The Gospel of Isaiah
May 2nd, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
THE GOSPEL OF ISAIAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-2-76 10:50 a.m.
In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah we have come to chapter 55, one of the tremendous chapters in the Bible. And the message I have entitled The Gospel of Isaiah, or The Call of God in the Marketplace. This is the reading of the text, in Isaiah chapter 55:
Ho, ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk.
Another text reads:
Buy milk and honey without money and without price.
Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
Incline your ear, and come unto Me; hear, and your soul shall live . . .
Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God; for He will abundantly pardon.
[Isaiah 55:1-3, 6, 7]
Can you imagine God like that? When I think of God in the temple, that’s right; when I think of God in the sanctuary, that’s right. When I think of God in the center of our worship hour, that’s right. But God in the marketplace, hawking His wares? "Ho, ho, ho, come and buy!" [Isaiah 55:1].
What an amazing depiction and delineation of our God! The Lord standing by the stream of humanity as they trade and buy and sell and bargain; the Lord in the marketplace of mankind; the Lord in the emporium of humanity; the Lord in the agora of the trading of the people in the market. "Ho, ho!" – raising His voice to call for their attention. And the word in Hebrew is exactly like the word here in English: "Ho, ho!" And God speaks in the marketplace and calls to those who are thirsting.
In the Orient, how precious sometimes is water! In one of the great cities in which I visited in the East, in a great, vast, desert land, there were those who were walking up and down the street, selling water. And their call in Arabic I had translated for me. It was this: "Oh, thirsting ones, water! Oh, thirsting ones, water!"
"Ho, ho, he that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and you that are hungry of heart, come and eat; yea, come and buy milk and honey without money and without price" [Isaiah 55:1]. There are two things different however in the wares and the merchandising that God offers. One, it satisfies. There is no emptiness in what God offers. It is full and abundant and overflowing. The second difference lies in its price, for God says if there is aught a price and if there is aught of money, it is no money and no price. It is a gift of God.
"Come, buy without money and without price. If you are hungry of heart, if you are famished in spirit, if you need and lack and want, come. Ho, ho, I have water of life to offer. I have milk and honey and abounding food for the soul and for the heart. Come, come, come" [Isaiah 55:1].
Then the Lord argues His case. He pleads with his prospective buyers and customers. And He says: "Wherefore, wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? Why take your life and exchange it for things that are empty and sterile and bring unhappiness and loss? Come, come. I have an abounding, overflowing gift" [Isaiah 55:2]. Why trade your life for something? Why buy something that has no fullness and no joy and no happiness in it? Our Lord said:
He that drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again: But he that drinks of the water that I give him shall never thirst; but the water that I give him shall be in him a well of water springing up like a fountain into everlasting life.
"Ho, ho, ho, ye that are thirsty, come. Bring to the field the water of life" [Isaiah 55:1]. The rich young ruler. Look: rich, rich, affluent, young – oh, what a bounty, youth and prestige. Elected, exalted – the rich young ruler. "O Lord, having it all, what lack I yet [Matthew 19:20]. My heart is empty and my soul is hungry."
"Ho, ho, ho, everyone that is thirsty and he that is hungry, come. Milk and honey without money and without price" [Isaiah 55:1] – life everlasting, the fountain of water, flowing full and rich and deep from the hands of God into our souls. "Wherefore, wherefore, wherefore," God pleads in the marketplace. "Wherefore buy that which does not satisfy?" – labor for that which is empty and sterile. "Come and buy of Me" [Isaiah 55:2-3]. How true does God describe the vain and empty rewards of the things we seek for in this world!
It was several weeks ago that I was in Canada. Last week, I was in Nevada, preaching through our state’s Baptist fellowship in Nevada. That is one of the most unusual places in which I have ever preached in my life. This was my first time to be there as a minister of the gospel, with a message shared with our Baptist people. I have never seen things so black and white, in such distinct color, as I saw this last week. Ah, the people that are there, seeking, searching, hoping, betting, grasping. It is an astonishing thing!
The casinos never close. They are open twenty-four hours every day. They open every day in the week and every week in the year. Their doors are never closed. And they are thronged with thousands and thousands of people. At four o’clock in the morning or at five in the morning, they are still jammed. The people, the people, the people, hungry-hearted, seeking, grasping, wanting people.
And one of the ministers with me said, "Look, look, look. You’ll not see a smile ever, never. Look, you’ll not see a happy face, ever. Never."
And one of the other ministers said to me, "I have been invited to come to Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side of the lake, across from California side. I’ve been invited to come to Lake Tahoe to be a chaplain and a minister there."
I said, "You mean these interests want you, invite you?"
"Oh," he said, "you do not realize how desperately they want us and need us." He said, "It is because of the high, high, high, high suicide rate."
And I looked in my hotel room, and for the first time in the world, I’ve never seen it anywhere else in the world – for the first time in the world, on my dresser in the motel room, there was a little placard giving the name and the address and telephone number of a chaplain. If you need a chaplain, he is there on duty. And those people, and those people, and those people hungry of heart, famished of spirit, seeking, seeking, seeking, and their rewards are so sterile and so empty and so worldly. The whole reward of the world is no different.
