The Gospel of Isaiah
May 2nd, 1976 @ 8:15 AM
THE GOSPEL OF ISAIAH
Dr. W.A. Criswell
5-2-76 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who are sharing this service with us on the radio station of the city of Dallas, WRR. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Gospel of Isaiah, or The Call of God in the Marketplace. It is easy to think of God in the sanctuary or God in the temple, but it is somewhat difficult to think of God out in some agora, in some marketplace hawking His wares. And yet this is exactly the picture that Isaiah presents of our Lord in the fifty-fifth chapter of his prophecy.
I read from the text:
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 milk and honey without money and without price.
In some texts it is buy wine and milk. In some texts it is 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? hearketh 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 55:1-2, 6-7]
What an unusual picture of the great Jehovah Lord God; in the marketplace calling out as though He were in competition with all of the others who were present having things to sell, “Ho, ho, ho!” And that is exactly the word in Hebrew as it is in our English, “Ho! to these who are passing by,” the stream of humanity. Buying, selling, trading, “Ho!”
The Lord stands in the emporium of mankind, in the agora of the tradesmen and the merchandiser, and He calls, “Ho, ho!” He has something to sell. The Lord is offering water of eternal life and food of joy, peace of heart, and quietness of mind, salvation of soul, joy and gladness unspeakable, infinite, and eternal. “Ho! every one that thirsteth, here is water of life.”
I was reading in one of those great cities of the Middle East that I visited several times, and there is an Arab saying, and it was translated for me. Selling water where water is so scarce, selling water, and the cry of the Arab, as he walks up and down the streets, is “O thirsting ones, water! O thirsting ones, water!”
The Lord has water to sell, water of eternal life. And He has food, milk and honey. To those who were captives in Babylon, to whom this is addressed, how that must have brought back memories of their days in the Promised and Holy Land, a land God described as flowing with milk and honey [Exodus 33:1,3]. “Ho! you that are thirsting, I have water of life to sell. Ho! ye that are hungry of heart and famished of spirit, I have milk and honey to sell” [Isaiah 55:1].
Now the Lord presents His appeal with two great differences. Number one; the product that He sells, the ware and the merchandise that He offers is one of satisfaction [Isaiah 55:2]. There is no sterility in it, or emptiness in it, or unhappiness in it. There is nothing but joy and gladness in it. And the second thing about what God offers is that it is without money and without price [Isaiah 55:1]. There’s no cost to it. The Hebrew is, “Come buy milk and honey,” and if there’s anything of price, it is—the Hebrew—“no money and no price. It is a gift of God. It is free.”
Now after the Lord calls for our attention, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, and is hungry of heart, come, buy without money and without price,” then He argues His case. He pleads for His wares. He is persuading us with arguments to buy. “Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfieth not?” [Isaiah 55:2].
Why toil, and work, and trade life for sterile and empty things that bring no joy and no satisfaction? Why give your life for things that bring sterility, and emptiness, and unhappiness? Why? For God says, “My gifts, what I offer are things that bring fullness and abundance of life. And they are free.”
Our Lord spoke of that when He said, “Whosoever drinks of the water of this life shall thirst again: But whosoever drinks of the water that I give him shall never thirst; but the water that I give him shall be in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” [John 4:13-14]. Why give yourself to the things that are sterile and empty and bring unhappiness, when an abounding and abundance of life is found in God?
How much of life is a search after things that when they are possessed are without reward? The rich young ruler had everything, possessed everything. He was young and what a marvelous possession is youth! He was young. He was rich. What a wonderful possession is affluence! And he was prestigious. He was a ruler, elected so, among his people [Luke 18:18].
But he came to the Lord, and in want and hunger of heart, bowed before the Lord Jesus and said, “What lack I yet? [Matthew 19:20]. Something is missing.”
And Jesus said, “The whole matter of life is missing” [Luke 18:18-30].
I have been, as some of you know, this last week preaching through a state convention in the state of Nevada. And it was the first time that I have ever preached in that state, and the first time I was ever really introduced to its spiritual background. And I saw out there such vivid, vivid contrasts.
The association to which I spoke, the state convocation of our Baptist people in Nevada, was so full of joy and gladness, and the people were so responsive. They smiled. They were happy. They have a hard assignment, but Jesus is with them. Though it wasn’t large as a state convention to which I would preach say in Florida, or in North Carolina, or in Georgia, or in Texas, it was not large. But it was buoyant and optimistic and heavenly, and it lifted my own soul. When I came back to Dallas from the meeting in Nevada, I had a feeling of conquest in my heart. God is able. There was an upness about it.
