I love Isaiah chapter 55. I love it for many reasons. I love it because it teaches me, a follower of Christ, of my Lord’s good and joyful plan for His people (55: 12-13). I love it because it reminds me that I do not worship a wimpy God unable to fulfill His purposes, but the Living God whose sovereignty, power, and wisdom bring to pass all of His plans and purposes—His Word never fails (55:10-11). I love it, because it reminds me that God says to seek Him (55:6), yet it doesn’t say He is hiding. I love it, because it reminds me that Jesus is not evading me like a child playing Marco-Polo. I love it, because when I feel like I am in a spiritual desert, it reminds me that the oasis of Christ is but beckoning me to plunge headfirst into His life-giving streams. I love it, because it reminds me that if God suddenly ‘feels’ distant, it is because I have stupidly distanced myself from Him. It’s the reality check I need when the dry season comes. I. Love. Isaiah. Chapter. 55.
And, tonight I want us to look at it’s opening appeal. The opening stanza inviting us to meet our maker in a glorious, life-giving way. Look at your copy of the word of God, Isaiah chapter 55:1-2,
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.Isaiah 55:1-2, ESV.
To the needy who have nothing.
Who is God, through the prophet Isaiah, speaking to here? Perhaps it is better to ask it this way: What kind of person is God, through Isaiah’s words, inviting to the waters of life? I ask that because, at first, you may read the opening verse and answer—‘He’s inviting every single person to the waters.’ And, while I find there to be a measure of truth in that statement, I also find it to be a shallow reading of what Isaiah says. If you look carefully at the text you will see that Isaiah ushers this invitation to people who fall under two distinct categories.
The first category is rather straightforward. However, it’s a word that our flesh doesn’t like and so we tend to turn a blind eye to it. Thus, I feel it is imperative to explicitly point it out to you. Isaiah says, ‘Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…’ The first category is crystal clear, it is to those who are thirsty. When we look at the Hebrew text it is even more apparent, because of the way the Hebrew text uses the construct form for the word we translate as everyone (The Hebrew word is transliterated as kal or kol ) linking it to the word we translate as thirst. Think of it this way, ‘everyone-thirsty’ the hyphen is the construct connecting the two ideas like a bridge connecting two pieces of land. I think we see it very clearly when the text is translated literally, ‘Oh! Everyone-thirsty come to the waters.’
Now, we need to examine the word thirst to really catch the idea here. Primarily, because Isaiah, though using physical illustrations, is not speaking in physical terms. This is not an unusual method for biblical authors. Frequently the biblical authors, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, use words like thirst, hunger, rest, and even born-again to communicate spiritual truths. All that is to say that Isaiah is not asking you if your mouth feels dry, but rather if your heart does.
Now, if you’re going to get what it means to be ‘thirsty’ in the sense that Isaiah is using it then I think it is imperative that we see what is being offered. He wastes no time here—he rushes to the invitation. If you are one that is thirsty then come to the waters! Again, Isaiah is not inviting you to drink from the Nile River—or any physical river. The meaning is spiritual, and if we turn to the New Testament then I think we will get some clarity on what this water is.
