"When God Preached the Gospel"
(Delivered Sunday, February 22, 2009 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
This morning, I ask you to turn with me to the fifty-fifth chapter of the Old Testament book of Isaiah; and to a truly remarkable passage of Scripture. It's one in which God Himself takes on the role of an evangelist, and invites sinners to respond to the Good News of the gospel.
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Chapter 55 is part of an important trio of chapters in the book of Isaiah. Chapter 53 is a portion of Scripture that I suspect is already known and loved by many of us, because it speaks prophetically of the sacrifice that God's Son Jesus would make on the cross for us. Chapter 54 goes on to speak prophetically of the blessings of peace with God that would be made possible through that redeeming sacrifice. And then, chapter 55 takes the matter one step further, and gives us the invitation to believe on that sacrifice and be saved by it.
God steps into the picture in this portion of Isaiah's prophecy, and Himself speaks these things. And in the first three verses of the fifty-fifth chapter—the chapter of invitation—God Himself shouts forth this wonderful 'evangelistic call';
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Now; this passage would make a wonderful evangelistic sermon. But as tempted as I may be to preach a 'gospel message' from it this morning; I have felt instead that the Lord would have me speak directly to those of us who have already placed our faith in Jesus.
Let me ask, dear brothers and sisters in Christ: How do you feel about our task of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others? Does the idea of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus to your unsaved friends, family members, neighbors and work associates excite you? Does it motivate you? Are you driven to do it? Do you earnestly pray for opportunities from God to point other people to Jesus? And when those opportunities come, do you grasp them with eagerness, and enthusiasm, and genuine passion?
To be honest, most of us don't greet such opportunities with anything like 'eagerness' or 'enthusiasm' or 'passion'. Sometimes, we hesitate because we don't feel that evangelism is our particular "gift". All too often, we fail to our faith because we're too busy and distracted by the things of this world. Sometimes, we are silent because we're afraid of what might happen if we bear witness to Jesus—that we might confuse people because we didn't share it correctly; or that we might raise the anger of people who are strong in their unbelief; or that we might disturb the peace of people around us. Many times, it's because we ourselves are just too dull-minded and dull-hearted about the people around us to see their need. And let's face it; sometimes we're not excited about sharing our faith because we're just not think about our Savior as we should.
Now, I'm not trying to be judgmental in bringing these things up. I mention them this morning because they sometimes inhibit me from sharing my faith. But as I have studied this passage this week, the thing that I couldn't get over was how zealous God Himself is for the gospel that He gives us the privilege of sharing. He doesn't hesitate to proclaim it. He isn't worried about offending anyone. He isn't indifferent to people's true situation and real need. He is very, very zealous for the gospel that He has entrusted to us—and for the people around us who need to hear it. And if we truly belong to Him, shouldn't our attitude toward the declaration of the gospel be more like His own?
Let's look a little closer at God's own words in this passage. And let's even dare to ask Him to give us some measure of His own passion for the gospel that He has called us to proclaim.
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First, take a look at . . .
1. GOD'S EARNESTNESS.
I see this in the very first word of this passage—the word that's translated, "Ho!" (v. 1).
In the original language, it's the Hebrew interjection—"Hoy!" And it's a word that serves a lot of purposes in Scripture. In some places, it's used as a lamentation—that is, as the expression of someone's own sorrow over something: "Ah!" or "Alas!" In other places, it's used as a way of expressing sympathy or compassion over the sorrowful situation of someone else: "Woe!" But sometimes—as in the case of our passage this morning—it's clearly meant to serve as a bold, attention-getting cry: something like, "Hey!", or "Yo!", or—as it is among some people groups even today—"Hoy!"
And let me suggest two things about this. First of all, think of that last, very practical function of this word—as an attention-getter. Doesn't this let's us know that God is not shy about the gospel? He isn't indifferent as to whether or not people hear it or receive it. The gospel is a wonderful invitation from the living God to enter into eternal life; and He shouts it loudly and clearly! "Hey! Yo! Over here! Attention! I have something I want you to hear—something you truly need!"
And second, think of the emotion that's loaded into this word. Some Hebrew scholars have suggested that we should see God's use of this word in this passage as expressing the full range of its emotional implications. God feels great emotional pain and sorrow over the condition of those who have been separated from Him because of sin—as if He cries out, "Alas!". He also knows the grievous eternal destiny that sin has put people into; and that unless by His grace they receive the redemption He has provided in Christ, they would be eternally lost and damned—as if He cries out, "Woe!" And these things motivate Him to shout, in great boldness, so that they might hear what He has done to rescue them, and that they might heed His offer of salvation—as if He cries out, "Hey! Give Me your attention!"
