Satisfaction - Isaiah 55

NOTE: We experienced some technical difficulty with the sermon recording on Sunday, April 25. Below is the manuscript for the sermon on Isaiah 55.  If you have any questions or would like to discuss this passage further, please contact Pastor Mike - 

Isaiah 55 – Satisfaction

Slippery Satisfaction

1.     Why do you spend money for that which is not bread? Why spend your labor for that which does not satisfy? Could there be two questions that reach into the very heart of the human struggle more effectively? How would you finish this sentence: “I’ll be satisfied when ______.” The daily demonstrated reality is that nearly every conclusion to that sentence is a lie you’re believing or a lie you’re telling yourself. You’ll be satisfied if you get a job.  But then you’ll be satisfied if so and so would treat you better at the job.  Or if you get a raise. Or a promotion.  You’ll be satisfied if you get a house.  But then you’ll be satisfied if you can renovate the bathroom.  But then you’ll be satisfied if you could paint the kitchen.

2.     It’s not just possessions and jobs, either. It’s safe to say one of the reasons American marriages end in divorce more often than not is because we live in a culture that teaches us, from the time we are kids, that marriage is supposed to complete me and help me reach my goals.  But if two people come together thinking that, they’re in for a surprise. Even the best relationships expose the shortcomings of the other and can never be perfectly “satisfying.” Haven’t you noticed that that hardest time to enjoy something is when you’ve built it up in your mind?

3.     Isaiah’s question exposes the futility of our attempts to be truly, deeply satisfied. We are so much better at seeing what we don’t have, and after we’ve spent our efforts to get it, within a short time we are hungry for more.  But Isaiah 55 offers something different: he invites us to a feast, to a place of perpetual satisfaction. We’re going to look at it in 4 ways: the Invitation in, the Promise of former and future satisfaction, the Invitation out of dissatisfaction, and the Promise of Perpetual Satisfaction. Invitation, Promise, Invitation, Promise. That’s simply the shape this passage takes: verses 1-2 are the first invitation, 3-5 are the first promise, 6-9 are the second invitation, and 10-13 are the second promise.

4.     But first, why is Isa 55 talking about satisfaction at all?  Consider where we are in the story:

a.     Isaiah 40-55 feature the servant who, through suffering, will win God’s promised blessing for God’s people; this reaches its climax in 53-55.

b.     Isaiah 53 describes the outrageous price the Servant will pay for peace – finally, we see exactly what the servant will do: substitutionary atonement.

c.     Isaiah 54 describes the covenant peace accomplished by the Servant – namely, v. 10.

d.     Isaiah 55 invites the people into that joyful peace – what we’re calling satisfaction today - and reassures them that it is legit.

Invitation: Into Satisfaction

1.   Do you see how the first couple verses of Isaiah 55 speak of Water, Wine, and Milk. Wine and Milk don’t merely sustain, they are downright luxurious.  Today we take milk for granted, but milk meant you had regular access to healthy livestock.

2.     This is an invitation to a fine, satisfying feast – and the only requirement is that you come empty handed. You cannot buy this – in fact, the moment you try, it ceases to offer any of the deep satisfaction it originally did. No, the peace described in Isaiah 54 was purchased in 53, but not by us. Upon him was the penalty that made us whole.

3.     Throughout his ministry, Jesus repeatedly claims to fulfill Isaiah 55. Consider the beatitudes – Isaiah 55 offers fine and satisfying food to those who can’t buy it; in the beatitudes Jesus says things like “blessed (aka, happy/satisfied) are the poor, for yours is the kingdom.” And, “Blessed are the hungry, for you shall be fed.”

4.     Or he tells the woman at the well that if she drinks from the water he has to offer her, she’ll never be thirsty again.  He tells the Pharisees that he is the bread of life, and if they eat of him, they’ll never hunger again. 

5.     He tells stories of feasts for those who can’t afford them – one is a royal wedding banquet where the guests are the homeless and beggars from the street.  Another where a greedy son takes his inheritance early, squanders it, and returns in shame, only to be welcomed by a rich feast from his father.  Notably, the older brother refuses to enter the feast because he thinks he earned it, while the younger son didn’t. 

6.     Not only that, but Jesus acted this out – he miraculously feeds thousands with a few fish and loaves, and later he describes the bread and wine of the Passover meal as his body and blood. 

7.     Jesus offers the same satisfaction that Isaiah 55 offers – it is a satisfaction that can only be received, not earned. This is not because it is cheap, on the contrary, it is far costlier than we could ever pay! In case you missed it, here’s the twist: Jesus teaches that he himself is the water, milk, and wine.  Relationship with him is the satisfaction offered in Isaiah 55. That’s the invitation. But it is also promised.

Promise: Former and Future Satisfaction

1.     The climax of the promised-land blessings in the history of Israel come through King David. Under David and his son Solomon, their kingdom was the most wealthy and powerful it has ever been. In verse 3, God renews – or at least reminds his people – of his promise to David. This is, he says, an everlasting covenant. 

2.     So, what was the promise to David?  The heart of it was there would always be a king in the David’s line on the throne.  This implied, of course, that the monarchy of Israel would always stand – this gave the Israelites hope.

3.     And, during Isaiah’s lifetime, there was always a king on the throne in the line of David. At the moment, it was likely king Hezekiah. So far so good: for all these generations, the covenantal promise has held true.