Turn to John’s fourth chapter for a moment. It’s a well known story here, Jesus and the Samaritan woman. The plot goes like this. Jesus, upon leaving Judaea to enter Galilee, takes an unusual route for a first-century Jew. That is he finds it is divine necessity that He travel through Samaria, and it quickly becomes clear that it is not for reasons of time, geography, or safety. He travels through Samaria because He has a divinely ordained appointment with a sinful, broken woman from Samaria. (4:4,7)
As Jesus came close to a small Samaritan town where the Jewish ancestral ‘well of Jacob’ was located, He stopped because He was ‘worn out.’ (4:6) As the woman approaches the well at the most unusual time (noon) she meets an unlikely stranger. Jesus, in His friendly personality, strikes up a conversation, ‘Give me a drink.’ (4:7) The woman, who is obviously shocked that a Jewish man would condescend to speak to a Samaritan—and much less a promiscuous Samaritan woman. (4:9) Now, Jesus’s answer is one of those that is meant to stop us in our tracks. He says,
Jesus answered, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.’John 4:10, CSB
The woman’s response shows that her spiritual blindness is keeping her in ignorance. She is at a loss for words and soon assumes that Jesus is making a political jab at her. However, Jesus refuses to engage in meaningless talk and instead presses His illustration more,
Jesus said, ‘Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give Him will never get thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.’John 4:13-14, CSB
Jesus is making a couple of important claims here that I think are relevant to our text in Isaiah. First, it is clear that the water to which Isaiah is inviting the thirsty to come to, is the same water that Jesus gives—because both claim to be fully, and completely, satisfying. That is implied from the invitation in verse 1 of Isaiah 55, and it is explicitly said by Jesus in verse 13, which is quoted above. Now I just want to state what I sense is the principle here—and hopefully tie this together. If the water that Jesus gives provides the greatest satisfaction our hearts can know and experience, then it must mean that knowing God is the greatest longing of our soul. Our greatest need can only be met by the greatest satisfaction. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that everyone recognizes that need and longing of their soul—according to Paul our sinful natures cause us to suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18) All I am saying is that knowing Christ is your greatest need and desire whether you realize it or not. And, to be honest it is only be the grace of God that we who are being saved come to a realization of such a need and desire. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
So, here is what I think that Jesus (and Jesus speaking through Isaiah) is saying. That quivering thirst we have for life with God is quenched by the living water that Jesus says is given as gift from God through knowing Him. (4:10, If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you…) Now, we need to identify what this water is. And, to answer that I would invite you to flip a couple of pages to John 7:37-39 where the water is explicitly identified.
On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” He said this about the Spirit. Those who believed in Jesus were going to receive the Spirit, for the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.John 7:37-39, CSB
This passage is astoundingly similar to our text of Isaiah 55:1. Look at all the corresponding ideas: water, coming, thirsty. John gives a explicit meaning here for the ‘living water’ that comes from believing in Jesus. That is, He said this about the Spirit. Jesus when saying ‘streams of living water’ is teaching about the gift of God which is the in-dwelling presence of the Holy Spirit of God made possible by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Your greatest need and longing of the heart for life with God is totally and completely met and satisfied by knowing and believing in Jesus Christ through the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit. That is what Isaiah is inviting you to—to a life-giving relationship with God through Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit.
So, to the one whose tastebuds are awakened to their greatest need, or as Isaiah says, ‘Oh! Everyone thirsty come to the waters…’
That’s who the invitation is to, the needy who know it. There is one other category we see when we look at the second half of Isaiah’s invitation. It’s in a statement that at first seems almost like an paradox. Look with me at our text,
and he who has no money, come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.Isaiah 55:1b-c, CSB
Now I think the second category is very, very straightforward. Isaiah says, he who has no money. Of course, as we discussed earlier, Isaiah means more than physical money. I would say that physical money is included here—remember the lesson from Simon the magician of Acts 8, the salvation of God is in no way purchasable with silver, gold, or any monetary object. In fact, that was a grave heresy taught in the Roman Catholic Church through the selling of indulgences, but that’s a talk for another day. While we shouldn’t exclude physical money from Isaiah’s words, we should include more. Because the Bible doesn’t just teach that money is not able to buy salvation, but it also teaches that nothing we bring from ourselves to the table is worthy of receiving salvation. We bring nothing but dirty rags, which we wrongly assume to be righteous (Isaiah 64:6). There is nothing we possess that we can offer in exchange for forgiveness of sin and eternal life with God.
Now, here’s the thing: all humanity is without money in that sense—there is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10) However, not everyone sees that. Again, as Paul says, they suppress the truth. There are many who, blinded by their sinful nature, suppose that they have something worthy to offer for themselves. They are deceived to think their spiritual bank accounts are overflowing, when in truth they are completely empty. You see, here is the point I am getting at. This invitation to come to the life with God that Jesus gives is for those, who by the power of the Holy Spirit, have realized they are needy and yet have nothing to offer.
So, here is the part that I said earlier is paradoxical sounding—though it’s really not. Notice the last part of Isaiah 55:1,
come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price.Isaiah 55:1b-c, CSB
Here’s two questions, which have the same answer.
- How can a needy person who has nothing to offer buy and eat?
- How can you buy something without money and without price?
