Pastor Keith Wessel August 16, 2020
Sermon text: Isaiah 55:1-5
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
We’re all too familiar with the impact that this COVID-19 virus has had on our economy—the businesses that have closed, the jobs lost, the financial hardships many of our fellow citizens are enduring. And even as we’ve tried to get things back to normal and reopen certain places, we have to admit that there is a new normal, isn’t there.
One of the things I noted in the news as a new normal is that restaurants that operate as buffets are especially problematic for social distancing and disinfecting, and struggling how to run on a prevention model. This has affected many, for there are many, many people who love a good buffet. Even at Martin Luther College, there are members of the New Ulm community who are quite disappointed that the MLC cafeteria will not be open to the public for a while. It has become a popular spot in town for this very reason – a rather large buffet at a reasonable cost.
How wonderfully coincidental is our Old Testament reading for today, in which our gracious God speaks to us in warm, inviting tones about a huge Banquet of Blessings that he has prepared for the world. “Come, come!” he lovingly calls. He has nothing but the best to give, nothing but the best of intentions as he reaches out to sinners and invites them to share in his goodness forever.
Come to Our Lord’s Banquet of Blessings! Through the voice of his prophet Isaiah, God speaks to each one of us here today. Whoever has ears, let him hear! Is something Jesus so often said. “Come!” And as we look at this section of Scripture, I’d like you to think about three things regarding this banquet of blessings:
1. The Price is Unbelievable
2. The Fare is Satisfying
3. The Benefits are Eternal
1. The Price is Unbelievable
“Come, everyone who is thirsty,
come to the water;
and you without silver,
come, buy, and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without silver and without cost!
Now, we certainly can discuss the diet of Old Testament Israelites and compare it with what we would find delectable in our society. But to the people of Jerusalem to whom Isaiah was prophesying—people who recently had undergone a terrible siege of the city by the mighty Assyrian army—all this food sounded really, really good. We know from other parts of the Old Testament that during the times of siege, items (such as a donkey’s head) that a person wouldn’t normally think of eating would cost outrageous sums of money; so desperate was the situation. So, the announcement that “here is food!” would have really resonated with them.
But the truly shocking part of God’s announcement is this: WITHOUT SILVER…WITHOUT COST… In other words, God has prepared a banquet of blessings …and the cost is free! The price of this banquet is unbelievable!
It is unbelievable from our perspective, that’s for sure. As children of the Lutheran Reformation, we’ve known this and treasured this for centuries, that God’s blessings are sola gratia – “by grace alone.” God, whose kindness and mercy we cannot even begin to fathom, has provided everything for us, and it is completely free.
It’s not by accident that the Gospel for today is the Feeding of the Five Thousand, one of the few miracles recorded in all four Gospels. There we see our God, the Lord Jesus, showing the world what God is all about and what he has come to do. The people had no food. There were no diners available out in the country. So Jesus, who had “compassion on them,” simply took care of the problem. Not even the skepticism of the disciples could stop God from being who he is, good and gracious.
You would think that this invitation of Isaiah would be welcomed with amazement and joy by everyone who hears it. But we also know from Scripture (and, to be honest, from our own lives) that we can’t process this goodness. It’s worse than that: we don’t want to have God do all this and offer all this to us. Have you ever tried to buy someone coffee or lunch and they firmly refused? Why is that? We don’t like the feeling of being an object of kindness. We don’t like the feeling of “owing” somebody. We’d rather show everyone that we can pay our own way, take care of ourselves, stand on our own two feet. So it is when it comes to religion, too. Man’s natural religion is not atheism, but rather, “I can save myself! I want to save myself! I might need a little help from God…but I can do this myself!” Man’s natural religion is not a religion of grace, but of self-help, self-improvement. Because we want the satisfaction of having “done it” – like a Nike commercial—and we want the satisfaction of thinking that the real difference between us and other people is…US; we made the right choices, we were responsible, we showed the right commitment. But Scripture plainly tells each of us, “If you think that way, you really don’t understand anything—especially the nature of a holy God who punishes just ONE sin with death, and the weakness of your own soul that is born dead in sin. Jesus said it more plainly on Maundy Thursday: “I am the Vine…apart from me, you can do nothing.” Apart from him, we are eternally lost.