But the contrast in that state is almost indescribable. One of the men, one of the pastors said to me, “See these casinos. They never close. They’re open twenty-four hours every day. And they’re open seven days out of the week and every week in the year. They never close. And they’re thronged with people. See them. They’re there by the thousands.” And he said, “Look. You’ll not see a smile in any of those casinos among those thousands of people, not a smile. You’ll never see a smile.” And he said, “Look. And you’ll never see a happy face, not one.”
And another one of those pastors said to me, “I have been invited to come to the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe which also is thronged with people in casinos.” And he said, “We are invited and we are wanted in these places because of the high rate of suicides.” I noticed in my motel room for the first time I’d ever seen it, I noticed on the dresser there was a little placard saying, “There is a chaplain on call.” I’ve never seen that anywhere in the world but there in Reno, Nevada.
Wonder why, wonder why? Because of the vain search after something that might bring joy to their hearts, and there they are searching and seeking, just anything! They know, I asked about it, they know that everything is set against them.
Those slot machines are not made for the house to go broke. And those card players and those roulette wheels do not turn for the house to go broke. And the people who come there know the thing is set against them. But they are hungry of heart! They are eager for something that might bring a little gladness and joy to their souls.
“Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, the water of life. Ho! every one that is hungry of heart, buy milk and honey without money and without price” [Isaiah 55:1]. Why cast it away on something that brings no joy and no gladness of heart? [Isaiah 55:2]. That’s the strangest thing about worldly life. It has an emptiness in it that is as deep as the soul itself.
Do you remember in your literature reading of Lord Byron? That was the most pampered and petted of all of the literary figures who ever lived in the history of the world. Everyone honored and loved Lord Byron. He was a nobleman. He was a lord. And he had all of the endowments that God could place in a human life. He was rich. He was wealthy. He was famous. He was loved. He was petted and pampered, Lord Byron! Do you remember these words? He wrote them.
My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flower and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!
[“On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year,” Alfred, Lord Byron]
Do you remember the title of that poem? It is “On Arriving at My Thirty-Sixth Birthday”; “On Arriving at My Thirty-Sixth Birthday.” And he died soon after. “My days are in the yellow leaf; The flower and fruits of love are gone; The worm, the canker, and the grief are mine alone!” Thirty-six years of age, having the whole world in his arms, but hungry of heart.
Bobby Burns, Robert Burns lived a desolate and dissolving life. Never a poet more loved than Bobby Burns in his native Scotland. But he lived a desolate life, a dissipated life. Do you remember his words?
Pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, the bloom is shed;
Or as the snow falls on the river,
A moment white – then 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]
I went to Jefferson, Texas one time, and the hotel there has the register they have possessed from the beginning, and Jay Gould, the richest man in America, signed that register. He had come to see about building a railroad through East Texas, and he signed with a bluejay and then “Gould.” And when I looked at it, I thought of what he said. Jay Gould, a great railroad tycoon, at that time the richest man in the world, Jay Gould said, “I suppose I am the most miserable man in the world.”
If I were looking for a candidate for suicide, you know where I’d look? I’d look not only in Reno, Nevada, and Las Vegas, I’d also look in Hollywood, and I’d look after somebody maybe like Marilyn Monroe. Isn’t that a strange thing? Ah, we think how great and how wonderful riches, and fame, and youth, and beauty, and a good time, that is a worldly time: when God says, “Ho, ho, ho, ho, why do you spend your time, and life, and effort, and toil, and labor for that which satisfieth not?” [Isaiah 55:2].
Then the Lord presents His appeal. I want you to listen to the words the Lord used, “Come,” and then again, “come,” and then again, “come,” and then again, “Incline your ear,” and again, “hearken,” and again, “hear,” and again, “seek,” and again, “call,” and again, “return unto the Lord.” Aren’t those marvelous evangelistic words? Listen, hearken, come, turn, seek! [Isaiah 55:1-3, 6-7].
You know a prophet is like an apostle. They preach the same message. We haven’t time to follow it theologically, but a great difference between the prophet and the beginning of the Hebrew ritualistic worship of God in tabernacle and temple, is this; that in the ritualistic service it was always the ceremony, it was the altar, it was the laver, it was the seven-branched lamp stands, it was the table of showbread—it was always the ritualistic service. But in the prophet it was never that. The prophet never called to ritual, or to ceremony, or to form! But the prophet always called to repentance, to faith, to hearkening, to seeking, to asking for forgiveness, to believing; always. The prophet never called for our righteousnesses as being able to commend us to God, but always the prophet called us to a trusting in God who could forgive us and save us.
As Isaiah started off his book in the first chapter, “Come now, and 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]. That is the message of the prophet. It is never one of ritual. It is never one of ceremony. It is never one of form. It is always one of heart, of repentance, of seeking, of asking God for forgiveness. “Ho, you that thirst, come without money and without price” [Isaiah 55:1]. It is the free gift of God.
