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Isaiah 55: Bread and Wine

Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of Isaiah, and this morning we’re in chapter 55.

I did something this week that I almost never do; it’s worth mentioning: I looked at a calendar. I really did. We missed some weeks with the hurricane, and I wanted to make sure we were still on track to finish this Isaiah series before Advent. Did you realize, after today, there are four weeks until the advent season begins? Four weeks. I really look forward to Advent and Christmas every year. I know we all have our own traditions—I love ours. We’ll do Thanksgiving at her parents’ house, and when we come home, Anne-Elise and AJ will secretly begin to set out Christmas decorations and I’ll take them down, hide them, and talk loudly about how fasting and waiting before seasons of celebration forms us as worshippers. They’ll follow me through the house singing Christmas songs and I’ll shout over them that they don’t respect the church calendar. We have a weird dynamic going on, but you know, it works.

Four weeks left after this week in Isaiah, what’s been a thirty-week series. We’re going to do another one next year in proverbs, and I’m already excited. Psalm 34 encourages us to “taste and see that the Lord is good, take refuge in him.” And that has been this Isaiah series for me. In the middle of sickness and the hurricane and chaos, every week, Isaiah taught me again that the Lord is good, and satisfying, that we can rest in him.

Today marks the last shift in the book, the last shift of topics in our sermons through Isaiah. We started out talking about the way the world is meant to be, and how we’ve come pretty far from how we were created to be, that distance between who we are and who we’re meant to be the Bible calls sin. We’re really broken, but God hasn’t stopped working in us, so there’s hope. He is recreating us, restoring us to the way we were meant to be. And this isn’t a restoration that you have to wait for at the end of time, this is something he’s doing now, in churches and families all over the world, he’s restoring us to love, and vocation, and rest, and all the things he created us to be. And not just us, society, nations, the world itself.

Of course the enemy is working, too. We talked about weapons, the tools the enemy uses, things like hate and violence, shame and injustice—and the most powerful of his weapons, death itself. The enemy, and everyone who is a part of his kingdom, uses these things to conquer and rule, climb higher in society. God is so holy, though, so other, that he doesn’t use any of these tools in his work. Isaiah says God takes these weapons and breaks them. He has his own weapons, his own tools to do his work, things like memory and truth-telling, judgement and hospitality—a judgement he uses, not to condemn and exclude, but to enable us to enter into his kingdom.

Then we talked about the world God is making. It’s like a vineyard, like a highway going through the whole world to make a way for people of every race and nation and class to come dwell together with God in peace. And we talked about spiritual formation, who God is making his people to be: people who trust and depend upon the Lord, who are truly alive in him and free again, able to desire and choose something other than these things and relationships that kill us slowly. People who seek justice and do good, who are even willing to suffer to aid in the redemption of the people around them.

This is a beautiful book. And here, at the end Isaiah makes one more shift. We’ve talked about his kingdom, his creation, his people, and for these next several weeks, we’re going to talk about the character of God, himself. I love that Isaiah ends his book here. In his day of national shame and suffering and the world in chaos, he decides to end his book by contemplating at length the person of God, himself. It’s so good. We need to learn from him in our own time of trouble. As the apostle Paul writes, “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 these things.” And as Helen Lemmel writes, “cast your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”

Read with me, Isaiah 55, I’m just going to read the whole chapter because it’s wonderful, and we need it. [Isaiah 55]. Pray with me, briefly.

My first point from vs. 1-3, to describe the character and nature of God is just that God is satisfying and good. God is satisfying and good. I feel like Isaiah and I would have gotten along. We just seem to have a lot of things in common. We both like poetry; the outdoors. Both like to talk about politics, and I think we both really love food, and I miss JD, because he was my friend here that I talked about food with. I offered to take Louis out to lunch the other day, anywhere, and he chose Wendy’s. That’s just upsetting to me.

God is satisfying and good, like wine and milk, or butter, and good bread, Isaiah writes. Remember that he’s writing to a people who have just been through a siege and exiled, a people, many of whom haven’t been full or tasted good food for years. He’s saying God is like that, we have a longing for him just like we have a longing for food and water, and when we actually meet him, he doesn’t just stave off hunger, he’s satisfying and good.

I remember, maybe three years ago after Thanksgiving, my side of the family was all together at my parents’ house in Georgia, and my two brothers and my dad, we went to north Georgia to the mountains and went camping for a couple of days together, and to understand this story you need to understand that my middle brother is a bit intense, especially about feats of strength. Like, on this camping trip, we asked him to get some firewood, and he comes walking up fifteen minutes later hauling a full trunk of a tree out of the woods—like this thing could have been the mast of an ocean vessel. We didn’t have a saw, he takes the next two hours with a hatchet chopping this tree into usable pieces because he said he enjoyed the exercise. Intense.