I suppose the most pampered and petted of all of the great literary figures of the world was Lord Byron. He was a nobleman. He was a lord. He was famous over the whole civilized world. He was almost adored and worshiped by the literary generation to which he belonged. He was exalted, Lord Byron. It is he that wrote these words:
My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of Love are gone.
The worm, the canker and the grief are mine alone.
Do you remember that title of that poem? It is entitled, "On Reaching my Thirty-sixth Birthday" – after which he soon died. "On Reaching My Thirty-sixth Birthday." Lord Byron, of wealth, of influence, of adulation, pampered and petted by the whole world:
My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and the fruits of Love are gone.
The worm, the canker and the grief are mine alone.
It was hardly different with Bobby Burns, the bard of Scotland – loved by the people, adored by everybody, young and old, poor and rich alike. Bobby Burns. And he gave his life to the world in dissipation and in dissolution. And these are his words – from Bobby Burns:
Pleasures, pleasures are like poppies spread
You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed.
Or like the snow falls on the river;
A moment white and gone forever.
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
Or like the borealis race
That flit ere you can point their place.
[from "Tam o’ Shanter; Robert Burns, 1791]
The empty rewards of the world.
In Jefferson, Texas, the hotel there has the register book that they began with many years ago. I looked at the registered name of Jay Gould. He was, at that time, the richest man in the world. In signing his name "Jay," he drew a picture of a blue jay, and then, "Jay Gould." And as I looked at it, the name of that great railroad tycoon, who was present to see about building a railroad through the state of Texas, I remembered what he said – this is the richest man. He says, "I suppose I am the most miserable man in the world."
You know, if I were looking for a candidate for suicide, I would go to Reno or to Las Vegas. You know, if I were looking for a candidate for suicide, I’d go to Hollywood and look among someone like, say, Marilyn Monroe. "He that drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again" [John 4:13] – the emptiness of the rewards of the world.
"Ho, ho, ho, ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the water of life and drink to the full. Come and buy milk and honey, food for the soul, without money and without price" [Isaiah 55:1]. Listen to the words of the prophet. They are evangelical. They are evangelistic. "Look, look, ho." He uses the word "come" and then "come" and then "come" three times in the first verse. Then in the second verse, "Hearken diligently unto Me" [Isaiah 55:2]. And then the next one, "Incline your ear." and then the next one, "Hear" [Isaiah 55:3]. And then the next one, "Seek ye the Lord," and then the next one, "Call upon Him" [Isaiah 55:6]. And then the next one, "Return unto the Lord" [Isaiah 55:7].
That is the preaching of the prophets, without fail or exception. It is like the apostles. It is like the emissaries of the gospel of Christ. Always it is evangelistic. It is heart-moving. I’m saying this: never does the prophet call to ritual or to ceremony or to form. That was the way of the worship of God in the old days, in the beginning days. There was temple, and there was tabernacle, and there was a altar, and there was laver, and there were seven-branched lampstands, and tables of showbread, and altars of incense. But not in the prophets, never does a prophet call to form, or to ritual, or to ceremony.
Always the call of the prophet is to the heart, to the soul, to belief, to forsake sin, to seek pardon. It is repentance. It is faith. It is belief. It is looking to God. Never will you hear a prophet speak that we offer before God our puny, poor righteousnesses. The prophet Isaiah will say, "Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in His sight" [Isaiah 64:6]. But the great invitation of the prophet, like that of the apostle, is always this: come, come, just as you are; just as you are – sin and all, come; rags and all, come. And God has for us an abounding grace and an abundant pardon.
Isaiah began his great prophecy with those words: "Come, come, let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool [Isaiah 1:18]. . . . Come, ho, ho, ho, you that thirst and you that are hungry of heart, come, buy without money and without price" [Isaiah 55:1].
And when we come before the Lord and appear before the Lord, a dying people, sinful people, heart-hungry, famished of spirit – when we come before the Lord, how could it ever be thought that we could have money ever enough to buy the grace and mercy of God? Or how could we ever think that we could ever be good enough, righteous enough, to inherit or to merit the abounding mercies of God? If they are mediated to us ever, it has to be in His grace, in the fullness of His abounding love: it is a gift of God [Ephesians 2:8].
Is that not the last invitation of the Bible, "The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come" [Revelation 22:17]. "Ho, everyone that thirsteth come [Isaiah 55:1], and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" [Revelation 22:17].
Is not that Revelation 22:17? And is that not the great preaching of the apostle Paul? "For by grace are ye saved through faith . . . it is a gift of God" [Ephesians 2:8]. It is something that God bestows upon us from His loving and gracious hands. We could never buy it, nor could we ever be good enough to merit it. It is by grace. God bestows it upon us without money and without price [Isaiah 55:1].