Here’s the answer, not just from Isaiah, but from ALL of Scripture: the only way that (above questions) is possible is if someone outside of yourself has purchased it for you. I think it is worth pointing out that just two chapters earlier, in Isaiah 53, the prophet pens the final servant song of His book foreseeing a servant of God who saves His people by suffering as their substitute,
Yet He Himself bore our sickness, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced because of our rebellion, crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way, and The Lord punished Him for the iniquity of us all.Isaiah 53:4-6, CSB
Words which the apostle Peter plainly interprets to be fulfilled in the suffering, life, and death of Jesus Christ,
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree;so that having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.1 Peter 2:24-25, CSB
Here’s what, I believe, Isaiah is saying on the back end of that invitation: To anyone, who has nothing to offer but is longing for true life with God, trust in Jesus Christ! He has paid for and made a way for you! The invitation is to those whose heart has been made aware of their greatest need, and Isaiah says, ‘Come and get the greatest satisfaction.’
So, that’s what I believe—and I think I have demonstrated this fully—Isaiah is doing. He is simply inviting people to be totally satisfied in Jesus Christ. Now, let me say this too: I think we are too shallow if we act like this verse is only for those unbelievers—as if all us saints have graduated from the Gospel. Let me give you a good principle to live by: Preach the Gospel to yourself every day. Every morning, every night. Sun up, Sun down. Preach Christ and Christ alone to your heart every day.
Because of my conviction of that—and even more so because I know what verse two says, I feel good about saying the following statement. If you feel like God is distant, then Isaiah is speaking to you. If you feel like you’re wandering through the desert away from God, Isaiah says, ‘Come to the oasis and dive in!’ If you feel like your heart is stale and dry, Isaiah says ‘Come drink from the fountain of Christ and be satisfied.’
Isaiah’s knockout punch—“too many pursuits.”
Now as we move on to the second verse of Isaiah 55, we come face to face with an eighth century Rocky Balboa. I say that because Isaiah asks a question that just punches a Grand Canyon-wide gaping hole in many peoples’ pursuit of happiness and simultaneously identifies the root cause for our dry and crusty heart.
Why do you spend silver on what is not food, and you wages on what does not satisfy?Isaiah 55:2a, CSB
Let me repeat what I said earlier. The only reason that God feels distant to you is because you have grown distant from Him. God doesn’t grow distant from His children. He commands us plainly, “Seek me!” (55:6) So, I feel like I stand on solid ground here when I say that the distance you feel has nothing to do with COVID. And yes, I know. It’s not been a fun season—trust me, I know. But COVID is not the reason you feel spiritually stagnant. Viruses do not make you grow distant from God. If anything this virus has but taken away much of your busyness of life and provided you with time you’ve not had in decades to deepen your walk with Christ—and yet you feel more distant than ever. Instead of using the extra time to deepen your relationship with Christ by expanding your understanding of Scripture, you sought to expand your academic achievements, catch up on Netflix binging, improve your athletic abilities, or fill in the ______ for some other fountain that you have plunged your head down into looking for satisfaction of soul.
But that’s nothing new, and to the shame of many, it’s not very surprising. You know, let me bold enough to say this—It is amazing to me how many people are ready and willing to make an idol out of high school sports or high school academics, and yet just can’t seem to understand why their relationship with Christ feels shallow. And, let me just say—I ain’t just talking to the kids. I often wander who idolizes it more—the parents or the kid, and to be quite honest I often can’t tell a difference.
Okay, okay. I’ll come off that horse for now, I know some won’t be able to bear it otherwise.
Here’s the point, and I think it has been well made, you can’t blame COVID, your preacher, your church, your family, your school, your sports team, your music class, your homework, or anything else for that matter for your lukewarm relationship with Christ. None of those things have caused you to feel distant. The only reason your walk with Christ is lukewarm is because you want it to be. The only reason you feel distant is because you have chosen to be distant—and that choice is evident by your drawing near to other fountains. Which I think is exactly what Isaiah is saying! Why are you pursuing things that will not satisfy you?
Brothers and sisters, and even you unbelievers, the only thing keeping you from meeting your Maker for the first time, or in a fresh and deeper way—is your sinfully warped desires. Your misplaced affections are your only restrictions.