4.     But, and this is a big but: Isaiah has prophesied publicly that Babylon is going to sweep them all away.  Just 2 generations after Isaiah’s death, this is exactly what happens.  For a time, it seems the words fell apart. 

5.     And this is why the lineage of Jesus is so significant.  As the people went into exile, first under Babylon, and eventually under Rome,  the prophets continued to harken back to this promise made to David. The expectation was that one in the line of David would ultimately restore the throne.  Isaiah’s words weren’t discarded when Babylon swept in, they became the molten core of hope for the people.

6.     Isaiah describes an effect of David that did not happen with David: the nations will flock to him. Because the Lord favors him, they will run to him.  This did not happen with David… David’s own family tried to cheat him plenty of times.  No, it was yet to come. 

7.     I think one of the shortest summaries of the Gospel in the bible is found in 2 Timothy 2:8.  Paul writes this, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David – this is my gospel.”  These are the essential details of the gospel as far as Paul is concerned: King Jesus, raised from the dead, a descendant of David.  If he weren’t a descendant from David, his resurrection would have been remarkable, but not salvific. Jesus was completing this big story: He’s the son of David, yes, but he’s also resurrected (happy Eastertide!)- which means he will rule forever. 

Invitation: Away from Dissatisfaction

1.     Wickedness is the opposite of justice. Justice is one of the key themes of Isaiah; the call to treat people according to their infinite worth as human beings created by God. It is telling that the wicked are to forsake their way, meaning they are to act differently.

2.     Unrighteousness is the opposite of righteousness (shocker!). Righteousness is another key theme of Isaiah; the call to relate to people and to God as they really are – God as the only one worthy of worship, people as his special creation.  Throughout Isaiah, the righteous and the just are those who willing to disadvantage themselves for the sake of the community, while the wicked and the unrighteous are those who are willing to disadvantage the community for their own sake. It is telling that the unrighteous are to forsake their thoughts, meaning it is their beliefs, their opinions, their inner state that is out of sync with reality.

3.     What the Wicked and Unrighteous have lost – so many times through Isaiah, the message has been clear: the evil and the wicked, those who are not righteous and do not do justly, may thrive for a time, but ultimately self-destruct.  The one thing they never have is true satisfaction, for they were made to receive and give what God promised to them.  Their thirst for self-satisfaction has led them out of the promised land, where they can only receive satisfaction. There are some, as Isaiah 49 warned, who will never rest because of their wickedness.  They are exiles of heart long before they become exiles of land.

4.     SO the invitation is to seek the Lord “While He is Near (Karov),” while he may be found.  Isaiah chooses a strange word here for “while he is near.”  It is a term found in Leviticus 25.  Leviticus 25 is an interesting chapter.  You see, after delivering them from exile, God brought his people across the wilderness and ultimately brought them into the promised land.  He parceled out the land to them, tribe by tribe and family by family.  They harvested what they did not plant.  But God knew that the ups and downs of life would alter that setup.  For all sorts of reasons, people would lose their land, have to sell it to a neighbor, or give it in exchange for a debt, or flee due to some crisis.  So in Leviticus 25, he issues a legal provision that would return and restore the promised land to the specific people it was promised to.  There were two ways it would be restored: the first was the year of Jubilee.  By law, every 50 years, God’s people would have to wipe out any debts and restore the land to the original owners.  The second was the “kinsman redeemer.”  If a family had lost their land, their nearest kin could legally purchase the land back for them and restore them to ownership. The word used for “next of kin” or “nearest kin” is Karov, the same word used here: Seek the LORD while he is near. He is offering himself to his people as their redeemer – even though they have been wicked and unrighteous, he is offering them a restoration to receive his grace, be restored to righteousness, and begin to do justice. 

5.     It’s as if he’s asking, like Dr. Phil, “how’s that working out for you?” to the wicked, and then saying, “I have the legal right to restore you, if only you would turn to me and ask to be restored.” He’s saying: you think you know what’s right, but God’s thoughts (which are righteous) and his ways (which are just) are infinitely higher than yours. 

Promise: A Life of Satisfaction – Isaiah 55 finishes with an illustration to prove that this invitation into satisfaction is trustworthy.

1.     First, he talks about The Rain. We’re going to see it even after this spring snow: when the rain comes, even in a city where we’ve paved over most of the natural land, it accomplishes its purpose – the grass turns green, the crops grow – the rain brings life. Somehow Isaiah describes the water cycle – eventually the water evaporates and forms clouds and returns again – but never goes back to the sky until it has watered the earth. 

2.     Just like the Rain is God’s Word (dabar).  There are two significant ways the OT talks about God’s speech – one is amar, which usually means “God said,” and the other is this one, dabar. Amar focuses on the content of what God says.  Dabar focuses on the fact that God speaks at all. His word – his promise to David, his offer of satisfaction, his invitation to repent – is as powerful and lifegiving as the rain. 

3.     But the illustration keeps going.  It’s not just that God’s word is like the rain, it’s that the effect of God’s word is the going out and the returning of the people.  Look at it in the last few verses of 55: the rain goes out and returns, accomplishing its purpose.  God’s word goes out and returns, accomplishing its purpose.  And so The People will go out – surely a reminder that they are going into exile – but they will return, and how will they return? With joy, with singing, with celebration – and they will find themselves in a land of perpetual feasting – the bread will always be available to them.