The next day we went hiking, and we let Will choose the path, which was an enormous mistake. We set out probably 9am, we get back as dark is falling. I think we went like twenty miles in the mountains. We didn’t have much more than snacks with us on the hike, and we show up at the camp. My dad spent his day making dinner. It could have been ramen noodles, and it would have been the best meal I’ve ever had. But it’s steak and potatoes cooked in a cast iron and in the coals of a campfire. I was so hungry, and it was so good, and God is this way. He is satisfying and good.

A lot of people in our culture conceive of the God of Christianity as some cosmic buzzkill, and that’s probably our fault, church people. We’re so busy sometimes trying not to sin, that our lives look more like that of a scared child with over-strict parents than Isaiah’s feast laid on Zion. We think so much about our own goodness or failures that we forget to talk about how satisfying God is, and how good it is to live with him. Or worse, I fear many of us have become so obsessed with our own righteousness, our own goodness, that we don’t even experience God’s goodness. We’ve become so righteous in our own eyes that we don’t need forgiveness, much less does it satisfy us like bread and milk and wine.

God is satisfying and good. He’s bread and wine to the hungry, the weary, and the deprived. God created this world, and he could have made it any other way. He could have made a tasteless world, one in which food is just fuel. He could have made a human race that doesn’t experience hunger, but he didn’t. God made food, and he made it taste good, to remind us that we have a burning need in our souls for him that we need to come to him daily, multiple times a day, whenever we feel weak and weary, or need rest, to eat and drink of him and be satisfied.

We sing a song, here, that quotes Augustine’s confessions. He writes, “our hearts are restless until we find our rest in him.” In another part of the book, he lists everything he’s desired in his life, everything he’s been hungry to have. Power and position. Sex, wine. Stability, rest, revenge, happiness. And I think as he’s writing, he realizes: It’s really just God I’ve wanted in all of these things. God the most powerful, who thinks I’m important enough to trade his own life. In God he’s found joy that doesn’t end when you finish the bottle or turn off the screen or clear the table. He doesn’t knock any of these things, but all of these things are like symbols, words on the pages of our lives, that point to the real thing, a fuller reality found in God. He ends the section by saying God is “the fullness and unfailing source of pleasure incorruptible.”

God’s not a buzzkill. Christianity is not about suppressing our desires, or avoiding pleasure. It’s the opposite, really. Christianity gives us the true object of our desires instead of symbols, signs, copies, shades. And once you know the true source of your desires, all of the lesser things take on a deeper meaning. God doesn’t make pleasant things less pleasant, he deepens them, beyond pleasantry by using those things to connect you to the true source of satisfaction and goodness.

I was trying to think of a good analogy, and it kind of morphed into a parable, so here goes: imagine a man who works in a drab cubicle day after day in North Dakota, and he hangs stock photos of the beach on his wall, even though he’s never actually been to the beach. And on the bad days, he stares at the pictures and imagines himself there. Then one day he actually goes to the beach. He hears the waves, walks with his bare feet in the sand, and plays with his kids in the water. What he was imagining didn’t even compare. He comes back to his office, and replaces the stock photos on his wall with one he took of his wife on his vacation. He works like a new man, and he doesn’t stop and stare at the photo anymore. Every time he looks at it, he remembers the feeling of the ocean breeze on his face, and as often as they can, without completely blowing off their work, they go back.

I want you this morning to consider your desires, whatever it is you want. For me right now, it’s stability, importance, and rest, and I can get really frustrated, because it seems like you have to sacrifice one to get the other. To be important you can’t rest. You can never let your life settle into a stable rhythm. You either have time and no money or money and no time. And I have to remind myself that Christ is more important than anyone. From his throne the fate of the world is determined, and by his word the universe is upheld or destroyed. And he’s promised to provide for us. And his burden is light, he calls us to rest, to be still and know that He is God, not us. We are beautifully unnecessary to the world. When I rest in him I have importance and joy and I’m satisfied.

What do you want? What are your desires this morning? Is it marriage? He knows you entirely and loves you. He will never leave you. Is it money? He will give you more than you could have imagined or purchased or built. He gives things like love, contentedness, family, and forgiveness, things the wealthiest people in the world would trade their empires for. What do you want? Is it justice? God knows the truth of everything that’s happened to you, sees through every excuse. He’ll make it right.

No matter what your desires are, the satisfaction of your desire is going to be found ultimately in Christ. He is the bread and butter and wine given without cost to the hungry.

God is satisfying, and he’s good, one. My second point for today, from v.7, is this: God is eager to forgive. God is eager to forgive.

I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage recently. I read a good book about it, Tim Keller’s Meaning of Marriage, which I would highly recommend, and we’re doing a series on the meaning of marriage in the new year, doing marriage counseling with Kallee and Josh through that time. I’ve been thinking, too, as a Christian pastor, about what makes a Christian marriage any different from just the broader practice. I think it has to do with forgiveness.