Now, if you fit into that category then hear the wisdom that the Holy Spirit, speaking through His servant Isaiah, gives. If you want to get out of the dry season, if you want to meet your Maker over this next year in a way unlike anything you’ve ever experienced—if you want to end this messed up year of 2020 better spiritually than you begin it, then hear these words,
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.Isaiah 55:2b, ESV
Three verbs stick out in Isaiah’s wisdom here. Listen, eat, delight. Here’s the big question: what does Isaiah mean by those words? Look back at the text and let’s see how he uses them.
1. Listen diligently.
You don’t have to be a Hebrew scholar to get that Isaiah is talking about a specific type of listening in this sense. Diligently, which means in way that is typically characterized by earnestness or energetic effort. It’s not the type of listening that most of us are accustomed to doing at school or at work, where you feel like you are just listening with one part of your mind while the other half is engaged in something else. Hear me on this—you can’t multi-task and seek to know Christ deeply. Jesus is not a Lord of halves, but a Lord of wholes. He wants your whole mind, your whole heart, your whole and complete desire. So, the first step of for personal revival, according to Isaiah is, Listen with great energy! Listen with ears that are hungry, listen in a way that prompts a response from your heart. Stop dead in your tracks, put down your phone, turn off the TV, and hear what is said.
2. Eat what is good.
Just as Isaiah uses thirst and buying to point out a spiritual principle, so he does the same here. He’s not telling you to go and physically eat good food as a response to what He has taught. He’s telling you to respond to his teaching by taking what is good, that which meets your greatest need and is therefore your greatest satisfaction, and take it into yourself. He’s telling you, and really commanding you, to take word of Jesus Christ in such a way that He becomes one with you. He’s telling you to stop doing that with things that are not good, not ultimately satisfying to your thirsty heart, to stop wasting your effort. He is telling you to bind yourself by faith to Jesus Christ in a two-becoming-one type of relationship.
Now, how do you do that? I think the Bible really points us in one direction—to the Scriptures. That’s where you meet your Maker. And, I don’t need a proof text for that either. That’s just the big picture. God knew that Jesus Christ was coming at an appointed time in history to reveal the glory of God in His life, death, and resurrection. The entire Old Testament is leaning on it’s tiptoes to that event. The entire New Testament leans into and on that event. It’s the singular, unifying purpose of Scripture—to reveal to you, through the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). And, the Bible, authored and organized and made so available by God’s sovereign hand is where that happens.
Little wonder then that Paul would tell Timothy that the Scriptures are sufficient to make him wise for salvation and that they are beneficial for correcting, teaching, rebuking, and training in righteousness that the man of God would be equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16)
Here’s what I know. A closed Bible never creates a close walk with Christ. If you want to know Christ in a rich and full way, then open the Word and stick your face into the Scriptures and take the truth of God revealed in the Word and eat it—take it in and pray it be infused into your heart. The Word of God is good to sustain and satisfy you—eat it, every single day. (Matthew 4:4)
3. Delight yourself.
This word, in the Hebrew, comes to us in a verb form that is meant to intense, and yet reflective at the same time. Delight is a really good translation then for what is being taught. Here’s the principle: Be happy about the good food you’re eating! I can also say it this way in the negative: don’t grimace while eating good food.
This is how that looks practically—I’ll frame it in a question. Do you ever drag your feet to the secret place? I really think that’s what Isaiah is getting at. Like what’s your attitude about seeking Christ for satisfaction—even if it means walking away from other fountains?
Here’s what I know. Closed Bibles don’t create close walks with Christ, and neither do calloused hearts.
I don’t know how to be any plainer in what I say. Open the Bible and rejoice, exult, delight, be happy, celebrate the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. Hear and eat the Word of God and be happy about it.
That’s what Isaiah is inviting thirsty people to. To people who have been awakened to their greatest need, come know the greatest satisfaction in Jesus Christ, and celebrate and rejoice about it, delight yourself in Him. Turn away from your broken cisterns, come out of the desert, jump into the all-satisfying oasis of Jesus Christ.
Isaiah says, if God feels distant then come and seek Him. In truth, your misplaced affection is your greatest hinderance. Be thirsty, and come, and rejoice—for God has made a way.
2 thoughts on “Does God feel distant to you?”
I love Isaiah 55 too! 🙂
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Great blog! Just what I needed!
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