Nor could ever I think of a more beautiful illustration of that than something I read some time ago. In one of the great cities of America, down the street, a ragged newspaper boy on an early Sunday morning was hawking his wares, selling his newspapers. And as he walked down the street, in the heart of the great city was a beautiful palatial home, a wall around it, and beautiful swards, and lawns, and flowers, and sparkling fountains, sending up their sprays in the morning sun.
And the little boy, looking in, wandered through the gate and was just overwhelmed by the beauty of that home. Found himself on the porch and to his great surprise, he was ringing the doorbell. The big businessman, Mr. Lowry, came himself to the door that Sunday morning, opened it and saw there the ragged urchin with his newspapers in his arm.
The little boy was frightened. He never planned nor intended to be this bold. And he blurted out when the big man opened the door, "Mister," he said, "mister, do you have any children?"
And the big man replied, "No, no, son. My wife and I, we have no children."
And then the boy blurted out, "Oh, mister," he said, "I wish I was your boy so that I could play on this beautiful lawn and nobody would make me get off, and live in this beautiful house and nobody throw me out."
The man was so amused, he called for his wife. And Mrs. Lowry came down the graceful steps and stood by the side of her husband and looked at that ragged boy. And mostly in amusement, the man turned to his wife and said, "Sweet, would you like to have a little boy?"
Well, she said, "Yes, yes."
And the little boy, seeing sympathy and hope in the eyes of the big man and his wife, he said, "Oh, mister, if you’d let me be your boy, I’d give you everything that I have."
And in amusement, the big tycoon said, "Well, son, what do you have?"
And the boy counted out his remaining papers and said, "This." And reached in his pocket and counted out his pennies, thirteen, and offered him that.
The husband looked at the wife and the wife at the husband. And he said, "Wife, let’s see. Son, do you have a home?"
"Do you have a father and mother?"
"Where do you sleep?"
"On the streets."
"Where do you live?"
"On the streets."
She said, "Husband, let’s take him in."
And they took in that boy. And true to the promise of the lad, when he walked in that palatial home, he offered to the big man the papers that he had and the pennies that he had. And the kindly man looked down at the lad and said, "Son, you keep them. I have more than enough for us both."
And when I read that story, the thing that impressed itself the most upon my heart was this: we come before God and offer our little nothingness to Him, our righteousnesses, our goodnesses, or what we are able to bring. But actually, it is so small. And God says, "It is not for sale. And you do not buy it. It is a gift of heaven. I have more than enough for us both."
And we come to be children of God by grace [Ephesians 2:8] and by adoption [Galatians 4:4-5]. It is the Lord that opens wide the door. It is the Lord that opens wide His arms. And we ragged and poor sinners are welcomed in. And we are given the name of our Lord and adopted into the family of God and belong to Him.
O God, what a gospel! How I wish I could preach it and say it as it really is! How I wish we could sing it as it really is! Testify it, share it, witness to it. Oh, the abounding grace of the love of God for us who are lost!
"Ho, ho, ho, ye that are thirsting and hungry and lost, come, come, come. I have more than to spare, enough for us both. Just come; receive it as a gift from heaven" [Isaiah 55:1-3].
At the 8:15 o’clock service this morning, there came down a man who was at least seventy years of age. He took my hand, and his wife by his side, and he said, "All of the years, I’ve been seeking and trying. And this morning, for the first time, I have learned it is just by a gift of God, and I am just to take it." And then he added, "Today, I take it. I receive it."
Oh, blessed, blessed gospel! "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy does He save us" [Titus 3:5] – not by our ableness to buy; we couldn’t have money enough. And not by being good enough; we could never merit it. But it’s the free love, and grace, and gift of God [Ephesians 2:8]. "Ho, ho, ho, come, come, come" [Isaiah 55:1].
We stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you to give himself to Jesus, would you make it now? You who have listened on radio and on television, if there is a hunger in your heart, a thirst in your soul, today would you open your heart heavenward, God-ward, and let Christ fill your soul with happiness and joy beyond anything the world could ever, ever offer? Take Him now. Receive Him now.
And to you who are here in this great throng, down a stairway, down an aisle, "Here I am, pastor, today, today I open my heart toward God. I receive free pardon and grace from His loving heart. And I’m on the way." God bless you and angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
THE GOSPEL OF ISAIAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The call of God in the marketplace
A. Along the avenue of life, in the marketplace of mankind
B. "Ho!" – God takes His place among those who bid for attention
1. He has water and food to sell
C. The difference in God’s merchandise
1. It satisfies
2. It is a gift
II. He argues for His merchandise
A. Why labor for what cannot satisfy? (John 4:13-14, Matthew 19:20)
B. The emptiness of the world
III. The beseeching, entreating words of the Lord
A. "Comeâ€¦hearâ€¦seekâ€¦callâ€¦" (Isaiah 55:1-7)
B. Preaching of the prophets is as that of the apostles
1. No call to ritual, ceremony or form; but to faith and repentance
2. No presenting our own righteousness (Isaiah 64:6, 1:18)