You see, forgiveness is unique to the Biblical faiths, Judaism and Christianity, meaning you don’t really find the idea of forgiveness outside of Christianity, or areas of Christian influence, this idea that mistakes you’ve made, suffering you’ve caused, might be able to be overlooked and forgotten without your having to make up for it in any way. Forgiveness is central to the Christian worldview. Christ suffered in our place so we could be forgiven our sins. And God is eager to forgive, so that anyone who confesses wrongdoing and asks the Lord for forgiveness is immediately and completely forgiven, saved by grace through faith in Jesus.

In almost every other religion and worldview I’ve studied, there is some sort of weighing of the good vs. the bad, or you can have the bad wiped out, but only if you pay some sort of penance, and then, maybe, God will accept you or the universe will stop punishing you, your karma will balance. But no, in Christianity God is eager to forgive. He is the Father who sees his prodigal son on the road and before he’s done or said anything, the Father runs out to him and welcomes him into the family. I love the way Isaiah says it in v.7: God “abundantly pardons” those who come to him.

So, in marriage, and honestly in any kind of relationship—friendships, family, even your relationships with God and yourself, which can be the most difficult—if I only had one thing I could teach you to help you, I would say imitate God in this: be eager to forgive each other. When you argue and hurt each other emotionally, be eager to forgive. Make sure all truth is told, that if you forgive this person they aren’t going to abuse you, and you can look wrongdoing in the face and call it what it is—but as soon as the truth is told and the apology made, the corner turned, run down the road to welcome each other back into the family. Then put the wrongdoing as far away as east is from the west, never bring it out again, or use it, or demand some sort of penance or gratitude. Forgive eagerly, as God does.

Our God is a God who forgives eagerly, and I love him for that. The more of my life I live with him, the more I experience his forgiveness, the more I realize how deep it goes, how much he has to forgive in me. You may be here this morning, worried that God, or this church, is not going to be able to love you. We’re so afraid in today’s world of admitting fault, because we’re so perfectionistic, legalistic as a culture, that even small differences of opinion can cause us to lose friends, or lose face in a group, feel ashamed. It’s not that way with Christ. He prayed for the forgiveness of the people crucifying him. I hope we can imitate him in this as a church, that we can be a people who are actively confessing our faults and sins to each other because we believe in a God who judges rightly but forgives eagerly when truth is told.

And truth be told, we’re all unacceptable. Maybe I should speak for myself: when it comes down to it, there are a hundred reasons why you should not want to spend time with me or listen to me or be my friend, and only one reason why you should want to be in a relationship with me: the forgiveness we find in Christ.

The God we worship is satisfying and good, he’s eager to forgive, and lastly in v.11, we see: he’s still speaking. God is still speaking, and his word doesn’t come back to him empty.

Now, when I jotted that phrase down, God is still speaking, as I was first reading through the passage, it sounded familiar, so I Googled it and found all kinds of stuff about how God is able to contradict the Bible by giving us modern revelations. Let me be clear: “God is not man, that he changes his mind.” He doesn’t say one thing today and contradict himself tomorrow. The Bible is true, deeply and entirely. I mean that God is still speaking in a performative sense, and I know I need to explain the word performative, Jess, just wait like two seconds.

Performative speech is when you’re able to do something in the world with your words. Like at weddings, when I pronounce the couple man and wife, I’m not trying to tell you about something that has already happened or will happen, but by my very words I’m making something happen in the world. Or when a judge passes a sentence on a defendant, whatever the judge says is going to change that man’s life in significant ways. Performative means your words are performing some kind of action in the world.

Isaiah describes God’s speech beautifully, saying when God speaks, it’s like rain falling to the ground, soaking into the earth, and causing grain to sprout in a garden, and giving bread to the gardener’s family. When I say God is still speaking, that’s what I mean. When God made the earth, he made it with his words, he spoke light and rain and earth and life into existence, and here Isaiah is telling us that he’s still speaking those kinds of words today.

God is still speaking words that can nourish and satisfy his people; words that can create and recreate us. He speaks in the Bible, in prayer, in creation. The whole earth is filled with his words, and with his songs, and in his speech he’s recreating the earth just as he made it in the first place. And nothing he says comes back to him empty, without having the effect he intended to have in the world.

So many of my words come back to me empty, especially when my sentence begins with the phrase, “AJ, don’t…” But nothing that God says comes back to him without having the effect he wanted to have in the world.

Perhaps God is speaking to you today. You’re hearing the words of scripture this morning, and it sounds like rain falling onto barren ground in you, but you’re nervous that faith in God can’t possibly be that thing you’ve been longing for, can’t possibly taste as good as the way you’ve been living, can’t possibly satisfy you.

My invitation to you is just to taste and see that the Lord is good, like bread and butter and wine for the hungry and weary. Pray where you are or here in the front or with the person beside you. Ask God to pass the bread and the cup, to welcome you into his family. Not only will he satisfy you more than anything in this world, he’ll deepen your satisfaction with everything in this world, because you’ll know the true source of your longing.

And he forgives eagerly. You’re not going to be rejected. There’s nothing so dirty about you that he doesn’t want to hold you, welcome you home. I pray that for all of us, we would read these words and be satisfied in God again, confess and repent again, hear his words again, and be set free.