The Bible tells us that God is not willing that any lost man or woman perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). And so, He is deeply emotional about it! He is earnest about it. He is forceful about it! He is willing to be bold and loud in declaring it! He is willing to have His spokesmen point to Jesus and cry out, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).
And dear brothers and sisters; how could you and I be indifferent over something that God Himself announces with a loud "Ho!"? May God give us something of the earnestness with which He Himself proclaims the offer of Good News to this lost and dying world!
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Another thing we see in this 'gospel offer' is . . .
2. GOD'S INCLUSIVENESS.
Look who God's loud call is directed to—"Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters . . ." (v. 1). It doesn't matter whether they are high in standing among men, or lower than the lowest of people. It doesn't matter who they may be, where they may have come from, or even what they may have done in the past. The only requirement is that they are "thirsty" for the "waters" of spiritual refreshment that God offers to the parched soul. They—whoever they may be—are welcomed to come and drink.
Whenever I think of this invitation, I think of the story of Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. She came to draw physical water from a well; and Jesus sat by the well and asked her for a drink. She was surprised by this; because the Jewish people had no dealings with Samaritans like her. And yet, Jesus told her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water" (John 4:10). He went on to explain to her;
What a wonderful thing!—"living water"!—"a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life"! In another passage, Jesus stood before the people and cried out;
We're told that "this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive" (John 7:39). And did you notice, in the passages we've just looked at, who may receive this water? "Whoever . . ." "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink!" "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters . . ."
What a gift of God's grace such thirst is—to so thirst that you come to Him for the waters of spiritual refreshment! If anyone thirsts for the waters that God calls us to, it's because God has graciously given them the spiritual thirst that longs to be quenched. And they—whoever they may be—are invited to come.
This is a gospel call that you and I can really be excited about! It's the most inclusive invitation that could ever be given—the invitation to take up the greatest offer that could ever be made, whoever it may be who hears it! May God give us more of His own zeal in proclaiming it!
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Here's another aspect that we see in this 'gospel call' . . .
3. GOD'S GRACE.
God says, "And you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (v. 1).
Here, the Lord shifts metaphors. It's not just the waters of spiritual refreshment that He offers to the thirsty soul. Now, He offers good food to the spiritually hungry. He offers the invitation to come to a table, as it were, that is stocked with spiritual wine for joy and spiritual milk for the nourishment. And it doesn't matter that the one hearing the invitation has no money. These things are offered to be taken "without money" and "without price" (or "without cost"). Those who have nothing to give in trade are invited to "come, buy and eat".
But isn't that a strange thing to say to someone?—to come and "buy" what is without price when they themselves have no money? How can you "buy" when you have no money? I suggest that we're offered to come and "buy" what costs us nothing—not because there is no price, but because the price has already been fully paid on our behalf by Another! As Jesus Himself said,
The most satisfying food that anyone can eat is that which God gives. And it's offered freely to those who can do nothing to buy it for themselves through their own works. Those who have "no money" are invited to "come, buy and eat" the most sumptuous fare—"without money and without price". It's already been purchased for us by Jesus Himself; and it's offered to us as a gift of God's grace.
God is zealous about offering "wine and milk", free of charge to the destitute souls of lost people around us, that He would pay the price for it with His own precious Son. How then could we not be likewise zealous to proclaim this offer ourselves?
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Notice also . . .
4. GOD'S COMPASSION (v. 2).
I feel that His heart breaks over the desperate confusion of lost men and women, who try vainly to fill the empty place in their souls with all the wrong things. As He offers good food to them free of charge, you get a sense of how His heart yearns that they take the offer. "Why do you spend money for what is not bread," He asks; "and your wages for what does not satisfy?" (v. 2).
I believe God truly grieves to see people wandering around desperately in their lostness, with an aching void in their soul. They are truly, legitimately 'hungry' within. But they wander from this false philosophy or religious practice to that; or from this relationship to that; or from this worldly pleasure to that; or from this material possession to that—always spending their efforts and energies trying to find the thing that fills the God-shaped void in their hearts. And yet, He stands as it were with His arms outstretched to them and says, "Why do you constantly throw all your efforts and energies away? Why do you keep searching around in vain? Why spend your money for that which is not bread? Why spend all your hard-earned wages for that which does not satisfy? I have true bread and wine to offer you free of charge! I have abundant waters to offer you that will truly refresh your soul! Why keep wandering? Why keep wasting? Why?"
When I think of this, I again think of another thing that we're told in the Bible about the Lord Jesus. We're told that He went about preaching in different cities and villages; teaching people, preaching the gospel of the kingdom to them, and healing them of every sickness and disease. And it says,
Dear brothers and sisters; do we dare to ask God to give us even a portion of His own brokenness of heart for lost and needy souls; and to help us feel the compassion He feels as He looks at their disparate wanderings and their failed attempts at spiritual satisfaction? Do we dare to ask Him to help us feel as He feels toward their efforts to grasp after everything but the one thing they need the most?