But that is exactly why this announcement of Isaiah is such unbelievable news! What we can’t do, God did through his Son Jesus Christ. Come get food…because we have no food. Come without money…because we have no money. Yes, it is without cost to us, but it was not without cost to God. The price is unbelievable to us who don’t have to pay a thing, but the price is also unbelievable when we think about what God paid for it.
He paid for everything with the suffering and death of his own dear Son. He was willing to pay it; that’s the marvel of grace. Two chapters before our text we have the famous Isaiah 53: He was pierced for our transgressions, he was stricken by God and afflicted by him. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. Unbelievable! Yet that is exactly what grace is, and what grace did for you and me.
2. The Fare is Satisfying
So here, in Isaiah 55, God is now announcing the great blessings that come from the death and resurrection of Jesus. Isaiah was really writing about the New Testament times – our times—even though he lived 700 years before Christ. God permitted him to see into the future and tell to the world what the Messiah’s work would do for people. And what would it do? In a word, Satisfy.
Ich bin satt is how the Germans say it – that feeling we have after a great meal. Ahhhh!!!. COME, LISTEN TO ME, AND YOU WILL ENJOY THE RICHEST OF FARES. Through his Word, through his Sacraments, God satisfies the soul with good things – PEACE, JOY, CONTENTMENT, HOPE, LOVE, GOODNESS, SELF-CONTROL, KINDNESS, FAITH –the list that St. Paul writes in Galatians 5. We sing in our churches, In Thee is Gladness and Jesus, Priceless Treasure and Take the World, But Give Me Jesus. That’s the voice of faith.
But God has a question for us through Isaiah: WHY DO YOU SPEND SO MUCH TIME, EFFORT, AND MONEY ON THINGS THAT DO NOT SATISFY? He calls us to get some perspective on our life and what’s truly important. That perspective can so easily become distorted. And it has during this pandemic, hasn’t it? Is it really a national crisis that there won’t be a college football season? Will my senior year really be horrible if there is no Homecoming? It’s not just the kids too, of course. Parents—in the name of good parenting—spend so much money and effort to make sure their kid has “things” and “advantages” and “experiences”, and yet can fail to give them the ONE THING NEEDFUL. And we even older than that. We spend time, effort, money to have the kind of life we think we deserve, to protect our investments and estates—what?-- so that we don’t have to pray anymore, “Give us today our daily bread?” Does all this satisfy? Or are the things we’re eating just cotton candy? Does all our effort make it last? Or is it just building sandcastles on the beach?
“COME…” The loving, gentle voice of our gracious God invites us to have the things he provides—things that do satisfy, things that do last. Things that give meaning to life and peace to the soul. True riches, true treasures Jesus called them. And the things that truly satisfy come in this way: LISTEN TO ME…AND YOU WILL LIVE.
3. The Benefits are Eternal
Isaiah ends today by talking about the glory of the New Testament Church, where NATIONS that the Jews had never heard of (such as Norwegians, Danes, Germans, Swedes, Africans, Mexicans, Canadians, etc. etc) would come streaming to “Jerusalem” i.e. to God’s Church, to receive the eternal blessings promised to David. David was promised that the Messiah would come from his family, and that this Messiah (our Lord Jesus) would establish David’s throne forever. It has happened! When Jesus rose and ascended to the right hand of God, the eternal kingdom was made secure.
By God’s grace the Gospel has reached all the way from Isaiah’s Jerusalem to our ears. God the Spirit has led us to believe it, and in our baptism God claimed us as his own dear child. But more than a child; Scripture also says a CO-HEIR WITH CHRIST. This kingdom is your inheritance too.
The Benefits are Eternal! IF ONLY IN THIS LIFE WE HAVE HOPE IN CHRIST, WE ARE TO BE PITIED MORE THAN ALL PEOPLE, St. Paul wrote. But our hope is not only for this life. Yes, as this Word tells us, God is interested very much in us have a good and blessed life here in this world. And he provides that. But he is even more interested in us clinging to him in faith, dying in hope, and sharing in the endless blessings of eternal life after this brief life is passed. This is the ultimate goal.
And through Jesus Christ, God has prepared everything for us—A BANQUET OF BLESSINGS that satisfy the soul in this life and forever. Come! Amen.