God closed the whole Book with this last invitation, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the word, the water, the gift of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]; without cost, without price, it is a gift of God [Isaiah 55:1]. Not that we come before God in some ritual or in some ceremony, and not that we come before God with our little righteousnesses commending us to the favor of the Lord; never! But we come before God in repentance, and in confession, and receive eternal life as a free gift from His gracious hands [Romans 6:23]. Always it is something that God does for us, never something that we buy with toil or effort. “Come, Ho! Ho! come to the waters, the water of life; buy milk and honey for the saving and the satisfaction of the soul, without money and without price” [Isaiah 55:1], as a free gift of God. It is something God does for us that we couldn’t buy for ourselves.
I don’t know of a more beautiful illustration of that than something that I stumbled into in my reading several years ago. The author said that in one of the great cities of America, in the heart of the city, was a beautiful palatial home. And down the street on an early Sunday morning there was a ragged newspaper boy hawking his wares, selling his papers in the early Sunday morning. And, as the boy with his newspapers walked down the street of the city, he passed by that beautiful and palatial home.
He was attracted, the lad was, by those beautiful swards, those lawns so manicured and kept, by the sparkling fountains that bubbled up in the early morning sun, and by the beautiful and palatial house. And before the lad realized it, he was inside the yard looking at all of that beautiful place. And to his surprise he was on the porch and ringing the doorbell.
Mr. Lowry, a great businessman who lived in that palace, came to the door, opened it, and there stood a ragged newspaper boy. The little fellow was frightened to death at what he’d done. And when Mr. Lowry, the big man, greeted the lad, he just blurted out the words, “Mister, do you have any children?”
And the man kindly replied, “No, son, we do not have any children.”
And the little fellow said, “Oh, I wish I were your boy so I could play on this beautiful lawn and nobody would make me get off. And I lived in this beautiful house and nobody threw me out.”
The man was intrigued, and he called upstairs, mostly out of curiosity, just to see how it would be. And he called for his wife, “Come here. Come here.” And his wife came down the stairway and stood by his side, and he turned toward her and said, “Would you like to have a little boy?
She was amazed at the question, “Why,” she said, “yes. I’d love to have a little boy.”
So continuing mostly out of curiosity, they talked to that little ragged urchin. He had no home. He had no father and mother. He had no place to live. And he slept in the streets and lived on the streets. And the little fellow said when he saw interest in the eyes of Mr. and Mrs. Lowry, the little fellow said, “Oh, Mister, if you’d let me be your little boy, I’d give you every thing I have.”
And the big businessman said, “Well, son, what do you have?”
He counted his newspapers and offered him that. He reached into his pocket and pulled out twelve pennies. “I have that.”
He turned to his wife, the big businessman, and said, “Wife, let’s take him in.”
She said, “I’d love to.” They opened wide the door, they opened wide their arms, and they took that little boy in, and he became their son.
But you know what impressed me in that story was the little thing that happened when the boy walked in; true to his bargain, he thought, when he was asked—“You’d give me everything you have to be our little boy, what do you have?”—he counted out his newspapers and took out all the money in his pocket, those few pennies, and the first thing the lad did when he walked into that palatial home, he offered his newspapers to the big man and offered the few pennies in his hand. And the big man looked at the papers and looked at the pennies in his hand, and replied, “Son, thank you but you can keep your papers and you can keep your pennies, for I have more than enough for us both. I have more than enough for us both.”
I think of us when we come before God. So many times, “Lord, Lord,” and we offer our little goodnesses to Jesus and our little righteousnesses before God. And it was Isaiah who says, “Our righteousnesses are as filthy rags in His sight” [Isaiah 64:6]. When a man comes before God, there’s not money enough to buy His grace, nor is their righteousnesses enough to commend us to His favor. When we come before God, it is of His grace and of the fullness of His heart that He receives us [Ephesians 2:8].
We come as ragged beggars. We come as poor lost sinners. “Lord, remember me. Have mercy upon me. Be good to me. Lord, here I am, poor without ableness to buy or strength to do. Lord, take me in.” And He receives us, for the Book says, “I will have mercy upon him; and I will abundantly pardon” [Isaiah 55:7].
“Ho, ho, ho, come, come, come” [Isaiah 55:1]. Isn’t that the most marvelous thing in the world? Don’t you wish you could say it as it ought to be said, preach it as it ought to be preached, sing it as it ought to be sung, witness to it as it ought to be witnessed to? Don’t you wish you could? What a glorious, glorious gospel, when the Lord opens wide His arms and wide the door and says, “Welcome, without money and without price, a free gift of God” [Isaiah 55:1].
We must sing our song of appeal now, and while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you, giving your heart to Jesus, or coming into the fellowship of the church, while we sing the song, while the Spirit presses the appeal, make it now. Decide now. “Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way.” Down that stairway, down that aisle, “Here I come,” while we stand and while we sing.