it is he’s hungry for.

People living in the west today are surrounded by affluence and abundance, but the stuff that fills their lives doesn’t seem to be meeting their deepest needs and longings. So the prophet asks just such people, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (v. 2). What he’s pointing to is the truth that only God can really satisfy us.

But we go on thinking that things can – that’s why we’re so interested in money. Just think, if you won the lottery, if you had millions of dollars . . . you’d never have to work again, you could travel everywhere, live anywhere, buy anything you wanted, have the finest of everything. Would you be happy then? Would these things really be enough to satisfy all your desires? Can the luxuries money buys give you love, or provide meaning and purpose for your life, or secure a future for you beyond the few short years you have here on earth? If you “had it all” would that make you a better person, or ensure that you left the world a better place for your having been there?

Why do we spend our money on that which is not bread? Why do we invest our lives in things that don’t last and can’t really satisfy? God is what we really need. God is what we really want, if only we realized it. Only a personal relationship with the living God can satisfy the hunger and thirst of your soul. Not money, not family, not career, not success, not power, not pleasure; only God. St. Augustine said it best fifteen hundred years ago: “O God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.” That’s the address, this invitation, is addressed to anyone who’s thirsty.

The Invitation

But now consider the invitation itself. To those who are hungry and thirsty in this way, to all who long to know and love him, God says simply this, “Come.” It’s completely free! “Come, buy and eat! Buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” In fact, the invitation is especially directed toward the poor, to those who are hungry and thirsty but have no money to buy.

One reason the Bible speaks so favorably about the poor is because they are the ones who are most likely to recognize their need for God, and least likely to be fooled by worldly appearances. It’s precisely because they have few other alternatives that the physically poor are so often poor in another, more important sense. For the people to whom God’s invitation in Isaiah 55 is addressed are the very same as those upon whom Jesus pronounced his great beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

We all know deep down that money can’t buy love, or health, or happiness. But now we are reminded that it also can’t buy God’s favor. The price for that is, literally, nothing – nothing but the willingness to humble yourself, to admit that you are destitute, and ask him for mercy. Sadly, that price is too steep for many. They just can’t afford it. It costs them too much of their pride.

God’s offer is free, but there is something we must do. We must seek the Lord now, while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near (v. 6). The time to respond to his invitation is now, while we have the opportunity. As always in scripture, there’s a sense of urgency about this. Now is the time, today is the day of salvation, says the psalmist (see Psalm 94:7-8). God never promises us tomorrow. After all, he might not be as near to us then, or we might not be inclined to call upon him.

God’s invitation is also at the same time a command. We dare not treat it lightly, or put it aside for a more convenient time. We can’t respond on our terms, only on his. If you do hear his voice calling to you, don’t file it away. Don’t think to yourself, “Yeah, okay, maybe I’ll do something about God. Perhaps I’ll start going to church – someday.” You won’t find God that way. You can’t just add him to your schedule, like another exercise class or a new hobby. If you respond to the call of God you must turn in repentance and forsake your sinful ways to ask for his mercy (v. 7). And you must do that immediately, and unconditionally.

Listen to God’s invitation. It’s addressed to you. Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Do it right now, today!