How restless we would be to proclaim the gospel of their salvation if He did!
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In light of this, consider next . . .
5. GOD'S PLEASURE (v. 2).
God doesn't want lost people to wander around aimlessly and fruitlessly. He doesn't want to see them spending all that they are and have on false gods and false religious practices and false philosophies. He says, "Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance"—or, as it is in the King James Version, "in fatness" (v. 2).
"Fatness", in the older sense of the word, referred to the choicest and most delightful of food. And God is here inviting those who are truly hungry in their innermost being to "listen carefully" to Him—that is to hear His voice, and truly 'hear' the offer He is making toward them—and to eat what is truly good for them unto the full delight and satiation of the inner-most being! In other words, it is God's good pleasure—in His gracious gospel call—to invite the needy sinner to come to Him and truly become "satisfied".
I wonder if you have ever thought about how sinful people shun the gospel out of a fear that God will take from them what little happiness they believe they have in sin. And do you realize that the problem isn't that they want to be happy? It's a good thing to want to be happy! Rather, their problem is that they don't want to be happy enough! God wants more happiness for them than they want for themselves!
He isn't saying, "Listen carefully to Me, and eat dry bread crust and swamp water. Come to Me, and let your soul suffer and be burdened and miserable." What a blasphemous thought! And yet, that's what so many people think! Rather, He's saying, "Abandon all your 'dead-end' searches for happiness through sensuality, or possessions, or grasps after power. These things will never make you happy. True happiness, true contentment, and true satisfaction is My free gift to you. "Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance!"
If we only saw things as God saw them—if we only understood that it's God's great pleasure to offer people the fullest experience of abundant delight forever through a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ—then we'd be more zealous to proclaim Jesus to them!
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And also consider that He says to the lost sinner, "Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live" (v. 3). And here, in respect to His proclamation of the gospel, I believe we see . . .
6. GOD'S LONGING (v. 3).
When I read those words, I think of a passage from Ezekiel 33:10-11. It would be hard to find a more passionate expression of God's longing for the lost sinner then what we read in that passage. Ezekiel was told to tell the people what they say in His hearing, "If our transgression and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?" (v. 10). What a desperate situation! What hopelessness. And yet, God wanted Ezekiel to tell them that He says,
That's God's longing: "Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live." He has no delight in the death of the sinner! He desires that the broken, wounded, fallen man or woman live! He paid the price so that they could live! And in His proclamation of the gospel, it's almost as if He grabs hold of the lost man or woman by the shoulders and says, "I want you to live! But you can't live apart from Me! You can't live unless you come to Me! Incline your ear to Me! Hear My words! Come to Me; and your soul shall live!"
May it be that our longing for the lost is like God's own longing! May it be that we become zealous to preach the gospel to them that says, "Listen! Hear! Live!"
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So far in all this, we've seen something of God's zeal in His own offer of the gospel. We've seen His earnestness in that He boldly cries out to be heard. We've seen His inclusiveness in that He says, "Everyone come!" We've seen His grace in that He invites the poor of spirit, "Buy without money!" We've seen His compassion in that He encourages the hungry soul, "Eat what is good!" We've seen His pleasure toward the needy soul in that He says, "Be satisfied!" And we've seen His own heart's longing for the lost in that He says, "Hear and live!" May it be our prayer that we become so gripped with these things that we ourselves proclaim the gospel to the lost people around us with a fuller measure of His own zeal!
But in closing, there's one more thing to consider; and that's . . .
7. GOD'S SON (v. 3).
He makes a promise to those who hear His call, and who come to Him for life. He says, "And I will make an everlasting covenant with you—the sure mercies of David".
This is something that would have been particularly meaningful to the Jewish people. David was their greatest king; and God had made the greatest promise to him that any king on earth had ever received. God had told him, “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever" (2 Samuel 7:12-13). He promised, "And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever" (v. 17).
God promised David that a King would come from his lineage Whose throne and whose kingdom would be "established forever". This points ahead to Jesus. It's in Jesus that "an everlasting covenant" of "the sure mercies of David" would be made with those who heard responded to God's gospel call. Paul spoke of this when he said,
All the promises of God for the salvation of lost men and women are fulfilled in Jesus—who died for our sins and was raised again for our justification. Eternal life, and eternal joy, are all wrapped up in Him; and "all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen" (2 Corinthians 1:20). And He is very zealous to present His beloved Son to the world as our Redeemer.
How could we look to such a wonderful Savior, and not also be zealous to proclaim Him to this world?
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